Laid Back Comfort at Laura’s Casual Kitchen
Story by Deborah A. Rankine | Photos by Kirsten McGoey
I first came to know chef-owner Laura Reybroek by way of her food truck events and the truck’s presence outside Uxbridge’s Second Wedge Brewing Company. Her eats were so popular that diehard fans insisted she open a brick ’n mortar place so they could get their fix anytime they needed it. And so it goes that Laura’s Casual Kitchen opened for business in the heart of Uxbridge, Ontario, this past October.
Says Chef Laura, “Our menu is inspired by the things I love to eat. If I see a Cubano on a menu anywhere in the world I have to order it.” Laura’s take on this classic sandwich comes in the form of a panini, layered with smoked ham, slow roasted pork, Swiss cheese, deli mustard and dill pickle, grilled to perfection and sided by house made kettle chips so crunchy noshing sounds ricochet from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling. Other panini offerings include the Aloha (smoked chicken and ham, pineapple, mozz, hot peppers, Auntie Joyce’s sweet chili sauce aioli) and the Margherita (basil, tomato, mozz, Parm, Olive oil).
Laura’s Smash Burger (7-ounce fresh Angus ground beef, lettuce, dill pickle, tomato, grainy mustard, red onion, cheese, sweet chili aioli) and ’Bello Burger (just swap out the beef patty for an earthy marinated portobello; same fixings) are a thing of beauty. Same holds true for southern fried chicken, another must-have in Chef’s book, though she’s ditched the waffles and created a whimsical rib-sticking sandwich instead. Laura smiles proudly, fills me in on the details: “We use boneless, skinless chicken breast meat that we butterfly to an even thickness and marinate in our herb and rosemary infused buttermilk brine overnight and dredge in seasoned flour and fry to order.” This double-fisted offering comes topped with Chef’s sweet-tart honey-Dijon slaw, dill pickle and a mound of kettle chips.
Who doesn’t love a homemade meatball sandwich (pork and beef meatballs, marinara, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, fresh basil) or a house smoked brisket or chicken sandwich (barbecue or South Carolina Gold sauce, honey-Dijon slaw)? Especially when they are served on Ace Bakery artisanal breads and sided by the resto’s much-loved kettle chips? Come on, people, you know you want this!
Laura’s creative riff on Italian arancini—their Mac ’n Cheese Balls—are not to be missed, either. A velvety homemade cheese sauce envelops al dente macaroni that’s hand formed into balls, panko breaded and deep fried to perfection. The jewel in the crown is the restaurant’s signature dipping sauce that’s equal parts marinara and heavy cream which Laura says “… gives a better dipping experience.”
I ask about Laura’s Casual Kitchen’s roster of poutines. Chef smiles knowingly and says, “Honestly, when I decided to open this place up, it was my fantasy restaurant: I’m a poutine purest. And when I’ve ordered it at other places it’s been so disappointing. Our Redneck Poutine, for instance, is a traditional poutine of hand cut Yukon gold fries topped with either smoked chicken or brisket, our own honey dijon slaw for crunch and texture, and a drizzle of our Kansas City sauce (brisket) or Carolina Gold sauce (chicken). Our Tater Tot poutine is so decadent. We dust the tots with our house made barbecue seasoning that’s so flavourful; it adds another element to the dish. On Saturday and Sunday mornings we offer our Rise ’n Shine Poutine made with house smoked baked beans, brisket ends and Kansas City Sauce, topped with crispy smoked bacon and a fried egg. Our poutines are always made with real cheese curds and from-scratch gravy.”
Laura’s salads: the South West (romaine, sweet corn niblets charred in a cast iron skillet, black beans, tomato, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, tortilla crisps, cheddar, choice of housemade buttermilk ranch or cilantro-lime vinaigrette) and the Little Italy (greens, tomato, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini, homemade croutons, parmesan, Italian herb vinaigrette) eat like a meal. For robust appetites, add your choice of protein for a few bucks more.
Features past, present and future will include pastured bison that Laura says tastes beefier than beef, from local rancher Thunder Ridge, which will find its way onto the plate as a blue cheese-studded burger or a hardy burrito or whatever Chef’s creative whimsy dreams up. By the time you read this “Gator Bites” will be on offer to entice your culinary muse. Says Laura, “We try to make our features a weekly event but oftentimes we’ll run out when customers read about them on our social media platforms.” When your mandate is for everything on your menu to be made fresh daily, it’s a balancing act, to be sure. Funny enough, Laura tells me, her customers don’t get upset when a feature gets sold out. They’re more upset with themselves for not acting faster.
Laura’s Jerk Chicken Roti is stellar. A trajectory of succulent pulled chicken suffused in housemade jerk seasoning, nestled into warm flaky roti bread with the house’s cooling cilantro-lime slaw, this wrap will take your taste buds to new flavour heights. Want all the flavour but none of the heat? Try Laura’s Smoked Chicken Wrap, a tasty nod to Tex-Mex (smoked chicken, hand chopped pico de gallo, cilantro-lime slaw, grilled corn kernels, black beans, cheese, buttermilk ranch).
For those who dial their ‘Heat-O-Meter’ halfway, Chef’s imaginative tacos prove a sure-fire hit. Your choice of protein (smoked brisket or chicken, Sriracha shrimp or beer battered fish) sits atop pico de gallo and cilantro-lime slaw cradled in a soft taco shell, a drizzle of sour cream, a flourish of sprouts and cilantro leaves and a sprinkling of cheese for good measure and, voila, these tacos have it all going on.
What I’ve discovered most about Laura’s Casual Kitchen is when it comes to the restaurant’s food philosophy, the Devil is in the details. Chef adds, “Things like the way we garnish our plates or the little hot pepper that tops our burgers. I know when I go to a restaurant and see a plate come out, I don’t care if it’s French fries or filet mignon, if I see it beautifully put together, with integrity, it makes me happy.”
As the Region’s growing season comes into its own, Chef will incorporate a cornucopia of finds sourced from local farms and roadside market stands into her menus.
As my time with Chef ends, I ask what she most wants EAST readers to know, and she says, “Come in your work boots. Come in your PJs. We’re that casual. Just place your order at the counter, take a seat if you’re dining in, and we’ll take care of the rest.”
For a value-added experience, create new friendships at Laura’s Casual Kitchen’s communal table and celebrate honest comfort food with an excellent pint of Second Wedge brew.
Laura’s Casual Kitchen
1 Main Street South, Uxbridge
Sriracha Shrimp Tacos (serves 4)
Compliments of Chef Laura Reybroek
Make the Sriracha Marinade, Pico de Gallo, and Cilantro-Lime Slaw in advance so everything comes together when you’re ready to assemble your tacos.
8 small soft taco shells
2 pounds peeled and deveined large shrimp, tails removed
2 cups Sriracha marinade (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cup Cilantro-Lime Slaw (recipe follows)
1 cup Pico de Gallo Salsa (recipe follows)
1 cup shredded aged cheddar or Queso Fresco
½ cup sour cream
4 green onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
Fresh cilantro leaves and sprouts for garnish
2 limes, cut into wedges
• In a large zipper food storage bag, add shrimp and Sriracha marinade, seal and refrigerate for 1 hour.
• Remove shrimp from marinade and pat dry with paper towel (reserve a few tablespoons of marinade).
• In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add oil and heat to shimmering, then add shrimp and sauté for 5 minutes or until shrimp are thoroughly cooked, turning once. Transfer to a rimmed plate and set aside.
• Add reserved marinade to skillet and cook until it starts to bubble, return shrimp to pan and toss gently to coat in sauce.
• To assemble, place 2 warmed taco shells on each of 4 warmed plate, add shrimp, pico de gallo, cilantro lime slaw, cheese and a drizzle of sour cream, garnish each with green onion, cilantro leaves and sprouts and serve immediately with fresh lime wedges.
Sriracha Shrimp Marinade
• 1 cup soy sauce
• ½ cup sriracha sauce
• 1 cup honey
• ¼ cup water
• 2 cloves minced garlic
• 1 tbsp. fresh ginger
Whisk together all ingredients. Place in an airtight container, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Pico de Gallo
• 5 tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
• ¾ cup chopped cilantro
• ¾ cup finely chopped white or red onion
• 2 small fresh jalapeños stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
• Juice of one lime (approximately; to taste)
• Salt, to taste
Stir together tomato, cilantro, onion and jalapeno to combine, season to taste with lime juice and salt, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Cilantro Lime Slaw
• ½ cup Lime juice
• 2 tablespoons honey
• ¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
• ¼ cup canola oil
• ¼ cup of finely chopped cilantro
• 2 cups finely shredded cabbage mixed with ½ cup shredded carrot
• salt and pepper to taste
Stir together lime juice, honey, vinegar, oil, cilantro and cabbage mixture to combine, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.