At last the much anticipated opening of Union Restaurant has arrived. Well, almost. The official public opening is Thursday. I met chef Teo Paul months ago when our friend Jessica (spicy brunette below), suggested I could help with a few design quarries.
I was immediately enchanted by Teo and his unabashed, be it boy-like wonder about the place. I’m sure his rugged good looks, great hair and not-so-subtle country boy charm didn’t hurt.
This Toronto boy, ventured off for Europe some years back. He travelled and paid his keep with blood, sweat and tears – literally. Working away in basement kitchens with no air conditioning or ventilation. Morning till night, chopping, prepping but more importantly absorbing the craft. Drinking several, or many pints at the bar before bed, then doing it all again. Learning to prepare local, farm-fresh food. Using only the best ingredients and allowing them to stand alone.
A life long family friend Kate, suggested it may be time to bring those skills home and share what she’s been enjoying for years with his home town. Show this foodie city how it’s done. He agreed, they became business partners, and Union was conceived.
Teo is not the first chef to learn the hard way, deciding to open a restaurant, does not a restaurant make. His love, struggle, near defeat and now triumph was chronicled by Toronto Life on Teo’s Opening Soon blog. The blog provided readers with a raw honest look into the difficulties that come with a project of this scale. He’s a talented writer with an open sweet nature about him. First the readers loved him, but as the time to open came and went several times, the negative and frustrated comments became more the norm. So too did Teo’s disheartening with the renovation.
At times it was tough to watch, but truly never a doubt entered for anyone close to Teo, that once opened there would be no looking back. Everyone in Teo’s life has inspired some small piece of Union; Be it the mural by family friend, barn board floors collected from a farm near Teo’s families. His fathers design for a folly in back of the soon to be complete patio, or the front bar that everyone said was impossible but Teo held tight to his vision. I helped shed our North American obsession with bigger is better, and we created the one tend bar he wanted. Every piece of Union was methodical, collected and calculated, yet as with Teo, it feels effortless and easy. Union possesses that rarely achieved, but forever strived for, neighbourhood feel.
Union will be open at 9am, serving lunch, dinner and open through until the bar stools need emptying. Based on a bar in Paris Teo frequented, this is to be the stop by spot for an expresso at the bar. A place to grab an afternoon snack of fresh cheeses and authentic charcuterie plate with a pint or great glass of wine. Simple soulful foods, unpretentious and satisfying.
Last nights dinner was anticipated by the room, there was a buzz, awaiting the first bites. Then, there was that brilliant moment of quiet when 30 satisfied mouths can do nothing but taste and wonder how it is they didn’t know food could do that to them.
Food meant to be shared family style was served in casserole dishes one might find in their grandma’s kitchen. The opening menu is yet to be officially set, but our preview was inclusive of a roast chicken served whole, halved or quartered, beef for 2, fresh fish and sweet pea risotto. I had the risotto, and it was perfect. A little crunch, bursts of flavour from the obviously picked fresh sweet peas and somehow a hint of a smoked flavour I’m still trying to figure out. French fries were served in grannies casserole dish with a proper helping of mayo defying you to not indulge. Teo hand delivered a massive slice of warm bread pudding topped with his own homemade basil ice cream for dessert. This was the kinda satisfied that requires the undoing of ones top pants button.
One of the only spots in the neighbourhood serving lunch and dinner, you’ll have your pick of times to check it out. The seat to reserve is the chefs bar in back, offering an up close view of Chef Teo in action. If you squint your eyes you can spot Teo behind our grinning mugs.
Thursday onward, I’ll be hanging out at the front white marble topped bar with my laptop and an espresso. See you there.Union Restaurant 72 Ossington Street 416.850.0093 www.union72.ca