A year after opening their College Street bar, brothers Michael and Jason Jang have finally realized their dream of serving up cheap, tasty Korean pub grub.
When Jang Bang opened on College Street last October, it was touted as a bar serving tacos with a Korean twist. But hungry drinkers (and food enthusiasts) were disappointed to be told at the bar there wasn’t any food or that the kitchen wasn’t operating. A year later, brothers Michael and Jason Jang have finally sorted out their small bar menu with a trio of Korean tacos (bulgogi, chicken and pulled pork) as well as mandu (Korean dumplings) and kimchi.
“We’ve been operating as an event venue since we opened,” says Michael, 35, who held down bartending and front-of-house gigs while growing up in Richmond Hill and Mississauga. “I had spotty attempts at trying to incorporate a chicken and beef taco. I had a few chefs [lined up], but they kept falling through and we kept getting set back. This is sort of a last-ditch opportunity to come up with a more consistent operation with food and continue with booking live music and DJs and have fun here.”
Michael took over the space back when it was a Thai restaurant but, after running it for six months, he decided to cut his losses at the unpopular restaurant to open his own bar, where live bands and DJs would perform against a backdrop of Korean kitsch (such as black and white photos of his family plastered on the wall).
There’s no better time than now for the Jang brothers to roll out the food they wanted to serve a year ago. In the past months, Korean cuisine has usurped pork belly as the common theme in downtown menus. To name a few, The County General has kimchi and pork belly sliders, Chino Loco now has Korean beef burritos, Barque Smokehouse opened this year with kalbi ribs, Fusia Dog’s namesake hot dog has kimchi and Nota Bene’s burgers also contain pickled cabbage treat. It’s not that Korean cuisine is suddenly a new thing (Toronto does have two established Koreatowns, after all), it’s that they’re now being incorporated into North American menus.
“The guys at [Korean restaurant] Swish By Han, for example, have been pushing fusion elements and mordernizing the food that we’ve been eating all our lives,” says Jason, 26. “It’s great to see that the food we’ve been eating growing up is moving forward.”
At Jang Bang — named after the nickname the brothers were given as kids (it means “Jang’s room”—get your heads out of the gutter)—the two have put together a small menu consisting of a taco sampler platter ($8 or $3 for individual tacos) of beef bulgogi with salsa roja, cherry tomatoes and sour cream; a spicy chicken in a marinade of onions, scallions, garlic, dried chillies, soy sauce, sesame oil and gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) with a dollop of Asian pear guacamole; and a pulled pork that’s been cooked in PBR (it’s what’s on tap) and spiced with a barbecue sauce they made and finished with a coleslaw featuring sesame oil and ginger.
The pair has pushed hard to get their place back on track through social media. At the start of the month, they hosted a tasting to bring in those who have walked by the cavernous and dark bar at night, not knowing there were delicious and cheap tacos to be had, in addition to the pan-fried pork and chicken dumplings (8 for $6) and kimchi ($3) made by the brothers’ mom. The place was even open last Saturday at noon to a steady trickle of curious pedestrians intrigued by the chalkboard sign placed on the sidewalk.
“It’s not so much we’re jumping on a trend—it’s something that’s easy for us to execute because it’s what we know,” says Michael. “I feel like we have some real marquee dishes that just transcend because they’re just good. Korean barbeque and kimchi are dishes that everyone knows about and are winners in their own right.”