PHOTO: BRIAN TOWIE/TORONTO STAR
Name: Rakia Bar.
Chef: Brook Kavanagh.
Signature: Balkan-style mezes (tapas) and a wide assortment of rakia.
Price of mains: $15–$30 for mains, $1.50–$25 for snacks and sharing plates.
Open for: Dinner and drinks seven nights a week (kitchen to 11 p.m., drinks to 2 a.m.). Brunch is currently served seven days a week, though that may soon be scaled down to weekends only.
Assessment: Across the Balkans, rakia (a distilled fruit brandy) is consumed widely in bars, restaurants, and homes, and is a staple of Eastern European social life. Serbian ex-pat (and rakia connoisseur) Dušan Varga has longed to bring his love for the aromatic, alcoholic beverage to his adopted home, and he’s managed to do so with Rakia Bar, the recently opened restaurant/lounge on the outskirts of Leslieville (next to Queen Margherita Pizza). The long, low-lit room is lined with plush pink chairs and cushioned benches, where patrons can enjoy a variety of mezes paired with selections from nearly 40 varieties of rakia, the majority of which have been exclusively imported from Serbia, where the flagship Rakia Bars operate (two in Belgrade and one in Kragujevac). The restaurant’s small menu was created by Brook Kavanagh (chef at La Palette) and features dishes ideal for sharing, like the charcuterie plate ($10–$25, small to large), with Hungarian-style spicy sausage, cured smoked bacon, smoked pork tenderloin, olives, pickled vegetables, and feta and kashkval cheese; the chevapi trio of minced venison, boar, and lamb sausages ($15) with lepinya (flatbread) and cultured cow’s cream cheese; or crispy suckling pig on a Czech-style steamed bun ($6) with a sweet peach compote. During the week, Rakia Bar attracts a local clientele that Varga says has taken to the rakia tradition (sipping the drink slowly and nibbling on mezes), while Friday and Saturday nights bring out a slightly more rambunctious crowd from across the city, looking to enjoy the unique, late-night lounge vibe.
• The concept—a Serbian-style restaurant and rakia lounge—is unique to the city.
• East-enders looking for a taste of downtown nightlife can find it here without traveling into the core.
• Friendly, attentive staff members (including Varga himself) are happy to walk you through the intricacies of the food and rakia menus.
• The location: Rakia Bar has the potential to be great for Leslieville, but its success will depend on it being more than a local joint (and right now, the Greenwood Carhouse doesn’t make for the most elegant backdrop).
Bottom Line: This tiny piece of Belgrade in Leslieville is proof that Toronto’s multicultural expansion is far from tapped out, and it’s a welcome addition (for both eating and drinking) to the Queen East strip.
1402 Queen St. E., Unit B, 416-778-8800, rakiabar.com. See Facebook page for more details.