Amsterdam Brewhouse (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 245 Queens Quay West, South Building
Type of Meal: Dinner

The Harbourfront is currently undergoing redevelopment to rid the area of its rundown seaside feel and make it into a go-to destination.   The Amsterdam Brewhouse took over its location from some forgettable restaurants including Wallymagoo’s and the Pier 4 Storehouse, which were considered to be tourist traps serving awful seafood.  The new tenant is a bit better than its predecessors but is still miles away from being a good restaurant; sadly, the food is pretty mediocre despite the pub fare menu.

One of the better dishes of the night was the duck grilled cheese ($14) where the highlight was the parmesan cheese crusted bread adding a flavourful crispy crunch to it.  Between the slices of bread is shredded duck, white cheddar, slices of tomatoes and microgreens which is an interesting combination but still gets drowned out by the flavourful bread.  The menu notes there is a Boneshaker marmalade within the sandwich but it wasn’t decipherable.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent dish accompanied by average tasting homemade fries.

The Brewmaster’s sausage pizza ($16) was also palatable with its thin chewy crust and a host of rich meaty ingredients including beerwurt sausage, mushrooms, smoked cheddar and caramelized onion.  Drizzled on the pizza was a reduced Tempest beer which added a smoky savoury balsamic like taste bringing a bit of exoticness to the dish.  Overall, it was an average pizza that doesn’t blow you away but at least doesn’t disappoint.

Featured prominently at the top of the menu is the Amsterdam pretzel ($6).  Since I was hungry, I thought it’d be smart to order this given they were likely premade and just needed to be reheated and served.  Alas, despite asking our waitress to just bring things as they were ready (since we were sharing) our request was not heeded and even the pretzel took 45 minutes before it arrived.  Sure it had a good chewy texture and was topped with flakes of sea salt but lacked that yeasty smell and slight butteriness I enjoy from the pretzels you get in New York or sporting events.  It was served with two beer based mustards (sweet Natural Blonde red currant mustard and spicy Big Wheel Dijon) and a wort reduction that were a nice touch.

An offering that you don’t normally find on bar menus was the togaroshi chicken ($12), which is a spicy zesty Japanese spice mix that you can also find at ramen restaurants.  It sure sounded good on paper but what actually arrived were ridiculously small pieces of battered chicken.  Really, I just felt like I was eating pieces of fried batter – KFC’s popcorn chicken is probably double the size of any of the pieces we had. Topped with wonton strips, chopped cucumber, green onions and a side of red cabbage kimchee most of these ingredients stood out more than the chicken.  As for the togaroshi spice, I didn’t get a hint of it.

A UK dish, the Scotch egg ($9), was featured on Amsterdam Brewhouse’s menu.  The egg’s presentation is beautiful with a good covering of sausage against the yellow egg yolk.  Alas, the egg was overcooked and the dish arrived cold without any of the crunch you expect at all.  If you want to try one of these, do yourself a favour and go to Weslodge instead.

Without a doubt, the most disappointing dish of the night was the crispy fish tacos ($13).  Having read numerous reviews that rave about this dish, I was astounded by how gross they tasted.  Fortunately, there were three other individuals with me that also tried it so I have some validation that I wasn’t just being picky.  The corn tortillas were stale and hard, the pieces of fish bland and cold and the apple fennel slaw tasting lack luster with none of the crisp sweet freshness you’d hope for.  To make it worse, Amsterdam Brewhouse chooses to pair their tacos with a bitter hot sauce which doesn’t go with the tacos at all.  Luckily, the fries that came with the duck grilled cheese had mayo with pieces of pickle in it (almost like a tartar sauce) that we used instead.

The only highlight of the night, other than the company of course, was Amsterdam Brewhouse’s beer tasting flights ($8).  Named after street locations of their previous breweries it’s a nice homage to their business.  With each tasting flight you receive four 5oz glasses of beer to allow you to try not only their own brews but some other Ontario microbreweries as well.  They range from lighter ales at the top to the hoppy stronger beers at the bottom of the menu.  I stuck with the first half of the menu and tried the “Richmond and John” and the “King and Portland”. 

The Richmond and John flight was the lightest tasting of the bunch including the Natural Blonde (my favourite of the night), the 416, an adventure brew (essentially the House’s pick; during our visit was an orange peel-like beer that could have been skipped) and the Raspberry Wheat (has a distinctive raspberry taste without the gross sweetness of a Früli).

The King and Portland flight was slightly richer but still easy drinking. Tastes of Big Wheel, Downtown Brown, Boneshaker and adventure brew (sadly the same one in the Richmond and John) were provided.  I’ll admit, by the second flight without food it was getting harder to really decipher the tastes of the beer itself so there’s little I can add to this.

All in all, Amsterdam Brewhouse has the potential to become a good microbrewery restaurant – they are situated at an ideal location, the dining room is open and features a breathtaking look into their distilling facilities, and their menu offers a good selection but is still small enough to be manageable.  Their downfall is its size - they simply do not have the adequate management and trained manpower required to deal with the enormous operations.  Even after eating there once, I believe a couple of key things need to be done to improve its operations:

  • More training is required to ensure staff are knowledgeable about the menu - this will lead to less questions, wasted time finding answers and unhappy customers.  During our visit, my dinner companion ordered a chicken salad and when it arrived couldn’t see the chicken.  The waitress questioned whether the salad was supposed to have chicken forcing my friend to point out the description on the menu.  The waitress then noted that she’d have to check with the kitchen only to have the front house manager come by to let us know the chicken is actually on the bottom of the plate (covered by the lettuce).  If the waitress had known what she was bringing out and the oddity of having the chicken on the bottom this entire waiting around and wasted effort could have been avoided.

  • Ensure better utilization and training of food servers to avoid presenting cold food (or at least invest in a good set of warmers to keep food hot).  There were some men who were bringing out food but a few looked lost and had to walk around asking tables for orders to properly serve the dishes.  Moreover, none could hold more than a dish per hand so when they were serving a table of more than two multiple people/trips were required.  If Amsterdam Brewhouse just invests in some large serving platters (similar to what a family chain restaurant would use), each server could bring out more things and hopefully speed things up.

To sum up, TRAIN TRAIN TRAIN!  The restaurant has been opened for over a month now so learning pains can no longer be used as an excuse for their inexperienced staff.  A lot of reviewers complain about the poor service.  I’ll admit, we didn’t have the most happy looking waitress, but I can imagine if I had to run around all night and have people complain to me the whole time I wouldn’t be in a smiling mood as well.  Better customer and employee satisfaction can be achieved just by ensuring staff are knowledgeable about their roles, the menu and the company they are working for.  Ensuring staff is happy or at least satisfied with their jobs is important as they are who customers see (and a grumpy looking waitress doesn’t make me want to order more beer).  After all, unhappy staff can lead to turnover which means the uninformed staff problem will perpetually continue.    

In the end, Amsterdam Brewhouse is a good place to go with friends to have drinks, maybe eat a salad (since it’s already cold) and enjoy the outdoors (if you can score a seat on one of its three patios).  I would advise against going there for just dinner unless you’re going during a non-peak time or with a group of two. So, maybe Wallymagoo’s is now gone but the replacement is still looking like a bit of a tourist trap.
Overall mark - 5 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!