As I walked back home through the neighbourhood streets feeling satisfyingly full on premium Irish whiskey, good beer and great food, I couldn’t help but think that The Ceili Cottage is a place of stories.
I was introduced to “the cottage” through my work with Sausage Partners. Kyle Deming of Sausage Partners is the former head chef of The Ceili Cottage’s sister restaurant Starfish and continues to provide premium quality meats and seafood to both restaurants.
So I sent off an email to “the cottage” to see if they wouldn’t mind me poking around their establishment with my camera. When you contact an “Irish local” and receive friendly, enthusiastic replies from people named Patrick and Eoghan, the odds of an authentic Irish experience increase dramatically.
During my visit I chatted with manager Eoghan Banks while observing his stocking and re-organizing of the cottage’s bar that includes an extensive selection of Irish whiskies, Scotch whisky and bourbon. With a pleasing Irish accent that’s as authentic as his name, Eoghan told me his story about following his wife to Canada and finding a home within the neighbourhood of Leslieville. While strolling through the neighbourhood one day he eyes the soon-to-be-opened Irish local and approaches owner Patrick McMurray for a job. The rest is history. It’s clear that Eoghan is passionate about his native Irish culture and is eager to share it. It’s these kinds of stories, and people that make our city so great.
When I was much younger I used to have this giant Guinness Book of World Records. I was fascinated by the people and the stories contained within the pages. The Ceili Cottage owner, Patrick McMurray is one of those people. He is both an oyster shucking world champion and current Guinness World Record holder for oyster shucking having pried open 38 of those slippery suckers within 60 seconds. How’s that for a story? Patrick sources and brings in a variety of Canadian, Welsh, Scottish and Irish oysters. Try to eat them as fast as he can shuck ‘em. For those of you that prefer to make a mess at home, you can purchase the same oysters down the street at Sausage Partners.
Then there is the charm of the space itself. Here you won’t find your typical pub décor. A true cottage feel has been achieved by peeling back the layers and exposing the original stone walls and beams. Solid wood tables, chairs and church pews add loads of charm and coziness to the space. For people like me that enjoy sitting at the bar, this is the space for you. Cozy up to the deep, black, stone bar that offers plenty of space to pile up cleaned plates of food and empty pint glasses while being entertained by some oyster shucking.
Eoghan informed me that some research had been done on the building but it could not be found on any historical records. The current theory is that the small, cottage-like building was part of the old Ashbridge Estate perhaps used as a storage shed or some other purpose therefore it doesn’t show up as being zoned on any historical record. The mystery of the building just adds to the authentic atmosphere of the space. I mentioned to Eoghan that although “the cottage” has occupied the space for only a few years, it feels like it’s been here forever. You can feel that the little, mysterious building is enjoying its rejuvenation and has embraced its modern role as a home for Irish culture. It just fits.
What did I eat while I was there? Being a sausage and potato freak and also knowing that Sausage Partners provides the sausages made from local Ontario Berkshire pork, I had to try their bangers with mash. This is classic, straight forward fare that is just plain good. The mash was creamy, well-seasoned, sausages juicy, cooked perfectly with a flavourful onion gravy. I will order it again. While waiting for my order I munched on their tasty kettle chips while sipping whiskey. I had eyeballed the sticky toffee pudding as a dessert contender and when it was mentioned to me that it was Lorraine Deming’s family recipe, I knew that I had to give it a try. Rich and full of flavour this sweet treat is also available at Sausage Partners if you prefer to give it a try at home.
What did I drink while I was there? I was in the mood for classics so I enjoyed multiple rounds of Tullamore Dew 12 and Bushmills 16. One of my main reasons for visiting “the cottage” was to explore their diverse range of Irish whiskies. Scotch whisky is so predominant these days that many people forget, or are unaware of the long history of Irish whiskey. At one time the Irish whiskey industry boomed but was decimated by the one-two punch of the depression and the war. Today, the Irish whiskey industry is experiencing a kind of renaissance. Whiskies like the Bushmills 16 easily competes with the Scottish Highland’s most premium sherried expressions. Relative newcomers to the Irish whiskey scene, Cooley Distillery is racking up awards with their multiple brands including the Connemara Peated Malt which I highly recommend. The cask strength version is a current resident of my bar. If you would like to discover and taste the world of Irish whiskies, The Ceili Cottage offers an excellent selection.
In a world where fakes, forgeries and charlatans are all too common it’s nice to find a place that has a soul. The Ceili Cottage isn’t a place where names and labels are enough. It’s a place that lives and breathes authenticity.