Through one door down from a corner pawn shop and sharing a space with West Broadway’s Sherbrook Inn, The Tallest Poppy is not to be taken for any ordinary greasy spoon. Here, chef/owner Talia Syrie lovingly combines her Jewish heritage with hearty southern comforts.
A rather frightening looking bear wearing a “please wait to be eaten,” I mean seated, sign welcomes guests at the door – a first glimpse of the endearing quirk that radiates through the space. The chairs don’t match, the walls wear a vibrant mix of local art and chalkboard signs shout about happy hour specials from the bar.
The right thing to do, whether at The Tallest Poppy for breakfast, lunch or dinner, is order a Caesar spiked with homemade salsa verde. The zesty flavour boost takes the Canadian cocktail to a whole new level. Then, it’s time to dig into some eats. Chowing down on fried chicken for breakfast or waffles for supper (or both, combined!) is perfectly acceptable here, encouraged even. A classic Mexican breakfast, huevos rancheros, is crave-worthy any time of day. Fresh made corn tortillas take a dip in the deep fryer, acting as a crisp bed for creamy refried beans, piquant pico de gallo and sunny eggs.
Syrie’s grandfather owned a kosher butcher shop in the ’50s, and his favourite corned beef recipe made its way into The Tallest Poppy’s reuben. Stuffed between soft marble rye, the buttery meat is fall-apart tender, paired with heaps of tangy sauerkraut and a zippy horseradish aioli. Order it with a bowl of chicken and matzah ball soup. The menu cheekily claims the matzah balls are supervised by Syrie’s mom. This means dumplings are light and fluffy every time, floating above the light broth.
Vegetarian dishes are equally satisfying here. Impeccably crisp black bean croquetas surprise with a creamy and nutty interior. Vibrant romesco tops the croqueta and perfectly pan-fried potatoes and beets lay beneath. If in the mood for something lighter, leafy green salad laden with quinoa, roast beet and squash hits the spot. Creamy chevre is the perfect match for its light lemon pepper vinaigrette and toasted sunflower seeds add crunch.
Fried food here is Syrie’s outlet for deep Southern influence. Juicy chicken is enveloped in an ultra-crunchy, dark coating; chicken-fried steak swaps in tender brisket with that same crunchy batter. Staying true to soul food roots, both are served with a generous mound of collard greens made extra delicious through a tryst with pork fat, smooth mash, and a big boat of country-style gravy. Take a trip even further down south with a side of extra-cheesy grits.
The restaurant has always had its admirers, first at Syrie’s no-frills Main Street location, and now at the Sherbrook St. incarnation, a reboot that’s been running since 2014. Whimsies and all, its enduring popularity shows us just how far a little extra heart and soul can go.