Inside Borrel, a cozy traditional Dutch restaurant

Borrel (1333 Danforth, at Linnsmore, 647-349-5722) is the permanent home of Alison Broverman and Justin Go's long-running pop-up dinner series..


Borrel (1333 Danforth, at Linnsmore, 647-349-5722) is the permanent home of Alison Broverman and Justin Go’s long-running pop-up dinner series. The married couple began their journey as Toronto’s unofficial Dutch-food ambassadors almost 10 years ago when they threw their first Borrel dinner on a winter afternoon for some pals.

“We stopped by the Holland Store on Weston Road one day, and I saw some ingredients for Dutch dishes. I thought, maybe I’ll cook that for some friends kind of as a joke,” says Go, a self-taught cook. “I thought, ‘No one’s going to like stewed kale and mashed potatoes.’ But everybody loved it. It became an annual thing.”

“Our friends started asking about it ‘when are you doing the Dutch party?'” Broverman says.

Go was laid off from his journalism gig in 2014, and the couple decided to expand their party to the public, hosting their first pop-up at The Ossington. Eventually, as the dinners met with success, they began branching out into other venues.

“It’s really weird that you can get any kind of food on the planet, I think, in Toronto, but not Dutch food. If my friends like it, and it’s palatable to the North American palate like, it’s got deep-fried stuff, stewed stuff, lots of meat it should work,” Go says.

“I always said, if we had 10 sold-out events in a row, we should do this for real.”

They finally pulled the trigger, and the result is an ultra-cozy space inspired by Dutch brown cafes Broverman and Go showed their contractors photos from their travels to the Netherlands, where Go’s family still resides.

“There’s a lot of cozy, homey bars there, and we wanted to recreate that feel,” Broverman says.

They wanted to infuse the space with what the Dutch call “gezellig” a sense of relaxed coziness that, Go says, doubles as something of a national ethos for the Dutch. “You can have a political debate about doing something to your city that might mess it up, and you can say ‘Well, that wouldn’t be gezellig’. And people will go, ‘Holy shit, you’re right!'”

Here’s a closer look at the menu.

Bitterballen (5 for $7.50 or 10 for $14.50), Borrel’s unofficial signature dish, are savoury croquettes packed with shredded beef. “Most of them, in Holland, are made in factories. There’s all these robots making them, because it takes hours,” Go says. “You hand-roll them, and you’ve got to coat them in twice in flour, egg and bread crumbs. You’re making hundreds of these to supply yourself during the week, and if you run out, you can’t just go whip up more.”

Boerenkool ($10) is the dish that started it all for Go and Broverman an ultra-hearty mix of mashed potatoes, kale, gravy and smoked sausage. (A veggie version is $9.)

Winter chill is no match for a hot bowl of pea soup ($9 also known by its superb Dutch name, “snert”). Borrel’s version is super-dense with smoked ham hock and sausage.

Frikandel ($7) is a beef, pork and chicken sausage topped with mayo and curry ketchup and served in a super-chewy potato bun from OMG Baked Goodness.

The duo recruited drinks writer Adam McDowell to help them put together a cocktail menu. One of their signatures: Christmas In Curacao ($12), which pairs Grand Marnier, creme de cacao and rum with Advocaat, an egg-based Dutch liqueur (think Bailey’s, if it was made out of eggnog). Apparently, the Dutch grannies who come in crush the stuff like nobody’s business.

Head downstairs to see murals from Go and Broverman’s friend Nanna Koekoek, who also did the art for all of the Borrel pop-up posters over the years. “She’s done all the menus, the murals downstairs. The art kind of goes hand in hand with the food now.”

Get to know some famous Dutch people (Tiesto, Rutger Hauer, Vincent Van Gogh, and the lead singer from Shocking Blue) with Koekoek’s washroom murals.

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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