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Introducing: Keriwa Café, Queen West’s new outpost for Aboriginal cuisine

Chef Aaron Joseph Bear Robe at his brand new Parkdale restaurant (Image: Gizelle Lau)

Back in April, we told you about an upcoming Aboriginal-focused restaurant on Queen West. Last Wednesday, Keriwa Café threw open its doors to friendly and curious neighbours—like the chefs from nearby Parts and Labour—who stopped in to welcome the new kids on the block. 

At Keriwa, owner and chef Aaron Joseph Bear Robe (Splendido, Eigensinn Farm, Haisai), along with sous-chef Dennis Tay (Splendido, also a breakdancer extraordinaire), showcases both Aboriginal-inspired food and Canadiana. Using seasonal ingredients from local producers like 100km Foods, Sovereign Farms and Hooked, Bear Robe creates dishes like smoked whitefish with red fife blini ($12), bison pemmican with Saskatoon berries and red fife fry bread ($14) and grilled bison tail on polenta with chanterelles ($26). The menu, unsurprisingly, will change monthly to reflect seasonal flavours and produce.

Behind the bar, Amos Pudsey and sommelier Doug Fulton (also the restaurant manager), both also previously of Splendido, bring their fine dining experience to the table. The cocktail menu features classic cocktails ($8–$11), playfully modified with names like The Streetcar, Parkdale Pusher, Montgomery’s Tavern and Old City Hall, a modern take on an old-fashioned. On tap: the Golden Horseshoe Lager and Green Tea Ale from Great Lakes, as well as a selection from Duggan’s Brewery and other Canadian craft breweries ($6–$7). Wines are all VQA at the moment, with offerings from Tawse, Closson Chase and Norman Hardie ($9–$13 by the glass). Beer and wine tastings, flights and pairings are all in the works.

The restaurant’s dining room is bright and warm, with elements that reflect Bear Robe’s philosophy of “keeping it playful” and bringing together old and new (the patterns from a traditional Aboriginal Pendleton blanket double as a trim in the banquettes). Above the door as you enter, a giant silver eagle feather—a sacred symbol of peace—with other, smaller eagle feathers dangling beneath welcomes patrons. On one wall, Bear Robe’s grandmother’s buckskin dress, over 70 years old, hangs in a frame. Two large art installations catch the eye: a repurposed piece of old wartime machinery from New York and another woodsy birch patchwork piece designed and pieced together by Bear Robe and his wife (and designer) Marta Floranska.

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Keriwa Café, 1690 Queen St. W., 416-533-2552,

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  • indigenousinsurgent

    its weird that there is regalia “on display”.. is this a museum?! respect those things and treat them accordingly, our ancestors would be ashamed.

  • Autonomous

    This is good news because private Native American owned and runned restaurants are very rare in Canada. This looks like a good one but Aboriginals have so much catching up to do compared the Asians who have like a million restuarants in Canada.

  • parkdaleeater

    it is not a museum, but an homage to his family and his heritage…

    ancenstors regardless of race would probably be ashamed of what we have made this world since their day…but keeping alive the spirit of a culture is more important…many native languages and cultures are disappearing without thought-i applaud him for doing something in his own small way.

    there are too few aboriginal chefs who celebrate canadian food, i’m glad he is embracing it.

    i went on opening night and while they still have some work to do but it is a positive addition to the city and to parkdale…i will continue to support them

  • Ti

    I’m trying this the next time I’m in town! :)

  • parkdaleeater

    i hope they can reach the level of sweetgrass aboriginal bistro in ottawa…mmmmm…elk dumpkings…..

  • Christina

    What a wonderful dining experience last night! Thank you gentlemen for being tremendous hosts. We shall spread the good word about your lovely boite, the delicious plates, authentic flavours, well curated wine list, fresh and classic cocktails and, above all, your warm and gracious hospitality.

  • Melissa

    Mmm…Elk dumbplings sound delicious!
    I am always more than willing to try new foods, and this restaurant seems so interesting!
    I have never EVER seen an aboriginal cafe.
    I’ll definitely be making my way down there soon!!

  • parkdaleeater

    yawn, sadly they really aren’t even trying…they really do have to step it up. the menu hasn’t changed yet-though they say it will this weekend. but it hasn’t and they continue to be out of menu items which seems uninspired considering they have such a small menu. specials are unispired and limited. and the food is merely ‘meh’-nothing to drive me back.

    maybe one more chance in a couple of months because i like the idea of what i think they think they are trying to do

  • Food Lover

    I would like to disagree with “Parklakeeater”, I have eaten everywhere, in some of the best fine dinning restaurants in the world, and i have to say that Keriwa Cafe is on that list. I am not sure how experienced your taste buds are but Keriwa brings it home! Living in Toronto, I am very honoured and excited to be the home of Keriwa Cafe. The dishes are unique, bold yet subtle. Chef Aaron Joseph Bear Robe and his team are brilliant, young and hip, yet have knowledge and taste of old classic sophistication. I have eaten at Keriwa twice now, and I will be back for more. The menu HAS changed, it’s been updated in September, and it also updated on the website, it is extremely seasonal and local. I am not sure what you are referring to when you say it is uninspiring, have you eaten at some of Toronto’s new restaurants? Keriwa is miles ahead… I commend Keriwa for it’s talent and hard work and I will be back in October to taste the new menu! Cheers!

  • parkdaleeater

    well FL, first of all it doesn’t matter where you eat, but what you eat….second dining has one ‘n’ not 2 (dinning? really).

    I didn’t experience brilliance (young and hip are not food attributes)

    You would think their FIRST offering to be what they have been waiting all their life to open a restaurant to be….not the uninspiring blech I received.

    I have eaten in many places (everywhere is just too expensive of a plane or space shuttle ticket), I just happen to currently reside in parkdale.

    I know that aboriginal cuisine is not readily available and I am all behind the idea, I expected more from them than they delivered and have had better than they offered-simple as that.

    I hope they are or get better than what I experienced-I was so excited but then so let down.

  • Sharon B

    Let the food speak for itself, it’s about time First Nations restaurants are popping up across Canada! “Applause” for Keriwa! The restaurant industry is a tough business, but we cook for people to share our food and recipes and for the love of cooking. We took a step to create jobs and opportunity for people in this country. Another restaurant that is unique, something new, something real Canadian!! A mixture of cuisine, something you cannot get at any Asian restaurant or McDonalds. People want fresh and local and seasonally inspired. They have a niche in the industry and now when people come to Canada, they can find First Nations foods inspired Canadiana, or what ever the menu may be, but its First Nations owned!! and thats Fantastic!! Kutxhem.

  • jose100plus

    I saw an interview on Channel 10 on Rogers Cable yesterday, I was interested in the native decor and the clothes displated, I found some interesing book at Chapters, see video link on YouTube on my channel:

  • tenuteh

    Where are the Indian Tacos??
    Further, in regards to the contentious issue of having regalia on the walls.. As long as our medicines are not in a glass case I think what this person has done is a sign of being proud (self-determination). Though I see where the point of contention is coming from, we are not to be put on display or locked up in a Museum as we have been for over since arrival of the settlers. However, I myself have a pair of mittens that are beautifully beaded by a Grandma from KZ, and I hang them on my bookcase, not for decor, but for pride in the beauty that is our culture(s).
    I plan on being in Toronto this coming weekend and will definitely pop in.
    But seriously.. where are the Indian Tacos?

  • keyokey

    Indian Tacos?
    Sadly this has become a staple in gatherings of First Nations peoples across Turtle Island.
    There is NOTHING ‘Indian’ about Indian Tacos!
    The Fry Bread came from ingredients of government rations given to our people.
    And developed into what is in one form the ‘Indian Taco’
    The Fry bread consists of four of the five ‘White Gifts’
    Salt, Lard/Shorting, Flour and Baking Soda (sugar being the 5th. but not included in fry bread)
    These foods are NOT natural to our diet and has since been one of the leading contributors of Diabetes within the First Nations communities.

    Sorry I just had to rant on that (obviously a personal petpeve of mine)

    As for the Keriwa Cafe I look forward to taking my mom for a meal.