What’s on the menu at The Company We Keep, a new spot for wine by the glass, pantry supplies and freshly baked pies on St. Clair West

What’s on the menu at The Company We Keep, a new spot for wine by the glass, pantry supplies and freshly baked pies on St. Clair West

It’s the project of two industry vets: a sommelier and a baker

The exterior of a restaurant and cafe in Toronto

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Name: The Company We Keep
Contact: 634 St. Clair Ave. W., @thecompanywekeep_to
Neighbourhood: Humewood
Previously: Lamesa
Owners: Jenn Hornak and Nika Mistruzzi

After years of working in formal restaurants, hospitality vets Jenn Hornak (a sommelier) and Nika Mistruzzi (a baker) were looking to open their own space. They wanted to avoid the daily grind of high-paced service, so instead of opening an ambitious forum for fanciful foods or a high-concept bar, they opted for a chill all-day café. The Company We Keep isn’t a restaurant, wine bar or coffee shop but a combination of all three. It hits all the notes of a go-to neighbourhood café, a community hub offering freshly baked pies, stacked sandwiches, provisions and excellent wines by the glass.

Two women smile at each other in a restaurant
Hornak (left) and Mistruzzi

 

The food

Given Mistruzzi’s baking background, fresh pies and other treats are to be expected. She started Sunday Morning Pies back in 2021, and places like Union, Tiny Market Co. and Mattachioni quickly started carrying her creations. At The Company We Keep, guests can choose between sweet (cherry, blueberry or other Ontario fruit) or savoury (chicken tarragon) in whatever size suits them best (individual, seven-inch or party size). If one isn’t enough, there’s the option of committing to a pie subscription. Other baked goods are made in house and then frozen. Pull-apart milk buns are sold in sets of six and can be warmed up in under 10 minutes. For breakfast, there are spiced apple morning buns and French toast made out of croissants.

A spread of dishes and drinks on a table at a restaurant

Hornak is gluten-intolerant, so she’s done some due diligence to stock high-quality gluten-free pastries. On a recent trip to Montreal, she discovered surprisingly good gluten-free croissants at L’Artisan Délices. She now gets their croissants, danishes and chocolate twists shipped to her raw and bakes them daily. Guests with nut allergies and vegetarian diets are also covered. Take the scones: both regular and vegan, sourced from the Sovereign. “Why make our own when we can get amazing local ones?” says Hornak.

Sauces and other pantry essentials are sourced from industry friends. Dips are brought in from Neon Provisions, and cheeses come from either Good Cheese or Maple Dale Cheese in Plainfield (Hornak’s mother picks it up for them). Olives come from Ascari, and the kimchi is by Avec Jayden, a Korean ferments line run by Jayden Bang, the sous-chef at the Park Hyatt. Dried pasta comes from Saucy Pasta, a Collingwood operation that makes great regular and gluten-free noodles.

Cookie cutters and a rolling pin

A baker presses a heart-shaped cookie cutter into rolled-out dough
Pie is served by the slice or frozen for taking home. The mini pies come individually vac-packed or frozen in sets of four

 

A sour cherry pie
The sour cherry pie is the most popular

 

A baker puts star- and moon-shaped cutouts on a blueberry pie
And here we have the beginnings of a blueberry pie

 

A selection of cookies and other desserts
Cookies (also available in nut-free, vegan and gluten-free options) come in classic double chocolate, orange-ginger or nostalgic sugar sprinkle

 

Here we have a savoury chicken pot pie

 

Farinata
The farinata, a crispy chickpea pancake made with rosemary and onions, has been a big hit with regulars. It’s served by the slice and sells out quickly

 

Chickpea toast
For lunch, chickpeas are smashed with paprika and turmeric, then spread on bread and topped with fresh veggies. Note the plates: many of the dishes here are antiques, part of Hornak’s extensive collection of tableware

 

A bowl of soup
Soups rotate daily and—in classic café style—can be combined with sandwiches

 

A prosciutto sandwich on a milk bun
Fluffy house-made milk buns (also available in the freezer section, in regular or gluten-free) are stuffed with prosciutto cotto, manchego and arugula

 

A general store's refrigerated and frozen food section
The fridges and freezers are stocked with take-home treats and provisions. Eggs are from the Packing House (a local sustainable butcher), as are the breakfast sausages, bacon and a selection of great steaks

 

Frozen ready-made meals inside a freezer
For easy dinners, there’s a beefy shepherd’s pie topped with creamed potatoes (and a lentil version for those who don’t eat meat). Other frozen provisions include sourdough pita from Blue Collar Bakery on Wallace Avenue

 

A general store's fridge stocked with eggs, cheese, butter and other goods

The drinks

On Fridays and Saturdays, the space stays open until 9 p.m., and the menu switches over to an evening program. Coffee is swapped out for wine (flights are always available, in a range of styles and regions), bubbly cocktails, beer and cider. And seven days a week, happy hour starts at 2 p.m. (as it should) and runs until 4 p.m.

A person pours red wine into a wine glass

To pair with that pie subscription, there’s also a monthly wine club. Hornak flexes her somm muscles here and selects gems seldom found elsewhere, like a small-producer Beaujolais and a brut sparkling wine from Burgundy. She’s also set up a small bottle shop within the store for more immediate wine needs, and more than half of the bottles for sale are less than $40.

The monthly offering of a wine club subscription

For anyone abstaining, there’s Good Lot’s hop water and Matt’s Craft Soda, a locally made soda inspired by Schorle, a European combo of fresh juice and sparkling water. Matt’s version is made with rhubarb and black currant grown on his Ontario farm.

The space

Tables can be pushed together for groups, and the curving counter of the café-bakery layout can pivot to accommodate visiting chefs and other culinary pop-ups. Family had a hand in designing and decorating the space: Mistruzzi’s parents made the sign, Hornak’s relatives built the bar and the Bentwood chairs were a gift from Hornak’s uncle. In a fun twist of fate, some of the stools were picked up in Ayr, Ontario, where the previous owners retired after years living on St. Clair West. “They came home,” says Hornak.

A focus on community is crucial. At all hours of the day, the space is full of students studying, friends chatting and families grabbing dinner. Women in Wine nights are starting in March, vintage dealers take over the space on weekends, and stay tuned for trivia nights and culinary pop-ups. A few weeks ago, for example, Thierry Alcantara-Stewart from PEC’s Adega took over the space for a Brazilian feast.

A busy and sunny cafe

A shelf in a restaurant stocked with locally made goods
The shop also stocks handmade goods from friends and community members. There are candles from Sage and Thistle, books of poetry by Julia Lederer, prints from Neutron Starr, and pottery from Goji Studios. Those snazzy wood boards were made by Hornak’s parents

Bentwood chairs

A busy cafe, looking into the open kitchen beyond the counter