he Gist: Pray Tell is a cool new modern snack bar created by dream team Nickie Minshall and Dustin Keating, owners of Track & Field, just a half block away.
Grub: This is the first executive chef position for co-owner 25-year-old Sonia Mondino, and she hits it out of the park. The small plates and shareable platters are all very different, but Mondino says, "I felt they would work together."
Using sauerkraut instead of plain cabbage in the Crispy Dumplings ($8) and a lot of Asian influence ("I am very obsessed with Asian culture," she says), the well-executed and elegant plates feature bright, herbaceous flavours and healthy ingredients ("It’s important to care about health as well.").
Dishes accommodate meat eaters, pescetarians, vegetarians and vegans, as well as those with allergies to gluten and dairy. Mondino even goes as far as avoiding using honey ("Vegans can’t have it.") and milk (the Pray Dough doughnuts feature coconut milk instead). "You can still make it taste amazing," she says. "Things should come from your heart."
Mondino says, "There are little bits and pieces of myself on the menu." You can feel/taste the love.
Libations: Bar Manager Max Brunke (also from Track & Field) fashions luscious cocktails – both classic and custom – all while dancing and rockin’ out behind the bar.
As Pray Tell is a "little more cocktail-focused, a little more refined" than T&F, the ten selections are fun yet complex. Brunke who created all house cocktails says, "I wanted to showcase forgotten classics like the Zombie ($14) made with three different types of rum. It’s a lot of fun, and quite dangerous at the same time." The B-Side Track ($13) with charred jalapeño shrub and "strawberry influence" is simultaneously refreshing and savoury.
The local and imported brews list includes "one of everything," Brunke says. "A good lager, good ale, interesting sour… we’re always building on that."
GM Johnny Kountouri curated the wine program with selections from Italy, New Zealand, and Argentina available by the glass and bottle.
Fixtures & Fittings: Nickie and Dustin designed it themselves. Mondino says, "It’s very homey and natural. We wanted it to feel comfortable." In contrast to T&F, they didn’t want it "to be dark or have a stuffy vibe."
Boasting white walls, light wood, shelves of plants and succulents, and natural light beaming in, it has a feminine, airy quality that is both casual and welcoming. In fact, you might not make it to your next destination after all.
Off the Menu:
A Man Walked into a Bar ($13) involves a heady mix of Beefeater gin, yellow chartreuse, lime leaf, absinthe rinse, St. Germaine, and lime juice. Smoky and alluring, it’s not just a one-liner; it’s the whole story.
Make Nice ($13) is a modern pisco sour (pisco, passion fruit puree, rose-infused Cointreau, lime, egg white) finished with crushed rose petals. Fresh, frothy, floral and phenomenal.
Roasted Garlic & Grilled Sourdough ($6) How could a plate of roasted garlic, chili clementine oil, honey, olives, and grilled sourdough by neighbour Prairie Boy Bread be so captivating? One of the best dishes you'll eat this year, it’s a stunner that proves that simple doesn’t have to equal lackluster.
King Cold Roll ($9) Greeted by a sea of green (fresh herbs and nori), rice paper is thickly wrapped like squid around grilled king oyster mushroom, pickled carrots and daikon and served with a dreamy spiced peanut sauce and topped with sesame seeds. The result? A buoyant veg dish that offers a tangle of fascinating, juxtaposing textures and flavours.
Steak Tartare ($15) A surf and turf of sorts, this fun and innovative, original creation showcases top sirloin, pickled veg for crunch, creamy wasabi oil not for the faint of heart, fried teeny tiny baby shrimp, and a dash of togarashi across crostini for extra kick.
Pocket Pizza Supreme ($9) The deep-fried, thin, crusty shell opens to reveal a decadent bolognese and as Mondino calls it, “melty” mozzarella. That would be superb on its own, but then there’s the pool of lemon herb oil that the deep sphere sits in and soaks up, that adds an unexpected yet addictive zing that takes it to the next level. Good thing the kitchen’s open late.
How Cool is This?! Everything. Innovative plates that pop with powerful flavours and textures, fantastic music, and a friendly, fun vibe (don’t be surprised if you want to hang out with the staff as much as your peeps). You'll go home with garlic breath and herbs stuck in your teeth, but you'll be so happy it won't matter.
At the Stove: Chef and Co-owner Sonia Mondino
FOH: General Manager Johnny Kountouri, Bar Manager Max Brunke
Head Honchos: Nickie Minshall and Dustin Keating
Deets: The bar seats 50 - no reservations. The kitchen stays open late.
Visiting Hours: Sun to Thurs 5pm-12am
Fri & Sat 5pm- 2am
Map It: 838 College St. (at Ossington)
Phone It In: They don't have a phone number, but they email at lightning speed! Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out our Facebook page for more photos.