Despite the lack of a sign over the door, the opening of Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen over the weekend was one of the neighbourhood’s worst kept secrets. And while west-enders are rejoicing over yet another high calibre addition to a neighbourhood already packed with foodie destinations, it must be a weight off the back of founder and head chef Richard Nigro. He’s been piecing the new venture together for quite some time, and to hear from kitchen staff Lynda Hall, last-minute tweaks (like the addition of a door to mask the entrance to the kitchen) were still being made to the location on the morning of the official opening. You’d never know it, judging by the quality of the food he was pushing out on Saturday (more on that later).
If you’ve attended any one of a number of craft and foodie shows in the last while, you may have seen Richard slinging jars of homemade jam and other preserves to all takers. His tables drew quite a lot of attention from local foodies in the know about his history as founder and former head chef at Juniper, another culinary landmark in the west-end. It’s not often you see a chef of some local fame outside of their natural habitat, the kitchen. Anyone who asked found out immediately that he was already planning his triumphant return to the kitchen, but that this one would be a little different from his past ventures.
At its heart, Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen is a local sandwich and takeout joint, with the addition of a freezer for the warm-your-own dinners that seem to be all the rage these days. But Richard’s attention to ingredients and detail separate his new establishment from the rest. Not many sandwich makers, however talented, have his background or experience, and they may find it difficult to match his passion and enthusiasm as well. He’s been writing breathlessley – and a little poetically – about his new menus on his website. As my food was being prepped, Lynda told me that everything Richard serves, down to ingredients like breadcrumbs, is made in house. He’s had some good help from Lynda as well as David Schaub, himself no slouch in the kitchen as stints at Whalesbone and other well-known establishments can attest to.
One of my very favourite things about Richard’s kitchen is that you can watch a master chef prepare your lunch from point blank range. I stood just feet away as he prepared what turned out to be some of the tastiest takeout I’ve ever had. At one point he looked at me and explained that he was making a last minute executive decision: the bread they had been using for the pork butt wraps hadn’t been up to snuff. He was sending in some sour dough to pinch hit, but it would turn my wrap into a sandwich. While it’s nice to be informed, who am I to second guess a chef of his calibre?
In the end, my wife and I tried the aforementioned pork butt sandwich, a self-proclaimed ‘really good grilled cheese’ and some spiced potato wedges served with a yoghurt dip. The pork butt was fantastic, but next time I’d eat it in-house. Food this good doesn’t deserve to be wrapped up in foil, even for a few minutes (all this to say that the bread was made a little soggy by the wrap-job.) My grilled cheese stood up just fine however, and more than lived up to its name. The wedges were nicely spiced, and the yoghurt really set them apart.
Certain elements of Richard’s kitchen are still in the works. There wasn’t any sign of the aforementioned preserves that Richard has been selling, and Lynda assured me that the freezer would eventually be filled with pre-prepped food for people to pick up for dinners at home. But if for nothing more than the experience and some really fantastic food, I’d recommend taking a lunch break in this Hintonburg kitchen the first chance you get.