Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Pow Wow Cafe - Toronto

It has been awhile since we've had a meal that excited me as much as Pow Wow Cafe in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Don't get me wrong, we've had some amazing food recently: best lobster ever at Beal's Lobster Pier in Maine; wonderful exotic African meats at Arnolds and Karibu in Cape Town and Carnivore in Johannesburg; various horse meat dishes at Abay Restaurant in Almaty, Kazakhstan and camel and donkey dishes in Dunhuang, China. 

But Pow Wow was exciting in a different sort of way. It was the unanticipated atmosphere, both in the vicinity and in the cafe; getting to watch a masterful chef at close proximity; and the creative genius of transforming historically bland food into something exotic and almost magical.  

Kensington Market in downtown Toronto is a time-warp back to the 60's. Street musicians performed rock music with a hippy look and vibe. One particular band with two male and two female vocalists, and guitars, was flat-out good. I was reminded of the Mamas & the Papas. Judy pointed out Roach-O-Rama, a head shop, advertising it had been dispensing weed for decades. Barbecues were set up on sidewalks and in the streets (closed-off to traffic) cooking chicken and sausage. Other vendors offered healthier fare. People milled about happily. It was crowded, but not suffocating.  

Pow Wow, as its name suggests, serves an indigenous-inspired menu. Chef Shawn Adler and his crew were not wearing headdresses or beaded moccasins, but they were colorfully tatted.  

The very small cafe has a very small courtyard with outside seating surrounded by stacked logs that could have come from a tee pee, or perhaps a log fort.
Inside there are about five tables right on the edge of the open kitchen with Chef Adler in a whir of activity breaking eggs into pans, mixing oil into fried potatoes, plating greens, placing bits of dill garnish on top of dishes and a myriad other activities related to getting the food prepared. We were seated right next to the kitchen and I was fascinated watching him in motion. I don't know how a person can sustain that activity for hours. 
Part of the menu was on chalk boards on the walls and part was handwritten on what looked like packing paper stapled to a block of wood. Our waitress could have been Jenny, Forrest Gump's girlfriend. 

We ordered and shared a smoked salmon croquette off the chalkboard. It was in the shape of a hamburger with a deeply fried, crunchy texture on the outside and a beautifully mild salmon mixture inside. The best part was a separate dill sauce that was incredibly dilly and went wonderfully with the crunchy fried texture. 
I ordered two fried duck eggs over black bean corn bread topped with duck leg stew. The duck eggs were large and cooked over-medium. They rested upon thick, moist cornbread, with more-than-a-hint of maple syrup on it. The duck leg stew, pretty mild, was ladled on top of the eggs, but did not overwhelm them. In fact the corn bread soaked up the liquid in the stew and it added to the moistness and flavor. Normally duck is the central flavor in a dish, but here it was a supporting actor. Each plate was accompanied with fresh fruit, in this case, peach, watermelon, cantaloupe and pineapple; "homefries", cooked on a wonderfully seasoned grill with lots of nice charred sections on them, but still moist; and salad. The salad was a nice mixture of greens, which looked like it included beet tops, mixed with oil, but it was very mild. I mixed in a bit of sriracha to give it a boost. It was very filling, but I kept stuffing it in. 

Judy ordered  two poached eggs on frybread, topped with smoked salmon, potato, corn and dill chowder. She also got the "homefries," fruit and salad. I got a couple of small tastes of her dish and enjoyed it, but liked my corn bread more than her frybread. 

We left stuffed and in somewhat of a hurry to get to the airport for our flight. We both loved it, both the Kensington Market and Pow Wow, and would love to come back again. I think the Kensington Market is my favorite market experience I can recall. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised Kensington Market doesn't make it onto more "Things to Do in Toronto" lists. I wish we had been able to spend at least another hour just walking around and enjoying the energy. And speaking of energy--whatever Pow Wow pays their chef, it isn't enough. That guy works HARD. The wait staff was also amazing.