Where The Berlin’s chef Jonathan Gushue eats in Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo
We’re going on the road with some of the city’s top chefs and restaurateurs to explore their favourite suburban restaurants. Jonathan Gushue tells us what’s good in the Tri-City area
Born in St. John’s, Jonathan Gushue spent time cooking in the UK and Japan before moving to Cambridge to take over the kitchen at Langdon Hall, where he worked until 2013. About a year and a half ago, he struck out on his own, opening The Berlin in downtown Kitchener. “The city has changed a lot in the last few years, and the evolution has been beautiful to witness,” says Gushue. “There’s a vibrancy that didn’t exist five years ago.” When he opened his restaurant, he had one goal in mind: to show off the ingredients from thousands of registered farms in the surrounding area. Gushue was always familiar with local farmers and seasonality, but opening The Berlin encouraged him to learn more about his immediate surroundings.
“Cambridge is a bit of a bedroom community, so I tend to spend a lot of time exploring new places that are opening up close to the restaurant, in and around downtown Kitchener,” he says. Gushue attributes the city’s recent restaurant boom to the thriving tech community: over 500 companies, including Shopify, PixStream, Intel, OpenText and Electronic Arts, registered in the Kitchener-Waterloo region in 2014, up from 155 in 2010. “The young techies, hipsters and artists are at the forefront of this new movement,” says Gushue. “It’s become a beautiful hub.” He took us on a tour of his favourite spots in the Tri-City area.
16 Ainslie St. S., Cambridge, 519-620-8008, monigram.ca
Gushue is a big espresso drinker, and he likes to start his day with a visit to Monigram in his hometown of Cambridge, 20 minutes away from The Berlin. “When it comes to coffee in the KW region, no one is doing a better job than Monica and Graham,” Gushue says. Owners Monica and Graham Braun left the tech world to open their small-batch café and roaster in a restored heritage property four years ago. Since then, it’s evolved into a popular social hub for the tech and arts communities. The couple source their beans straight from farmers whenever possible, and roast them in-house.
Go-to item #1: Americano.
Tasting notes: “I like to start my days here with a simple Americano. Graham’s bean list changes regularly and he’s always serving something unique and layered with notes.”
Go-to item #2: Coffee beans.
Tasting notes: Gushue recommends grabbing a bag for your espresso machine at home, since Graham usually sources from hard-to-get places. “You may find beans here that can’t get anywhere else,” says Gushue.
14 Eby St. N., Kitchener, 519-744-4643, theyeticafe.com
Located across the street from the Kitchener Market, the Yeti is popular with locals who stop by for a meal before or after grocery shopping. “It’s packed here on weekends,” Gushue says. “The food is great: just non-gimmicky comfort food.”
Go-to item #1: Sandwich specials.
Tasting notes: The café sells a dozen different breakfast sandwiches, including simple egg-and-bacon combos and grilled halloumi with smoked apple.
Go-to item #2: Quiche and pastries.
Tasting notes: “They have excellent quiche here. All of the bread and pastries are great, too,” Gushue says.
Go-to item #3: Coffee.
Tasting notes: Gushue always grabs an espresso here before heading to the market.
300 King St. E., Kitchener, 519-741-2287, kitchenermarket.ca
Gushue believes that KW’s recent boom has also impacted the Kitchener Market. “This is my favourite market in the region. The St. Jacob’s Market is more touristy now, while the KW market has really blossomed,” he says. “You see a lot of young people here, and that’s part of the evolution. They’re the ones that are going to help this market grow.”
Go-to item #1: Local and international produce.
Tasting notes: During the weekends, the outdoor market features a mix of produce. It may be hard to know what comes from where, so Gushue encourages market-goers to ask questions whenever possible. “There’s great stuff from nearby farms, but you have to dig for it,” he says.
Go-to item #2: Eastern European burek.
Tasting notes: Inside the market there’s an impressive selection of international vendors that speak to Kitchener’s past (Eastern European) and present (Latin, Southeast Asian). “There’s a lot here, from Egyptian food to the Jamaican booth upstairs,” says Gushue.
Go-to item #3: Cured meat from Finest Sausage and Meat Ltd.
Tasting notes: Gushue favours this butcher for their old-school techniques. “The smoked kielbasa is great. The curing is old school: all salt and smoke. The headcheese and tongue are also excellent,” he says.
Go-to item #4: Pantry items.
Tasting notes: Gushue picks up olive oil here, as well as preserves and locally milled grains. “I come here to stock my pantry with local stuff,” he says.
8 Queen St. N., Kitchener, 519-954-6700, jandpgrocery.com
This new boutique grocery store recently opened across the street from The Berlin, and Gushue has been frequenting it since. “It’s known for carrying local organics and for having the best selection of locally made food products,” he says. “In many ways, J&P was the missing link for downtowners. We needed a place to complement the farmers’ market.”
Go-to item #1: Locally made kimchi.
Tasting notes: The highlight for Gushue and many local chefs is the kimchi, made by West of Seoul. (Warning: Gushue says the spicy version packs a ton of heat.)
Go-to item #2: Jerk chicken patties.
Tasting notes: When Gushue wants a quick snack, he grabs one of these locally made patties.
Go-to item #3: Organic produce.
Tasting notes: “The selection here is top notch. All of the produce is from local farms. These are some of the best carrots and greens you’ll find.”
Go-to item #4: Local meat.
Tasting notes: All of the meat comes from small, reputable farms in nearby Perth County.
Go-to item #5: More coffee.
Tasting notes: J&P Grocery gets its coffee from nearby roaster Smile Tiger. Gushue stops by from time to time to get his caffeine fix.
151 King St. W., Kitchener, 519-579-5226, Facebook
Gushue points out that Kitchener is home to a large Vietnamese community, so there are many small Vietnamese restaurants and shops around the city. “Chefs love pho,” Gushue says, “So we frequent these places to catch up with each other over hot bowls of soup.” At this point, Gushue’s former bartender Stacey Anderson joined in on the tour—Gushue considers Anderson an expert when it comes to Kitchener’s food and drink scene. It was Anderson who introduced Gushue to Pho DNK. “I have one favourite dish here, and everyone who has tried it loves it,” Anderson says.
Go-to item #1: Spicy sour chicken soup served with cold noodles.
Tasting notes: “It hits you in the face with anise and basil, spicy and sour notes,” Anderson says. Number 26 on the menu, its broth is loaded with a chili paste, and chunks of tomatoes and pineapple. She orders it regularly. “I usually have leftovers as its big enough to feed two people.”
47 King St. N., Waterloo, 519-746-7540, whiterabbitwaterloo.com
Anderson has worked at a number of local bars in Kitchener, and she’s a big fan of the recent cocktail boom. White Rabbit is a cocktail bar in the city’s north end that Anderson discovered while working nearby. It boasts one of the biggest whisky lists in the province, with many hard-to-find American whiskies in the lineup. “They also make some great cocktails,” Anderson says. “And snacks, too. You’ve gotta have snacks.”
Go-to item #1: Cocktails or whisky.
Tasting notes: Guests can work their way through the extensive whiskey list by ordering tasting paddles. The cocktail menu features all of the classics, as well as a selection of boozy punch bowls designed for groups of four.
Go-to item #2: Ceviche.
Tasting notes: White Rabbit’s tropical ceviche of shrimp, tomatillo and lime is a hot item on their snack menu.
Go-to item #3: Devilled eggs.
Tasting notes: The eggs are prepared four ways: wasabi with pickled ginger, bacon and sriracha, sun-dried tomato and gochujang.
114 King St. N., Waterloo, 519-725-2361, ethelslounge.com
“Everyone comes here, from university kids to cooks on their nights off,” Gushue says of the retro diner. “The place has a ton of character.”
Go-to item #1: Nightly specials.
Tasting notes: While Gushue doesn’t drink anymore, he loves to visit Ethel’s for the daily specials like the sausage platter, ribs and meatloaf (none of which were available on the day they visited).
Ambrosia Pastry Co.
150 Roger St., Waterloo, 519-635-4800, ambrosiapastry.com
“This is the best pastry shop in town,” Gushue says. “My wife introduced me to it—she’s a regular.” Ambrosia is popular with locals looking to fill their baskets with French pastries and European treats. Pastry chefs Tim Simpson and Aura Hertzog also produce a line of chocolates by sourcing organic, fair-trade beans from across the globe. (Those interested in making the trip to KW for Ambrosia’s goods should know that it’s only open on Saturdays.)
Go-to item #1: All of the pastries.
Tasting notes: You’ll need a few friends to work through Ambrosia’s list of pastries that includes croissants and puff pastry stuffed with things like prosciutto, cheese and olives. Gushue says the canelés and the kouign amanns are not to be missed. “They remind me very much of what Dominque Ansel is making in New York,” he says.
Go-to item #2: Liège waffles.
Tasting notes: The chocolate-dipped waffles are one of the shop’s most popular items.
The Lokal at the Walper Hotel
20 Queen St. S., Kitchener, 519-745-4321, walper.com
“The Walper Hotel is the centrepiece of Kitchener’s recent growth,” Gushue says of the renovated building. Originally built in 1893, the hotel recently underwent a massive renovation that left much of the original building intact but with many modern updates. “It’s a gorgeous hotel with a beautiful piano bar,” Gushue says of the Lokal. (It’s currently where Anderson works as head mixologist.)
Go-to item #1: Flavoured sodas.
Tasting notes: “Stacey has a knack for making flavoured sodas with a variety of different ingredients. It’s why I originally hired her at The Berlin. She has a great palate and is one of the best bartenders in town,” Gushue says.
25 Eby St. S., Kitchener, 519-743-7985, Facebook
“Kitchener is home to a number of Latin restaurants, but this one is easily my favourite,” Gushue says. Located in a house off the main strip, the family-run operation is so small, you need to carefully time your visit to avoid long wait times. Both Gushue and Anderson advise to go right when it opens.
Go-to item #1: Pupusas.
Tasting notes: Gushue says everyone comes here for the house-made pupusas which are stuffed with ground meat and served with hot sauce and slaw.
15 King St. W., Kitchener, 877-378-1891, walpertobacco.com
“I’ve been a cigar lover for many years, so having Walper Tobacco right down the street from The Berlin is a real treat,” Gushue says. Gushue and Anderson usually celebrate the end of a week with a cigar from this shop that’s been in operation since the late 1800s.
Go-to item #1: Monte Cristo No 4.
Tasting notes: “Its my go-to. It’s a simple cigar but it has all the basic flavours,” Gushue says.