First Look: The East Ender, Leslieville’s new spot for globally-inspired comfort food
When Greg Argent and Hieu Nguyen opened The East Ender last month near Queen and Leslie, in the old Tomi Kro space, the only promotion they did was open the doors. No ads, no flyers and no social media. Within a few days, they had a full house and had to turn people away.
As long-time business partners (their previous ventures include Cru and Forte Bistro and Lounge), Argent and Nguyen’s goal is to create a comfortable restaurant; a neighbourhood hotspot without pretention.
“We don’t do the white linen tablecloth thing here,” says Argent, who also heads up the kitchen.
The space is comfortable, with dark tones, spacious tables and open brick walls. It’s inviting, making us want to take a load off and stay a while. The menu is creative and grabs our attention with global-fusion fare, including Italian, North African and Asian-inspired dishes.
A popular appetizer is the pork and black truffle dumplings with a citrus ponzu sauce ($11). The dumplings are stuffed with ground pork and veal, tapioca starch, ginger, Chinese rice wine, light and dark soy sauce and black truffle paste. They’re pan-fried to order, and hit with sesame seeds.
Argent gets the black truffle paste from Pasquale Bros., and, at 10 per cent truffle content, it has a much higher concentration than the typical paste. He also adds black truffle oil to give the dumplings a dramatic flavour. The dish comes with house-pickled carrots and daikon in the style typical to Vietnamese banh-mi sandwiches.
Affordability is key to The East Ender’s concept. All entrées are $20 or less. Wines by the bottle are all under $45, except for the reserve selection.
“We wanted to drive prices down, but make the menu exciting,” Argent says.
When we were there, Argent whipped up the popular chili and chocolate-braised beef short rib, with a roast garlic taro croquette ($20).
The beef is Angus short rib, seared off and then slow braised with dark beer and bittersweet chocolate. The chili is ancho, the sweetest dried chili around, with some chipotle for extra kick. It’s all cooked until the chili and chocolate flavours are thoroughly set in the beef.
“If you say it’s going to be chocolate chili, it better be chocolate chili,” Argent says.
Argent does most of the shopping for The East Ender himself. He goes to Diana’s Seafood, telling us, “I like to pick the fish and see them and look in their eyes.”
Foie gras and game meats such as bison are sourced from La Ferme Black River, and Argent frequents the St. Lawrence Market to search for good produce. Asian ingredients come from community faves T & T Supermarket and Sanko.
“Our philosophy,” Argents says about the menu, “is to under-promise and over deliver.”
The East Ender is currently open for dinner, but this Mother’s Day, it’ll open for brunch (and long-term plans for a regular brunch menu are in the works, too).
The East Ender, 1212 Queen Street East, 647-346-3278