Dish Cafe has moved to the heart of Little Italy after 16 years on Dupont in the Annex. This cooking school, cafe with prepared foods, retail store and private/corporate event space has taken over what was formerly Johnny Jackson , and the transformation is striking.
Owner Pam Pridham started out as Dish's school director and ended up taking over the entire business from its founder Trish Magwood in 2009. She and her husband Gord (his official role is "Chief Tasting Officer") have backgrounds in banking and finance, but they've always been passionate about good food and are accomplished home cooks themselves.
In the front is the cafe area, which serves up Rufino's Classic Gourmet Super Bar espresso
($1.95/$2.55 for single/double, up to $3.50/$4.50 for a flavoured latte) pulled on a Nuova Simonelli along with Pluck Teas.
All the food here is made on the premises, including sweet treats like gluten-free salted caramel brownies ($3.50 each) and mini bundt cakes ($4.95), along with other classic baked goods like butter tarts ($2.25) and scones ($1.75).
A prepared-food counter offers tempting options for every meal, from breakfast sandwiches ($4.25-$4.95) and yogurt parfaits ($3.75) to mix-and-match, build-your-own lunch or dinner items sold by weight. Choices always include a variety of salads, plus a beef, chicken, fish and veggie dish, all featuring seasonal ingredients.
For lunch, I try a piece of Dish's signature BBQ chicken ($3.75/100g) with house-made BBQ sauce accompanied by pecan-streusel green beans ($2.75/100g) and a tasty kale salad with roasted red peppers, curried chickpeas and feta ($2.75/100g). The chicken is tender and flavourful with a kick of spice, while the green beans add crunch and sweetness.
My friend gets a slice of deep-dish, flaky crust quiche ($3.75/serving) paired with an addictive roasted eggplant salad with pomegranate molasses and goat cheese ($2.75/200g). The quiche fillings change daily, and when we visit, the eggy custard is filled with a satisfying combo of kale, ham, onion and mozzarella.
Sharing a space with the cafe is the retail portion of Dish, which sells ready-made meals like Moroccan chicken tagine and beef bourguignon along with big jars of soup and different kinds of lasagna and mac & cheese. (They can also be delivered through Foodora.)
There are also carefully curated pantry items for sale, with the inventory slowly building whenever the Pridhams come across something of quality that they like and would use in their own kitchen; they personally test and approve of everything sold here, from the Dillon's Bitters to a specific brand of Portuguese extra virgin olive oil that Gord swears by.
Just about everything you'd need to pull off a successful dinner party can be found here (including charcuterie and cheese), whether you want to cook all, some or none of it. "We believe in the building blocks of food," says Gord.
If you'd rather not leave all the cooking up to Dish's chefs, they can also teach you how to whip up your own meals. The same staff who make the food during the day teach here in the evenings, with about four to five different classes offered each week that include knife skills, working with pastry and "date night," where couples learn how to prepare a themed meal.
In addition to the cooking classes , the back space, which has a large open kitchen and a licensed bar next to it, is equipped to host anything from corporate team building events to rehearsal dinners, with future plans to do catering as well.
Pam tells me loyal Annex customers are still making the trek down here to visit while new neighbours are slowly peeking in to check the place out. They're still adapting to the wants and needs of the clientele in this area, but from what I can tell so far, this is already a great addition to the 'hood.
Photos by Jesse Milns.