Lunch on the Humber

The Old Mill. Everyone knows it here, the mock-Tudor restaurant and banquet centre in West Toronto, an event space in modern parlance. The hotel was added about 20 years ago.

The site is a charmer, on the banks of the Humber River as it flows its leafy route to Lake Ontario. The place is nestled in the posh, somewhat hilly (for Toronto) Kingsway section. Country clubs feature in the area, including for golf.

The Kingsway is an urban agglomeration that blends riverside recreation, trendy shopping and restaurants on the main artery, Bloor Street, and gracious homes of aforesaid Tudor, plaster, and stone block.

A series of mills dotted the Humber in pioneer days. These burned one by one, and later uses obscured the bucolic origins.

Taking its name from this heritage the Old Mill was originally a restaurant, started in 1914 by a developer seeking a use for a derelict stretch.

The 1960s lunch and dinner menus collected in the Old Mill website* are of good interest. The food is a “club” approach, as one would expect, and while not adventuresome by today’s standards was probably excellent, as the Old Mill always had a good reputation.

Dinner was a slightly more elaborate version of the lunch plan.

The mains were based on beef, chicken, ham, lamb, and a fish or two. No veg options. The fish was usually halibut, salmon or trout, none particularly associated with our Great Lakes. Perhaps this was due to the pollution then endemic in the Lakes, although commercial fishing has rebounded due to cleaner waters.

Hence, whitefish and yellow perch can be found in markets today but are absent, at any rate, from these 60s menus.

Among the lunch dishes were ham steak with pineapple, a rare offering anywhere today. It was a staple of menus in North America back then, and not just for cafes or diners. The genius who thought to place a pineapple ring on a ham slice kicked off a commercial craze, now defunct except perhaps via Canada’s famous Hawaiian pizza.

Calf’s liver was offered, perhaps offbeat for the time although I remember it at then-famous Winston’s downtown, a business hang out, and in roast beef emporiums here.

The Victorians were less squeamish about innards than the postwar generation, and offal has come around again.

Halibut steak – there’s a solid 1960s performer – and as good as ever. The accompanying sauce Meunière surely did it no harm. I can’t recall the last time I saw that combo on a menu.

Scrambled eggs with sausage for lunch makes sense in a club-like setting. All-day breakfast is now the rage, so this was a kind of precursor.

Cold cuts for lunch? Sounds pedestrian, but people must have liked it – and it’s the priciest dish on the menu! The short ribs is classic mid-century eating, also hard to find today.

Curried lamb sounds a touch exotic for then, in Toronto anyway, but curried food has been a niche of British/Commonwealth eating since the 1800s. At The Old Mill it probably appealed to travelled businessmen and ex-army types.

Creamed chicken? Emblematic 1950s dining, gone the way of the dodo for public eating. Yet it, too, was excellent when well-prepared.

The desserts were classic North American but there was also spumoni – oh where did that go, I loved that! A little daring for then I think, the Italian population was burgeoning here and establishment venues were starting to take notice.

Cheese offerings hit the main bases: local cheddar – Ontario makes top quality – Quebec’s Oka Trappist (so Port Salut-type), and “Blue”, probably Roquefort or Stilton.

The starters are not much seen on Toronto menus today: herring, smoked salmon, oysters. The soups ditto, such as jellied consommé.

I wonder what The Old Mill serves for lunch today … maybe I’ll go out and see.

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*The menus are no longer on the website (that I can see), but my discussion of the dishes may interest readers nonetheless.