WORDS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘I think I’m going to have to come back for a second visit,’ I tell Jill before I take the last bite of beef tartare – with egg yolk jam and pickles, set delicately atop what’s surely the greatest finger of brioche I’ve ever tasted. ‘To do more research,’ I mumble – savouring this bit of culinary delight. While my tastebuds frolic amongst a perfect balance of sweet and savoury, I scan our table for the slim chance there’s a remaining bite of some other dish we’ve been sharing. Maybe some Parisienne Gnocchi (with duck, roasted allium, and baby swiss chard). Or a bit of Braised Pork Ragu (with saffron pasta sheets). Or a forkful of Sweet Corn Risotta (with acquerello rice and chanterelle mushrooms). But alas – every plate’s been wiped clean. ‘Ya, I think you’ll need to get back here,’ Jill grins in response.
‘Besides’, she adds with a laugh, ‘the place is so much better when we’re open.’
It’s a Wednesday early evening in late August, and I’m sitting across the table from Jill Sadler in her bougie Uptown Waterloo restaurant, S&V Uptown. Correction: I’m sitting across from Jill in her closed bougie Uptown restaurant. The place is shuttered on Wednesdays. And Mondays and Tuesdays too, for that matter. ‘Staff shortages,’ Jill tells me with a shrug. Damned pandemic. But at least the empty space offers me the opportunity to chat with Jill about the phenomenal (and phenomenally quick) ascent she’s taken in the restaurant industry without fear of disruption.
Despite the restaurant’s being closed, every few minutes (it seems) we’re interrupted by couples and small groups walking in through the unlocked front door – hopeful of a table for dinner. And while at first I wonder why Jill leaves the door unlocked between these unexpected visits, it dawns on me that she welcomes these interruptions as opportunities to connect with these would-be diners: to build rapport, recommend other Uptown dining options, and, ultimately, serve as a consummate host.
‘I never would’ve predicted I’d still be working in restaurants at this stage of my life,’ Jill tells me when she returns to our table after suggesting to a young couple looking for dinner that they try Red House down the street instead. ‘I got into the industry in my late teens, bussing and serving as a way to earn money for school,’ she says. ‘In those days, I remember customers asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, as though working in food couldn’t possibly be a career.’ And so – for a while, at least – it wasn’t.
‘After graduating,’ Jill goes on, ‘I used my degree in criminology to get a job managing a group home that included looking after about twenty staff. But while I finally had that ‘grown up job,’ there was little pleasure in it for me. When I’d get home from work, I’d shake off the stresses of the day by reading cookbooks or creating unique cocktails or trying new recipes.’ Food offered her escape and comfort, then, as well as a sense of home.
‘When I was a kid,’ she tells me, ‘family time was always structured around food. Both of my parents loved to cook. While my mom was proficient in the kitchen, my dad – who had at one time lived in Germany – was passionate about crafting dishes like rouladen, schnitzel, spaetzle.’ Jill recalls more than a few occasions when she’d wake up in the morning to her dad’s ‘German breakfast’ specialty: bread with liverwurst. ‘It’s probably not what many of the kids in my class were eating for breakfast,’ Jill laughs, ‘but those meals meant the world to me.’
While Jill shares with me something of the texture of her early life, S&V Uptown Head Chef Kris Simmons – who cut his teeth in such esteemed area establishments as Langdon Hall, Janet Lynn’s Bistro, and Elora Mill – interrupts us in the best possible way: with dessert. ‘Grilled peaches with vanilla bean, amaretto, and sabayon,’ Kris tells us as he sets the dish down. A perfect choice for this fall season, I think to myself. While I take the liberty of indulging in a first bite – and revel in the magic that is fruit baptized by fire – Jill continues: ‘It wasn’t long into my job at the group home when I realized I wanted back into the industry. Despite its many challenges – the physical demands, mental exhaustion, emotional drain – food has always been home for me.’ And so, within a whirlwind two-week span in 2017, Jill quit her job at the group home, found an available space in Kitchener to open her first place and, with husband Mica, began renovating. ‘Within a month of getting the key,’ Jill reminisces, ‘we were open for business.’
That first restaurant, Swine & Vine, focused on small plates and sharing items. And while it proved to be a great experience and developed a sort of cult following in the region, when the lease came up for renewal Jill knew she wanted to evolve the concept beyond sharing plates to include tasting menus, full- service dinners, and lots (and lots) of events. Oh, and she needed a new space that could accommodate these changes too. So Jill and Mica looked toward Uptown Waterloo. ‘The Uptown food scene has always been pretty incredible – with such a great variety of destinations,’ Jill explains. ‘There’s everything from [the aforementioned] Red House for elegant rustic dishes to Ethel’s for straight up burgers and pitchers; Loloan Lobby Bar for cocktails and sophistication to The Jane Bond for vegetarian and a sweet vibe; and now there’s us too.’ Smack dab in the middle of things. And, since opening in summer 2021, fitting right in.
Located on King Street just down from the busy intersection of King and Erb, the newly- named S&V Uptown boasts an open concept interior space featuring exposed brick walls, barnboard accents, heavy wooden beams, custom chandeliers, high ceilings, and lots of greenery – a perfect balance of airiness and coziness. ‘We want the space to match the vibe we’re going for,’ Jill tells me, ‘which is all about laid back sophistication.’ She knows exactly what she means. ‘S&V Uptown is a place where you can expect the highest level of food and service while still feeling comfortable in a nice pair of jeans and ball cap.’ Laid back, then. And sophisticated. I look around the empty space and imagine it filled with patrons – laughing and chatting and enjoying each other’s company. I can picture it in my head, and I’m keen to experience it in person. ‘About that second visit, then,’ I chuckle to Jill. ‘I know just the occasion,’ she replies with a grin.
* * *
It’s a Thursday evening on the first of September, and I’m back at Jill’s restaurant for a second round. (To do more research – remember?) Except this time, the place is filled with diners and there’s a palpable buzz in the air. The occasion: S&V Uptown’s monthly Supper Club, in which S&V Uptown chefs develop uniquely-themed multi-course dinners for thirty patrons who’ve been fortunate enough to snag a ticket. (Visit svuptown.ca and keep your eyes peeled for upcoming dinner club events; they sell out fast.) For this Supper Club installment, the kitchen is being led by none other than Chef Jonathan Gushue – of Langdon Hall, The Berlin, Fogo Island Inn, Elora Mill & Spa, and, currently, S&V Uptown where Jonathan serves as Culinary Director. ‘It’s still sometimes hard to believe,’ Jill exclaims to me when I ask about how she managed to convince such a celebrated chef to work at her relatively upstart restaurant. ‘We see eye to eye about so many things,’ she says, ‘and he’s been an extraordinary teacher to our entire team.’
A team that’s pretty stacked – with or without Chef Gushue. There’s Head Chef Kris and the kitchen team whose unbelievable cooking skills I’ve already discussed. And the front of house team – a fantastic group of dedicated pros whose enthusiasm for proficient service is evident from beginning to end of my Supper Club experience. ‘Since the pandemic it’s been almost impossible to find good cooks and servers,’ Jill tells me when I comment on her crew. ‘I’m grateful every day for the solid team we’ve got here,’ she adds. And then there’s Aaron Hatchell. Former Head Bartender at Wilks’ Bar at Langdon Hall, Aaron’s a tour
de force at S&V – developing the place’s impressive cocktail program, teaching cocktail classes (visit the restaurant’s website for upcoming classes), and serving as Jill’s creative partner-in-crime.
Indeed, since joining forces in 2021 Jill and Aaron have combined their creative resources and worked hard to realize the vision of the restaurant. One of Jill’s favourites among the things they’ve collaborated on are cocktail menus that double as maps of the region, for example, showcasing drinks inspired by twenty area businesses featured on the map. Other cocktail menus have been designed as decks of oracle cards. Most recently, the menus have taken the form of complete food and drink magazines featuring articles, recipes, and more. ‘We’re always trying to think outside the proverbial box,’ Jill remarks. ‘Our menus area creative outlet, as are our regular cocktail classes. We also host classes in cooking and baking, which have been well-received, and even turn the kitchen into a sort of commercial bakery where customers can purchase loaves of sourdough – on their own or paired with a bottle of wine.’ These inventive projects serve to animate the space and keep S&V Uptown in people’s minds.
As we bring our focused conversation to an end, Jill shows me to my Supper Club table, where she introduces me to her husband Mica and a handful of their friends. I take a seat, poised for adventure as Jill and Chef Jonathan introduce the night’s theme: ‘Ocean Bounty: Newfoundland & Labrador.’ For the next three hours I enjoy what can only be described as a mind- blowing culinary escapade. Course after course arrives, each one delivered like an episode of a sort of love letter from Jonathan to his east coast roots. There’s Jarred Cod (with mussel duxelles and parsley sauce); Butter Poached Snow Crab (with chanterelles and sea lettuce soup); Poached Lobster (with poached beets, smoked trout roe and pork consummé); and Lamb Loin (with sea baked turnip, sea asparagus and sauce charcuterie). All paired, of course, with fine wines curated by Aaron & Jill. And, for dessert: blueberries with dulse, dark rum, and white chocolate; hay ice cream with ginger marmalade; and partridgeberry steamed pudding and custard. I’m exuberant and hugely satisfied by the mere recitation of this bounty.
As Supper Club winds down, and Jill and Chef Jonathan give their last instructive and enticing commentaries to this intimate gathering, I can’t help but be amazed by Jill’s vision come to life. Far from existing merely as a restaurant, S&V Uptown is an experience: a place of comfort and pleasure and satisfaction. This is indeed a place that Jill can call home – all the while creating a very special rendition of home for her staff and guests. And for me, of course.
I’m looking forward to my third visit. But not for research, this time.