Just Opened: Joey Don Mills

Just Opened: Joey Don Mills

Chris Mills: chef of all trades (Photo by Karon Liu)

At first we were hesitant to write about yet another big box “casual fine dining” establishment with dark wood decor, bleach-blond servers in form-fitting black uniforms and, of course, a menu that strives to be more ethnically diverse than a Benetton ad. But when we heard that the menu at Joey Don Mills was designed by Chris Mills, the 40-year-old chef who once placed fifth in the Bocuse d’Or and competed on the original Iron Chef, we dropped in at the first location, at the Shops at Don Mills, just to see what was up.

“When I talked to a lot of my colleagues, they asked, ‘What are you doing?’” he recalls about his 2004 move from executive chef at the Metropolitan Hotel in Vancouver to a chain restaurant. “But regardless of the restaurant, when I’m in the kitchen I’m doing the exact same thing. I’m talking about food quality, pushing professionalism and cleanliness and pushing young cooks to be better at what they do. When I thought of what’s next in my career, I didn’t want to take on bigger hotels, and I wasn’t ready to open my own place yet.”

As expected, Mills’ menu trots all over the globe, bouncing from a lobster grilled cheese sandwich ($15) to a miso-chicken ramen ($14.50) to a spicy seafood linguine ($16.50) to a penang curry bowl ($17) that comes with a gimmicky moulded tower of rice.

“As a whole menu, we’ll have a California southwest dish beside a Malaysian dish, but I cooked in Beijing for months and went to cooking school in Thailand. I went to Japan for Iron Chef and fell in love with ramen,” says Mills as we sample addictive, crisp Baja fish tacos ($11.50). “As long as I keep travelling and learning about the real McCoy, I feel good about it.”

Other diners seemed to taste a difference: Joey was packed on a usually dead post-lunch rush Tuesday afternoon as nearby Jack Astor’s and Spring Rolls sat empty. And this big box phenomenon isn’t going away any time soon. Joey’s second Toronto location is slated to open in the Eaton Centre next year.

And as for critics who cringe at the sight of yet another high-volume eatery? “You never want to be closed to ideas,” Mills says, but then shrugs. “You’re never going to please everybody.”

Joey Don Mills, Shops at Don Mills, 1090 Don Mills Rd., 416-445-6391, joeyrestaurants.com.