On Thursday, Jamie Kennedy announced through a tweet that Gilead Café and Wine Bar, his cozy bistro hidden down a Corktown laneway, would close at the end of next month. A day later, the chef had another announcement: the restaurant and everything in it was up for sale, right down to its “three-litre continuous feed ice cream maker.” The restaurant, open since 2008, underwent a redux early last year, bringing back evening dinner and drinks service after kiboshing it for event space in 2012. It’s up to the new owners whether or not the Gilead name stays, but just in case the new folks aren’t french fry lovers, fans of chef Kennedy’s frites (he’s one, himself) have until March 31 to get their fill.
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In this city, brunching has become a competitive sport: groggy early birds who show up even before restaurants open snag prime tables, while those who refuse to rise with the sun suffer through 45-minute waits, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures. For the most part, boring beige flapjacks aren’t causing the frenzy; instead, it’s belt-busting brunch plates featuring the likes of frogs legs and foie gras that are driving Toronto’s mid-morning meal mania. Here are 15 of the most epic and unholy brunch creations from around town in order of just how over-the-top they are.
Vancouver’s Milano Coffee has opened its first Toronto location, giving those in the core another way to stay caffeinated. The west coast chain that started as a family-run business in 1984 (and was once sweet-talked by Starbucks) has set up shop on Adelaide, right next to Fire Station 332. Milano’s roaster for almost three decades, Brian Turko, creates the shop’s blends at his B.C. facility. For the coffee geeks, all of the chain’s brews are made with the Aurelia II T3 espresso machine—the same one used in the World Barista Championships. Customers in a rush can get their joe to-go, but those with time on their hands can step up to the tasting bar for one of five (or, if they really need a boost, all five) espresso shots. Seating is available in the café, but come summer (remember summer?) Milano will open its patio so guests can caffeinate al fresco.
Grenache, or garnacha, is like the white T-shirt of the wine world: low-priced, beloved, and it goes with everything
Garnacha is one of the world’s most undervalued and prolific grapes. The low-acid, high-sugar, fruity variety can suffer from over-sweetness and brash mocha flavours in the hands of producers looking to maximize its commercial appeal. Not so with these bottles from Spain, which are sourced from 40-, 60-, 80-, even 100-year-old vines. Pair them with almost anything: ribs, wings, pulled pork, mac and cheese, meatloaf—or no food at all. At these prices, you might consider buying a case to take you through the winter.
When I cooked for a living, we were expected to show up, ready to work, unless a limb had been severed or liquid was oozing out of us. No one ever said we had to work sick; that’d be an obvious violation of labour laws and consideration for the public, exposing diners to our cold germs. But the first time you try staying home because you have a runny nose, sore throat and mild fever, you get a clear message the next day. No one cares that you were ill or asks if you’re feeling better. They only ask about the work you didn’t get done.
We know that Pizzeria Libretto and Porchetta & Co. are besties now, what with their side-by-side venture set to open on King West this summer, but the relationship is apparently more serious than previously known. It turns out that the two businesses are teaming up on another restaurant that’s set to open this spring at College and Clinton, in the Mad Italian’s old spot. The new place, which will be called A3 Napoli Pizzeria e Friggitoria, will serve Neapolitan street food, including pizza and fried foods (the owners won’t specify what kinds exactly, but we’re guessing arancini, fried calamari and the like). Libretto’s Rocco Agostino will act as executive chef, and Porchetta’s Nick auf der Mauer will help develop the menu. Currently, the plan is for the restaurant to be open seven days a week, from lunchtime until midnight. It will offer takeout and sit-down food service, plus Italian and local brews. And the cryptic name? That’s a reference to a motorway that leads into the heart of Naples, Italy.
Taste of Toronto—not to be confused with Toronto Taste—is returning to Fort York this July for four days of refined gluttony, and event organizers just gave us first dibs on the list of participants so far. This year’s roster of restaurants and their chefs includes returning favourites David Neinstein from Barque Smokehouse, Los Colibris’ Elia Herrera, Mark McEwan of the McEwan Group, Michael Bonacini alongside his Oliver & Bonacini team, Richmond Station‘s Carl Heinrich, Victory Barry from Splendido and The Harbord Room‘s Cory Vitiello. New this year will be Michael van den Winkel of the Indonesian snack bar Little Sister. All of them will be serving three different dishes, each one costing between five and 10 “crowns” (the festival’s currency and just a fancy way of saying “dollars”). Between mouthfuls, guests will have the option of attending culinary demonstrations, hands-on cooking classes with top chefs (last year, Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi did some) and wine tastings with Franco Stalteri of underground supper club Charlie’s Burgers. Tickets for the event go on sale mid-April; the full lineup of participants will be announced closer to the date of the event as more chefs register.
July 2–5. $25 and up. Fort York, 100 Garrison Rd., tasteoftoronto.com
The Atlantic Restaurant’s Nathan Isberg has made an ongoing commitment to do away with everything that makes a restaurant a restaurant. Last year he ditched the concept of a menu entirely, along with the idea of set prices, and now he’s done the unthinkable: he’s no longer selling alcohol at his Dundas West restaurant. “It’s another part of trying to figure out what parts of the restaurant are essential and what aren’t,” Isberg says. “It’s about focusing on the experience itself as opposed to numbing the brain or creating a fog.” Isberg says he’ll still serve wine for special events, but for the past few months, his regular dinner service has been dry. In lieu of booze, he’s been serving his own elixirs made with ingredients like kombucha, bitters, whey soda, orris root, cider and other herbs and fruit. (In line with how Isberg chooses which dishes to cook, he mostly just makes whatever drinks he feels like. Just don’t call them mocktails; he doesn’t think anything, alcoholic or otherwise, is missing.) But what about that whole money thing that alcohol usually brings in? “You take a little bit of a hit,” Isberg admits. “On the other hand, I don’t waste the money I have. I don’t have a bunch of staff standing around, and I don’t throw food away.”
Name: Bar Raval
Contact Info: 505 College St., thisisbarraval.com, @bar_raval
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Owners: Grant Van Gameren (Bar Isabel), Mike Webster (Momofuku and Bar Isabel) and Robin Goodfellow (Ursa)
Chefs: Van Gameren and former Bar Isabel sous chefs Ryan Baddeley and Keenan Mcvey
The Food: Guests at van Gameren’s new pinchos place dine shoulder-to-shoulder, eating from a tapas menu that doesn’t bother much with fanciness: small bites like steamed leeks on romesco, morcilla sausage with quail eggs and salty boquerón—quintessential casual northern-Spanish snacks—are eaten with toothpicks. The canned seafood, some of it imported, some house-made, includes preserved mussels, smoked mackerel with rosemary, as well as berberechos—small, saltwater clams from Conservas de Campados that are steamed in the can they come in, then served with a side of chips and a house aperitivo sauce. Embuditos (cured meat), and plancha-grilled seafood, meats and cheeses round out the snacks. And at Bar Raval, anytime is tapas time: it’s open every day, from 8 a.m.–2 a.m.
The Drinks: Bar Raval’s low-octane tipples, like the Jack Knife made with Tio Pepe, promote day drinking (as well as afternoon functioning). A long list of fortified wine, vermouth and sherry is available all day, too. The bar itself is built for speed and functionality: it boasts a sunken, angled gutter that keeps the team’s mise en place out of the way.
The Place: A tin roof is all that’s left of what used to be Teatro. Intricate, Antoni Gaudí-inspired woodwork (completed by design team Partisan for a price tag of $200,000) melts mahogany into swooping curves, with few right angles in sight, making the bar feel like a warm and super-stylish grotto.
Kensington Market is getting a new snack shop, and, in a break with neighbourhood tradition, it will sell something other than tacos. The Dirtybird is looking to bring what it calls “northern-fried” chicken (and waffles) to the city. It will open on March 4 in what was once part of the Kensington Café. Behind the bird is chef Adrian Forte, who has previously worked in the kitchens of Rock Lobster and The Libertine. The unlicensed space will focus on takeout orders, but for those who don’t like to walk with their waffle, there will be seating for 16. And what’s with the “northern-fried” tagline? “All of our signature chicken and waffles are served with maple syrup derivatives such as maple butter, or a maple seasoning blend, all crafted in-house from locally sourced 100-per-cent pure maple syrup,” explains Forte. His signature dish, “The Dirty Club,” consists of a boneless leg and thigh between a folded waffle, topped with beef bacon, butter lettuce, tomato and maple aioli. Fans of fried fowl can watch for Forte’s appearance on Chopped Canada later next month.
How do you get to be one of Canada’s most respected seafood experts? If you’re John Bil, owner of the Junction’s new fish counter, Honest Weight, you race mountain bikes and live in a van when you need to. Bil, who the Globe has called “one of the best oystermen on the continent,” has helped open some of the top restaurants in the country, including Montreal’s Joe Beef, but the same nomadic lifestyle that led him down this fishy path has also kept him out of the spotlight. We chatted with Bil about being broke, apocalypse cuisine and his new spot, which focuses on lesser-known tastes of the sea.
Less than two months after a Christmas Day fire destroyed Sotto Sotto, a longtime favourite dining spot of Yorkville’s elite, the landmark Italian restaurant is reopening just a couple doors north of its previous address. (Or, as loyal customer Drake might say, it started two doors over, now it’s here.) The new address is 120 Avenue Road, a space previously occupied by Dyne. Spokesperson Laura Fracassi says a grand opening is forthcoming, but the restaurant will have a soft reopening on February 19, which is today. “It’s still the same Sotto Sotto, but it’s bigger,” says Fracassi. Regulars can expect the same menu and even familiar servers—the restaurant has re-hired staff that had to be let go after the blaze. Until renovations are complete, Sotto Sotto will only be open for dinner service, Thursdays to Sundays. As of an hour ago, reservations were still available for tonight, but they are, unsurprisingly, flooding in.
The building that Hudson Kitchen left just over one month ago didn’t sit vacant for very long: the team behind Liberty Village’s School Restaurant is taking over the Dundas West and Palmerston corner—which, in the past five years, has also been home to the Palmerston Café and Jamie Kennedy’s Provenance—to open an all-hours barbecue joint. Old School (not, as you might have guessed, New School) will be open 24/7 for those early-morning and late-night meat cravings. Chefs Brad Moore and Ian Kapitan will serve comfort food, like pulled pork–topped pancakes and banana splits, but customers will also be able to get their goods to go: take-out will be available, and syrups, sauces, pies and meat by the pound will be for sale from the spot’s “general store.” And fans of moonshine (an as-yet untapped liquor trend) will be happy to know that the licensed space will host occasional “hooch tastings.” Old School is set to be in session this March.
This February 19, restaurants across the city will ring in the Year of the Ram (or Goat or Sheep, if you’d prefer with special dishes that symbolize good fortune, wealth and happiness. Among those restaurants: Susur Lee’s Luckee. We asked Lee to guide us through his special dim sum platter—available from Luckee’s special menu until March 1—and what makes it so, well, lucky. “Dim sum is not proprietary to Chinese New Year,” says Lee. “But these have been enhanced to make them appropriate for the festival.”
The Happy Hooker, Dundas West’s fish-focused taqueria that opened two years ago during the city’s taco-craze, has flopped. The spot’s website is no longer active (the domain expired last month) and a landlord’s distress warrant for outstanding dues—more than $45,000—has been posted on the restaurant’s front door. The phone line has been disconnected, and activity on the Happy Hooker’s Facebook page came to a halt on December 6 with an up-close photo of a shrimp-topped breakfast sandwich. At least there are plenty of other fish tacos in the sea.