Originally published on Torontoist on August 9, 2011.
Toronto Calendar, March 1979.
Toronto has seen theme restaurants come and go, from tiki bars like Trader Vic’s to anime-centric cafes in Scarborough. One of the oddest had to be The Monks, an eatery tucked away near Yonge and Bloor where the wait staff were decked out in monastic finery. Based on a two-star (out of five) review in Toronto Calendar magazine, the food required divine assistance.
A restaurant dedicated to good honest food at humble prices is an act of Christian charity among today’s inflationary eateries, but management here sometimes leaves discriminating diners praying for more goodness and less humility in the preparing of an imaginative sounding repast, served in the casual comfort of stucco arches and high-backed plus chairs by waiters cutely clad as clerics.
For starters, the fish pate of sole and salmon is a good choice for its light smack of dill—though mushy asparagus spears accompanying it are less enjoyable. The house salad, too, tends to be a woody concoction of iceberg lettuce topped with a salt-and-pepper vinaigrette. However the carrot puree—a daily soup—is smooth, tasty and not overrich. Accompanying wines are on a slightly higher price plane than the food.
For a main course the hungry man may turn to “choice cuts from the carvery of brother Mark,” for a platter of roast suckling pig which, on a recent sampling, was tough. But those with smaller appetites may find the “sturdy nets of brother Peter” more rewarding if they nibble on a seafood kebab of two shrimp, scallops, mushrooms and small pieces of red snapper more or less unseasoned, but moistened by a buttery hollandaise. A smooth end to the meal is mocha mousse, one of the “tantalizing confections of brother Zachary.” Or throw all caution to the wind with Monks coffee or brandy, Benedictine and whipped cream.
The Monks is a popular, affordable and central spot with a festive air. With a little more attention to food, it could be as pleasing to the palate as to the purse.
Additional material from the June 1979 edition of Toronto Calendar.
So how many of “Toronto’s most famous restaurants” did Pedro Cabazuelo found? A quick scan of ChefDB shows he was owner or part-owner of at least 10 dining destinations between 1974 and 1981, along with stints as either chef or maitre d’ at several others.
Cue a trip into an archival wormhole leading to a parade of newspaper stories and reviews…
Toronto Star, October 14, 1972.
Digging through the G&M and Star archives, here’s the earliest article referencing Cabezeulo, which spotlights a paella recipe.
The headline doesn’t inspire confidence (“ho hum, another old house converted into a French restaurant”). Toronto Star, June 15, 1974.
According to a 1974 Star review, La Bastille (51 St. Nicholas Street) was operated by Cabezuelo and two former waiters who had previously worked together in Niagara Falls. The restaurant’s name was inspired by the partners coming together on July 14 (Bastille Day).
Reviewer Howard MacGregor’s opening sentence did not inspire confidence:
The thing about La Bastille is that you really want the place to work. It’s a small restaurant subdivided into three tinier rooms specializing in simple, French-provincial coooking. Fixed-price lunch and dinner menus in two of the rooms (La Guillotine and La Donjon) should please those who need an estimate of what it’s all going to cost before ordering. An a la carte menu and a kitchen that stays open until 3 am are the extra attractions of Les Oubliettes, the cellar room where buckwheat crepes, a favourite Breton dish, is one of the specialties.
MacGregor observed the main floor La Guillotine room was so compact that “if you’re at all self-consciout about overheard conversations (either yours or theirs), then this room isn’t for you.” As for the food, MacGregor felt that “someone in the kitchen had a low estimate of Torontonians’ taste buds.” On top of everything else, the restaurant lacked a liquor license. Overall, he felt it could quickly improve “by putting a little more zing and spice into its cooking.”
Two years later, Star reviewer Judylaine Fine was much happier with the fare at La Bastille, calling it “a wonderful place to go for a leisurely lunch.” She also noted that “Pedro Cabazuelo might not be a big-money restaurateur in Toronto, but he sure has his fingers into a couple of nice pies. Those pies are not high-priced or ritzy. They are charming restaurants where you can wine and dine in a homey, friendly atmosphere.”
Globe and Mail, November 15, 1978.
Joanne Kates’s review of The Monks, which was far more positive toward the food than the one I included in the original post.
Starweek, December 30, 1978.
Globe and Mail, April 7, 1979.
A few words about The Monks from Mary Walpole’s advertorial column.
Globe and Mail, November 29, 1978.
The Monks concept soon took up more of his time…
Globe and Mail, December 6, 1978.
Of all the restaurants mentioned here, the Duke pubs are the sole survivors in 2019.
Globe and Mail, July 28, 1979.
Next restaurant concept: Winners. By 1981 it was gone, replaced by Fortuna Village, a Chinese restaurant which retained some of its decor.
Toronto Star, November 7, 1979.
One wonders how many parties across the city were enhanced with feasts served by robed “monks.”
A fast-food Monks Kitchen soon opened at the southeast corner of Yonge and Adelaide, alongside two other Patrick Chan owned eateries (Bamboo Court and a Mr. Submarine franchise). Various incarnations of The Monks were intended for properties Chan owned around the city.
Note the Uptown Backstage cinema entrance in the background.
Globe and Mail, December 1, 1979.
Besides the locations teased here, a Monks restaurant also opened in Mississauga. All locations cloistered themselves away for good within a few years.
“Head Chef at Monks on Front St., Pedro Cabezuelo has worked at 10 major Toronto restaurants in 10 years. A good chef is hard to find and ‘you’ve got to steal staff,’ he says.” Photo by Jeff Goode, originally published in the February 22, 1981 Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0021141f.
By the early 1980s, Cabazuelo faded from the city’s food pages. Apart from an ad promoting cooking demonstrations at Eaton’s in 1985, he reappeared in 1995 at a new restaurant at the old address of La Bastille on St. Nicholas Street. “After 12 years,” an ad proclaimed, “Pedro Cabazuelo has returned to Toronto to open Cypre’s, an inviting oasis on this charming tree-lined street. It’s a forest-green den for intimate affordable dining.” The ad touted the restaurant’s proximity to TIFF and Forever Plaid (then running at the New Yorker Theatre).
Toronto Life gave Cypre’s a one-star (out of four) review:
Some Latino tang — the tiny downstairs in burnt-orange glaze (more serene than it sounds) — though it’s really everyeater-land (Thai noodle chicken, Szechuan beef pasta, venison-veal sauced by red grapes and white raisins). Some overcooking or puzzling blandness. Wines skip about.
Additional sources: the November 21, 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail; the September 9, 1995 edition of Starweek; the April 1996 edition of Toronto Life; and the January 31, 1976, and December 24, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star.