• By: Dan Donovan

Canada’s Best Steakhouse is Popular and Influential Beyond Toronto

Photos courtesy of Harbour 60

Forty-seven percent of Torontonians speak a mother tongue besides English. This multicultural smorgasbord contributes to the immense diversity of Toronto’s food scene and has made it one of the world’s great cuisine cities.  Within ten blocks of downtown Toronto you can choose from a plethora of restaurants offering everything from fabulous Cuban, Indian, Korean, Italian, Portuguese, Thai, Spanish, Malaysian and other multi-national dishes. Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood features a treasure trove of exceptional Greek restaurants. Indian and Southeast Asian food hotspots are scattered throughout Scarborough and Brampton. The Chinese diaspora are at the top of their food game in Markham. You can’t go more than a block anywhere in the 416 or 905 before you’ll see yet another tasty shawarma or Vietnamese sandwich place.  For more formal dining or a total foodie experience, the choices are endless. Shala-Mar, Mother India or Barque, the always busy barbecue joint, whose tagline is “Authentic Southern Ontario barbeque” come to mind.  Feel like Brazilian? No problem, go to Mata. Rasta Pasta serves delectable no-frills Jamaican jerk chicken. Then there is the Kensington market with its great Japanese Ramon joints and Chinese Bakeries. Some favourite business eateries include Alo, Dailo, Bar Isabel, Canoe, the Black Hoof, Springrolls and Frings. Foley on Ossington Avenue remains a favourite. For comfort food there are classic diners like The Senator, a block from Dundas Square which has a been going strong since 1929  or The Tulip in Leslieville which serves great and steak and potatoes or the Avenue Diner near Yorkville (the Av and Dav) which has been serving eggs and burgers for decades.

There are definitive steakhouses in Canada, but there is only one Harbour Sixty.  

It’s a brisk cold Friday in March in Hogtown. The pointy shoed Bay Street business types are heading out for lunch in Canada’s largest metropolis. Martini’s will flow and patrons will surrender their palates to the incredible array of food options available in the world’s most diverse and multicultural city. If there is one restaurant in Toronto that is the epicentre of influence it has to be Harbour Sixty Steakhouse.  This champion of restaurants is located in the beautifully restored 1917 Harbour Commission building on the waterfront in Toronto a stone’s throw from both the Air Canada Centre and Rogers Centre.

This historic building is also home to the federal agency, Ports Toronto. The steakhouse is a meeting spot for Toronto’s most influential business and political leaders, actors, singers and other celebs and personalities. Regular patrons and guests include everyone from Drake to Conrad Black, Floyd Mayweather, tech maven Heather Kernahan, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, Mayor John Tory, Councilor Giorgio (George) Mammoliti, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, CEO Camilla Sutton and writer author Patricia Schultz. “Sixty” is a regular haunt of many of Toronto pro athletes from the Maple Leafs, Toronto FC and Blue Jays. Visiting players from NHL clubs also like the spot.

Harbour Sixty offers three levels of elegant dining and features extravagant décor, a combination of dark wood and marble countertops, white linen tablecloths and gentle lightening that creates a magnificently sublime atmosphere with the perennial buzz you’d expect to find in a happening spot. It all works wonderfully well. You feel important just walking into the place and have a sense you are in for a treat. Whether it’s the well-seasoned and mouth-watering steaks, gourmet sides like the buttermilk fried cauliflower, lobster mac and cheese or the truffle mashed potatoes, there are no disappointments.  The prime beef is expertly prepared and the half-shell oysters are a dream. The yummy deserts include coconut cream pie, baked Alaska and chocolate molten cake. They also make great cocktails including their legendary TED martini which would leave even James Bond shaken and stirred.  Hosting one of the best kitchens in Toronto with equipment from the best commercial kitchen equipment suppliers They have one of the finest wine cellars in Toronto and proudly promote the best local wines alongside international selections, including many of Ontario’s world class white, red and dessert wines.

Harbour Sixty is the vision and work of legendary Toronto restaurateurs Ted and Steve Nikolaou who spared no expense in their dream to bring one of Canada most fabulous restaurants to life. Seventy six year old Ted Nikolaou is a soft-spoken and elegant man of grace and charm who looks like a famous movie star. On this Friday he is sitting with some friends having an end of week lunch. His silvery hair and resplendent navy suit are stylish and tasteful, much like his restaurant. His storied career is well known in Toronto. He shined shoes as an immigrant kid and continuously saved money and moved from one successful business venture to another until he put a life of experiences together in the mid-1990s to establish and open Canada’s premiere steakhouse on a site that many at the time thought was risky. He had the vision and chutzpa to look beyond the then rather battered area and saw the great potential. He also understood location, location, location and knew that if he and his partner built it, people would come. They have succeeded beyond their own expectations.

Vince Nigro is a respected and well know Toronto business man. He has 25 years of experience working with movers and shakers in the harsh world of Toronto business and politics. He’s worked for two Toronto mayors and several federal cabinet ministers. A former senior vice president of the Toronto Economic Development Corporation, he has contributed greatly to the arts community and the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. Nigro knows Toronto and he knows the players good and… bad. He has a special spot for Nikolaou.

“Ted is truly is a visionary man and restaurateur. He built this from nothing, renovated the place –look at the food, ambiance service. He’s always looking forward and renewal is in his vocabulary. He has a heart of gold and is generous to a fault. He has helped so many people in Toronto over the years but never talks about it. He is the best friend anyone can have,”  Nigro says adding that “Ted represents what is best about the people of the city of Toronto. He cares about his business, his staff, his customers, and his community and his city…he’s the real deal.”

That feeling is shared by John Oakley, Canada’s king of talk radio and the influential radio host of The John Oakley Show on AM640 Toronto. Oakley says that “Ted is just one of those people you meet that you feel a kinship for….. he had a vision for this place years ago and made it into something really special. He’s a very savvy business guy too but he has always been there to give back. He never talks about the people he has helped over the years, but many of us have seen him do so much for others. I love it here and there is nothing better than breaking bread with Ted and other great friends on days like today”.

I ask Oakley about the politicos and other people of influence and celebrities that are regulars at Harbour Sixty. Oakley pauses, thinks for a moment, and says: “Look, this is a place where a lot of deals and discussions happen. Politicians of all stripes come here. It’s the food, the wine, the welcoming atmosphere, the ability to have a private friendly conversation. Sometimes breaking bread together or sharing a great meal at a nice restaurant is the best way to bring people together. Even adversaries. Ted’s restaurant does that. People feel good here and can relax and be themselves”.

Oakley pauses again and adds: “Ted is really one of Toronto’s great ambassadors. He’s done a lot for his city and this restaurant is a place where a lot of people have come together to figure some things out.”

Dennis Mills is a former MP, Toronto businessman and regular at Harbour Sixty. His offices are in the same historic building and he has a regular table there. He’s been coming to the steakhouse since it opened. I ask him about Ted and he says: “Well, first he is a friend but he is also a tour de force who has had an incredible impact on the food and restaurant scene in Toronto. He also gives back. Everyone loves Ted and his restaurant.”

The wines and spirits, the delectable food, wonderful atmosphere and friendly, professional, proficient and knowledgeable staff all combine to make a visit to Harbour Sixty a special occasion on any day.  If you are in Toronto it’s an experience well worth a visit.