John Maxwell is a restaurant pioneer in Toronto. Allen’s is a constant fixture, because Maxwell’s values and integrity are enduring and “carved in stone.” And with a keen ear to the ground, he has kept Allen’s at the forefront of the dining-out scene. It is the ultimate example of hospitality, and he has earned the respect of his peers and his loyal clientele. “Ten staff members have been working here 20 years or more. I’ve been working with the same chef since 1981. That’s very comforting to customers,” he says. “I’m proud of my contribution and hope to be around a lot longer.”
In his own words…
Farming is important to me. So I’m raising beef myself now and strive to provide hormone- and antibiotic- free meat. I think our food chain is very compromised. I strongly favour the natural raising of food, and serve meat at Allen’s that is generally not commercially sourced. We have a program here called “meats of designated origin,” where we provide information on the farmer, his location, the breed and the feed.
I am interested in wines that are expressive of our land, and have committed myself to building a cellar that shows the diversity of styles and grape types in VQA Canadian Wines. Our list comprises about 175 different wines, with another 100 in the cellar. Allen’s remains a place where you can experience the aging potential of our wines. We have many bottles dating back to 1995 on our list, and many by the glass from 2002 to 2008 vintages. Ontario wines are competitive, and I want to give our winemakers a forum in which they can be sure their wines are presented in some kind of cellaring of the wine. In most countries around the world, restaurants take great pride in serving the wines of the region. Canada is one of the few countries – with such a deep-seated cultural insecurity – where we’ve convinced ourselves that what is produced here is not as good as that which is produced elsewhere. I fundamentally disagree, and think that in a wine-growing region, you drink your own wines.
Today I have 14 draft beers and 145 bottle options. I have always stood firmly for the great breadth and diversity of the world of beer, but we’re making wonderful beer in Ontario, too, and at Allen’s, we try to feature craft beer made here while maintaining a nice core of internationally celebrated brews as well.
We have a list of more than 300 whiskeys – which are a passion of mine – and amongst the whiskeys of the world, the Scotch whiskey is perhaps the most fascinating, but Canadian whiskey is very worthy also, and we generally keep a list of 25 to 30 Canadian whiskeys, as well as a similar number of Irish, American and 250 or so Scotches. The world of whisky certainly rewards those who wish to expand their range of tastes. There is much to learn from whiskey; it is a challenge to put into words ones taste sensations, and therefore of great interest.
It’s an oasis of calm in a very busy urban environment. Two willow trees, which Toronto arborists say are two of the oldest living trees in Toronto, grow on our patio. They provide a wonderful shade and are a great source of inspiration. We present a terrific barbecue experience throughout the season, with salads and eight to 10 choices every evening.
Allen’s Bar, Restaurant and Backyard
143 Danforth Avenue, Toronto ON 416-463-3086