First Look: Aft, a new east-end smokehouse and kitchen
By Ray Lontoc
Aft's hanger steak sandwich (Images: Jon Sufrin)
Restaurants are places that host gatherings of friends, but at Riverside’s newly opened Aft restaurant, a gathering of friends does the hosting. Just about everything at the new place — from the decor to the food to the bar — is a collective effort from co-owner Paul Campbell and friends that he’s met through years of working in the service industry.
The quaint, 800-square-foot, 27-seat restaurant has been open for about a week, but it’s evolving. Interior decorators Brothers Dressler are still putting finishing touches on the decor, which is heavy on reclaimed wood (the sugar maple wood on the bar top, for example, was procured from Toronto Island). The lights hanging above the bar actually spell out “Aft” in binary code, and the shelving upon which the Kentucky bourbon sits is made up of reclaimed wood from, appropriately, Kentucky. Previously, the space housed Toucan Taco Bar.
The varied menu is a mix of southern U.S. cuisine (there’s a Cookshack FEC120 smoker out back) combined with other fare that makes use of modern cooking techniques such as sous vide (chef Christian Butcher heads up the kitchen).
Aft’s smoked burger ($13) sees a ground beef patty filled with studs of cheese and is cooked low and slow in the smoker. It’s then seared and served on an Ace Bakery bun. There’s also southern-fried chicken ($17, available on Wednesdays only), which is buttermilk-soaked for a day, dredged in cornmeal, flour and spices, then deep-fried.
When we were there, a steak sandwich ($15) was on offer, consisting of sous-vide hanger steak drizzled in reduced jus and topped with horseradish cheddar, caramelized onions, thyme aioli and arugula, and it was served on a lightly toasted Ace Bakery bun.
For the portobello frites ($8), portobello mushrooms are marinated for at least 24 hours in balsamic vinegar, honey, leeks, soy sauce and garlic; they’re then covered in panko bread crumbs and deep-fried.
Lighter fare includes a spring mix salad ($7), which includes yellow tomatoes, beets, radishes, smoked cherry tomatoes, crispy shallots, candied walnuts, pecans and a honey-maple balsamic vinaigrette.
Aft hosts a different menu theme every night, including smoked burgers and wings on Mondays, tacos on Tuesdays, deep south-inspired dishes on Wednesdays and Texas barbecue on Saturdays and Sundays — all of which will give patrons a fresh experience every time they visit the restaurant.
Currently, Aft is open for dinner seven nights a week, but it will soon be open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, too.
Aft, 686 Queen St. East, 647-346-1541