Ceili Cottage: My Kind Of Pub

I think I’ve fallen in love again…with Ceili Cottage. It’s my favourite pub in the city, located in Leslieville on Queen Street. Actually, it’s the only pub I’ve ever loved. This Irish local, owned by world champion oyster shucker Patrick McMurray (also the owner of Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill), exudes Irish authenticity, from the food, to the drinks, to the decor, to the live music. I love restaurants with personality. If you take the time to look around inside, you’ll start to notice all the little details. Almost everything in this place has something to do with oysters or Celtic culture, including photos, awards, shucking tools, books, and boardgames. The building, once an old garage , consists of two rooms: the cottage room and the bar room. The patio out front is also REALLY GREAT (with oyster shells embedded into the concrete floor). Definitely a good summertime spot to visit if you’re looking to enjoy good food, drinks, and the gorgeous Toronto weather. They’ve got a great selection of beers to choose from…it wouldn’t be a good pub without good beer, right? They have twelve taps offering a mixed selection of beers from Ireland, Ontario, and Quebec.

“Ceili (pronounced Kay-lee) is an Irish word for a social get-together of music and dance. With that come the food and drink. Our “Irish Local” is a place for friends and families in the neighbourhood to convene for conversation and good “craic” (Irish for good fun).”
I took that bit from the Ceili Cottage website, because I thought it was pretty wonderful. You can find a full menu and more info by clicking on the link.

They serve amazing oysters, which is another reason I absolutely love this place (you must know by now that I’m an oyster lover). Their selection usually includes an oyster from the east coast and Clarenbridge Bay oysters from Ireland. I don’t get the chance to eat Irish oysters very often so this excites me. If you’re an oyster lover, this is your kind of pub.

If you’re lucky you’ll walk in on a flute and fiddle session, which adds some wonderfully lively Irish folk-sound to the experience. It was terrific. What started out as two women sitting at a table with their flutes, in the matter of an hour or so, grew to a group of ten (or more) musicians, each arriving with their own instrument to add to the ensemble. Irish oysters taste that much better when you’re slurping to the sound of a fiddle. (Seriously. I was getting really happy.)

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A side note on my favourite spot at the cottage: there’s a little window in between the cottage room and the bar room and it’s lined with books on everything Ireland. (Photo above.) There’s a cozy spot at the bar here where you can see through to the next room and still be near the bar or band or TV at the same time. Really, I think it’s the books that I like best though. 🙂

I was at Ceili Cottage during NHL playoffs. The bar room is a narrow room with a TV mounted right above the bar (and an upright piano against one wall). It’s a fun place to be on game night. It got pretty packed that night, with the whole room cheering every time a goal was scored. I’d much rather watch a game in a bar-space like this than at the average sports bar.

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Ceili Cottage’s menu is a mix of traditional Irish, seafood and pub favourites. I’ve had the opportunity to try a few of the regular menu items, but I have to say it’s the daily specials that get me. The specials always sound delicious and I almost always want to order all the items in one visit. (But that would be crazy!)

As a lover of mushrooms, I often feel the need to order anything mushroom-related on a menu. One of the first things I had at Ceili Cottage was the mushrooms on toast. SO YUMMY! A thick slice of toasted buttery Irish bread with a generous mound of sauteed mixed mushrooms over top, and then a big hunk of delicious Irish blue cheese on top of that. This was my first taste of Irish, and I liked it.

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For those who know me, and you don’t even have to know me well, you know I am a seafood lover. So, when I saw Cod Cakes on the menu (with roasted garlic tzatziki and preserved lemon) I sort of twitched with excitement and, of course, ordered them. Tzatziki is also a weakness of mine, so this combo was perfection! The cakes were delicious, with a light crispy outside. Not at all like some of the thick, oily, battered fish cakes I’ve had in my lifetime.

Mussels are something I order quite often at restaurants, but wild Irish mussels are not something I think I’ve ever had anywhere else. I find they’re a little smaller in size than some other types of mussels I’ve had. Maybe it’s just me. What I love about the mussels at Ceili Cottage is that they’re steamed in the Chef’s choice of broth, which changes daily. So they’re always a little, or a lot, different than when you had them the last time. The pictures above show a sweet lime and ale broth as well as a marinara broth I tried on separate occasions. Whenever I talk mussels I always like to throw in that THE BEST way to eat mussels is to twist off one halfshell and use the halfshell with the mussel in it as a little mini shell-spoon. Scoop up some broth and eat it like you would a raw oyster. Maybe a little messy, but super delicious. Just wash your hands…no big deal.

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Not the clearest picture, but definitely a delicious soup! This was a salmon chowder (the daily soup special) and was really great. With the perfect amount of creaminess, lots of flavour and a good mix of salmon and veggies. I almost didn’t want to share it, but sharing means I’ll have room to try more yummies. It’s a fair trade-off.

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Here’s an example of why I love the daily specials: spiced rum BBQ bison short ribs with Jamaican jerk sweet potato wedges and an arugula salad. The bison ribs were tender and the jerk flavour worked well with the sweet potatoes. A really great dish! It was quite filling as well!

So, if you’re looking for a good, authentic pub in Toronto, this is my top pick. Great food, great ale, great oysters, great people, great patio. I hear they do fun things with their patio in the wintertime too! A great place! Check it out!

Sláinte!

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