I had my first encounter with Rock Lobster Food when I visited the Toronto Underground Market this past summer. The “everything lobster” pop up had become famous across the city and is now able to tell a similar La Carnita success story. Hassel, the founder of TUM is passionate about creating a space in Toronto for pop up shops to find a permanent bricks and mortar home. Both La Carnita and now Rock Lobster Food are proving that TUM is a perfect launching pad for the cities culinary entrepreneurs.
During my visit to TUM I sampled a lot of delicious food. What’s funny is the fact that I never had a chance to sample any of Rock Lobsters offerings as there was a massive line up “a la Momofuku Noodle Bar Opening,” memories. Needless to say I have been anticipating their famous Lobster Rolls for some time.
Enter Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. I was first introduced to the brand at this years TIFF Launch Party at The Drake Hotel, and instantly became a fan, advocate and addict. My memories of the early Fall are intertwined with ice cubes sloshing around with Sailor Jerry and Ginger Beer (a harmonious combination). When I found out that Sailor Jerry was looking to host a media dinner in December at the soon-to-be-opening Rock Lobster Food I jumped on the band wagon.
The city was freezing cold and pitch black as I crouched down on the curb to take a few exterior shots. It was 6pm and the interior glowed. Anticipation for the impending feast and warm interior had me hop, skip and a jumping through the front door. The restaurant is located at 110 Ossington Ave, formerly the home of Watusi and features a fantastic interior which includes a sleek bar top, private dining “anchor room,” and decorative lobster crates with bits of “this and that” nautical nostalgia.
By 7pm we were all sitting at a long table at the back of the restaurant sipping on our first Sailor Jerry cocktail and eagerly devouring the seafood tower at the centre of our table. Over the course of the next few hours we sampled three cocktails (of which I had many) and eight dishes. As the evening progressed the restaurant filled to the brim, rock music blared and the crack of lobster and crab shells could be heard as smug mugs licked their fingers. The restaurant had only been open a few days and I was amazed to see the restaurant so busy. It goes to show that perhaps creating a pop up concept is in many ways the best PR and marketing tool to find a following.
Everyone at the table was impressed by the breadth of the menu which offers more than the seafood offerings RLF became famous for. Light salads are perfect for sharing at the table and flatiron steak and crispy maple pork belly are the perfect comfort foods as we slide into the snow season. My fondest memory of the evening was when I finally came face to face with the Rock Lobster Food Roll. This simple and satisfying dish is what first got the cities attention. I watched Natalie and Joel squeeze their plump pickles over their plates before popping into their mouths. I followed their lead and juiced my dill across the lobster filling as if it were a lemon over a glass of sparkling Perrier. Divine.
The guys who started Sailor Jerry were fans of the legendary Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins. They started a small clothing brand in Philadelphia, collaborating with local artists to make leather goods, sneakers, t-shirts and other products featuring Sailor Jerry’s tattoo art. Since Sailor Jerry spent half of his life as a sailor (and the other half tattooing sailors) it was a natural move to create a spiced rum in his name.
Fitting then that Sailor Jerry Canada’s Brand Ambassador is tattoo enthusiast Arron Thomas who hopped around the table throughout the evening to chit chat with guests about his favorite spiced rum and love for ink. He sports an incredible number of tattoos (I found the nomenclature on his fingers and hands to be so intriguing that I took a picture) which makes him the perfect poster boy for a spirit whose history is so richly entrenched in body art. He passed around a large Sailor Jerry Tattoo book throughout the evening, coaxing humble food writers to get a tattoo. I flipped through the book and after seeing about one hundred images of scantily clad woman and clams I couldn’t help but laugh, not exactly the iconography gay men dream of having stamped onto their arms. I thanked him very much for his offer but explained that I am not really one to commit to anything long term. Heavens the longest relationship I have ever been in lasted no more than three dinner dates!
The evening finished with a final nod to the sea, “The Whale Tail,” aka classic Canadian Beaver Tail tossed in what my mother would describe as a “grotesque amount of sugar.” Suited me just fine.
Rock Lobster Food has created an affordable seafood centric menu which pairs perfectly with their Sailor Jerry centric cocktail list. A match made in heaven, the sea and our mouths. I was so impressed with my meal that you will now find Rock Lobster Food on my Toronto’s Top Restaurant list.
We sampled (* notes my favorites)
Ribbons & Swallows *
sailor jerry spiced rum, aperol, coconut syrup, passionfruit juice
Barrel Aged Flying Colours
sailor jerry spiced rum, campari, cherry herring, peychaud bitters aged in tequila barrel for 30 days
Norman Collins *
sailor jerry spiced rum, lime juice, elderflower soda
The Perfect Storm Seafood Tower *
oyster, shrimp, crab, lobster
Homeward Bound Roasted Beet Salad
heirloom carrots, feta, orange, watercress, red wine vinegar
Classic Caesar Salad *
Lobster Poutine *
Rock Lobster Food Co. Rolls *
yukon gold chips, kosher dill
Crispy Maple Pork Belly *
creamed spinach, micro greens
Straight Up Flatiron Steaks *
fried duck egg, hickory sticks, sailor jerry spiced rum dipping sauce
The Whale Tail *
sailor jerry spiced rum creme anglaise, cinnamon sugar, maple sugar