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Flavours to set the taste buds dancing

Food columnist Allan Reid visits Liberty Kitchen

We are sitting in the coveted corner booth, my aunt and I. We are lucky. The people entering behind us see the booth sitting empty and indicate that they would like to sit there, but our hostess has already been preparing it for us. A server with menus promptly ushers us to follow her.

Our booth is “outside,” we’re told, though the patio is entirely enclosed. Acres of frameless glass walls and a mostly glass roof shut out the traffic noise while offering an illusion of actually sitting outdoors in bright, open daylight. It is primarily that daylight that separates inside from out—and the comfortable leather seats inside, as opposed to the comfortable woven fabric patio chairs outside.

Liberty Kitchen is a brand of the BRG Group, which also includes Browns Socialhouse and Browns Crafthouse. The distinguishing feature here is a focus on pizza. “In Pizza We Crust” reads a sign on the wall over the open-concept kitchen, where a pizza chef tosses a whirling round of dough high into the air, again and again catching it on his fist.

That sign and the restaurant name suggest an American theme. More specifically, I sense an “Italian immigrant to New York” theme. Even the shape of the building, as seen driving up Kelly Road, reminds me of a 19th-century dockside warehouse or barn likely to be filled with Italian longshoremen and dray horses hard at work. Instead, it is filled with hungry diners enjoying good food and drink in comfortable surroundings.

Not in the mood for pizza? No problem. The menu includes burgers of beef or chicken served with massive house-cut wedge fries (or salad); a wide variety of appetizing appetizers; and assorted bowls: pasta bowls, salad bowls, poke salmon bowls, Thai bowls. And don’t forget dessert: a chocolate pretzel bread pudding or a Black Forest jar. Flip the menu for a selection of wine, beer and signature cocktails.

I’m driving, so I pass on the alcohol and order the Butternut Squash and Ricotta Ravioli ($23), along with a coffee. My aunt does the same. Several large ravioli stuffed with a purée of squash and ricotta are served beneath a heap of wilted spinach and chunks of roasted butternut, then topped with a brown-butter cream sauce, a macadamia gremolata, garlic chili oil and grated Padano cheese. The flavours are rich and playfully varied. The chili oil offers a modest bite that may be not quite modest enough for folks, like my aunt, who are sensitive to spice. And yet, she seemed to tolerate it quite well, just drinking a little water now and then, and finally praising the dish as exceptionally delicious. For the rest of us, that spice brightens the flavours and sets our taste buds dancing.

The portion was certainly enough, yet not too much. We left sated, not stuffed. Our only complaint was our coffee cups, which sat empty on the table for most of the meal. Otherwise, service was fast and friendly.