Fresh, local, and natural are the three principals Junction newcomer Stadt Cafe at 3011 Dundas West strives to live by. Opened only six months ago in February, it is staking out territory as the place for health-conscious diners along Dundas West. While the Junction neighbourhood is no stranger to such fare, Stadt hopes that its dedication and transparency in sourcing the best local food will launch it onto Toronto's must-eat list.
The brainchild of owner Tanya Schoen, Stadt is her attempt to bring sustainable, healthy food that is also bursting with flavour and spice to the city. The German word "stadt" literally means "city" and that is the whole idea: to link us city-dwellers with the people that feed us. Drawing on European food practices, the ultimate goal of this culinary Toronto experiment is to create a future that is genuinely sustainable, both socially and environmentally.
Atmosphere and Decor
Stepping into Stadt mid-afternoon on a summer long weekend felt cosy, relaxed and quiet. As many Torontonians were out of town at cottages and campsites, there were only a few tables occupied but every choice available looked comfy and well-lit. The use of "cafe" in the name is clearly for a reason: it feels part trendy coffee house and part rustic farmhouse, with a splash of chrome for industrial style. When you think of the meaning of Stadt, the combination of decor makes complete sense, especially the juxtaposition of paintings and graffiti prints with chalkboards and black & white photographs of rural farms. With the music at just the right level, it obviously attracts families and couples looking for both good food and pleasant conversation.
Printed boldly at the top of every page of Stadt's menu is "Fresh · Natural · Local" and these ideals are apparent in the modestly-sized but by no means narrow menu offerings. The dinner menu is divided into six appetizers and ten large plates, in quite an eclectic range for a cafe. Although lacking any sort of thematic cohesiveness--and certainly no European-inspired fare despite the German name--it presents itself as a very typical Toronto menu and will appeal to many. Drawing on a sprawling range of geographic and cultural inspiration, it's not quite clear what the chef is striving for in terms of food other than highlighting where the individual ingredients orginate.
Throughout their menu, they catalogue all their local suppliers and stress the organic, free-range, gluten-free,vegan, and GMO-free options. There are the familiar local names such as Ace Bakery, New Moon Kitchen, and Harmony Organic. They also source ethically-raised meats and eggs from both 100km Foods and When The Pig Came Home, as well as coffee from Pig Iron Roasters. Perhaps most impressively, the attention to detail is clear in their use of environmentally-friendly Katrina Vegetable Oils. Non-GMO oils are often something taken for granted in restaurants, even the healthy ones.
The appetizers start at $9 for bruschetta but this is no ordinary tomato and cheese on toast. The dish is one of two that can change daily, and for the bruschetta, the fresh toppings one day to the next may be different so it's important to refrain from assuming it's the regular bruschetta and ask the server. At the top end of the appetizer range is the trendytuna poke for $17, a traditional Hawaiian dish that grew to enormous popularity in Toronto last year and is offered at many of the hipster hangouts around the city. In between, there are the Tex-Mex staples of tortilla chips with salsa and tacos, as well the typical chicken wings and beef sliders.
The main dinner menu itself achieves quite reasonable prices for the high quality of produce and meat proving that sustainable eating on a modest budget is very possible. Half of the 10 item menu is salad so if you're looking for something filling and healthy, you have plenty of choice. All salads are $14 or $15 and come with heaps of crunchy greens and unique ingredients from smoked eggs to pomegranate seeds. Coming back to the lack of cohesiveness in the menu, the latter 5 offerings on the large plate portion seem to be a mish-mash of Caribbean, Mexican, North African, and Canadian but all are priced incredibly reasonably between $18 and $21—and that includes a free-range lamb kofta, non-GMO jerk chicken or a grass-fed steak! Catch of the Day is exactly as it says, and the fish dish can change daily.
Desserts are where the European inspiration becomes a little clearer with apple strudel and double chocolate Euro tart. They range from the $4 gluten-free chocolate brownie to $8 for the Euro or Harvest tart. There are no optional sides or additional snacks like bread offered but with such tasty plates, you don't even miss them.
For the appetizer, I decided upon the ¡VivaMexico! tortilla chips which come with four salsas including pico de gallo, salsa roja, salsa verde, and guacamole. The corn chips themselves are organic, GMO-free from Alba Lisa. Although the salsa verde was clearly the best of the dips, the chips tasted bland like everyday supermarket brand tortilla chips when I was expecting something more authentic and flavourful.
The decision between a salad or meat plate was a tough one but eventually I came to conclusion that the opportunity to try the chimmichurri steak with patatas bravas which uses Canadian grass-fed organic beef couldn't be passed up. My companion decided on the Moroccan-themed Casablanca salad.
There is a very distinct smell and taste to grass-fed, naturally-raised local beef that, if you're accustomed to supermarket beef, may have you hesitating for a moment before putting the fork into your mouth. It's how I knew I was getting the real thing here. The meat was tender and juicy, and the perfect size for a late afternoon meal. Complemented by delicious patatas bravas -a Spanish potato dish- with Argentinian-style chimmichurri sauce and green beans, the meat was clearly the star of the plate. The potatoes were perfectly cooked for me although the string beans were over-cooked and lacking the garlic bite the menu promises. The flavours of the dish overall worked very well together and formed a pleasing, but not overly ambitious, plate.
My friend really enjoyed her salad, that came deconstructed. Especially the variety of ingredients and the ability to mix them in as she saw fit was the seller.
Although nicely satiated from the meal, dessert found me craving the NY cheesecake mousse with fresh berries and my friend opted for the harvest tart. Now, that mousse is thick! It had a wonderful creaminess that felt rich and decadent without being heavy. It was not exploding with flavour, something I found refreshing for a cheesecake actually since too many are pumped full of sugar. The cheese had a real chance to shine. Disappointing however was the choice of accompanying fresh berries. For a establishment that prides itself on local ingredients, the blueberries tasted like the large, bland greenhouse kind found at every supermarket. In a city abundant with farmer's markets full of fresh berries of all kinds right now, this seemed like a cop out. The harvest tart had a pleasant pastry crust and the coulis on the side added an extra burst of sweetness.
Whether you're having something alcoholic or not,the drinks menu is expansive and impressive. This is where the cafe part of Stadt really starts to come through.
The signature cocktails list is a little uninspired featuring mimosas, mojitos, and margaritas alongside some slightly more interesting mixes. The Retro Cocktail list is more fun with the comeback star of 2013: the negroni, as well as classic throwbacks like the gimlet, sidecar, and mint julep. It's a selection bound to satisfy everyone from young trendsetters to grandfathers. The beer selection is small but adequate with lagers, ales, ciders and IPAs, mostly from Ontario brewers like Whitewater and Muskoka. The wine list is a selection of wines from around the globe consisting of white, red, rose, and sparkling options.
As a cafe, they also offer a healthy collection of coffees, teas, and blended coffee drinks such as the Golden Milk iced coffee which contains espresso from Pig Iron Roasters, cinnamon and turmeric. Fairly unique to cafes like this, Stadt offers a 12-ounce VEGA Protein shake.
My predilection for lime had me ordering the Lime & Bitters Italian soda while my friend had the natural strawberry lemonade. It certainly wasn't a natural colour, but it was tasty. My lime soda was nothing short of sour, just the way it should. It was packed full of lime juice and incredibly refreshing, paired with all the dishes we ordered.
If there's anything I can stress about the service, it's that it was incredibly friendly. Our server, Erin, was helpful and on top of everything. Although the restaurant was fairly empty the entire time, we were given the perfect balance of space and attention. I was a little surprised that I wasn't asked how I'd like my steak cooked but it came out the perfect rareness for me, almost like they read my mind. Quite lucky! What I found particularly impressive was how Erin split the appetizer on the bill without us even asking. She just knew exactly what we wanted.
After a relaxed meal, we were satisfied and felt the portion sizes were perfect for the time of day. Both me and my friend felt alert and happy, and not too full to continue enjoying the summer evening in High Park. The most important point to take from Stadt Cafe is that sustainability works. Eating local doesn't have to be a fad only for rich people. The pricepoint versus the food quality fits into any average budget. You don't have to spend a lot of money to care about ethical consumerism, supporting local farmers, and the environment. These are people that care deeply about providing high-quality food and even more about sourcing that food to introduce urbanites to the delicious world outside the Toronto city limits. If you're in the area, it's worth it to stop in and see what Ontario farmers can do for your taste buds.
MEET THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Vivian Lynch