Baxters Landing, the latest in the Landings chain of restaurants, is located at the Oshawa Centre, and the “low-key party atmosphere,” promised on the website is in full swing when we arrive, even though it’s 12:30 pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Four massive flat screens blink frantically above the large bar, each screen showing a different sport or news channel, the music is loud, the youthful and predominantly female servers are wearing bodycon dresses, the few male staffers are in button down shirts and dark trousers.
“Relaxing at Baxter’s is not an option, it’s an obligation,” is another tag-line on the Baxters Landing website, glibly ignoring that there’s nothing relaxing about being ordered to relax.
The restaurant space is large, a mix of booths and tables, and the theme is modern industrial – lots of metal, wood, and hanging lights. It’s bright, thanks to the large sections of windows looking out to the Oshawa Centre parking lot, and about 1/3 full with a mix of families grabbing lunch, couples, and groups.
Our server is friendly and eager, and quickly takes our drink order. We pass on both the sangria, despite being advised several times that it’s outstanding, and another house speciality, the Landing Cure Caesar, which comes adorned with what appears to be a slice of naan bread and the contents of a small veggie tray on skewers.
The menu is limited but curated to be safely on trend, and includes an upmarket mac & cheese, brisket poutine, an artisanal platter, plus stalwarts like pizza, burgers, and steaks. Not wanting anything too heavy, we decide to order the beet and goat cheese salad with a grilled chicken breast on the side, and the fish tacos.
Both plates arrive within a respectable amount of time, and the food is attractively displayed, if a little one-sided. The beet salad is generously sized, and the beets are a mix of purple and golden, tossed in rocket with a dollop of goats cheese with crushed candied walnuts sprinkled on top, drizzled with a raspberry vinagrette, while the chicken lies in three thick slices on the other side of the plate. The salad tastes bright and clean, if a bit heavy on the dressing, and the chicken added enough heartiness to make it a full meal.
The three fish tacos are each wrapped in soft white tortillas, and the battered white fish finger in each is topped with a sweet pineapple and jicama slaw with sliced red onion, a dollop of avocado crema, baby spinach, and sliced yellow peppers. Thankfully, there’s no sign of the promised cheddar cheese, which was a curious addition to begin with. The smoked chili sauce is in a small bowl on the side of the plate, but what we’re supposed to do with it is unclear. Dip the taco into it? Spread it onto the tortilla with a knife? We chose the latter, and the flavour added a pleasant smokiness to the dish. The taco was sweet and savoury, thanks to the addition of the slaw and the chili sauce, but the liquid in the slaw made our last taco soggy. This is a plate that’s not to be lingered over.
After the plates have have been cleared, we’re left with the distinct impression that Baxters Landing’s true calling in Oshawa is to fill the role of an upscale local boozecan catering to the 30+ crowd, in which the restaurant is there to support the primary money-maker: the bar. The food was good, but the menu is very safe and uninspired, a decision which is likely that of Cara, the company that owns the majority of the Landing restaurant chain and other stalwarts of the Canadian dining scene, like Swiss Chalet. Unfortunately, in playing it safe, the food is stuck in the category of being “fine”, rather than outstanding, but we suspect that’s exactly where it wants to be.
Baxters Landing is located at the Oshawa Centre, 419 King Street West, Oshawa.