I have always imagined John Maxwell, proprietor of Allen’s, as the most urban of men, a boulevardier very much at his ease in Manhattan, London’s West End or deepest Toronto. Perhaps he might occasionally be found in a wide-open space but only if it were the location of a rally of vintage Jaguar motor cars. How wrong I was. We can see from the photograph he kindly sent me that Mr. Maxwell is just as much at home in a cow pasture, especially when visiting his own herd of Dexter cattle. He acquired them last year, he tells me, and visits them, often, at their home on Wyatt Farm organics, Flamborough Centre, Ont. Dexters are one of Europe’s oldest domesticated breeds and they produce fabulously good steak, lean as venison when finished on grass and hay.
But don’t take my word for it. You can taste Dexter carpaccio, striploin, ribeye and bone-in rib from Maxwell’s own herd as part of the Steak Festival at Allen’s on the Danforth. It runs until February 25, so there is still time to indulge in the most fascinating forensic exploration of steak you will ever encounter. Maxwell assembles meat from animals personally chosen by himself from a number of different farms – many different breeds of cow, the creatures raised and then finished on many different feeds, the meat aged for many different lengths of time. Most are raised in Ontario but there is also an example of Angus from Prince Edward Island’s increasingly popular and delectable beef program, as well as bison from Quebec, USDA Prime Hereford from Nebraska and “Kobe” Wagyu-Angus from Alberta. Comparisons are encouraged.
Alongside this majestic menagerie is a dazzling wine list comprised of rare and old vintages of Ontario VQA wine. Here are bottlings you won’t find anywhere else – Reif’s Tesoro from 1995, the best vintage of the last century, Cave Spring’s superb 2005 La Penna, Hidden Bench’s 2007 La Brunante, Chateau des Charmes Equuleus going back to 2001, even a 2002 Zweigelt Reserve from Pelee Island Winery, a wine I have never tasted.
Anyone who claims to know about steak and wine has a moral obligation to participate in this amazing event. Allen’s is at 143 Danforth Avenue (as if you didn’t already know) and reservations are strongly recommended. 416 463 3086. www.allens.to/.