Take a tour of new eateries in Waterloo region with Andrew Coppolino
Waterloo region's food scene is 'dynamic and ever-changing'
The restaurant and food and beverage scene in Waterloo region is a dynamic and ever-changing one.
Established businesses sometimes close with new ones stepping in to fill the void and add new energy to the landscape.
And with light rail transit construction nearly done, it would seem that there's a new vitality in the dining sector with more openings anticipated in the near future.
We can't cover all of new food operations, but here is a selection of several from around the region and beyond.
There's old and new in the city centre. The Harmony Lunch, a Waterloo favourite since 1930 specializing in diner-style pork sliders and heaps of grilled and caramelized onions, has been refurbished and re-imagined by Nick Benninger and his Fat Sparrow restaurant group. The same great old bones are there with a few fresh updates to the décor, including reclamations of lost Harmony artifacts.
New on King Street near Willis Way, 21 Fir Whiskey Bar + Kitchen blends southern and classic dishes amidst a prohibition-inspired atmosphere. They specialize in inventive cocktails and an extensive collection of whiskies.
Next door is Ray Woodey's Craft Chippery, a bricks-and-mortar iteration of his chippery at St. Jacobs Market
In a former BlackBerry facility on Phillip Street, Matter of Taste has opened a second coffee shop – espresso, Turkish, Chemex, siphon – and small restaurant that is barista-centred and features tastings, coffee cuppings and education and events, too.
Tucked into a residential neighbourhood in a high-rise – an increasingly popular business model for restaurants – near Wilfrid Laurier University is MiMo Thai Kitchen. It's worth the drive through construction to try the curries, northern Thai sausage and the pad krapow stirfry.
And speaking of students, at King Street and University Avenue you'll find the new Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken. Hailing from Taipei's 500-plus food-stall Shilin night market, it's Taiwanese street food that's the size of your face – with a crisp cutlet crust and some very good, very salty and peppery spicing. You eat it out of a paper bag, which is probably why the students like it as they head home from classes.
On Princess Street near the theatre, Bhima's Warung has, after 23 years in business, opened a sister restaurant: Loloan Lobby Bar will serve snacks and cocktails and will surely be very comfortable, drawing on French Colonial accents and building materials of the middle century period. The name means "where the river meets the ocean" and that is what Bhima's owner Paul Boehmer strives to do: "I always strive to make our world a smaller and more interesting place." I expect some pleasantly and inventively "brackish" cocktails (is that a thing?).
Their website says coming to Waterloo in 2018: The massive grocery store T & T Supermarket is reported to be landing at Westmount Mall.
In addition to the J & P Grocery on Queen Street with its mezzanine café, there is now Unicorn Coffee Brew Bar, a business committed to transparency along the entire coffee chain in order to provide an option "outside the corporate craft movement," according to owner Andrew Thom.
In this the centennial period of "The Great War," it is appropriate that a new restaurant in Belmont Village has channeled Kitchener's great First World War mystery: the whereabouts of the Kaiser's bust that was dumped into Lake Victoria. Having opened in September, Wilhelm's Café + Bar serves "modern Canadian food in a relaxed, European-style dining atmosphere."
The differentiator here is that the bar list goes with old world wine and beer, which is "recognizable and unpretentious," according to manager Cindy Webb. So for those of you not adoring of the local craft beer movement, Wilhelm's gets you closer to the Reinheitsgebot (at least linguistically).
It is still in the build-out phase, but a former middle eastern restaurant beside Dallas night club in downtown will become a casual pizza and pasta restaurant, La Cucina. (not to be confused with signage at San Francisco Panini a few blocks east). I spied an oven built into one wall that is apparently for wood-fired pizza (and other foods). La Cucina is expected to open in early January.
In the Bridgeport neighbourhood, there is another addition to the Region's hugely popular "national food," shawarma: Zay Zaman Syrian Shawarma on Lancaster Street W.
Blackwing Coffee & Craft Beer Bar is a sister restaurant to DVLB in Waterloo and Smile Tiger in Kitchener. The George Street location will have 10 micro and rotating beer taps and a robust food menu, though owner Katherine Gingrich says coffee will remain a heavy focus. Look for an early 2018 opening.
On crazy-busy Hespeler Road, The Temple Bar opened this past spring and serves pub fare such as wings, fish and chips and steak and Guinness pie.
Look for Baden Brewery and Restaurant to open in 2018 and to add another dimension to the local craft beer scene. As for food, the restaurant will run the gamut from country fare (like Anna Mae's) to steak house flair (like The Charcoal Steakhouse), according to sources at the brewery.
A bit further afield
While it is outside Waterloo region and immediate surroundings, I'm recommending that you book a trip to Blyth, Ont., and a visit to the Cowbell Brewing Co.
I'm not sure how to describe it. It's more than a beautiful brewing facility – I might call it akin to a beer theme park. An enormous amount of money has been spent on the catwalks that you can travel to observe the brewing process, specialized brewing equipment, interactive self-tours, a long bar, an extensive gift shop and a large dining room with a vaulted ceiling. The stone, wood and iron construction is spectacular.
The caveat? Currently, the dining room is booked on weekends until the end of January.