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Paintbox Bistro

Posted by Liora Ipsum / Reviewed on September 25, 2012 / review policy

paintbox bistro torontoPaintbox Bistro is located at the corner of Dundas East and Sackville, and area that's recently undergone such a rapid transformation that even Google Street View is woefully out-of-date. At first glance, the new neighbourhood seems like every other homogeneous block of recently erected condos, but unlike say, Spadina and Bremner, here there is promising signs of life at street level. Case in point, the just-opened Paintbox Bistro.

paintbox bistro torontoAfter over two years in the works, Chris Klugman, the chef and George Brown instructor behind the project, has finally opened the doors to the first component of the aspiring community hub. In addition to the Bistro, there is also a soon-to-open express concept (situated on the other side of the adjacent Regent Parks Art and Cultural Centre) that will even provide a walk-up take out window to serve up street food on-the-go.

paintbox bistro torontoBehind the scenes, the sprawling, state-of-the-art facilities are slated to offer: event catering services, a food business incubator, and training programs (which staff the restaurant's operations) in partnership with Toronto Employment and Social Services. Klugman describes it as a "meaningful project in support of a marginalized community" and clearly there is something to it; the service is excellent, and the staff is especially attentive and enthusiastic.

Inside, the space designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects is warm and vibrant. Structural columns are painted in swaths of vivid colours and complemented by warm woods. The dining room is also outfitted with a small stage and professional acoustics suited for live entertainment.

paintbox bistro torontoChef Matt Cowan (formerly of Simple Bistro and The Rosebud) has put his stamp on the menu with dishes like the Smoked Wild Salmon ($12), that draws inspiration from Nordic and Japanese cuisine. Served in a mason jar and topped with asazuke-styled pickled fennel, radishes and celery, the flavours are clean and thoughtfully chosen.

paintbox bistro torontoFor the more adventurous, the Fried Pigs Head ($14) showcases golden, panko crusted braised meat atop harissa buttermilk ranch sauce, and arrives piled with finely shredded cabbage.

The Flank Steak ($18) is perfectly seared and pink in the centre. The accompanying smoked-milk mashed potatoes and fried artichokes are dressed in a velvety jus that is almost cause to lick the plate.

paintbox bistro torontoFor dessert, the Lemon Curd ($7) is dolloped with poppy seed paste and topped with crumbled grapefruit streusel and candied lemon balm. My only qualm is the oh-so-literal "paint palette" plating.

The bar menu will include a select list of mostly VQA wines, bottled craft beers and signature cocktails from Morgan Ashley Davidoff, like the Sorbet with Wings ($10), a frozen vodka Red Bull concoction.

paintbox bistro torontoIt would be easy to brush off this newly 'revitalized' neighbourhood as just another example of gentrification, but there is something happening here that was really designed with the community in mind. The Paintbox Bistro doesn't dumb things down — instead, it raises people up so that they can appreciate and contribute to their own communities. The results are delicious.

Photos by Natta Summerky



Erik / September 25, 2012 at 02:54 pm
Trickle down is a neoliberal myth. This won't raise all people up, only property values and the footloose few who can follow them. This is gentrification. Just because New York's handle on it has better academic rigour doesn't mean Toronto isn't experiencing it. Don't be mistaken.

Regardless, the food looks and sounds delicious if you can afford it. It's sure to attract a lot of credit cards and delusional customers.
Kent / September 25, 2012 at 03:52 pm
This looks divine
Kip / September 25, 2012 at 03:52 pm
I'm so glad they opened a resto in the area that all the working families, single-parent homes, and low-income families can enjoy OH WAIT. NOPE.
Judy / September 25, 2012 at 04:16 pm
Kip, you were too busy being scarcastic to get it. The restaurant is intent on providing jobs and opportunities for those in the area. and yes, creating more traffic and gentrification. Hopefully it will not be lost on idiots like yourself.
Kip / September 25, 2012 at 04:32 pm
@Judy: Yes, please tell that to the single mother who is already working 2 jobs. Please tell me how the management team is going to hire someone with no chi-chi restaurant serving experience and no high school education. Please tell me how they're going to hire people who's "other job" is driving a cab or working in a daycare. Please tell me how they're reaching out to the community with $18 flank steak dinners (I know a lot of Regent Park families who just immigrated here who are dying to spend $125 on a family dinner). Please tell me how places like this aren't driving up the rent and forcing the working poor out. Please tell me this. And try to do it with a straight face.
Kip / September 25, 2012 at 04:43 pm
@Judy: Look, I like good food and chic restos as much as the next person, and this place does look good. But we can't act like it's this community savior. Are they only going to hire people within a 2 block radius? Doubtful. It's a mid-level restaurant in an urban city, nothing more. Let's not act like it's going to bring people to Regent Park for the right reasons (because honestly - how many of your friends are going to go "I want to go to that restaurant cause they help the community"? Probably not as many that will be like "I'm going cause it's trendy")
crc replying to a comment from Kip / September 25, 2012 at 05:15 pm
get over yourself too. try researching the place starting here:


The main goal of this place is " providing job training to residents in Regent Park, Moss Park, and St. Jamestown, as well as students from the George Brown Chef School"


as you can read, before they hired them, they gave out a dozen grants for culinary training to people who live in the area.

No, a working single mom won't be able to feet her family here. It will create jobs and opportunities for other food entrepreneurs and bring them to the area. Of course this is gentrification , but its being built in a condo. This part of the deal is already done. Revitalization = Gentrification. The working poor are still being housed here in TCHC buildings along with people who have purchased in the Condos already being built. It's the whole point of a mixed income neighborhood. This is a good thing.
Hamish / September 25, 2012 at 05:19 pm
Gee gosh. Gentrification is sooo obviously and always bad for everyone. Oh no, a restaurant that doesn't cater to the working poor is opneing in a histrorically poor and ghethoized neighborood The word "gentrification" has become another facile, dismissive adjective that gets bandied about thoughlessly with out any regard for nuance and individual circumstance, often by people with no investiture in the community they label. There is a distinction between improvement and displacement. It would not be better for Regent Park to remain a forgotten, monolithically poor ghetto. It might be better to have a range of incomes and some new opportunities in the neighborhood. Let's also not kid ourselves: we're not talking about Regent Park becoming Rosedale here. At best you are looking at the influx of some lower middle-to solidly middle class young families.
crc replying to a comment from Kip / September 25, 2012 at 05:21 pm
besides the fact that a working single mother really doesn't take her kids out to restaurants in the first place (at least mine didn't.) That single mother is grateful for the grocery store and bank that she doesn't have to travel 2 blocks to use. grateful for the tims that replaces the coffee time who's owner used to sling crack. thanks to gentrification.
Jane / September 25, 2012 at 06:03 pm
Cool! Kinda reminds me of Cafe Gilead's decor and pickled veggies! Food looks awesome!
KQMelanson / September 25, 2012 at 07:40 pm
Why are people getting so deep into this? It doesn't have to be a big crazy movement to make a difference.

It sounds really nice, and I love the idea of $12 smoked salmon :) I would definitely check it out!
Jason / September 25, 2012 at 08:49 pm
As someone who lives in the neighbourhood I am excited to see the transformation taking place out our window. We like the mix of families we see here, and that the neighbourhood is getting some nice things which we will be utilizing to the fullest. The future of Regent Park looks bright and my wife and I are looking forward to many great years here raising our son. But I guess being optimistic and positive about change just isn't cool nowadays.
Me / September 25, 2012 at 09:05 pm
Wouldn't they make better money by continuing to sell drugs and guns?
Chipmunk Follower / September 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm
@Jason - if you really want to help out the people in the neighbourhood you should stop charging for your walking tours. That way normal people won't have to follow you from a distance and we'll be able to share thoughts and ideas and I will even bring you a mint. You say that you are one of the greatest historians and tour guides in the worls, but you want us to pay for your knowledge which makes you a bad professor.
Chipmunk Follower replying to a comment from Jason / September 26, 2012 at 03:11 pm
@Jason - if you really want to help out the people in the neighbourhood you should stop charging for your walking tours. That way normal people won't have to follow you from a distance and we'll be able to share thoughts and ideas and I will even bring you a mint. You say that you are one of the greatest historians and tour guides in the world, but you want us to pay for your knowledge which makes you a bad professor.
Bryan / September 30, 2012 at 11:12 am
No less an expert than David Hulchanski has stated that the Regent Park revitalization is NOT gentrification. If you think otherwise, you either don't understand the term, or you don't understand what's happening in Regent.

After 50 years of government ownership and control, this area simply needs a fighting chance to become a neighbourhood like any other in the downtown. That means a mix of people, businesses, housing, etc. There are $2-million dollar homes right across the street in Cabbagetown, yet that housing market has not displaced small businesses or affordable rental housing in the area. Bravo to PaintBox Bistro. Here's to many more like it.
Tony / October 1, 2012 at 02:26 pm
I am furious that this place is opening so close to my home (just around the corner). It will attract the wrong kind of people and ruin our property values. It's bad enough that those Tour Guys profiteers are dragging people through my yard all the time, now I have to have some kind of job training restaurant heaped on us too? Did nobody think it appropriate to ask us residents first what we think? For shame!
cat / December 13, 2012 at 04:58 pm
I guess a run down grease spoon or another pizza place won't raise any objections??
Jesse / January 4, 2013 at 11:34 am

I really wanted to like this place (I live in Regent Park and support the community any way I can), but the food is terrible.

I've been twice and each time it was awful. The food is overly fussy and too expensive. Keep it simple, guys. Make a tasty bacon-egg-toast breakfast and make it cheap!
bait-and-switch / June 16, 2015 at 11:42 am
This has to be the worst restaurant in this area. Poorly run, menu prices do not reflect what you are charged. Worst service you could possibly experience. How is this restaurant even staying open? Who is funding it? If you go be prepared to be served attitude if you can even manage to get service.
Jane / June 16, 2015 at 11:50 am
This restaurant has the worst customer service I have ever had, EVER! They are just plain rude. Fist of all they act like you are inconviencing them to serve you, its slow and the food is horrible. I went there yesterday and ordered the chicken quesadilla, listed at $8 on the menu, they informed me they are now 12$. I was shocked but was starving so I paid the new price. I went there today and they are still listed at $8 on the menu, how can a restaurant operate this way! Its just plain wrong!
regent-park-critic / June 16, 2015 at 11:52 am
I think this restaurant needs to be reviewed again. Not a single photo reflects what is on their price sliding menu. Be warned. Ask if the price on the menu is the price you will be charged.

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