It seems like there are barely any buildings fewer than five stories left in the trendy King and John area. The ones still standing are already marked for a rebuild to become tall glass towers.
Nonetheless, Wayne Gretzky's is still around so is the obscure brick box a bit east of it. Mascot Beer Garden was our destination.
There was no exterior signage to speak of, just a stand up sign, occasionally popping up in front throughout the week. Oh yes…there were also large teal letters on one wall visible from all the way down on Mercer Street: Mascot Brewery. We walked into the building and were faced with a dark maze: black walls, silver graffiti tags, low lights, and tall stairs. At the top of the flight of stairs, there were empty rooms with an equally unpopulated bar and no windows - a perfect setup for a very creepy Beer Garden movie if someone was thinking of making such a thing. Our only hint was a small paper sign taped on the wall (seemed like an after-thought).
Everything changed all of a sudden when we stepped onto the second flight of stairs. It was bright and filled with sunlight. In addition, the walls were white adding to the contrast and a huge crystal chandelier was hanging on the side. To our disappointment, we looked down and saw plenty of garbage all the way down from the staircase.
It was not difficult to get a seat at a communal table when we finally made it to the rooftop Beer Garden. Michelle, our waitress with two tattooed sleeves, greeted us with a friendly smile. We found out from her enthusiastic intro that Mascot is expanding soon and will actually put their brewery downstairs. For the time being, their beer is made at Parkdale's own Dugan Brewery. Mascot has little rabbit logo on its paper menu with a clamp. The food menu itself was small with only eight tapas-like choices to choose from and larger drinks menu behind. Choices on tap, tall boys, bottles, keg, ciders and even cocktails but not too creative - no beer cocktails unfortunately. We ended up ordering Sawdust Skinny Dipping Stout and Mascot Pilsner. We also asked for a Grilled Brat, Mascot Pretzel and Grilled Asparagus Salad. It looked like all of these goodies could be made on a small BBQ stand in the corner right next to us like a full functioning outdoor kitchen. That stand also covered us with smoke once in a while creating camping-like atmosphere if it wasn't for loud rap music, young hip vibe coming from all the blue jays fans around and an AstroTurf-like carpet. Yellow umbrellas, light wooden BBQ benches further enhanced the feeling of being somewhere in the wild.
Mascot Pilsner was very hoppy and bitter, quite intense actually. The stout, on the other hand, was not as strong as we expected it to be – a good way to get introduced to stouts if you are looking for it. Our food came in shortly after, in a very casual way: cardboard take out boxes, checkered paper. We found plastic cutlery in the middle of the table. Overall, the food looked like it came from a good food truck menu - all items were portable and easy to serve.
The Grilled Brat smelled delicious. The taste was a bit underwhelming; it had dry meat yet there were plenty of chunks of lard inside. It was served with much needed sweet mustard coleslaw and small pickles. The Mascot Pretzel - baby pretzel they should have said - was fluffy, and not the usual pretzel bread texture. A side of spicy yet sweet mustard was a great match and a few crystals of salt on top reminded us of the traditional pretzel. Our dishes continued rolling out – their Grilled Asparagus Salad came with baby kale, crispy shallots and, once again, Dijon mustard (spicy this time). The smoky taste of the grill was that other secret ingredient making this dish very memorable. A heavy beer would have been an amazing match for that. Then we felt that we should eat something else…Root Beer Pulled Pork was our choice. Once again the pork was a bit dry for our taste, but plenty of sweet BBQ sauce made it more interesting with a Southern hint to it. It came on a curious choice of biscuit bread, with small chunks of cheddar. Some mustard seeds and slightly sweet pickled carrots completed the dish for us. It also came with a side of homemade salty potato chips. We both wanted to try the only other Mascot branded beer - Hefeweizen. Unfortunately they were out of their wheat fruity beer. Perhaps next time.
Our table neighbor was eagerly sketching something in his notepad for twenty minutes or so. After finishing his masterpiece and beer, he packed up and left freeing his space for three Blue Jays girl fans. This community table was very energetic! Mascot is all about fun actually, it is truly a Beer Garden experience right in the middle of downtown. Do not come here for sophisticated culinary delights, but the beer is plentiful, dishes are filling and staff is friendly.