The Lowdown on Low Down by George Czerny
07 Jan 2020
It does twig the nostalgic nodes in my mind to see where what used to be my office is now part of a newly-opened restaurant's kitchen in Collingwood, Ontario. It's probable that nobody else in Collingwood, or in Canada, has as much a personal attachment to Low Down's kitchen area as I do. No, I'm not an owner, a cook there, neither do any of my family members run Low Down.
Here's the lowdown on Low Down, which opened just a couple of months ago in Unit 5 at 65 Simcoe Street, just north of the Collingwood Public Library.
I say I'm nostalgic, because Low Down has opened in a building which was built in the winter of 1988-1989 and, back then, was the newest newspaper plant in town. I was the publisher of that community newspaper (the now-defunct Enterprise-Bulletin). A few years later the internet era took hold strongly on the world of communication. Low Down, which bills itself as a place for cocktails and snacks, is the latest change on the culinary face of Collingwood. Low Down promises Asian-inspired snacks and well-crafted cocktails. You can find out more about Low Down at www.lowdownbar.ca.
The building which houses Low Down is a very interesting place to visit because the former newspaper building has been masterfully renovated to house a number of different businesses, a small theatre, a dance studio, artist's studios, a store for the Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts, and now a restaurant, Low Down.
Low Down is the brainchild of co-owners Cassie Mackell and Jeff Beltran. Both have extensive restaurant experience. With Low Down they have opened something that has an unique menu you won't find duplicated anywhere else in Collingwood.
My wife Nancy and I had no idea of what to expect from Low Down's menu. We had heard that it might offer Philippine-oriented menu items, or food from other parts of Asia. So, Nancy stopped in one snowy evening before Christmas and picked up a menu.
There are 10 items on the “snacks” part of Low Down's menu. From Thai red-curry honey nuts for six dollars, to sticky Chinese chicken bao for seven dollars, to crispy tofu bao for seven dollars to banh mi fries for $10.00. there are two main ramen dishes, miso dashi ramen, or miso veg ramen, for $15.00 each. You can get sides plus add-ons: crispy char siu pork belly for five dollars, or ponzu bok choy for four dollars, or jasmine rice for three dollars.
The cocktails menu covers almost all of one side of a printed menu page. From “Found My Thrill” (which involves tequila) to Go Loko, Hotel Lobby and Road to Zion....just to name some of the drinks offered for between $10 and $13. The rest of that page offers mocktails “So fresh & so clean” for five dollars, or “Good Day” for four dollars, just to name two.
You can also purchase beer, cider and wine at Low Down. It's good to see that they have local products on the drinks menu. For example, “Downhill” pale ale, or “Sidelaunch dark lager”, both are products of local microbreweries. They also have Duntroon Cyder (yes, spelled with a 'y') from the garlic farm on Highway 124, south of Collingwood between Nottawa and Duntroon, which has expanded into the growing-in-popularity cyder business. You can also buy Asian lagers from their beer choices.
Truth be told, I think that some people might be able to memorize Low Down's menu which isn't large, but has some exquisite offerings.
After we stepped through the doorway into Low Down, we found ourselves to be in an L-shaped dining area on one side of which are the bar, with about a dozen stools at it, and a doorway nearby which leads to the kitchen (where my office used to be!).
We were welcomed immediately by a server who offered us bar-stool seating because all available tables were taken.
A big difference between most other Collingwood restaurants and Low Down – and you will sense this immediately – is that the lighting is subdued and the premises have a cozy feeling.
Nancy and I got lucky. Two people at one small table were leaving. They walked toward us, exiting into this Simcoe Street building toward the art gallery area. I asked one of them what would they recommend?
In less time than it takes for you to lick your spoon, the woman told me: “nachos, salad, fries”. I asked the man with her “was it good?”
“It's always good,” he told me, obviously a repeat customer. We snagged the table that had just come available.
With the subdued lighting and the candle-like light which flickered on our table it was a bit of a trick to read the menu, but not impossible. Also, the server was prompt to assist us and answer questions. As we sat with our drinks – Tawse, Spark!, a sparkling wine from Vineland, Ontario, for Nancy and a Duntroon Cyder for me – we reflected about the romantic feeling of sitting there in close-to-darkness (but still light enough to see) while the décor sparkled around us.
We decided to leave ordering a ramen dish for another time and picked from the snacks menu thinking it would be a bit like dim-sum and we could get a taste of this and that.
Our server, Austin, took our orders for Chicken Bao ($7.00), Banh Mi Fries ($10.00) and shrimp dumplings ($8.00). The way we figured it, this restaurant's menu items are for sharing and whatever we could not finish we would ask to take away.
Nancy started with the Chicken Bao, which is a small sandwich and probably meant for one person. I started with the shrimp dumplings. The other choice of dumplings was pork, but I love shrimps!
We shared the Banh Mi Fries. The diner who had recommended the fries was correct. The fries, in a little basket, came with crispy, five-spice pork belly, black garlic umami mayo, pickled daikon, carrots, pickled chilies, cilantro, spring onion and sesame seeds. Yes, Low Down knows how to delight you with an order of fries that is different from any other restaurant in town. It's fitting that this restaurant is located in what is promoted as the Creative District of Downtown Collingwood.
As we ate, savoured and shared our dishes, Low Down co-owner Jeff Beltran followed in our server's footsteps to say hello and to ask how we were enjoying our food. We gave him a thumbs-up... all was well! We also ordered a plate of tuna nachos ($14.00) and that arrived before we were finished the first part of our order. The tuna nachos come with crispy wontons, edamame, green onions, toasted sesame seeds, tomatoes, pickled chili, cilantro, nori, crispy shallots, wasabi dill and avacado dressing. It's proof positive from the presentation and the taste that in the Low Down kitchen somebody is going the extra spatula swirl to impress, delight and woo customers back.
Our invoice came to $56.00, plus $7.28 in tax, for a total of $63.28. The dishes we tried, during the hour we were there, were tasty, the service excellent and the ambiance was a comfortable.
We'll be back to try other items on Low Down's menu. I'm all-in when our return visit happens, for Tai Red Curry Honey Nuts ($6.00) and I'll let Nancy be first to try the Blistered Shishito Peppers ($6.00). We might even split a Ramen dish, either Miso Dashi, or Miso Veg; either to cost $15.00.
Just like the newspaper business changed and advanced into the internet era, Low Down is changing the Collingwood restaurant scene into culinary-gigabytes of delicious Asian delights.
Waiting for a table at Low Down is very much worth what ends up on your palate.
Editor's note: George Czerny, the writer of this Low Down review was the publisher of The Enterprise-Bulletin community newspaper from 1977 to 1991 and this was his first visit to where his office used to be.