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Introducing: Merenda Kitchen, a new Italian spot in Liberty Village

Merenda Kitchen brings eco-conscious Italian to Liberty Village

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Merenda Kitchen
Neighbourhood: Liberty Village
Contact: 171 East Liberty St., #144, 416-583-2131, merenda.kitchen, @MerendaKitchen
Owners: Fabio Gelmo, Cassius Williams (Locus 144)
Chef: Daniel Janetos (Buca, The Saint, Farmhouse Tavern)

The Food: Italian dishes made with organic and sustainably sourced ingredients. The menu follows Chipotle’s customizable-meal model: customers choose a base (greens, grains or panini), top it with a protein (porchetta, meatballs, chicken, crispy mozzarella or ratatouille) and add a sauce (tomato basil, garlic crema or pesto). There’s also a handful of bar snacks, meat and cheese boards and trendy bone broth on offer. Janetos is a health nut, and can accommodate most food allergies and special diets. A portion of Merenda’s profits are donated to a Waterloo-based wildlife rehabilitation program, which Janetos’s mother heads up. “If we’re killing 100 animals a year to feed people,” he says, “I want to be saving 101.”

The Drinks: Classic cocktails, a short wine list, four brews on tap (Kronenbourg, Kronebourg Blanc, Sapporo, Peroni) and a selection of bottled beer. Cold-pressed juice will be added soon, with the option to spike with a shot of booze.

The Space: Tucked away in Liberty Market Plaza, the space (which was previously Locus 144) is a kitchen by day and still Locus Lounge by night. Dinner is served from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., after which it’s party time and the tables are cleared away to make room for a dance floor. Lunch service is in the works.

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Introducing: Rose and Sons Swan, the Queen West diner with a new lease on life courtesy of Anthony Rose

toronto-restaurants-rose-and-sons-swan-albacore-tuna-beets-lead

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Rose and Sons Swan
Neighbourhood: Trinity Bellwoods
Contact: 892 Queen St. W., 647-348-7926, roseandsonswan.com, @roseandsonsswan
Owner: Anthony Rose (Rose and Sons, Big Crow, Fat Pasha, Schmaltz Appetizing)
Chef: Sonia Marwick (Fat Pasha)

The Food: A menu inspired by Rose’s chef-school years in San Francisco and the five years he spent cooking in Cali. “California cuisine is a very loose title,” says Rose. “What it really means is that it’s just good simple food—not doing a lot to it and using a lot of interesting, good, local purveyors.” So while you might find Frito Pie at Big Crow, the dishes at Swan are on the lighter, fresher side and veggies play a bigger role. (To chef Sonia’s chagrin, Rose has given her a new nickname: Swan-ia.)

The Drinks: Four signature cocktails, a selection of bottled and canned beer and a fairly long wine list featuring more than just California grapes.

The Space: “It looks like it did before, but different,” says Rose, who was in Mexico on a yoga retreat when the Queen West diner went out of business. “I wasn’t supposed to be checking my email, but I did and saw that Swan had closed. By the time I got here I was like 30th in line—everyone in the city had looked at this place.” Refurbished booths, a record player, some flash art by local graffiti artists and a lone surfboard distinguish this version of Swan from the previous one. And there’s a park-facing patio in the back now, which Rose says is perfect for white squirrel sightings.

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Introducing: WindUp Restaurant, a Caribbean spot on College from Barque alumni

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: WindUp Restaurant
Neighbourhood: University
Contact: 382 College St., 647-349-6373, winduprestaurant.ca, @eatdrinkwindup
Previously: Wind Up Bird
Owner: Whitney Knowles and Bryan Birch (both Barque alumni)
Chefs: Bryan Birch (Barque, North 44) and Ryan Graham (Tutti Matti)

The Food: “This is a Toronto version of a Caribbean restaurant,” explains Birch, who has taken Jamaican and Trinidadian favourites and infused them with global flavours. Salt cod fritters, for example, are married with Canadian (bacon foam) and Moroccan (preserved lemon) elements. In an homage to the city’s never-ending taco obsession, the curried goat roti is served open-faced and topped with cilantro and pickled mango. The rest of the menu is rounded out with more traditional Caribbean eats (jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish) plus a smattering of international plates (falafel lettuce wrap, sesame-crusted salmon with lotus root, pulled pork tostadas). The brunch menu includes an oxtail benny served on a coconut bake, which might make for a good post-parade hangover cure come Caribana.

The Drinks: A short wine list made up of new world bottles, but all available by the glass; classic cocktails (dark ‘n’ stormy, rum punch, negroni) and daily specials (like a grilled pineapple mojito); and a selection of craft beer, the majority of which are local brews—with the exception of Red Stripe, of course.

The Place: Birch and Knowles kept the previous restaurant’s name so they wouldn’t need to apply for any new licenses. The 30-seat room is minimalist in design, but warmed up with wood features like a cedar wall, saloon doors and a black walnut bar (with stools designed by Marco Pecota of the Junction’s Pekota). A patio accommodates up to 40 street-side diners and drinkers.

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Introducing: Alo, Patrick Kriss’s refined addition to the corner of Queen and Spadina

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Alo
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Contact: 163 Spadina Ave., 3rd floor., 416-260-2222, alorestaurant.com, @AloRestaurant
Owner: Patrick Kriss (Acadia, Splendido) and Amanda Bradley (George, La Grenouillere)
Chefs: Patrick Kriss, Matthew Betsch (Eleven Madison Park, Splendido) and Nick Bentley (Acadia, Splendido, Canoe)
Pastry chef: Cori Murphy (Patrice Pâtissiere, Canoe)

The Food: The tasting menu–only restaurant offers an evolving five-course menu (with options) composed of seasonal dishes made with Canadian ingredients, but prepared using French techniques. The bar offers casual snacks including homemade soft pretzels, crudités (fancy raw veggies) on ice and bite-sized pâte à choux pastries piped full of caramel and vanilla Chantilly. Later this summer, a long-format tasting menu will be available for those who snag seats at the kitchen counter.

The Drinks: Sommelier Anjana Viswanatha (Canoe, Luma) has designed a menu featuring wines from small producers, with special attention paid to biodynamic and natural selections (including many by-the-glass options). Bartender John Bunner (Byblos, Yours Truly) serves his takes on traditional cocktails and even has a couple bottled concoctions for sharing.

The Place: Commute Design (Byblos, Little Sister, Patria and The Ritz) was responsible for transforming the 2,800-square-foot space that takes up the top floor of the Victorian building, previously home to a modelling agency. Windows of the polished (but tablecloth-free) restaurant look out to Spadina and Queen West. The building itself is looking much better than it did in the ’80s.

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Introducing: Miss Thing’s, Parkdale’s new pan-Asian restaurant and cocktail bar

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(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Miss Thing’s
Neighbourhood: Parkdale
Contact: 1279 Queen St. W., 416-516-8677, missthings.com, @missthingsbar
Previously: Wrongbar
Owner: Nav Sangha
Chefs: Jasper Wu (Bent) and Paul Hadian (Momofuku)

The Food: Polynesian and Hawaiian cuisine, but with tweaks: the Loco Moco, for instance, takes the traditional Hawaiian plate lunch and switches out the beef patty and brown gravy for flank steak and house-made A1 sauce. Spam comes in the form of pintxos, and fried rice is hit with pineapple and pork belly. “We haven’t even touched on Bora Bora or French Polynesia,” says Sangha. “That’ll be in the fall when things get a little more rich and creamy.”

The Drinks:  Wine and beer are available, but it’s the cocktail program that steals the show. Bar manager Reed Pettit (Miller Tavern) mixes up drinks with tropical twists, influenced, says Sangha, by the cocktails borne from pan-Asian tourist culture—but not as syrupy sweet or electric blue. And while one drink is served in a hollowed-out coconut (the bar’s take on a piña colada, of course), none are meant to be sipped from novelty tiki mugs.

The Space: It’s unsurprisingly brighter, airier and more grown up than its former Wrongbar self. Pink and gold floral murals are painted on turquoise walls, and hanging from the ceiling, unique gramophone horn light fixtures designed by Toronto-based Milke Bau look like brassy flowers in bloom. Miss Thing’s Coconut Room, which is available for events and private parties (disco ball included) and will also host the occasional live show, is in a separate area behind the restaurant.

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Introducing: Corktown Kitchen, a new neighbourhood local on King East

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Corktown Kitchen
Neighbourhood: Corktown
Contact: 354 King St. E., 416-901-1188, corktownkitchen.com, @CorktownKitcn
Previously: Weezie’s
Owner and Chef: Matt Griffiths (Air Canada Centre, Ultra Supper Club, Five Doors North)

The Food: A few bistro standbys (burgers, steak frites, half chicken), as well as a couple dishes influenced by time Griffiths spent in Southeast Asia (fresh rolls, grilled shrimp) and a chalkboard of daily specials. “The chicken wings are what people have been talking about,” says Griffiths, of his applewood-smoked, bourbon-sauced wings. At the moment, Corktown Kitchen is open for dinner and weekend brunch.

The Drinks: A selection of tallboys (draught taps are in the bar’s future) and classic cocktails, each made with 2.5 ounces of booze. To prove customers are getting their money’s worth, the drinks are served in two parts: a glass of mix and its accompanying shot on the side. “People are taken aback by it at first,”says manager David William Martel. “But we’re doing this because we want to show you that you’re getting a huge amount of liquor.”

The Space: Brighter than Weezie’s (which had a ’70s rec room feel to it) with a much bigger bar. “I dismantled the old bar myself,” says Griffiths. “It was a bit of an eyesore.” Right now, he’s working on getting his liquor license increased by another 10 people. When that happens, just as many more stools will sidle up to the bar.

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Introducing: Broncos, an all-slider spot just south of Trinity Bellwoods

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Broncos Slider Bar
Neighbourhood: Niagara
Contact: 127 Strachan Ave., 647-748-4800, broncosrestaurant.com
Previously: Politica
Owner: James Bateman (Branca)
Chef: Drew Alexander Fleming

The Food:
Baby burgers, pint-sized sandwiches and a few small sides. Right now, the list of three-bite options sits at 18 items, but there are still 30 creations on the short list that might make special guest appearances on the menu. Bateman (whose love of sliders comes courtesy of many visits to Detroit’s Green Dot Stables) says his current five favourites are the cheeseburger, the Buffalo fried chicken, the bo ssam, the schnitzel and the Carousel—a nod to the popular St. Lawrence Market bakery’s peameal bacon sammie. For dessert: soft-serve ice cream (with optional toppings like Cap’n Crunch and Pop Rocks) and Belgian waffles.

The Drinks: A tap list that includes offerings from a couple Toronto breweries (Left Field, Great Lakes) and some imports (Rogue, BrewDog, Le Trou du Diable, Les Trois Mousquetaires). There’s also a short and sweet wine selection (one red, one white), mixed drinks and shots of bourbon. Reserved for the patio: cans of Miller Lite.

The Space: Communal tables and cactus-lined windowsills inside, and a patio licensed for 90 outside. “We initially wanted to have more cacti, so we contacted the Ontario Cactus Society,” says Bateman. “The guy emailed us back and the subject line was ‘DON’T DO IT.’ He said there’s a class-action lawsuit in place right now because someone at a bar got drunk and fell into a cactus.”

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Introducing: Flock Rotisserie and Greens, Cory Vitiello’s quick-service chicken spot in the core

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Flock Rotisserie and Greens
Contact: 330 Adelaide St. W., 647-483-5625, eatflock.com, @EatFlock
Neighbourhood: King West
Owner: Cory Vitiello and Chris Shiki (The Harbord Room)
Chef: Etienne Regis

The Food: Exactly what the name suggests—chicken (naturally raised without hormones or antibiotic, natch) and salad. The golden-brown bird is served four ways at this quick-service spot: whole, halved, quartered and pulled, but Vitiello insists, “Just because there’s over a dozen mesmerizing self-basting chickens in plain sight, that doesn’t mean you have to get one—our salads are just as much the main event.” Customers can choose from five pre-designed salads or create their own custom greens. What sets the grab-and-go salad bar apart from the rest of the (ahem) flock are the interesting mix-ins: wheat and goji berries, pomegranate seeds, orange segments and French lentils can all be tossed into a bowl. And for folks looking for a quick dinner, there’s an after-work special that includes a whole rotisserie chicken, a large salad and two sides (steamed acorn squash and rotisserie-roasted sweet potatoes).

The Drinks: Right now, the boozeless bird joint just has a selection of San Pellegrino sparklers.

The Space: It’s all function over fashion at this 14-stool spot. Save for a multi-tiered chandelier, the rotisserie itself is the main attraction. Vitiello wanted all of the customers’ attention to be focused on the slowly rotating flock of fowl.

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Introducing: Honest Weight, a new seafood shop and lunch counter from one of Canada’s top fishmongers

Introducing: Honest Weight, a new seafood shop and lunch counter from one of Canada's top fishmongers

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Honest Weight
Neighbourhood: The Junction
Contact Info: 2776A Dundas Street West, 416-604-9992, www.honestweight.ca
Owners: John Bil and Victoria Bazan

The Food: Three-time oyster-shucking national champion and seafood expert John Bil has been busy over the last decade running a seafood import company and helping others open their restaurants (including Montreal’s legendary Joe Beef). Now he has a place of his own. Honest Weight’s lunch counter offers alternative takes on typical fish-shop menu items—like okonomiyaki, a savoury Japanese pancake, instead of fish and chips; a rabbit and clam soup; and a fish curry with South Indian flair. Bil says he wants to introduce his customers to lesser-known seafood, “like mahogany clams, stout razor clams and monkfish cheeks.” Oceanic offerings are also available to go—a display case is stocked with scallops, oysters, snapper and cod, all on ice.

The Drinks: Before the liquor license comes in, customers can order an old-fashioned soda made with house-made syrup. The soda water is delivered daily from Magda, the oldest maker of the stuff in the city.

The Place: Beechwood counters, a white-washed swinging door that leads to the kitchen and shelves stacked with decorative dishes all give the space an East Coast feel—and disguise its past life as a denture clinic.

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Introducing: The Four Seven, a new Bloordale bar from Tequila Bookworm’s owners

Introducing: The Four Seven, a new snack and beer bar in Bloordale

Name: The Four Seven
Neighbourhood: Bloordale
Contact Info: 1211 Bloor St. W., @the47TO
Previously: Ortolan
Owners: Jeff Caires and Andrew Usher (Tequila Bookworm) and chef Daniel Usher (Ortolan)
Executive Chef: Daniel Usher

The Food: Late-night eats served until 2 a.m., including big dishes for sharing. Usher’s concise menu includes an Italian-style grilled squid; socca, a gluten-free chickpea-flour crepe topped with either lamb or eggplant; kashkaval pane, Bulgarian fried cheese; and mushroom and pecorino gnocchi, a holdover from the chef’s Ortolan days.

The Drinks: Small batch local and international brews, wine, a handful of classic cocktails and one tap dedicated to Ontario ciders.

The Place: The space has been revamped since Ortolan closed a few months back, trading clean lines and cloth napkins for a more casual, grittier bar atmosphere, including wall art designed by local graffiti artist Jimmy Chiale.

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Introducing: Città, CityPlace’s new (but rustic) Italian kitchen

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Città
Neighbourhood: Harbourfront
Contact Info: 92 Fort York Blvd., 416-623-9662, cittatoronto.com
Owners: Charles Khabouth (Patria and La Société), Hanif Harji (Weslodge and Storys) and Adam Brown of the local Fox and Fiddle
Executive Chef: Ben Heaton, formerly of The Grove

The Food: Heaton’s seasonally inspired menu of Italian comfort food is filled with bright and rustic flavours—the roasted cauliflower dish, for instance, has the vegetable prepared three ways (sliced raw, roasted and pureed), then topped with crispy capers and wine-soaked raisins and an emulsified dollop made of those same two ingredients. Wood-burning ovens on both ends of the restaurant fire out pizza, sourdough, ciabatta and baguettes, but Heaton likes to throw mussels, fish and bacon into the flames for a kiss of smoke, too. Almost everything is made in-house or locally sourced, with one big exception: dry pasta from Afeltra. Says Heaton: “when you can get a superior ingredient somewhere else, you go for it.” The restaurant also serves a weekend brunch that offers breakfast-inspired pizzas and panini, as well as porchetta and eggs. A pizza delivery service is in the works.

The Drinks: An Italian wine list features reds and whites from Northern, Central and Southern Italy. Byblos‘s bartender Clayton Cooper has crafted a cocktail list that stars Italian ingredients like orange blossom, espresso and pink grapefruit.

The Place: Co-owner Hanif Harji found everything in the space, mixing ornate pieces like high-backed green leather banquettes and a wall montage of gold-rimmed mirrors with more casual wood tables and farmhouse chairs. And because it’s CityPlace, ground floor or no, it’s all surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows.

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Introducing: CC Lounge, a new Prohibition-themed bar near St. Lawrence Market

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: CC Lounge
Neighbourhood: St. Lawrence
Contact Info: 45 Front St. E., 416-362-4777, cconfront.com
Owner: The St. Lawrence Bunch, a business partnership fronted by Costa Kosilos
Head Chef: Brent Richardson, formerly of Glas Wine Bar, La Carnita and Beerbistro

The Food: The menu is heavy on share-friendly versions of old favourites, like mac n’ cheese topped with crushed Goldfish crackers and kale, and fried quail on bacon pancakes. For the real carnivores, there’s also a 12-ounce bone-in aged ribeye that comes on a wood cutting board with a dollop of whiskey ketchup.

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Introducing: Duggan’s Brewery’s second coming, in Parkdale

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Duggan’s Brewery Parkdale
Neighbourhood: Parkdale
Contact Info: 1346 Queen St. W., 416-588-1086, duggansbreweryparkdale.com
Owner and Brewmaster: Michael Duggan
Consulting Chef: Rene Chauvin, culinary instructor at George Brown College and former National Golf Club of Canada executive chef, with sous chef Eric Snidal

The Food: This successor to Duggan’s Brewery’s previous incarnation on Victoria Street serves approachable, familiar comfort food. The rotating menu consists mostly of shareable snacks made with local ingredients. Main dishes include a peppered, braised beef brisket, served with sides of corn bread, green beans and chimichurri.

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Introducing: Touhenboku, the ramen shop’s new sushi restaurant in the Distillery District

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Touhenboku
Neighbourhood: Distillery District
Contact Info: 42 Gristmill Ln., 416-368-8686
Previously: Café Uno
Owner: Zuimei Okuyama
Chef: Veteran sushi chef Aki Kitao, who previously worked in upscale sushi restaurants like Toshi Sushi and Ki

The Food: Unlike Touhenboku’s casual ramen shops on Queen West and Yonge Street, the chain’s Distillery location focuses primarily on sushi. Chef Kitao’s menu includes over 21 types of fish, which are sliced, rolled and torched in both traditional and novel ways. A tuna-scallop roll is blasted with a blow torch and topped with house-made sour plum paste and a sweet miso-sesame glaze. For $45, the chef will prepare a 14-piece omakase (i.e. tasting menu) with interesting options like uni (sea urchin),  tarabakani (king crab), and aji (Spanish mackerel) wrapped in Japanese mint.

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Introducing: Mean Bao, the Chinatown bao shop’s new Queen West location

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Mean Bao
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Contact Info: 167 Bathurst St., 416-862-7737, meanbaotoronto.com
Previously: A short-lived burger shop called Burger Press
Chefs/Owners: Both the original location and this new outpost are co-owned by Jones and James Cheung, along with their nephew and niece Scott Ching and Erin Cheung. Everyone plays a role in the family business, including grandma.

The Food: Silky bao are piled with savoury ingredients, like peppery barbecue chicken with pickled daikon, or house-braised pork belly topped with a crunchy mixture of peanuts and black sugar. The “Sloppy Jones” is a bao-ified version of dan dan mien, a traditional Szechuan noodle dish made with minced pork, chili oil and scallions.

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