By Malcolm Jolley and Jamie Drummond
With Niagara Street Cafe celebrating their last few weeks of being open, in-the-know Toronto diners are scrambling to get tables at this Toronto insitution in order to experience the magic that is Niagara Street for one last time.
At the end of this month Patron/Sommelier will be closing the doors of his much loved Niagara Street Cafe, as he passes the torch to Chefs Tobey Nemeth and Michael Caballo and they reopen around the beginning of May under the name Edulis.
Since April the 7th 2004 Potvin’s restaurant has been at the very top of Good Food Revolution’s list, as it has been for many a loyal customer over the years. Below Malcolm Jolley and Jamie Drummond share their personal memories of one of Toronto’s most adored restaurants.
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I find it almost impossible to convey just how much Niagara Street Cafe has meant to me over the years, and how much it will be in my memories long after Anton opens for the very last supper on the 31st of March.
Strangely enough I cannot remember my very first visit there, but over the intervening years I have dined at Niagara Street more often than I have any other restaurant, each time unfailingly leaving with a gloriously happy belly and an enormous grin on my face. I have never been disappointed. There is something so very special about that space and everything that Anton and his stellar team have brought to it.
So many good memories: Sunday nights when it appeared as if half of the Chefs in Toronto were there as customers, Anton’s blind wine selections that I NEVER managed to identify, a number of occasions where I perhaps had a little too much wine and mistakenly left without paying (whoops!), Michael Caballo/Nick Liu/Steve Gonzales’ “trust me” dinners… as you always knew that you were going to be in such good hands, the Terroir 2010 media luncheon, hands down the best waitstaff in the city, bringing in DJ Mr Scruff for a private dinner upstairs, taking innumerable dates there during my “wilderness year” and having Anton rate my date surreptitiously, that cheese course with sherry, afternoon drop-ins that invariably ended up with a few beers and an exchange of ridiculously wild lovelife stories, dinner with my Mother, bringing Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver in the day after Terroir 2011 for a spectacularly long lunch, a dinner date with Courtney Cox, my 37th “Scorpio Rising” birthday party with Sal Principato which was a barnburner if ever there was one… it even made the National Post gossip column!, Nick Liu’s whole suckling pig at Emma and Cam’s rehearsal dinner… and the testicles, Steve Gonzales’ amazingly good ceviche, Ivy Knight’s pumpkin carving contest, the amazing Ameraucana eggs, the Austrian Wine Magnum party, the infamous Jamie Kennedy Kitchens Xmas Dinner, the Japanese Wine Tasting afternoon, brunch out on the patio with the pig trucks going by, texts from Anton at 11pm on a Saturday night “Coming tonight? XXXX from XXXXX having a party upstairs, it’s going to be a shitshow”, taking Mufty home for the cheese course, The Luminato Drop, losing my gift of cufflinks only to spot Anton wearing them 12 months later as he was pouring our table wine, Mark Cuff’s Stag, speaking at Matt Galloway’s 40th, dinner with Staete Landt’s Winemaker Ruud Maasdam and Mike McGonigal, almost falling off that back balcony so many times, the Members Only Holiday Roast, introducing my Father to Zoltan Szabo, the much imitated Bacon Jam… I could go on and on and on… Boy, I am going to miss that place when it finally closes.
I love the Niagara Street Cafe and am in a state of denial that it really will close, as excited as I am for its forthcoming spawn, Edulis and GwaiLo. But over the years I would not blithely recommend it to strangers or friends of friends. Equally, it was not just anyone with whom my wife, Apple, and I would choose as company to dine there. You had to get it. You had to be willing to trust Anton and Michael then Nick. For me, Niagara Street was the ultimate luxury restaurant because Apple and I could walk in and meet Anton’s smile with a two line order: whatever chef thinks and whatever you think pairs. And that was it. What followed was always delicious, a little exotic, thought provoking and above all else fun. That was the real test: if you weren’t up for a night of fun, there really wasn’t any point to an evening at the Niagara Street Cafe. Yes, the cooking was original and perfectly executed. Yes, Anton’s wine list is arguably the most interesting in the city (and he could be trusted to open amazing bottles just to pour a glass or two). And yes, the front of the house was expertly trained and so good in that way where you don’t actually notice that the service is good. But Niagara Street wasn’t about technical perfection, even when it was regularly achieved. Niagara Street was about a room full of people who loved food and wine who wanted to come, enjoy each other’s company and have fun. I can think of no nobler concept and few restaurants I have been to around the world that have done a better job of encouraging joy and real conviviality. There are mere days left to experience it before its gone forever. But the spirit will never die.