John Conrad in the Junction is the resto-bar sibling of cozy, beloved brunch spot Littlefish next door. Unlike its pint-sized relative, space is most definitely not an issue here; in fact, it's relatively ginormous in comparison (it was previously the gym Ironkore Performance Training ).
There's a comfy-looking sofa chair and couch followed by a long bar along the left side when you enter, and the kitchen is fully visible in the back. A slew of black tables fills the rest of the floor, save for a red and black picnic-like table in the front corner, which we deem to be the primo place and claim for our meal.
Owner Carey Wesenberg tells me the name "John Conrad" is of no real significance - "You just have to come up with a name," he explains to me, and those were two masculine-sounding ones that he liked. I guess what really matters is what he wants to do here, which is offer up affordable drinks and pub-ish comfort food to those in the area post-brunch.
Beer comes by the bottle ($4.75 domestic, $5.25 premium, $6 import) or on tap ($7.50/pint, $4/half-pint), with the four draught options all local Ontario brews (Steam Whistle, Beau's Lug Tread, Flying Monkeys' oatmeal stout, Amsterdam's Boneshaker IPA). A dozen or so Ontario wines from the Niagara region are also available by the glass ($7-$12).
When we visit, there's a short one-page menu of only five main items plus a few sides. Exactly 80% of the mains - that would be all but one (the fried chicken sandwich, $10) - contain cheese. (Perhaps a healthy dose of cheese = comfort? I have no objections to that.)
Nevertheless, what the options may lack in terms of variety are certainly made up for in flavour.
Our server swears by the cheeseburger ($9; add bacon, $3), which comes with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, pickles, ketchup, mayo and mustard. Housemade chips ($3.25/$6) serve as a side instead of fries.
Next in our " dairy crack " journey is the Cajun mac'n'cheese ($11), a gooey, satisfyingly melty mess of cheddar and pepper jack cheeses mixed in with andouille sausage and macaroni, topped with a crunchy jalapeno cornbread crust. It has a bit of light peppery spice that grows the more you eat it.
Surprisingly, the lone vegetarian option turns out to be my favourite dish. The veggie "meatloaf cupcake" ($9), made primarily with textured soy protein, contains a cheddar centre and has a cheesy mashed potato "frosting." A schmear of BBQ sauce on the plate adds a nice tangy sweetness.
This hunk of fake meat is filling and delicious, and kind of tastes like stuffing. It's sure to please vegetarians who don't mind when their food resembles meat.
Wesenberg plans to add bar snacks that sound like they have more of an Asian bent (Korean BBQ short ribs, teriyaki salmon skewers) - and likely less cheese - to the menu. It all sounds good to me.
Photos by Hector Vasquez.