Buna's Kitchen, located on Richmond at Spadina, is the newest addition the neighbourhood's quick-service dining options. Owners Taylor Heon and Grace An met at George Brown chef school, and now, with a few years of running a catering business under their belt, the two are intent on offering a thoroughly wholesome experience driven by seasonal ingredients and an entirely made-from scratch menu.
Buna means grandma in Romanian, and the ambition behind the eclectic offerings at this walk-in kitchen is to nourish locals at lunch hour and on the way home from the office.
The inviting space offers 15 or so seats at a mix of stools pulled up to counters and deep upholstered booths. Herbs and lettuces under grow lamps line one wall, while Mason jars filled with house-made preserves and pickles sit on recessed shelves behind the booths.
The line to order starts at the cashier and wraps past the display of salads and fresh-baked goods around the corner, where the open short-order kitchen whips up sandwiches and hot dishes.
The pulled pork sandwich ($9.50) consists of a mass of torn meat finished in BBQ sauce and piled onto a butter bun with cool, crunchy slaw. With the exception of breads (these come from Fred's Breads ), everything is made from scratch, starting with meat (from Sanagan's ) that is finely shredded and thoroughly coated in a deeply coloured, molasses and vinegar-based BBQ sauce. It's not really smoky, but it's tangy and sweet in just the right ways.
The basic mixed greens come on the side with every sandwich, or there is the option to supplement with fries ($2), a choice of any specialty salads ($2.50) or a side soup ($2.50). With the pork, I have the garden potato salad with slivers of heirloom carrots. It's dressed in honey mustard vinaigrette and tons of fresh dill - I could eat a bowl of just this for lunch.
Of course, that is entirely feasible, too - the combination bowl offers a choice of any two to three salads on a bed of mixed greens for $6. In the afternoon, post-lunch rush, the pickings are slim - almost sold out, even. But at lunch hour you'll find the cold case stocked with four daily options like a grain salad, a pasta salad or a panzanella salad with chunky croutons, tomatoes, olives and mozzarella.
Buna's favourite grilled cheese ($8.50) comprises brioche slices sandwiching a gooey brie, layered with sliced pear and caramelized onions. It's browned in olive oil and finished in the oven to ensure the already soft cheese melts to its fullest potential. It is indeed a good grilled cheese.
The best thing I ate here was easily the comfy duck sandwich ($12) which starts with the Fred's butter bun slathered in a sweet and creamy orange-cranberry aioli that's then layered with beautiful, rosy chunks of duck leg confit and a fried egg. It's messy to eat (seriously, grab a stack of napkins or even a fork and knife) but supremely delicious.
The soup ($5) and quiche ($5) selection changes daily, but the poutine ($6) and comfy duck poutine ($10) are set to be staples. I don't try it today, but the menu also advertises fresh, house-made pasta in Buna's red sauce.
Coffees from Balzac's and loose leaf teas are on offer to accompany house-made baked goods like salted caramel brownies. Everything available packaged to-go, but the booth seating (while limited) is comfy and inviting ... and there's Wi-Fi.
Expect the menu at Buna's Kitchen to change seasonally to keep things interesting. Catering operations targeted towards corporate functions, parties and weddings are set to resume once Heon and An settle in.
Photos by Jesse Milns