Cowbell: Nose to Tail Dining at its Tastiest
1564 Queen Street West, Parkdale, Toronto, Ontario
I’ll admit that I picked Cowbell for dinner solely based on its name. You guessed it. It reminded me of the famously hilarious Will Ferrell SNL skit, Cowbell. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to feast on Cowbell’s truly unique and local, organic menu items. The restaurant closed its doors for good this past Saturday. We wish Mark Cutrara the best of luck with future projects but till then, scroll down and feast your eyes on the delectable last meal we enjoyed at Cowbell.
The concept of Cowbell is not only incorporating local and organic food into the menu but trailblazing through the whole-animal dining movement. Cowbell purchases the entire cow from local farms and finds creative and delectable ways to cook, preserve and use each part of the animal, never wasting, and most importantly, never disrespecting the animal. Chef Mark Cutrara is trained as a butcher and has explored countless ways to prepare each cut of beef. Dining at Cowbell is a special experience. Check out the below video on Mark Cutrara’s take on the whole-animal food movement.
Nose to tail dining is still very much a hot trend in Toronto so I’m surprised that Cowbell closed its doors. Then again, perhaps the run-down neighbourhood of Parkdale was never the right place for a small European style bistro. It’s just slightly out of the way, it’s not easy to find, and the neighbourhood is just slightly too dodgy for foot traffic.
The menu at Cowbell changes daily, it’s scrawled in charmingly endearing writing on chalkboards in the restaurant.
On the night that we visited, there was a wide selection of all sorts of meats from duck to trout to the coveted trademark beef dishes.
The Cowbell Charcuterie was served up on a wooden cutting board with an artistic smear of spicy mustard, salty and scrumptious cured meats and my absolute favourite, duck pate, gracefully piped in a ruffly fashion on the end of the cutting board. The pate was rich and decadent, ever so slightly gamey and smooth and creamy. No one else at the table seemed to enjoy it as much as me so I ended up devouring most of it. We even had to order more bread because I just couldn’t get enough of the pate.
Next up was what was listed as chowder on the chalkboard menu but was really a very rich and creamy, thick sauce coating a perfectly seared, tender trout served in a clay pot with giant chunks of lobster and potato. It was incredible.
An unsuspectingly spicy item on the menu was the Breakfast sammy. Piled on top of a toasted English muffin was bacon, a perfectly fried duck egg, BBQ sauce and spicy n’duja. I didn’t think much of the spicy n’duja when I read it on the chalkboard menu, I thought it would be like pepperoni. Boy, was I mistaken. N’duja turned out to be a soft spreadable pork sausage that was so shockingly spicy, it brought tears to my eyes. The spiciness was so strong, it really just masked what everything else on the dish tasted like.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the beef tongue, cheek and heart risotto. This dish truly exemplified Cowbell’s concept of nose to tail dining. I loved the various chunks of tender and chewy beef in the creamy risotto. It gave the rice dish an added richness and depth of flavour that just can’t be achieved with seafood risotto. Just the colours in the dish were strikingly beautiful too: reds, pinks and fresh sprigs of greens.
The duck poutine was equally tasty. I was disappointed that they used aged cheddar as opposed to traditional cheese curds though. Technically, leaving out squeaky cheese curds would really make this dish melted cheese on top of duck and fries. However, the cheddar was very delicious and the fries were crispy, salty and delectable. There was a generous helping of duck meat in the dish, and the meat was cooked perfectly. All in all, the “poutine” was delicious but probably not as inventive as the beef tongue risotto.
The two desserts of the night were a vanilla panna cotta and a graham cracker ice cream. I love vanilla ice cream but I absolutely despise crumbly, dry graham cracker crumbs and our dish of ice cream was basically three creamy scoops of vanilla ice cream with crumbs smooshed in. I have to admit it added texture to the ice cream, but didn’t do anything taste-wise for me.
I much preferred the cold, creamy but light vanilla panna cotta, speckled with vanilla bean seeds and decorated with some sweet and tart berry puree.
I’m sorry to see Cowbell go but glad I got to try the menu before the restaurant closed its doors for good.