The top spot in this year’s “Where to Eat Now” package belongs to the city’s most ambitious chef
We published a profile of this issue’s cover star, Matty Matheson, back in 2016, and it remains one of my favourite Toronto Life features. The man we encountered back then was 34 years old, a heart attack survivor, recently sober and trying to figure out who he was without alcohol or drugs. He had a mere 101,000 followers on Instagram at the time, a new TV show, an infant son to raise and a head full of big ideas.
His health scare had rattled him, but he had a second chance at life and was generally optimistic. The writer, Courtney Shea, asked him what he wanted to achieve. “Everything,” he replied, before getting specific. Among his goals: start a fashion line, make more television and “open the sickest restaurant in Toronto.”
Matheson says a lot of things, and often at high volume—even his Instagram captions are all caps—so it was hard to tell how serious he was. And what does a sick restaurant look like, anyway?
Matheson was known for his award-winning cheeseburgers, which the team at Parts and Labour on Queen West sold in droves. (To spare you a Google search: brisket, buttered buns, bacon-onion jam, double Monterey Jack, iceberg lettuce, dill pickle mayo.) In life and in the kitchen, Matheson went heavy on the good stuff—butter, fat, salt, sauce—and light on the pretension. Simple and delicious, nothing more. It wasn’t that he couldn’t cook extravagant fare; it was that he didn’t want to.
A lot has happened since we ran our profile of Matheson. In addition to buying a farmhouse in the country, having two more kids with his wife, Trish Spencer, launching a hamburger takeout window opposite Trinity Bellwoods, collaborating on a coffee line and landing a sponsorship with Harry Rosen, he made serious progress on his to-do list. His fashion line, Rosa Rugosa, which launched last summer, produces understated, monochromatic trade garments and leisurewear. He continued to make television, and not just the home-cooking shows we were used to. He played a supporting role as lovable handyman Neil Fak in FX’s kitchen drama The Bear, which was the sleeper hit of 2022 (season two is out in July). Fashion line, check; make TV, check. But, for all of Matheson’s tireless ambition, the sickest restaurant in Toronto remained elusive.
Little did we know, between nude-on-the-toilet selfies, Matheson had been plotting his master plan all along. Before Covid was even a thing, he was scouting locations. While we were bingeing Tiger King and buying masks in bulk, he was vetting his chefs, concocting the menu and fine-tuning the aesthetic. By last spring, he was figuring out how to suspend a five-and-a-half-tonne wood structure from the ceiling.
Then, finally, Prime Seafood Palace opened its doors. The interior is soft and subtle, with curved pale wood beams soaring upward, as if you’re dining in the ribcage of a very beautiful whale. “It’s the complete opposite of other steakhouses, which are all red leather, dark tables and tuxedos,” Matheson told us at the time. It’s also the opposite of snooty. “Come here in swimming trunks and flip flops. Or wear a tuxedo, I don’t give a fuck—you’re the same as everybody else.”
There were many restaurants to choose from for this year’s “Where to Eat Now” package—Kappo-style sushi; artfully plated Indian; tapas, tapas, tapas; and much more—but Prime Seafood Palace handily stole the number-one spot. As our food critic writes, at PSP’s heart lies a quintessential Mattiness: quality and simplicity. It’s intimate, excellent, unfussy and—in the best possible way—pretty damn sick.
Malcolm Johnston is the editor-in-chief of Toronto Life. He can be reached via email at [email protected].