Sort-of Secret: Le Spot, a Scarborough billiard lounge with a cult following for its food
The sort-of secret: Le Spot Billiard Lounge, a Scarborough pool hall that serves legendary chicken wings
You may have heard of it if: You’re a professional pool player (or a pool shark)
But you probably haven’t tried it because: The roof has been under renovation for the past two months, and owner Marco Lu likes to keep a low profile
Pool halls aren’t usually associated with good food, but Le Spot Billiard Lounge on Sheppard Avenue East is no ordinary pool hall. “My grandfather was a chef in the Philippines, so even as a kid, I always knew what good food was,” says Marco Lu, owner of Le Spot, a Scarborough staple since 1978.
“Before I took over the place in ’98, I hung out here every day,” he says of the pool hall, where some of the country’s greatest snooker and billiards players have chalked their cues. Back then, the basic bar snacks on Le Spot’s menu weren’t known to get people’s blood pumping like a nail-biting nine-ball final could. When guests got hungry, they would leave to find food elsewhere, which left Lu wondering, “Why can’t people play pool and have something actually good to eat at the same time?”
Lu got to work in the kitchen, and along the way, he perfected his chicken wings. “They call them the legendary wings,” says Lu, referring to his regulars who can’t get enough of the addictive, lightly battered drums and flats. “If you come here on a Friday night, the whole lounge area is full of people just eating. They don’t even walk toward the pool tables,” says Lu. “When I was closed for the reno, I got more calls about when the kitchen was going to open. People had cravings for the food—for the wings, especially.”
Lu seasons his wings with a top-secret spice blend. “I definitely can’t tell you what’s in it,” he says, adamant about keeping the recipes on his small-but-mighty menu under wraps. “Once I tell you, you lose that feeling of magic,” he teases. “It’s a combination of different things” is the most detailed answer anyone who asks will get. Whatever magic goes into them, Lu has achieved the ideal balance of crispy on the outside yet succulent on the inside. “It’s not that I know how to cook—I don’t even call myself a chef,” he says. “You just gotta do what you gotta do.”
The seasoned wings, which run $14 for a dozen, don’t come slathered in sauce at Le Spot. “We don’t do glazed stuff,” he says. Instead, guests can choose a side of either mild, honey-garlic or Guyanese hot sauce—a homemade pepper sauce that a regular’s mom made for Lu before she passed. (Her daughter is now in charge of making the family’s famous recipe.) “We’ve been ordering sauce from them for the past 25 years.”
The menu‚ which includes other comfort-food faves, like chow mein and yang chow fried rice, is available every day after 4 p.m. And you don’t need to be a professional billiards player to have a good time here. Lu encourages people of all skill levels to stop by—and women play for free on Wednesdays. “Nobody was born a good pool player,” he says. “When I see people who can’t play and are trying to figure it out, I tell them to just keep trying.”’
Lu takes that same approach to cooking. “I was always looking for something better,” he says about the process of making his yang chow fried rice, another customer favourite. The aromatic dish is positively soul-soothing, with salty treasures of barbecued pork buried beneath a mountain of golden rice, green onions and fluffy scrambled eggs.
But perhaps the most exciting dish on the intentionally concise menu—yes, even more than those wings—is the spicy pork chop. Lu marinates the pork in another top-secret spice blend for a whole day before throwing the chops in the fryer. Then, in a sizzling-hot wok, he dry stir-fries garlic, onion, green onion and chili peppers before adding the chops to the mix until they’re nice and tender. “It’s just something that came about,” he explains. “In the summer, we take part in Taste of Manila, and we make food for Filipino events. I was telling my brother that, next year, we’ve gotta sell this in the streets.” Lu sums up the chop very succinctly: “It tastes good, and it’s cheap.” The dish, which usually comes with a side of rice, will set you back only $12.40, before tax and tip.
While the food prices and the interior of Le Spot–drop-ceiling tiles, red-and-blue checkered carpet floors to match the Blue Diamond pool tables—are straight out of the ’90s, the Scarborough spot serves as a simple reminder to never mess with a good thing.