Chris Klugman was the opening chef at both Oro and Bistro 990, but when it came to his latest project, Paintbox Bistro, he had more than food on his mind. The restaurant is a for-profit social enterprise that focuses on reinvigorating the oft-marginalized community of Regent Park. Attached to the 26-storey Paintbox Condominiums and the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre (a.k.a. Daniels Spectrum), Paintbox has an explicit goal: to “improve the quality of life of people in Regent Park.” To wit, Klugman, working in conjunction with Toronto Employment and Social Services, has trained and currently employs 30 Regent Park residents in the recently opened restaurant; 12 of the recruits even received a grant for four months of culinary training at George Brown College, where Klugman teaches.
The restaurant features an exposed kitchen and a modern dining room with clean lines and sharp angles. The walls are a wash of punchy primary and complementary colours (Klugman was going for a “creative and fun atmosphere”), and the space is peppered with little knick-knacks, like vintage books and bottles. And Paintbox Bistro is more than just a sit-down restaurant: there’s a catering service and a walk-up takeout window with a food truck-inspired menu.
While Klugman is the executive chef, the day-to-day duties are handled by chef de cuisine Matt Cowan (Simple Bistro and The Rosebud), who’s created an ethnically diverse menu with an emphasis on local produce. The menu is broken down into four cutely named categories: Splatters, Primers, Grand Strokes and Finishing Touches. Certain dishes—like triple-cooked Fat Fries served with a house ketchup ($5) and deep-fried pig’s head with a harissa-buttermilk cabbage slaw ($14)—hint at gastro pub influences. More exotic fare includes curried kabocha squash gnocchi with bok choy, mushrooms and sesame seeds, dressed with a coconut sauce ($16). (The menu tops out at $18.) Among the Finishing Touches is a cinnamon-barley pudding with caramelized apples, topped with walnut praline ($7). Next up: the launch of Paintbox Express, a café at the northeast corner of the building.