Toronto is a foodie’s paradise, with a wide array ranging from Mexican, Korean, seafood, Vietnamese, Italian, French to food trucks and pop-ups! We have a melting pot of cultures in our very own city, but one culture was lacking in our cosmopolitan city…. We needed some good ol’ comfortable Dutch snacks. You wonder where you find something like this, and lucky for me, I know somebody ‘in the know’ of such a secret place.. I am about to give it away! If you go to Borrel on the Ossington from 1:00-6:00pm, you will be in for some surprises. Justin Go and his wife Alison Broverman are the owners of the Borrel and they welcomed my friends L, C and I with open arms, and jumped right into making us feel right at home.
My friends and I went this previous Sunday and was marvelously delighted we got to try all sorts of bar snacks. The first dish we tried was the bitterballen. We got to try 3 different flavours which is minced beef, chicken or vegetables that is rolled into a ball and then deep fried. Think: savoury bite size snack topped Zaanse mustard.
The next dish was had is something called the boerenkool/stampot which is stewed kale mixed into some mashed potatoes and bacon lardon.. mmmm BACON! What Canadian doesn’t enjoy that? This is served with rookworst which is smoked sausage, and in the centre of the mash is gravy. This dish is very filling, so make sure you are famished or you have someone to share this with. This is one of my favourites, because I have a weakness for potatoes, and anything smoked.
The frikandel speciaal was definitely top of my list. This is a blend of beef, pork and chicken into a sausage and was paired with curry ketchup, mayonnaise, onions on a bun. When you bite into this “hot dog” you get more layers on your palate than the typical Canadian street meat. If you want a hot dog, this one classes it way up. Please try it!
Après the frikandels, we had a kroket which is very similar to the bitterballen, but this snack was on a piece of rye bread which you have to mash. You get a variety of textures from crunchy to mushy. This is served with Zaanse mustard.
To top off these dishes, poffertjes was music to my mouth. Bite size puffy pancakes that are moist and buttery. This was topped with icing sugar. ERMAGHADDDD!! I was never one for sweets, but all of a sudden, after a savoury meal, you need that one thing to “complete you”. When I took a bite of that mini pancake, I know C gave me the strangest look, and said.. “That must’ve been really good”. He was bang-on. It was just right.
I got to interview Justin Go and Alison Broverman, and got to find out why they decided to come up with this untapped concept.
1. How did you decide to open a pop-up shop in Toronto?
Six years ago I decided for fun to cook up a traditional Dutch meal, stamppot (mashed potatoes with kale and gravy), for a few friends. I didn’t expect them to like it but to my surprise it went over really well. It became an annual winter tradition that my friends really looked forward to. I started learning and adding a few other Dutch dishes each year and they all were met with enthusiasm. I figured, if my friends like this food so much, maybe other people will too. And there was an opportunity for it as no one else that I know of is making Dutch food in downtown Toronto. So we decided to give it a shot!
2. How did you figure that Dutch treats would sell so well?
I didn’t! Well actually, I just hoped that it would connect with other people the same way it did with my friends. I thought we’d be a niche thing that would interest Torontonian foodies. But to be honest, we’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support from Dutch expats who seem to be delighted that we’re going this.
3. What is your most popular dish?
This seems to vary with customers. The frikandels have been selling like crazy during the World Cup matches and the stamppot is a big hit in the winter. But everybody seems to love the poffertjes — the mini pancakes. Those are a hit with young and old, Dutch and non-Dutch alike. And I think the krokets and bitterballen are going to be even more popular once we’re able to deep-fry them onsite.
4. Did you learn how to cook professionally or are you a self taught chef?
Self-taught with a lot of trial and error! And my best friend Jason Chow is an amazing chef who has inspired and taught me a lot of things about cooking.
5. Were you surprised by the reception you have received in Toronto?
Before we took the plunge, I’d tell my wife Alison that this has to stand a chance of being successful. But now when I see people eating and enjoying the food, it still kind of blows my mind. I really hope we can keep it going because it’s been a blast. It’s a dream that maybe one day we can open our own place. We’ll see. But in the meantime, the owners and staff at The Ossington have been amazing at giving us a chance to do this. It’s been fun seeing their bar transformed from a hip late-night bar to this family-friendly afternoon hangout on Sundays.