GILEAD CAFE (4 Gilead Place, at King, 647-288-0680) Complete meals for $22 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of house-bottled water. Average main $9. Open Monday to Friday 8 am to 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 4 pm, lunch daily 11 am to 2 pm. Unlicensed. Access: three steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNNN
It’s currently an obscure cork town alleyway off King just east of Parliament, but very shortly – oh, by this afternoon, say – Gilead Place will be Toronto’s newest foodie mecca. For that’s where celebu-chef and organic guru Jamie Kennedy has very discreetly launched his latest culinary undertaking. He’s called it, simply enough, Gilead Café.
For a year now, Kennedy has used this low-rise industrial space as the base for his catering operation. As well, the kitchen provides all the breads and most of the soups and desserts for his rapidly expanding resto empire. Four weeks ago, with little media hoopla. he opened it to the public.
As of last Friday, it appears that few have heard the news. The frenzied mob of locavores I’d expected to see foaming at the mouth amounts to only the Literary Device plus one and a local TV crew filming the Great Man himself against a wall of Mason jars stocked with pickles. Strictly decorative, they’re not for sale.
The Café’s a delight, a bright terrazzo-floored space furnished with a half-dozen wooden-topped tables, with room for several more. Daily evolving specials are posted on a pair of chalkboards. And, yes, these always include Kennedy’s legendary poutine.
But first, there’s spring asparagus soup ($5), a dazzling pale green purée laced with diced potato that’s been foamed à la minute and dolloped with crème fraîche. A substantial bed of organic arugula comes tossed with fiddleheads, heirloom radish, more asparagus and slices of tangy Greek halloumi cheese, the lot lightly dressed with a marvellously tart sorrel vinaigrette ($8).
Sandwiches (all $9) show the same considerable attention to detail. On house-baked baguette, thick slices of gorgeously marbled Cumbrae beef get perfectly paired with sweet caramelized onion jam, crumbled blue cheese and Kennedy’s own baby dills.
And the Café’s slow-roasted pulled pork shoulder on house-baked ciabatta with wild leek mayo, sided with a celery root ’n’ apple slaw in a caper-kicked remoulade, is some of the best pig in town.
Why settle for Kennedy’s famous fries ($4) – technically too chunky to be classified as frites – when you can go whole hog by ordering his trademark poutine ($8) topped with shards of salty smoked pork hock, Thunder Oak gouda and beef jus? To finish, don’t miss his truly stellar lemon tart, a buttery crusted steal at all of $3.50.
Back a few days later, I encounter the same near-empty Café as on previous visits. Since the set-up is self-serve and nearly everything is slowly made to order, it’ll be interesting to see how Kennedy handles the inevitable hungry horde. Wrist bands?
I have no problem filling my cloth shopping bag with a take-away container of velvety duck confit mousse ($3.50/100g), which I plan to spread on thin toasts of whole wheat loaf ($5). In a blindfold test, roasted beet salad fortified with smooth Montforte Dairy chèvre and chervil ($1.95/100g) could pass for dessert, so sweet are the caramelized veggies.
A one-off oxtail stew ($7) thick with cubed carrot and potato is so astonishingly tasty, it deserves a place in permanent rotation, especially when coupled with Kennedy’s cornichons, pearl onions and baby pickled beets ($1.50/100g). Only his timid rhubarb and custard tart ($3.50) disappoints, my temporary regret rectified by the dark chocolate intensity of the house brownie ($3).
Little wonder the new townhouses still under construction on Gilead Place have all sold. Who wouldn’t want to live across the street from Jamie Kennedy and the best poutine in town?