8 Hamilton restaurants & food shops worth driving for
Hamilton restaurants and food shops are thriving right now. So too is the city's music scene. In fact, Steeltown seems to be in the midst of a cultural renaissance of sorts. So when I was invited to tag along on a chef/investor-oriented tour, I jumped at the chance. Sure it was accompanied by a PowerPoint pitch (a la timeshares everywhere) aimed at highlighting the cheap real estate and aggressive financial incentives currently offered to lure potential investors and entrepreneurs to its downtown core, but for me it served as a sampling of the city's thriving food scene.
Ultimately, what I saw made me a little jealous. The city enjoys progressive attitudes towards food trucks; their Artcrawls, Supercrawls and Dishcrawls boast enthusiastic participation; existing business owners seem to share more of a camaraderie than sense of competition; and, aspiring businesses are encouraged and accommodated by consolidated government services that are offered in a one-stop shop. As robust as our food scene is, Toronto could learn a thing or two, I suspect.
Here are some of my highlights from the thriving Hamilton culinary scene.
Cheese Shop on Locke
This four year old fromagerie occupies a 2,500 square foot shop and offers 500 or so varieties of cheese, ice cream, preserves, canned goods and giftwares. The selection focuses heavily on Quebec and Ontario goods, plus hard-to-find, small batch producers. Co-owned by interior designer Catherine Corey and certified cheese maker Torsten Krueger, the shop not only operates a retail destination but also as an event space for wine tastings and private functions.
Chuck's Burger Bar
This burger bar owned by Chris Preston is so popular it's soon to open a second Hamilton location. The menu boasts handcrafted patties made from every meat imaginable: Angus beef, lamb, venison, bison, chicken, turkey and even bacon (that's right, ground bacon patties). Premium extras include nine different poutines loaded with everything from curry to lobster, plus, small plates, turkey wings and rotating daily specials like bacon wrapped cheese curds and garlic breaded mushrooms.
NaRoma Pizza Bar
Also on Locke Street, this bustling pizzeria that does brisk business in square slices and Roman style pies. Here, the crust is special, the product of handmade dough left to rise for 72 hours before being baked in heavy cast iron pans. It's light and thin but also crisp on the bottom. The menu showcases traditional varieties like a solid Margherita, along with inventive combinations of premium toppings like triple cream brie, prosciutto, fig jam and caramelized onions.
Mulberry Street Coffee House
This massive cafe occupies the first floor of a landmark building that dates back to 1887. The interior checks off all the signature design features of any hip metropolitan establishment: ornate tin ceilings, terrazzo flooring, exposed brick, upcycled furnishings and rotating exhibits from emerging artists. At the coffee bar, owner Ella Shepherd brews locally roasted Coffeecology and is known to offer an accommodating selection of gluten-free and vegan fare. Adding to its charm are the colony of artist lofts situated on the floors above.
The Burnt Tongue
Primarily a soup shop, the menu from Chef Dan Robinson at this casual spot has evolved to also include Belgian style fries, craft burgers and specialty sodas. The compact shop is known to offer a daily roster of six or so hearty, house-made soups with crunchy or fresh garnishes in varieties like Senegalese Peanut, Moroccan Lamb Meatball and Curried Sweet Apple.
A contemporary eatery opened by chef Juan Castillo that offers fresh takes on traditional Peruvian foods. The menu features composed plates of chicken empanadas, quinoa croquettes and pork belly chicharron for generally $10 a plate or less.
This commissary is owned and operated by the pioneer food truck team formerly behind one of Ontario's most popular food truck, and supplies commercial kitchen space, storage, equipment, branding, marketing, vending opportunities and, a whole bunch of other helpful resources and consulting services to incubate new food based business and food trucks.
Radius takes its name from its hyper local philosophy of sourcing ingredients. Housed in a restored historic building, the interior takes advantage of original features like 16-foot tin ceilings and exposed brick. Inside, two adjacent rooms function as a casual cafe/lounge and bistro/bar, plus there's an expansive back patio in warmer months. The sophisticated menu from chef Lance Gault (former Chef de Partie at Langdon Hall) draws from varied cultural influences and is known to include everything from charcuterie and cheese boards to poutines topped with herb roasted pork shoulder and steakhouse-worthy mains like the ribeye over potato rosti.
Photos by Jesse Milns