A magnet for the music scene well beyond Sudbury, Veronica Desjardins, sat me down to explode some myths I believed about the persona of the Townehouse.
As general manager, she didn’t have to set me straight on this one: on the Trans-Canada route the Townehouse Tavern is an iconic destination for performers. But it wasn’t always so.
“We were sort of the first live music venue in Sudbury,” Desjardins said. “We have a reputation now for decades. Stompin’ Tom never played here, but he did write some pretty famous lyrics upstairs.
“My grandparents purchased the Townehouse in 1978. My dad then created this legendary live music hub for the North. It became our thing. Randy Bachman, Shania Twain, and anyone who played a show at the arena usually ended up here. After Northern Lights evenings it sure was busy.”
Did you know the Townehouse has also become known for outstanding burgers? It may be the burger connoisseur’s nirvana.
“It’s only a few years ago we added a kitchen. Before that we used to pass food from The (Laughing) Buddha next door. We added the burgers six years ago. It changed our identity,” Desjardins said. “My family owns both this location, and down the street, The Laughing Buddha. They work together nicely. Elgin Street was not always the best part of town.”
A great gathering place in pre-COVID times, Desjardins muses, “We were always popular with the alternative crowd. It was a safe spot.”
It was also a safe spot to try different dishes, vegan offerings, and what once were thought of as the unusual and unexpected. Beer menus and an average of 20 taps pushed fresh flavour horizons for patrons and staff.
There are some very dedicated serving staff who have been part of these two venues for years.
“I grew up on the bar stool behind when my grandparents ran the place,” Desjardins said. “When we added the menu we had people we never thought we would see here; for example families with kids, because now it wasn’t just a bar anymore.
“Before COVID, we could have 198 people for a performance. Things now are so very different.”
Despite the pandemic, the terrazzo flooring tells the story of nostalgia and permanence. Being relevant and adapting is also part of the history here.
“We’ve had to transform and grow with the times,” Desjardins said, a touch wistful herself. “Of course, the pool tables are quiet now. Like everywhere so much is on hold.”
Before we were locked down, I met with Desjardins on-site. I was drinking pulled local English ale from 46 North on Kelly Lake Road. Desjardins pointed to the business at the bar, but there were no bar patrons. Instead, there was a steady stream of online orders. Skip The Dishes and Doordash delivery people were constantly arriving and departing. Now in April, of course, it is take-out only time again. “We have become quite the take-out business. We are happy we have it. We are constantly figuring our next move. We miss the people.”
When they were open during summer and fall, QR Codes were attached to tabletops. Instead of single-use paper menus, you could just go touch-free, scan and it popped up on your screen. In the “old days,” burgers dominate one side of the menu. On the other, sweet potato fries, plus hand-cut and Cajun fries, poutine (even a maple bacon buffalo poutine), and chili, corn dogs (vegan corn dogs, too) were presented.
Sharables like the pull-apart focaccia, nachos and mushroom caps, deep-fried pickles, and olive and mushroom tapenade demonstrate this was a place to gather and hang-out.
“We have wine and standard cocktails plus a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, including Jones collection of sodas: Strawberry, Green Apple, Cream Soda, and Root Beer.” Desjardins believes there is something here for everyone.
Four salads include caesar, beet (“The Beetnik”), Mediterranean, and a grilled chicken portobello; it is not what you expect.
“We use Valley potatoes for our fries, and local grass-fed beef … never frozen, for the burgers. Our beef is what we are famous for. The Bistro and the Burger No. 4 are our most popular,” Desjardins said.
The gimmick burger is the Superstack. At $21, it is a deal when you consider all the ingredients and the quantity. It is everything possible between two grilled cheese sandwiches.
Then there is the Fat Cowboy. This burger has cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, applewood smoked bacon, a grilled portobello, topped with either a fried egg or an onion ring (Can I have both?). There are many, many burger choices.
I caved and ordered maple bacon aioli with my vegan Beet Burger selection. Yes, I know that sounds wrong.
“We have over time adapted to what people are interested in. To survive this long you have to,” insists Desjardins. “The vegan portion of the menu speaks to me — me and my dad! Our beet burger doesn’t just content vegans. We cater to all kinds of people.”
The patty is a blend of beets, roasted hemp seeds, cashews, brown rice and lentils. In your choice of bun, it normally includes Swiss cheese, chipotle aioli (it adds some zing) tomatoes and deep-fried onion tangles. It is moist, flavourful, a good chew, and very tasty. I was sad when I took the last bite. I really found it a delight.
“We earned the No. 1 burger title for many years,” said Desjardins proudly. “We will build a bigger kitchen. Maybe next year.”
Two weeks ago, Desjardins sent me an email: “I'm not sure if you have written the article yet, but our Townehouse patio is now open, weather dependent. We are adding a few fire tables and heaters this week.”
Shorts and sandals seemed just around the corner. It was short lived and oh so hopeful.
We all know what happened next.
“Unfortunately we reopened our patio just in time to close it again due to current restrictions, but we intend to open in back up as always when we are permitted to. All tables are spaced six feet apart. We actually had a long wait list when we were open. When the weather improves we will bring back the patio if we can. With COVID, it requires a lot of adapting.”
Too true. Twenty-eight days and counting. You will need to check hours of operation as rules are constantly changing.
Hugh Kruzel is a committed foodie and a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. Let’s Eat is made possible by our Community Leaders Program. Are you an advertiser? Learn more about our Community Leaders Program here.