It’s 10 on an almost spring-like Saturday morning, and outside Camp, a convoy of strollers and scooters are parked next to faux–Muskoka chairs. Inside, parents tuck into quiche-du-jour and breakfast burritos, while their kids personalize colouring books between bites. Stompin’ Tom strains to be heard over cutlery clatter. A door opens and a pink pyjama–clad six-year-old shuffles into the restaurant, looking for her mother. It’s a scenario that would set off alarm bells in most situations, but this little girl isn’t lost—the diners are hardly strangers, and her mom runs the place. They live upstairs.
This isn’t Megan Whiten’s first restaurant. She opened The Beaver Café on Queen West in 2003, but sold it to friends in 2006, when she was expecting her daughter. Five years after that, with Mackenzie in school, Whiten came down with a case of (ahem) cabin fever. After taking a course in emergency telecommunications, Whiten realized that what she did best was restaurants, and almost immediately, she began looking at properties.
Space became available in an old soda shoppe just east of where Camp is now. But as soon as she put in a bid, Whiten started to panic. “I thought, ‘Oh, my god, what have I done? I have a property. I can do it here,’” she recalls. Needless to say, when the sale fell through, Whiten was relieved. Many of the homes along Jane Street are commercially zoned, but because the area isn’t a hub of activity, homeowners often turn their first floors into rental apartments. Whiten took advantage of the zoning and turned the first floor into a restaurant. Her family moved upstairs. The actual renovations were few, since the space already had its most important feature: a kitchen. All of the original cupboards and fixtures remain in the main space, with the exception of the gas stove. As luck would have it, the back room was already retrofitted for plumbing, so that easily became the prep kitchen. Only six months from its inception, Camp was open for business.
As a child, Whiten was more or less “subjected to extreme camping.” Grizzly bears aside, it provided her with some of her best memories. “People feel very nostalgic about their camp experiences,” she says. Her décor is a blend of camp with kitsch: Trailer-shaped outdoor lights provide ambience for Friday-night dinners, and there’s a tuck shop that sells preserves, camp “grounds” (coffee), and RV-emblazoned t-shirts. Beer taps sprout from a repurposed vintage-toy Winnebago, and beaver bric-à-brac lurks in every corner. The tiny restaurant is crowded, but convivial. Camp is a 20-person tent.
But this is no mess-hall grub. Primarily a breakfast, lunch, and brunch spot (though, come May, it will be open more evenings), Camp offers comfort food inspired by Whiten’s family recipes, like her mom’s scalloped potatoes ($4.50 for a side) and her Granddad Kipper’s celebrated chutney, which can be put on everything…except Camp’s French toast ($8.95). Served only on weekends, it’s made from leftover Patachou croissants that are torn apart and baked together with eggs, milk, vanilla, brown sugar, and a healthy handful of chocolate chips. Only calling it French toast makes it an acceptable breakfast food—it is, in actuality, croissant cake. Eggs ($2 for a side) are cleverly steamed using a reserved spigot on the espresso machine. In less than a minute, up to four orders can be cooked to fluffy perfection without any help from butter or grease.
Living where she works has been challenging for Whiten; it’s tricky to find a day off. But, in exchange, she has the support of her family, crew, and clientele. “I feel like I’m getting a great big hug from the neighbourhood every day,” she says. Future plans for the restaurant, however, might involve some house hunting. Whiten’s dream is to turn the upstairs apartment into an oyster bar, which would evict herself and her family: There isn’t a third floor.
Camp, 244 Jane St., 647-346-2267.