Food & Dining

FOOD & DINING

Wildfire Steakhouse stands out in Oshawa

Story by Katie Ryalen | Photos by Wynne Feret

When fine and sophisticated dining is the topic of discussion, what more fitting type of culinary establishment comes to mind than an upscale steakhouse? There is always something on the menu to suit everyone’s tastes, and no one walks away hungry. When you’re planning your next dinner date, whether with friends, family or that special someone, we invite you to discover Wildfire Steakhouse in Oshawa.

Celebrating five years this summer, Wildfire Oshawa has seen steady traffic since it opened, despite the fact that there are larger franchise steakhouses in the area competing for customers. “The restaurant is very popular,” confirms general manager Patti Demoe. “We get a lot of repeat business and are starting to know our regulars. But there are a lot of new faces, too, so I feel like we haven’t even hit our peak yet.”

Besides mouth-watering steaks which are hand-cut daily, Wildfire offers guests a range of options to choose from. Pastas, chicken, beef dip sandwiches and hand-cut French fries are just a few of the varied options. Additionally, Wildfire offers a tasty wedge Caesar salad which is charred slightly on the grill to give it a unique flavour.

Whatever the menu item, what makes the restaurant stand apart from other steakhouses is its commitment to fresh ingredients. “Nothing comes pre-bagged or pre-made to be assembled onsite,” Patti says. “Everything’s made fresh. Our soups are made from scratch, our roasted potatoes go into the oven every day. I think that sets us apart from the chains.”

“Our vegetable supplier is a family-run business,” says kitchen manager, Ryan. “They always send us fresh, local produce, and I am able to base the vegetables we serve around whatever is good at the market at that time.”

Because it’s not a franchise or a large chain, there is more flexibility for Wildfire to change its menu, and to listen to the feedback of its guests. “We did a big menu change last year,” Patti explains. “We looked at what worked on the new menu, and brought back favourites from the old one that our guests wanted to see return. That’s one thing we like about the flexibility to change our menu—that we have the opportunity to incorporate our guests’ opinions.”

“I find the chain franchises in the area are generic,” Ryan adds. “They’re very cookie-cutter. Because these places have so many locations, they don’t have free range to change things the way we do.” He tells that Wildfire Steakhouse owner, Jody Ness, encourages staff to be creative with the specials, and to see what new ideas they can come up with.

Chain franchises in the area typically contend with long lineups during peak hours. Despite Wildfire’s increasing popularity, overcrowding and blocked doorways are not frequent occurrences. The quality of the attention that customers receive is exemplary no matter how many tables are seated.

Patti and her staff have received many positive comments from happy customers who were surprised at how wonderful their experience was. “People tell us they’ve driven by and always wanted to come in but never have,” she says. But now that they’ve seen what we can do, they’re never going anywhere else. That’s always good to hear. It lets us know we’re doing something right.”

The restaurant offers a small room in the back for private dinners and events. Included is a smart TV for groups to hold business meetings and presentations over a delicious lunch. “We did a lot of Christmas parties this year that went well,” Patti says, “and we have a wedding coming up. So that’s exciting.”

“We love big functions,” Ryan adds. “They’re great for the restaurant as a whole. For us in the kitchen, we get to experiment and work with our guests customizing the menu. We get excited about that collaborative element.”

Patti has been with the restaurant since before the doors opened five years ago. Her blood, sweat and tears are in the place, as she says. Laughing, she adds, “Not literally, of course. But our people are so dedicated. Our team really cares about the product and our guests. The owner, Jody Ness, has a passion for what he does, and so do I.

“You have to have a passion for what you do,” she continues. “Because at the end of the day, it’s all about the guests. They can feel your passion and dedication. I think sometimes, in this day and age, some establishments lose sight of that. To them I would say: without our guests, what do we have? The whole reason we exist is to give our guests the best dining experience we can.”

“I take a lot of pride in being able to work here,” Ryan concludes. “When I took this position, it was because I wanted to do something more independent. I wanted the opportunity as a chef to be allowed to use fresh, local ingredients and to have input in the menu change. I am proud to be able to do that.”

Wildfire Steakhouse
540 King St. W. Oshawa
www.wildfiresteakhouse.com/oshawa
(905) 215-0231

Eating vegan across Durham

Story by Sarah Walker | Photos by Kirsten McGoey

As consumers become more conscious, they are not only mindful of the products they put in and on their bodies, but also the environmental impact they have. Named a top consumer trend in 2018, ‘veganism’ is a very popular term which is often misunderstood. According to research from Dalhousie University, there are 2.3 million vegetarians and nearly 900,000 vegans in Canada, up from just under one million overall 15 years ago. Here is where the confusion lies: While vegetarians typically choose to not eat meat, poultry, game, or fish, vegans also abstain from other animal and animal-derived products, including dairy, eggs, and even honey.

Durham Region is not excluded from this lifestyle choice and has recently experienced an explosion of plant-based menus catering to vegans. Emerging chefs, entrepreneurs, and wellness professionals are answering the call of those who seek alternatives. Today, restaurants such as those featured are at the forefront of Durham’s vegan restaurant wave.

 

Il Fornello

In April of 2018, Ajax’s Il Fornello launched “Italian for Vegan”, a new plant-based menu that has attracted an entirely new demographic to the neighbourhood favourite. Stacey Patterson, vice-president of Il Fornello Restaurants, declares that the new menu has caught the eye of vegans across Durham Region. Patterson says, “We created this menu for everyone. So many families come in with children that are vegan, and now we can satisfy everybody. The launch of this plant-based menu has also attracted an additional demographic of diners that are being re-introduced to the Il Fornello brand.”

Recipes developed by chef Margie Cook, who is both a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and a Certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and educator, demonstrate her creativity with plant-based foods, as each ingredient is selected to complement its flavour profile. She has produced a menu that proves that ‘going vegan’ is neither difficult nor intimidating. As the most popular dish on the menu, the Avocado Caesar Salad is made with housemade dressing featuring avocado, cashew, and lemon juice to create a creamy tang atop a bed of crisp romaine and topped with housemade, plant-based ‘parmesan cheese’ for the perfect vegan replica of a classic Caesar Salad. Another customer favourite is the Vegan Pepperoni Pizza topped with Earth Island vegan mozzarella and plant-based pepperoni made locally in Durham Region. The desserts are made by Durham Region’s 21 Desserts and are both raw and vegan. Il Fornello also features a selection of organic and vegan wines, so that strict vegans can be sure they are not straying from their plant-based path. Coffee is also available with vegan and lactose-free options to cover all the bases of any meal. The perfect place to bring both vegans and meat-eaters, Il Fornello will please everyone’s palate.

Il Fornello Ajax
95 Kingston Road E, Ajax
(across from Costco)
www.Ilfornello.com
italianforvegan.com

 

L’il Organic Kitchen

Originally planned as a small smoothie bar inside TNS Health Food Store in Whitby, the L’il Organic Kitchen has grown into a full-service eatery right next door. Opened in June 2016, the L’il Organic Kitchen serves juices and smoothies alongside favourites for every meal of the day.

Kelly Proctor, general manager, says: “we promote healthy food for everyone.” While the majority of the menu is vegan or vegetarian, they do offer a few meat options for the less adventurous eater. Every dish is made in-house with locally-sourced, organic ingredients.

The French toast is made with chickpea flour and warming spices and topped with fresh fruit and maple syrup. For lunch, the Falafel Bowl features three generous falafels, house-made hummus and tzatziki, and is topped with red onion, pickled cabbage, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. A customer favourite is Funky Fries, which are dressed-up French fries with a theme that changes weekly. Pad Thai, Caesar, and Pesto Fries are always a huge hit. L’il Organic Kitchen also has an express lunch menu featuring grab-and-go salads and wraps, samosas and pakoras, grilled cheese (with vegan or dairy cheese), and featured soups. Also catering to the gluten-free eater, many of their wraps and breads are gluten-free, or can be substituted for gluten-free. The house-made soups are almost always vegan and wheat-free as well. L’il Organic Kitchen is perfect for families of all palates who want to try something new for breakfast, lunch,
or dinner.

L’il Organic Kitchen
1618 Dundas St E
Unit 3, Whitby
www.lilorganickitchen.com

 

Copper Branch

In 2016 Trish Paterson opened the first Ontario Copper Branch restaurant in Brooklin. Headquartered in Quebec, Copper Branch quickly grew deep roots into the Whitby community. She recently opened an additional location in Bowmanville and has her eyes set on an east Durham location in the future. Serving the growing needs of Durham’s vegan community, Copper Branch offers smoothies, soups, breakfasts, and sandwiches with a wide variety of flavours. Trish’s favourite is the Shiitake Teriyaki Burger, with teriyaki-marinated shiitake mushrooms, sriracha coleslaw, and a vegan aioli sauce. Customer favourites include the Avocado Toast with tomato, chili flakes, and mung beans, and the Poutine with cremini mushroom sauce and vegan cheese. The Brooklin location is also licensed and serves local beer and wine in the evenings.

On becoming a vegan, Trish says: “I did it because I was always at the restaurant, eating the food. I’ve never looked back!’ She and her husband have both benefited from improved health and well-being since becoming vegans. Working with Copper Branch’s corporate chef, Trish takes suggestions from customers and staff to work into new dishes such as the upcoming lentil burrito, and a variety of cookies and muffins. The Copper Branch restaurants have also become welcoming community spaces within their areas. In Brooklin, pub nights, open mic, and local wellness events draw crowds to the restaurant to mix, mingle, and enjoy the plant-based food offered. Open mic night is the third Wednesday of every month, and they often do fundraisers for local causes. As a growing chain of plant-based restaurants, Copper Branch is a wonderful place to gather with friends and family and enjoy vegan delights.

Copper Branch
66 Baldwin Street, Brooklin
2377 Durham Regional Highway 2, Bowmanville
www.copperbranch.com

 

Fackin Good Food

Nara Schuler is on a mission to teach Durham Region that eating a plant-based diet could save their lives. As the owner and chef of Fackin Good Food (FGF), Nara has taken her years of health training and writing experience and turned it into a thriving restaurant that shows people that eating vegan needn’t be intimidating. After a career in teaching and financial planning, Nara found herself chronically ill and ready for a change. She believes that eating a vegan diet has completely reversed her Type-2 Diabetes and added years to her life. Nara attended culinary school at Durham College and holds a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate as well. In 2017 she organized Durham Veg Fest to further spread the word about the health benefits of veganism and vegetarianism.

The menu at FGF features dishes such as Asian Noodle Salad, a delicious dish of cabbage, kale, peppers, other mixed vegetables, rice noodles, and a tangy Asian dressing. The pizza is totally handmade, from the dough right up to the seitan-based pepperoni that has people flocking to it from miles around. The Chegg sandwich has the flavours of an egg salad, with none of the egg. Made from chickpeas, vegan mayo, onion, and bell pepper served on a ciabatta bun, it’s easy to eat plant-based with dishes like this. Fackin Good Food also has a deli counter where customers can purchase house-made products like cassava cheese, seitan pepperoni, seitan pepperettes, and a vegan BBQ pack containing sausages, ribs, and burgers all made from plant foods. Nara’s creativity with plant-based foods means that the menu changes seasonally and always includes delicious wholesome vegan dishes.

Fackin Good Food
8 Midtown Drive, Oshawa
www.fackingoodfood.ca

 

Mathilda’s

Born in Indonesia, educated in Australia, and reunited with her family in Toronto to attend university, Mathilda Irawan brings a world of flavours and experience to her restaurant Mathilda’s. In 2016, she started a wellness centre called Alam Yoga and Wellness in Whitby, providing clients with hypno-yoga, mindfulness, and meditation workshops. Having always been known as a ‘foodie girl’ by her friends and family, Mathilda started to become aware of the scarcity of delicious plant-based foods in Durham Region. She became a vegan overnight, having always been an enthusiastic carnivore before that. Her desire to first open a catering company, followed by a restaurant in 2018, grew from her frustration with the available vegan options. Mathilda says: “I was not and still am not willing to sacrifice taste and texture for anything! I believe people need this.” Many of her customers are not full-time vegans or vegetarians but turn to Mathilda for sustainable, satisfying options to reduce their environmental impact and improve their health. Her principles are paying off as word of Mathilda’s spreads across
the region.

On the menu is a wide variety of flavour profiles, from African Peanut Stew with kidney beans, kale, and sweet potato, to a ‘Buffalo Chic’n Wrap made with shiitake chic’n, house-made buffalo sauce, and wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla. Mie Goreng is a noodle bowl with Indonesian seasonings, and the sausage rolls are made with walnuts, mushrooms, and a house blend of seasonings. Of the offerings, Irawan states: “On Wednesdays, we have our international day special. One Wednesday could be Chic’n Shawarma, the next could be Teriyaki Chic’n, then Butter Chic’n comes next.” Butter Chic’n is their most popular dish. Mathilda’s also does a weekly meal plan service for customers, where they can pick up their meals for the week from the restaurant. There is also a small grocery shop within the restaurant, where vegans can pick up things like canned Jackfruit, frozen meals, cookie dough, and more. Mathilda’s is a growing centre for the vegan movement in Durham Region, and it serves clients delectable dishes from around the world.

Mathilda’s
16 Simcoe St. S, Oshawa
www.mathildas.ca

Whether you are an occasional vegetarian or a strict vegan, there are growing options to choose from as the region embraces this lifestyle trend.

 

Is your wine vegan?

Aren’t all wines vegan? That’s the obvious thought, knowing that wine is only made from grapes. However, it’s not always true. When wine is processed it goes through a process called ‘fining’. This process removes proteins, sediment, and other non-harmful by-products of winemaking to make the beverage crystal clear. Winemakers use a ‘fining agent’ – an additive that acts like glue to draw out all those extras, so it can be removed. These fining agents are often animal based. Things like egg whites, casein, or gelatin are the best fining agents but are not plant-based, and trace amounts could remain in the wine after bottling.  Some winemakers are realizing that their vegan customers don’t want that animal product in their wine, and are switching to bentonite or charcoal fining for their wines.

Wines that are vegan will almost always be labelled as such, but are not easy to find. Look for labels such as Girl’s Night Out, Sutter Home, Frey Vineyards, Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards, Moët & Chandon Champagne, Bellissima Prosecco, Calamus Estates Winery, Sandbanks Estate Winery, and Norman Hardie Winery, as wines you can pair with your meals with confidence.

To determine if your favourite vintage is vegan, look to barnivore.com, a searchable database of vegetarian and vegan wines, as well as beer and liquor.