9112 142 STREET
Mon. to Fri. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Dinner for two, excluding tip and beverages: basic, $30; loaded, $60

Food:  3.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 3.5 of 5 Suns

Rebel Food & Drink takes the old – the idea of a neighbourhood-based eatery/bar – shines it up, modernizes and makes it trendy.  

But it’s still the place to meet your pals for a drink, or bring the family if nobody wants to cook. And if you’re over .05 thanks to half-price wine Wednesdays, you can walk (cab/UBER) home without breaking the bank, then come back in the morning to get your car.

It may have been partially circumstantial, but the latest concept from Chris Lachance’s Century Hospitality Group (Lux, Delux, MKT, Hart’s, Parlour) hits all the right buttons.

Piccolino’s had been an old-style village Italian eatery, an inner-west end fixture on 142 Street south of Stony Plain Road for some 16 years. The father-and-son team of Joe and Lino Rago were the best of hosts. But Piccolino’s has ceased to evolve, had become stale in both décor and food. Then, last year, it was dinged for health violations.

Lachance, an astute judge of hospitality trends, saw lemonade in those lemons. Creating a partnership with the Ragos, Rebel has rid itself of any possible Piccolino association, other than its reputation for hospitality.

The 110-seat restaurant has been completely gutted, with a very hip theme, décor and design. Look for a lovely patio come the spring.

The food is the latest in high-end “comfort” – chicken and waffles, lamb lollipops, lasagna, plus the usual pizzas, steak sandwiches and burgers. At the same time, Rebel functions as a respectable bar with happy hour, daily promotions etc.

The partnership is redemptive. In the midst of all this new is a reassuring old – Lino Rago is Rebel’s operating partner and general manager.

The food is good, but, based on a media tasting and a subsequent visit, still needs work.

Several selections were delicious in that modern, trendy, sweetened-up kind of way.  The lamb lollipops are a signature already, crisped with panko-breading, juicy, lots of garlic and lemon, well-priced at $20 for six chops.

Rebel’s lamb lollipops are finger-lickin’ good.

“Whiskey a Doh-Dough” – Rebel prides itself on creative names – is a flaming saganaki cheese dish as tasty as anything on offer at the best Greek restaurants. A final flambé using Gretzky whisky (are we not trendy?) is a defining touch.

The Avo Risotto is a tad oily but sinfully good thanks to lashings of cream and butter. A garnish of sliced fruit, apple and sweet radish gave the dish character.

Finally, on the plus side, Century Hospitality executive chef Tony Le has modernized the once-popular Chinese restaurant prawns and peaches appetizer. But instead of a cream sauce, he sweetens and spices the healthy-sized prawns, leaving the grilled peaches on the side to add some taste complexity to the dish.

Revisiting prawns & peaches

Not so successful:   The “Hook, Line & Chips” should be thrown back in the ocean. The “cod bites” were tiny, boringly over-battered and swimming in oil.  Likewise, the chicken & waffle tacos arrived with soggy, barely warmed waffle tacos and nondescript chicken strips.  I was surprised at the Rebel Chz Brgr – a good brioche bun, excellent ground beef and tasty caramelized onions … but no defining signature taste, no wow factor.

There’s no question Rebel is a hit right out of the gate. My visits were mid-week, before and after Christmas. The restaurant/bar was full and bustling both nights. The staff still needs reminding of the space’s reputation for “hospitality”. Our server was fine, but the young hostess at the door was in a bad mood and letting it show.

These are early days – Rebel opened not two months ago. The folks running this show, chef Le, GM Rago and Century president Lachance, are consummate professionals who’ll clean up that which needs cleaning.  

In the meantime, watch for imitations.  Rebel, OTTO, Salz and the Glass Monkey have proven upscale all-local eatery/pubs work – in the right neighbourhoods.