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Introducing: Baju, Zane Caplansky’s laid-back barbecue joint at The Monarch Tavern

baju-intro

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Baju BBQ
Contact Info: 12 Clinton St., 416-531-5833
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Owners: Zane Caplansky (best known for his eponymous deli and food truck) and The Monarch Tavern’s Michael Dorbyk
Chefs: Dan Green and Kyle Wyatt, the duo behind pop-up culinary collective Mise En Place

The Food: Baju ascribes to the “Meat and Three” philosophy, which holds that barbecue is best enjoyed along with a trio of equally filling side dishes. At Baju, pulled pork, sliced brisket, spicy Texas sausages and dry-rubbed ribs can be combined with heaping servings of beans, collard greens, cornbread or deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese nuggets. It’s a simple, soul-infused menu that doesn’t try to rewrite the classics. Explains Caplansky, “This is driving down a country road in Kentucky and finding a great shack that makes ribs, where that’s all they do. We’re keeping it simple.”

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Introducing: Ovest, a polished Italian restaurant on King West from ex-Terroni chef Luca Stracquadanio

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Ovest
Contact Info: 788 King St. W., 416-214-6161, ovest-to.com, @Ovest_TO
Neightbourhood: King West
Owner: Marco Celio, the former general manager at both Buca and Buonanotte
Chef: Sicilian-born chef Luca Stracquadanio, previously the executive chef at Terroni LA and La Bettola di Terroni in Toronto

The Food: In addition to thin-crust pizzas and truffle-strewn pastas, the debut menu at Ovest includes some interesting departures from typical trattoria fare. A nontraditional caprese salad, for example, combines tuna tartare with whipped Buffalo mozzarella and salsa verde. The swordfish carpaccio—chef Stracquadanio’s signature dish—brings thin slices of smoked fish sprinkled with slivered fennel, orange segments and white anchovies. (“I want to surprise my customers with juxtaposing elements,” says the chef.) Desserts, like the chocolate nest pictured above, are almost too pretty to eat.

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Masterchef Canada judge Alvin Leung and winner Eric Chong are opening a restaurant on Spadina

(Image: Bell Media)

(Image: Bell Media)

Back in April, when Masterchef Canada contestant Eric Chong hoisted that shimmering Lucite trophy above his head, we wonder if he sensed that his culinary future would be tied to the blue-haired eccentric standing next to him. According to the Star, Chong has partnered up with Masterchef Canada judge and Hong Kong–based chef Alvin Leung to open a modern Chinese restaurant somewhere on Spadina Avenue, “close to Toronto’s Chinatown.” (We wonder whether it might be the huge space at 241 Spadina, just south of Grange Avenue, that was left empty when Strada 241 closed its doors back in July.) The Leung-Chong collaboration will be called R&D, which, Leung told the Star, is short for “Rebel and Demon.” (For those who don’t know, Leung goes by the nickname “Demon Chef” and characterizes his particular brand of Asian cooking as “X-Treme Chinese.” When you run a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, which Leung does, you’re allowed to self-mythologize a little.) R&D is scheduled to open in early 2015.

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The group behind El Furniture Warehouse is opening another “premium dive bar” at Queen and John

The Annex location of El Furniture Warehouse. (Image: El Furniture Warehouse Toronto/Facebook)

The Annex location of El Furniture Warehouse. (Image: El Furniture Warehouse Toronto/Facebook)

When El Furniture Warehouse landed in the Annex last June, we had no idea that the restaurant would be such a hit. (Anyone who’s tried to navigate the sidewalk outside the Bloor Street entrance on weekends can attest to its popularity.) Apparently, there’s a niche for laid-back bars with cheap food in this city, and the Warehouse restaurant group seems determined to fill it. In fact, the company’s next Toronto project is already well underway. Partner Sean Young tells us that Queen Street Warehouse, another “premium dive bar,” will be opening next month at 232 Queen West, in the former Everest space between John and Duncan. And while Young is quick to point out that the new restaurant won’t just be a replica of the Annex location, it will share the universal Warehouse pricing policy, which guarantees that everything on the menu—whether it’s a cheeseburger or a plate of spaghetti—will cost exactly $4.95. (Note: booze not included.)

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Civil Liberties brings cocktails, charcuterie and laid-back hospitality to Bloor and Ossington

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

This week marks the debut of Civil Liberties, a new speakeasy on Bloor West. Housed in a redbrick Edwardian just east of Ossington, the small bar is dotted with antiques, including a 110-year-old piano that may eventually become more than just a showpiece. (Co-owners Nick Kennedy, David Huynh and Cole Stanford are hoping to host live music acts in the space.) The trio, who worked together at Salt Wine Bar, is determined to make their new hangout as unfussy as possible. To that end, they’ve vetoed waiters, printed menus and complicated food items in favour of laid-back hospitality and simple snacks, like charcuterie boards and pâté-stuffed pastries. The drinks list is also pretty flexible—if patrons aren’t keen on the Prohibition-era cocktails scrawled on the blackboard, one of the bartenders will happily concoct something on the fly. Right now, they’re just happy to be opening their doors after a three-month-long renovation process, part of which involved sticking 14,000 pennies to the top of the bar. (Oddly, not the first time we’ve come across that particular decorative statement.)

Civil Liberties, 878 Bloor St. W., @CivLibTO

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Introducing: Dandylion, a modern bistro on Queen West from former Centro chef Jay Carter

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Dandylion
Contact Info: 1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100, restaurantdandylion.com
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Chef/Owner: Jay Carter, who worked for 10 years under Susur Lee (first at Susur, then Lee) before becoming executive chef at Centro

The Menu: “I want people to feel nourished and revived,” says chef Carter of his debut menu. His dishes are sophisticated but not too fussy. Take, for example, an elegant confit chicken dish paired with celery root and toasted brioche crumbs, or a silky poached egg sprinkled with crunchy puffed grains (referred to on the menu as “savoury granola”). There’s no one unifying cuisine at play—Asian and European flavours show up together in a persimmon salad with sprouted black lentils and Marcona almonds, while the stark white dishes and veggie-focused plates suggest Nordic influences.

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Food Events

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Pop-Up Pick(s): a whole month’s worth of special 12-course dinners at the Templar Hotel

pop-up-pick

(Images, from top left: Canoe/Facebook, Atelier/Facebook, Model Milk/Instagram, Anju Restaurant/Facebook)

There are great restaurants all over Canada, but most of us can’t go jaunting off to Calgary on a lark to try the latest meat terrine. There is a solution to this problem. Throughout December, Toronto restaurant group The Food Dudes and restaurateur Dan Gunam will be staging six multi-course dinner events at the Templar Hotel on Adelaide West, home to the excellent but mysterious Monk Kitchen (which seems to be undergoing some kind of internal reorganization—Gunam tells us that chef Roberto Fracchioni is no longer with the restaurant). Five of the events (each spanning two days) will showcase talented Canadian cooks from some of the country’s best restaurants, including Calgary’s Model Milk and Anju (both recently profiled in the Globe) and Ottawa tasting restaurant Atelier. For $89 per person, guests will receive eight courses and four “surprise snacks”—which sounds steep but actually works out to about seven bucks a course. The grand finale for the series, on December 21, is a big charity dinner featuring Toronto culinary talents like ex-Momofuku chef Matt Blondin, The Harbord Room’s Cory Vitiello and Farmer’s Daughter chef Leonie Lilla. Tickets for all six events are on sale now—email templarchefseries@gmail.com to reserve a spot. You can see the full event schedule here.

Dec. 2-21. $89 (+$49 for wine pairing). The Templar Hotel, 348 Adelaide St. W., 647-933-5546

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Former Spoke Club chef Ren Mercer brings vegetarian takeout to Dundas West

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

(Image: Caroline Youdan)

If you’re looking for a pulled pork sandwich, or a basket of fried chicken, or a $14 bourbon cocktail, you can’t beat Dundas West—which is nice for people who hang out there on weekends, and less nice for full-time residents, who sometimes find themselves combing the non-perishables section at 7-Eleven for vaguely healthy dinner options. (Just us?) Thankfully, the junk food tide may be turning, or at least recalibrating a little. Veghed, the latest addition to the strip, is a vegetarian “fresh bar” with some real culinary cred: the owner and chef, Ren Mercer, has over 20 years’ experience cooking at high-end restaurants and hotels, including the King Edward, the Windsor Arms and the members-only Spoke Club, where he was the executive chef for five years. Mercer’s new food business isn’t flashy, but the recipes are pretty complex for a place with Day-Glo walls—recent specials have included penne carbonara with lobster mushrooms and pad thai with hemp, chia seeds and organic herb salad.

1199 Dundas St. W., @MercerRen

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Taiwanese snacks and kegged cocktails are coming to Cabbagetown

(Image: Kanpai Snack Bar/Instagram)

(Image: Kanpai Snack Bar/Instagram)

Cabbagetown is great for pubs, cafés and cozy brunch spots, but it’s not exactly a hopping-Saturday-night kind of destination—or not yet, anyway. Kanpai, a new snack bar opening later this year at 252 Carlton Street, is hoping to inject the sleepy neighbourhood with a little late-night sizzle. (“Kanpai,” co-owner Trevor Lui tells us, is Mandarin for “bottoms up”). Taking its cues from the night-market scene in Taipei, the restaurant will serve “Taiwanese-inspired” snacks, like char-grilled meat skewers, wok-fried seafood and several different kinds of fried rice. (Some options, like the “Taipei Tater Slaw” pictured to the left, seem slightly less authentic than others.) Booze, of course, is also on the menu—Lui is chummy with the owner of Montauk, the Dundas West bar known for its dangerously cheap Negronis on tap, and he plans to set up a similar kegged-cocktail program at Kanpai. The restaurant is slated to open by the end of the year—look for updates on Kanpai’s Twitter feed.

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The fancy new food complex in the ART condos will have a fancy New York chef

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(Image: Ian Kapitan/Instagram)

Early this year, news broke that Brad Moore, the executive chef at Liberty Village restaurant School, was opening a big new culinary complex on the ground floor of the ART condos at the corner of Sudbury and Dovercourt. Memory Lane and Co., as the project is called, will comprise a 24-hour diner, an ice cream parlour, a casual bar, a bakery and an organic grocery store. (Based on the descriptions on the project’s website, it basically sounds like an amalgam of Pop Tate’s, Cheers and The Max, with a few side businesses thrown in.) It’s scheduled to open in 2015.

Now, there’s another reason to get excited about this thing. According to Post City, the food side of the operation is going to be helmed by Ian Kapitan, a former Torontonian who made a big name for himself in New York working with chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Bouley. Kapitan describes his vision for the restaurant component of the complex as follows: “Seasonal cuisine, very healthy, diner concept. Some really solid greasy food without the grease. And we’ll be open 24 hours, late-night, breakfast, lunch, dinner.” Who wouldn’t want to live on top of that?

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Ed Clark’s threat to The Beer Store: “If you really think this thing is valueless, then give it up…”

“If you really think this thing is valueless, then give it up and we will auction it off and see if people will pay something for it.”

Ed Clark, former TD Bank chair and head of premier Kathleen Wynne’s advisory panel on government assets, speaking to reporters about The Beer Store’s claim that it can’t afford to pay an additional “franchise fee” to the provincial government—as recommended by the panel in a recent study—without upping prices for consumers. (By “this thing,” Clark means the Beer Store’s quasi-monopoly on beer sales in Ontario.) Wynne has previously said that she is “absolutely willing” to act on the asset panel’s recommendations. How the government would actually prevent the Beer Store from passing specific costs on to consumers isn’t clear.

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Review: Nodo, the Junction’s new red-sauce restaurant, serves crowd-pleasing (if unrefined) classics

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

SEE ALL NEW REVIEWS
Nodo 1 star
2885 Dundas St. W., 416-901-1559
Nodo 1 star
2885 Dundas St. W., 416-901-1559

Across from the Indie Ale House microbrewery and beside Cantina’s taco party, comes a solid new red-sauce restaurant—the third point in a triangle of dining trends. The owners are three Italian guys who’ve been friends since high school, and they’ve seemingly instilled that happy, known-you-forever warmth in their servers. The large, checker-board-floored space is entirely comfortable: bare wood tables are topped with bread baskets and banquettes are filled with post-work marrieds. The Sicilian-focused menu is equally as casual, with the extensive boot-based wine list divided by price (bottles under $35, under $55) and the pastas and pizzas outnumbering the tiny mains section by the dozen.

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Introducing: Wahlburgers, the new Toronto outpost of Mark, Donnie and Paul Wahlberg’s Boston burger shop

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Wahlburgers
Contact Info: 46 Blue Jays Way, 416-489-8922, wahlburgers.ca, @WahlburgersCA
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Owners: The Wahlberg brothers (Mark, Donnie and Paul), Starwood Group president Bruce Greenbeerg, Metropolitan Hotels president Henry Wu and Difference Capital executive chairman Michael Wekerle.
Chefs: Executive chef Paul Wahlberg and head chef Vincent Leung, who’s also the chef de cuisine at Luckee next door

The Food: Beef and turkey patties are grilled-to-order and piled high with veggies, bacon strips and condiments (including chef Paul’s secret-recipe “Wahl sauce,” which is pretty similar to Thousand Island.) Non-burger options include hot dogs, salads, grilled cheeses and a seared-chicken sandwich named after Donnie’s wife Jenny McCarthy.

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Zane Caplansky opens Baju, a Southern barbecue spot, in The Monarch Tavern

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Toronto deli giant Zane Caplansky got his start slinging smoked-meat sandwiches out of the miniscule kitchen at The Monarch Tavern on Clinton Street. Over half a decade later, he’s opening another meat-focused food business in the space, this time in collaboration with a pair of budding food entrepreneurs. Tomorrow, November 14, marks the debut of Baju, a Southern-barbecue restaurant whose day-to-day operations will be run by Dan Green and Kyle Wyatt, the duo behind catering company Mise en Place, which has been popping up at the Monarch since September. (To be clear: the Monarch isn’t closing—this new business will be operating out of the bar.)

Despite the iconic location and Caplansky’s involvement, there’s been remarkably little build-up to this opening. Keeping things low-key was a deliberate decision on Caplansky’s part. “Too much media coverage at the outset can make things difficult,” he says. (Staying mum during the six-month planning stage wasn’t easy either. Says Caplansky: “I’m not exactly known for having a small mouth.”)

As for the choice of venue, he’s confident that it’s a natural fit. “You can’t build or buy that kind of character,” he says. “Germs soaked into the carpet; memories cracked into the vinyl chairs. It just spoke ‘rib joint’ to me.” Barbecue connoisseurs should note that the ribs in question are dry-rubbed—saucing is strictly optional, and DIY. The same holds true for the beef brisket, pulled pork and other meat options, all of which can be ordered with traditional Southern sides like coleslaw, beans and collard greens. (The “Meat and Three” platter—i.e. meat and three sides—costs $18.) And anyone expecting kimchee-infused this or soy-glazed that should take their appetites elsewhere. “This is the furthest thing from reinvented barbecue,” says Caplansky. “Just homemade, old-fashioned food.”

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Former Farmhouse Tavern chef Alex Molitz signs on at Geraldine in Parkdale

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Geraldine already has the distinction of being Parkdale’s most enchanting place to sip a drink, and now it’s got something new going for it. Alex Molitz, the culinary wunderkind credited with turning Farmhouse Tavern into a bona fide dinner destination, was recently announced as the restaurant’s new head chef. Last we heard, Molitz had left Farmhouse and was about to start a new job with the Hinterland Winery in Prince Edward County (a gig that apparently didn’t last too long). Luckily, PEC’s loss was Parkdale’s gain. Molitz’s debut menu at Geraldine includes parsnip soup with pink peppercorns, wild mushroom pasta and other cozy fall dishes—just the stuff to pair with a bracing absinthe cocktail or two.

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