Amidst a million other tasks, I’ve been writing consecutive columns about brand new restaurant openings on the North Shore for what feels like months upon months (versus revisiting existing venues).
I do like the excitement of visiting a new place and hopefully experiencing something I haven’t seen before, but after coming out the other side of a particularly hectic, deadline-driven schedule of work, travel and extracurriculars, I sometimes just want to take comfort in the familiar. Food helps me out. Recreating a favourite dish from childhood, for example, can do more to take the edge off of a manic day than any therapy session.
When it’s pouring rain and cold, when it seems like the grey clouds must surely have been painted directly onto my retinas, so persistent is their presence, I turn to slow cooked meals like roasts or stews for self-care. I now own the green enamel Dutch oven in which my mother used to cook stews when I was young. The bottom of the weighty pot bears the hard-won discolouration of a thousand meals, each of which once delivered the kind of soul-nourishing fare I am describing. I learned how make cassoulet with this pot. I learned the art of taking less than stellar cuts of meat and turning them into succulent dishes with this pot. And so it is that when I feel like comfort, I very rarely go out to seek it.
That is, with one notable exception. Over the years I have frequently visited Lower Lonsdale’s OG comfort spot, Burgoo, each time opting for something that is big on flavour and low on fussiness. I have characterized every Burgoo meal I have reviewed in these pages as comforting, which may have annoyed the kitchen there, as back of house teams tend to prefer to be celebrated for their creativity and innovation. The fact remains, however, that I do not visit Burgoo hoping to find a stark plate with a smudge of sunchoke puree bisecting a delicate morsel of sous-vide pork belly on one side and scallop carpaccio on the other. Instead, I relish dishes that arrive in rustic vessels, like cast iron pans or weathered blocks of wood. I go to Burgoo for dishes that can (and should) be mopped up with hunks of torn bread or biscuits that contain whole sticks of butter.
It was my mission to make my last review column (more about this next week, my friends, in my final regular Dish installment, reflecting on seven years of North Shore food writing) one that would leave me feeling sated and satisfied. Family in tow, I descended on Burgoo for Sunday brunch, securing a table for five nearly right away despite throngs of people putting their names down on waitlists just a stone’s throw away at various Shipyards venues. We wasted no time getting started, opting for a shared dish of Emmenthal and Gruyere cheese fondue (Fonduemental, $14), a long standing Burgoo favourite served in a ceramic bowl set atop a tea light, which keeps the cheesy dip molten hot and spreadable. To the Gruyere and Emmenthal cheeses, which offer a distinct tangy funk on the palate when melted, white wine and Kirsch (the bone-dry cherry-flavoured eau de vie) are added, raising the complexity of the flavour profile dramatically and allowing it to be paired with both chunks of crusty bread as well as plump grapes and wedges of apple. Fondue forks are provided for spearing the assorted dippable goodies (of which the bread was regrettably a touch sparse), making the dish highly interactive and fun for all ages.
Graduating from the warm-up dish, we tucked into a variety of other stick-to-your-ribs dishes. The Boy, who nearly cannot remember a time when he wasn’t accompanying the old man for review meals with some frequency, chose Burgoo’s version of a Cuban sandwich (the El Cubano, $16), made here with slow-braised pulled pork, spicy capicola, mixed cheeses, grainy mustard and garlic pickle relish, served on a house made bun. Now look, I’ve eaten made-to-order Cubanos in Miami at hole in the wall places known for their sandwiches, to which I had to travel via Uber. The key point of difference between a legitimate Cubano and the interpretations you find elsewhere is largely to do with the bread. Cubano sandwich bread is like a cross between a baguette and a Portuguese bun, a chewy, doughy, mildly crispy on the outside roll that can be grilled or pressed without becoming a mouth shredding weapon of culinary terrorism.
On the whole, Burgoo did an admirable job of their bread, though it definitely fell on the side of too crispy, meaning that in addition to requiring some mouth protectingly small, deliberate bites, The Boy also had to push the filling back in a bit every so often as it was squeezed out between the crispy bread sheets. These are trifling complaints, however, about an otherwise delicious sandwich. The capicola provided a salty, spicy bite that was complemented by the mustard-lifted kick of the relish. A deliciously garlicky Caesar salad accompanied the sandwich.
My wife DJ chose the Wake Up Sandwich ($16) from the small but focused brunch menu. The sizeable sandwich consisted of a toasted baguette slathered with red-eye mayo, filled with scrambled eggs, cheddar, dressed greens, and tomato. It was a novel riff on the ubiquitous breakfast sandwich that somehow married fresh, healthy ingredients with an adequately indulgent brunch vibe. DJ omitted the smoked ham that comes standard on the sandwich. She paired her meal with a grapefruit juice version of a Mimosa ($10).
Blondie, now ten years old and a generally healthy eater, chose Avocado Toast and Salad ($15.50), also from the brunch menu. Smashed avocado served as the foundation for an open-faced Ciabatta sandwich that also featured Tajin spice (a Mexican seasoning known for its mouth puckering tartness), coarse sea salt, cilantro, tomato, cucumber, and a wedge of fresh lime. This is millennial comfort food, to be sure, but comfort food nevertheless, the ripe and round flavours of the avocado enhanced by the tart seasoning, and proving a formidably sized meal.
My littlest, Nina, tucked into a generous plate of tater tots and ketchup ($6) and slices of roasted farmer’s sausage ($3.75, not listed as a separate item on the menu but featured on the snack board and available a la carte), washing down the odd pairing with a glass of fresh orange juice. The rest of the family polished off the remainder of the cheese fondue with Nina’s few remaining, uneaten tots.
Driven by a need for deep comfort, I chose the restaurant’s signature Kentucky Burgoo ($16.50), paired for brunch with scrambled eggs, and served with a light, buttery biscuit. The thick stew had chunks of slow cooked lamb and beef, corn, okra, and lima beans, all stewed slowly in a tomato and molasses base that had reduced to a rich, caramelized sauce. I mopped up every drop of the stuff first with the biscuit provided, then with a slab of Ciabatta crust left over from Blondie’s meal. I paired the stew with a pint of the house IPA ($7.50).
Burgoo, 3 Lonsdale Avenue. 604-904-0933