ALREADY PLANNING TO GO BACK: HAMILTON’S BRUX HOUSE
by Chris Tiessen
‘They’re really treating us well, eh?’ I remark to TOQUE Partner Cai Sepulis before taking a sip of my ‘Ghost Orchid’ – another incredible (and very juicy) Bellwoods IPA. ‘I feel just like Anthony Bourdain in The Layover.’ Just then our waitress arrives with yet another dish. ‘And what we have here,’ she announces with obvious pleasure while setting the plate in front of us, ‘is a little something Chef thought you’d enjoy.’ She pauses, before reciting: ‘Pastrami-smoked salmon with pickled quail eggs, scallion cream cheese and poppy seed pringle.’ I look down at the wonderfully-colourful creation, and then up at Cai. She reciprocates the grin I’m giving her with one of her own, before noting: ‘I don’t think I’ll have room for my main.’
Halfway through the exquisite dish, Chef de Cuisine Kyle Forth – the architect of our lunch – pays us a visit. ‘How’s the food so far? Enjoying yourselves, I hope.’ Quite. Indeed, we are thoroughly enjoying everything Kyle and his Brux House team have created for us – from the homemade liverwurst with house pickles, spicy mustard, and homemade baguette, to the fat baked pretzels with beer and emmenthal fondue, to the crispy chicken skins with maple chili glaze and caramelized onion ranch sauce, to the aforementioned pastrami-smoked salmon. ‘A creation,’ notes Chef Kyle, ‘by Our Sous Chef, Dmitry Perov – among the most brilliant cooks I’ve ever worked with.’ Brilliant, indeed. The chef. And the creation.
Brux House. If you haven’t been, you’re missing out. If you have, you’re likely already planning your next trip back. Located in the heart of Hamilton’s hip Locke Street strip, the restaurant has gained a well-earned reputation as the trailblazer of what’s become an agreeably ambitious local culinary scene. And on this brisk but bright and sunny noon hour in early November, it’s our road trip destination as TOQUE begins its expansion into Hamilton. ‘We opened three years ago,’ notes Kyle of the restaurant, ‘as the sister restaurant to Dundas’ Quatrefoil.’ Quatrefoil. Rated one of the top new restaurants when it opened by both Toronto Life and En Route magazines. Not a bad lineage, then. As if reading my thoughts, Kyle adds: ‘When we opened, Brux House was shortlisted by En Route as one of the top new restaurants. It’s a destination held dear by Hamiltonians and out of town visitors alike.’
Makes sense. After all, I think to myself, what’s not to love about this cozy two-storey converted red brick that’s loosely based around the idea of pairing great food with craft beer. I look up at the beer list and note no fewer than three Bellwoods options scrawled in chalk on the board. I ask how this could be (as I’ve never been anywhere with this much of Ossington’s finest), and Kyle let’s me know that Brux House has developed a really close relationship with the brewery – including hosting special dinners pairing up to six courses with different Bellwoods beers.
‘It’s something we do quite often,’ remarks Kyle of these types of collaborative dinner events. He continues: ‘Just recently, we collaborated with [Hamilton restaurant] Berkeley North to create a dinner at Collective Arts Brewing. And in the near future, the restaurant is hosting Michelin Star-rated Dill Restaurant and Kex Brewery – both from Iceland – for a dinner event that’ll also feature Collective Arts.’ Very cool.
At this point in the conversation, Cai and I have polished off the pastrami-smoked salmon and I’ve managed to finish my main too – a kale salad with goat cheese, pumpkin seed, crispy sweet potato, currant and red wine vinaigrette. Cai’s main – the Brux Brekkie Sandwich with scrambled egg, housemade back bacon, tomato, Worchestershire, portobello, cheese sauce, home fries and petit salad – has been packed for takeaway. ‘Room for dessert?’ I laugh at Kyle’s query, but am willing to take one more for the team – in the name of research. Kyle disappears into the small kitchen and, a few minutes later, reappears with a Chocolate Cremeux served with preserved raspberry, vanilla mousse, almond crunch, and housemade amaretto ice cream.
I dig in. Cai, not surprisingly (given what sits before us), joins me. And, once again, we’re in heaven. Between mouthfuls, I ask Kyle what makes the place work so well. ‘Fraser MacFarlane,’ he replies – alluding to the restaurant’s Executive Chef and Owner. Fraser and his wife, Georgina Mitropoulos, also own the aforementioned Quatrefoil. ‘And our close relationship with regional craft breweries, of course. And regional farmers, too.’ Kyle pauses to collect his thoughts. ‘Carol from Chassagne Farms, who provides us with quail, and Russ from Backyard Harvest, who grows us everything from Tokyo turnips to Jerusalem artichokes, instantly spring to mind. In fact,’ he continues, ‘next year we are going to sit down with Russ and his seed catalogue, and plan the menu around his harvest season.’ Brilliant, to be sure.
‘And Hamilton.’ Kyle elaborates: ‘We’re living through a special period in Hamilton’s story. The conditions are perfect. The location is perfect. This city is undergoing a culinary revolution.’
A revolution Cai and I – and TOQUE Magazine – are more than happy to help document. In this case, one bite at a time.