Cheesewerks is the latest contributor to Toronto’s grilled-cheese craze, but with a twist: it will complement its novel, geographically inspired menu with locally sourced beers and wines.
While the city already has a bounty of quality cheese-mongers (Cheese Boutique, Thin Blue Line, About Cheese, Leslieville Cheese Market, etc.) and restaurants like The Grilled Cheese in Kensington Market and the just-opened Construction Site at Yonge and Eglinton serving just grilled cheese, the pop-and-pop owned Cheesewerks, opening next week at 56 Bathurst St., is one-upping the rest by serving grilled cheese with beer and wine.
The restaurant/retail store is a three-years-in-the-making project by first-time restaurateurs Kevin Durkee, 42, and his husband Tom Douangmixay, 38. Durkee worked at his mother’s tearoom in the town of Perth, Ontario, throughout his teenage years before establishing a career in marketing. When his mother passed away in 2007, Durkee wanted to do a “reset” and head back into the food industry.
“I look at cheese, bread, beer and wine as the big four categories of true artisan products, with recipes passed down for generations—and they can’t be made overnight,” says Durkee. “We love cheese and wanted to celebrate what’s available here, so everything we serve in those four categories is Canadian.”
That means the bread is all from St. John’s Bakery, the beer is from Ontario brewers like Barrie’s Flying Monkeys and the nearby Amsterdam Brewery, and the cheese is sourced from producers within the province like Fifth Town, Upper Canada Cheese, Glengarry and Gunn’s Hill. There will also be cheeses from Quebec, Manitoba and the occasional international selection on theme nights. Durkee’s commitment to Canadian dairy is so strong that his restaurant is endorsed by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. (Durkee adds they have yet to find a quality soy cheese for vegans.)
Oddly enough, despite the rah-rah approach to supporting Ontario farmers, the grilled cheese sandwiches (about $7 to $11) on the menu are named after international cities. (Durkee explains that the ideas for each of the sandwiches came from traveling.) There’s the Beijing grilled cheese sandwich, inspired by Durkee and Douangmixay’s honeymoon trip to the Olympics in 2008. (It features Ontario Gouda, green onions and Chinese barbecue pork on a green-onion-and-potato bread that St. John’s created just for the restaurant.) The Los Angeles sandwich comes from Durkee’s years working in the marketing department at Disney—it comes with havarti, avocado, arugula and a citrus compote on a light sourdough. For the Houston, it’s pepperjack cheese, cherry-wood smoked pulled pork made in-house, and chipotle sauce on thick jalapeno Texas toast. The New York is a spin on the Reuben with Swiss Appenzeller, pastrami, pickled red cabbage and grainy mustard on whole grain rye. The Myrtle Beach sandwich (Durkee’s parents spent a lot of time there) is a sweeter option with double-cream brie, caramelized valida onion and apricot chutney on pecan nut bread. The plain grilled cheese is a two-year-old cheddar and a smoked cheddar from Balderson on a cracked peppercorn sourdough.
Of course, there had to be a Toronto sandwich but, for Durkee, it was difficult to make just one. As a result, he made three that come in slider sizes. Right now, there’s the Korea Town (provolone and kimchi), Danforth (feta and olive tapanada) and Little Italy (buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil). “The goal is to bring in more neighbourhoods, whether it’s Leslieville, Yonge-Eglinton, Church-Wellesley and keep mixing it up. Next year, we’ll probably do a London sandwich for the Olympics with Stilton, roast beef and horseradish. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Sides include a roasted tomato soup ($4 for 10 oz.), Covered Bridge kettle chips from New Brunswick, fruit salads and pickles. And for those who don’t want alcohol, Cheesewerks makes their own sodas, lemonades and iced teas. The cost of a sandwich, side and a drink should be in the $15 range. Cheese plates will also be available and for hardcore turophiles, and there’s a “board member” club in which members get discounts and first dibs on new cheeses.
The 1,400-square foot, 30-seat retail and restaurant space is located on the bottom of a relatively new condo development and is perhaps one of the few new restaurants out there didn’t used to be a convenience store, art gallery or dive bar of some sort. “We’re just off the King West strip, but I like the condo density here and we get pretty good foot traffic. We’re part of a business association called NOLA [north of Lake Shore] and we run a mini BIA to coordinate events and take care of this zone and I’m happy to be part of that.”
Though the place isn’t open till next Friday (Dec. 16), there are already a few events scheduled at Cheesewerks next year. There will be viewing parties for the Golden Globes and the Super Bowl, a cheese fondue night for Valentine’s Day as well as tastings hosted by visiting cheesemakers. Also, on opening day Cheesewerks is handing out free sandwiches from noon to 2 p.m.