‘I feel as though we’re in some nineteenth- century Parisian metro station,’ Cai whispers to me as Foundry Tavern General Manager Joey Ranchuk guides us through the restaurant’s bar area to a four-seater near the back of the busy space. Indeed, everything about the place hearkens back to some earlier romantic era. The century- old stone and concrete walls. Twenty foot tall original wood-slatted ceilings. Arched buttress-style chandeliers with marquee lights that cast a warm glow onto the bustling bar. And Edison bulbs mounted inside large glass orbs that seem to float above the diners throughout the space. As if on cue, three metro station-style flip-boards mounted to original timber supports behind the bar spring to life. I watch as a blur of letters flip ferociously, announcing lists of cocktail features punctuated by knee-slapping dad jokes. I make a mental note to keep one eye on these mesmerizing gizmos for the rest of the night. ‘Or the Moulin Rouge,’ I quip – referencing the late-nineteenth century Parisian revue as presented in the 2001music video ‘Lady Marmalade’ with Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink and Lil’ Kim. (Trust me on this one.) The place feels theatrical. Full of energy. As if anything could happen here. 

The perfect venue for a night on the town. 

It’s late March, and Cai and I have traipsed from Guelph into Galt to enjoy dinner at Foundry Tavern – one of several fantastic venues recently developed and opened by Waterloo-based HIP Development as part of the impressive Gaslight District. We’ve been to the restaurant before (where we enjoyed early-afternoon fireside drinks on the Foundry patio overlooking Waterloo Region’s largest public square, which boasts a live music stage and the biggest permanent outdoor screen in Canada); this is the first time we’ll be trying it out for dinner. By the looks of it, a lot of other folks have decided to step out for dinner too. ‘Friday and Saturday night are definitely busy around here,’ Joey tells us once we’re comfortably seated. ‘Both nights feature live music,’ he notes, ‘which is a huge hit with our guests.’ Joey adds that Sunday brunch is amazingly popular too: ‘We’re booked up months in advance.’ And no wonder: an all- you-can-eat brunch, and in this spectacular venue. 

After a bit of discussion with Joey about what’s best to order for dinner, we agree that Executive Chef Kyle Smith’s sending us an assortment of dishes that represent all corners of the menu is an irresistible idea. And a few alc and non-alc cocktails too. But first: pints of Foundry Brewing’s West Side IPA – one of several killer creations from Foundry brewmaster Geoff Wiseman, whose microbrewery is located just fifty meters or so across the public square from the Tavern. It’s a New England-style brew with notes of passionfruit and mango. ‘Like a Jutsu – only lighter,’ I remark to Cai after my first sip. This is a great thing. Before long, our wonderful server arrives with four appetizers: a ‘Cobb Salad’ (crunchy greens, boiled egg, confit tomatoes, crispy bacon, guacamole, blue cheese, croutons, pickled onions, sherry vinaigrette); ‘Sweet Potato & Pecan Salad’ (radicchio & frisée blend, spice roasted sweet potato, whipped goat cheese, candied pecan, mild yogurt dressing, fresh herbs); ‘Beef Rib Bonbons’ (braised & shredded, light crispy batter, beer mustard, ponzu dipping sauce); and ‘Charred Octopus’ (Sicilian olives, confit tomato, nduja, almost romesco sauce, garlic aioli, crispy fingering potato). 

While the salads are fantastic (I especially love the ‘Cobb’ which, in my opinion, ranks right up there with Elora’s The Friendly Society’s version of the classic dish), and the bonbons (think savoury beignets) are undoubtedly decadent, it’s the octopus that impresses Cai and me the most. The Mediterranean-inspired dish, exquisitely presented, is a combination of unique elements that – when assembled on a fork – deliver the tastiest mouthfuls. When Chef visits our table, I ask him about his decision to offer this particular eclectic range of cuisine. He’s straightforward with his answer: ‘My team and I just cook what we find flavourful – and approach the menu with thoughts of what pairs best with beer. We’re a gastropub, after all,’ he continues, ‘so whatever goes with our multitude of Foundry beer options will work well for us.’ Makes sense to me. 

Talk of beer reminds me that Foundry Tavern has a great cocktail menu too. On our table: a ‘Black Bramble’ (tangueray malacca gin, lemon juice, crème de cassis, simple syrup) and non-alc ‘Hibiscus Chill’ (seedlip spice, agave syrup, lime juice, hibiscus tea), as well as classic examples of a ‘Mint Mojito’ and ‘Whisky Sour’. I’m especially impressed by the fact that Foundry offers a full array of non- alc cocktail options – something that too many restaurants seem to ignore. 

Next up: our mains. For this portion of the meal, Chef decides to bring us two hearty dishes that we might very well have chosen ourselves. We share an order of ‘Hanger Steak ‘n Chips’ (10oz marinated triple-A hanger steak, herb salad, russet fries, garlic aioli, bone marrow demi) and a ‘Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich’ (air chilled chicken thigh, shaved iceberg lettuce, house made pickles, garlic aioli, hot honey drizzle). And while the steak is fantastic (especially cooked medium rare and topped with the terrific demi), it’s the chicken sandwich that blows our minds. The perfect morsel of fried chicken. Soft bun (think Martin’s potato roll). And a balance of pickle, aioli, and hot honey drizzle. ‘The best fried chicken sandwich I’ve had in years,’ Cai declares between bites. I don’t disagree, nodding vigorously with mouth full. 

As we wrap up our mains and wait for dessert – ‘Sticky Toffee Pudding’ (rich date spice cake, sponge toffee crunch, salted caramel, and vanilla ice cream) and ‘Spanish Coffee’ (kahlùa, triple sec, dark rum, whipped cream) – a duo sets up with guitar and mics in the corner opposite our table. And as they get into older Beatles and newer Tom Petty covers, I note that they’re perched directly beneath a massive round steel door stamped ‘The Goldie & McCulloch Co’ – an ode to the building’s past, evocative of the fact that the entire Gaslight District was owned and operated in the mid-nineteenth century by the iconic Galt-based company that operated it as a foundry (hence the restaurant’s name). While Cai works on the dessert, I make my way across the bar area, along a hallway featuring massive overhead marquee letters spelling out ‘Foundry Tavern’, away from the music and into the restaurant’s main dining room. I rattle off some frames of the space, which is packed like the bar (and shares the same stone walls and tall slatted ceiling) but radiates a distinctly calmer atmosphere. 

My parents would love it here, I think to myself. Or my fiancé, Liz, and our gaggle of kiddos who are always up for a dining adventure. I picture all of us enjoying a fantastic meal at the Tavern before meandering out into the public square for a movie night on the big screen or some live music. (Programming starts back up mid- May.) I head back to the bar area where I join Cai for a last bite of dessert. And am enthused. By Foundry Tavern – with its theatrics and energy. And by the broader Gaslight District too – a realized vision that brings so much to this region.