For those who have exhausted their bar-hopping days but aren’t yet ready to settle into the world of fine dining, it can be a challenge to find the middle ground between those worlds.
Instead of seeing this time in limbo as purgatory, Sean Barlow chose to focus on the opportunity it presented. In 2007, he opened Limbo Lounge & Martini House on 196 Christina Street North in Sarnia — and carved out a unique space downtown for the up-and-coming demographic that appreciates inspired food at affordable prices.
“We call it classy-casual,” says Front of House Manager, Melissa Cameron, who has over 16 years of restaurant industry experience in Toronto’s competitive market.
Cameron is visibly passionate about the business and it’s evident that she and Barlow have a shared vision and mutual respect that has paid off for the establishment. Limbo’s interesting fusion-style menu and enticing promotions keep patrons coming back for more.
An extensive martini list is updated to reflect the season and Ontario craft brews are kept on tap. The menu is inspired by the cosmopolitan travels of Barlow and his employees, who have been influenced by their time in Australia, Southeast Asia, Korea and throughout Europe
The space, which seats between 50 and 60, is complimented by a back room with seating for another 60. In the summertime patio space opens up for an additional 35 customers. The restaurant is a popular place for private functions: Christmas parties, bachelorettes, rehearsal dinners and even small weddings.
According to Cameron, Salt & Pepper Shrimp (an Asian style dish with the shrimp flash fried and seasoned with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and served with a sweet chili cream) is a popular appetizer. And Chef Brian Hall adds that a frequent dinner favourite is the Beef Tenderloin — which is grilled, topped with gorgonzola and finished with a port reduction before being served over roasted potatoes alongside grilled vegetables and crispy onions.
And just to ensure that there is something for everyone, a green menu also offers vegetarian, gluten-free and low calorie options.
“The chefs are classically French trained, but we offer a variety of everything here,” says Barlow.
Limbo is a participant in ‘First Fridays’ — a downtown revitalization initiative that offers special incentives for downtown exploration on the first Friday of every month.
To keep things fresh, Limbo also regularly offers live musical entertainment along with regular weekday incentives, including date nights on Wednesdays, where two can dine on appetizers, a main course and a dessert for only $60. Thursday nights are ‘girls’ nights’. Patrons are offered the chance to enjoy four appetizers and four martinis for only $40.
Chef Hall, who hails from Stratford and was trained at Lambton College, says that growing up in the innovative foodie town played a huge role in shaping his ideas of what food should be. He regularly watches for inspiration from other chefs and sums up his style in the kitchen as never cooking anything that he wouldn’t want to enjoy himself.
If Limbo Lounge isn’t quite your style, Barlow recently opened up another restaurant just a stone’s throw away. Sideways Classic Grill was founded on the same brand of creative fusion-style inspiration, but with a different slant.
“I consider Limbo and Sideways to be like brother and sister locations,” says Cameron, who oversees both restaurants. “We’re like family, we share staff and resources, but they’re very different too.”
Sideways is so named because it is diagonally located to Limbo Lounge (at 154 Front Street North), and offers its own unique take on English pub-style fare.
The restaurant has earned a name for itself with the way it has put a twist on the traditional. From wonton nachos to curry poutine to chicken wing flavours that break away from the usual mild, medium and hot and include Korean BBQ, dill pickle, salt & vinegar and Caesar cocktail, Sideways dresses up comfort food in exciting new ways.
The bar offers a more extensive beer menu than Limbo, and large screen televisions have been added to keep sports fans engaged.
The restaurant’s space is elongated with high ceilings. The building was originally erected in the 1870’s and many of the original elements have been restored by Barlow, to reveal their vintage splendour. Tin ceilings, millwork, wood floors and exposed brick give Sideways Grill a homey atmosphere — and the buzz of conversation that lifts above the packed tables indicates that many people feel the same way.
Take-out menus are available for both Limbo and Sideways, and Barlow offers catering services out of his restaurants as well, so fans of the fare can enjoy great taste, no matter where their function might be. A poutine bar, a s’mores bar and draft beer on wheels are examples of the creativity available through the catering service.
Whether you live in Sarnia, or are thinking of making a special trip through this border city, stop in to their convenient downtown locations for a meal that’s sure to revitalize you. As a special note: look for special promotions in November at Limbo Lounge, and in February at Sideways Grill, as each business celebrates its respective anniversary.
196 Christina Street North, Sarnia
MONDAY–THURSDAY: 11:30 AM–10:00 PM
FRIDAY–SATURDAY: 11:30 AM–1:00 AM
SUNDAY: 11:30 AM – 9:00 PM
Sideways Classic Grill
MONDAY–SATURDAY: 11:30 AM–12:00 AM
SUNDAY: 11:30 AM–10:00 PM
TANYA CHOPP is London-based marketing communications specialist and freelance writer whose work is focused on the promotion of health, wellness and support of the arts. She cooks with wine, and sometimes she even adds it to the food.