Mildred’s Temple Kitchen
85 Hanna Avenue, Suite 104
Moving house can be a stressful time, but ultimately one of renewal. It can be hard to leave a place where so many great memories were made, but it’s also invigorating and inspiring to start with a clean slate in a new space.
Such is the case for Donna Dooher and Kevin Gallagher with their new restaurant Mildred’s Temple Kitchen. So etched in Toronto’s culinary history was the couple’s previous restaurant Mildred Pierce that visitors to the newly opened Mildred’s Temple Kitchen seemed to be expecting the new space to be exactly the same. But after 17 years running Mildred Pierce, as well as a catering business and a cooking school, it’s understandable that something different would be desirable for the couple and their dedicated team.
While the old restaurant was romantic, with wall murals and swaths of gauzy fabric suspended from the ceiling, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen is an ode to 60s modern design and feels like something out of a Jacques Tati film.
The space is big and bright with the entire north wall comprised of floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the train tracks that cut through this west end neighbourhood. Diners seated along the plush upholstered bench with their backs to the window can sense the change of energy in the room as the trains soundlessly whisk past and their companions look up. It’s a surreal moment that ends with the window-facing diners staring across the train tracks at the old Mildred Pierce location.
Back in the restaurant itself, the open kitchen is set three steps above the main dining area, and acts as its own form of entertainment. Chef de Cuisine Tyler Cunningham directs a team of six in a gleaming open kitchen while servers, bussers and other staff members enter the “stage” from doors to the right and left. This interactive design stems from a trend started at Mildred Pierce where regulars sat at the bar to be as close to the kitchen action as possible. At Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, Dooher and Gallagher have actually designed the open kitchen with that idea in mind and have provided a row of stools and a bar along one end of the kitchen which acts as a chef’s table for diners who enjoy watching the cooks at work.
The remainder of the space is made up of two- and four-top tables – comprised of light cream coloured chairs and a warm wood that is carried throughout the room on tables and cabinetry. As an homage to an especially popular table at Mildred Pierce, one round banquette called “Table 12” was placed at the back of the space, and two harvest tables sit up on the level of the kitchen to accommodate larger groups or to act as a communal table when the place is busy. Gallagher says he and Dooher were inspired by communal dining restaurants in Chicago, and hopes people will use both the harvest tables and the kitchen-side bar as well as the bar at the entrance to strike up conversations with fellow diners.
Dooher and Gallagher’s son, Rory, who worked with them at Mildred Pierce and spent the last few years working in various restaurants in the UK, explains that the raw space provided all sorts of inspiration, and combining the practical necessities of a restaurant and a little bit of whimsy, the team came up with a design that was not only fun but responsible. The delay in the renovations occurred as they searched out clean, efficient building methods and eco-friendly materials.
This philosophy translates to the food and drink as well. In place of bottled water, Temple offers reverse osmosis filtered water in either sparkling or still versions. One of the first such systems in Canada, the onsite filtration allows the restaurant to lower its eco-footprint while still accommodating customer demand for non-tap water.
The menu is also a clear dedication to local and seasonal, with a blend of old favourites and some new dishes as well. At brunch (it’s quite possible Mildred Pierce was solely responsible for making Toronto the brunch-loving town that it is), much-loved dishes such as black currant scones, huevos Monty, Mrs. Biederhof’s pancakes, and green eggs and ham have all found a spot on the new menu.
The lunch and dinner card are the same, and old favourites such as the chicken biryani and Mildred’s classic burger are sure to make regulars happy. This is a carefully thought-out collection of dishes, with a lentil stew and a BBQ eggplant and silken tofu in black bean sauce dish on offer for vegetarians and vegans respectively, with other local and seasonal dishes such as lamb pot pie, pan-seared Ontario trout or a Berkshire pork chop sure to please the more omnivorous guests.
Starters include Georgian Bay whitefish fritters with pickled spruce tips, Italian bread soup, and a divine roast vegetable puff pastry tart. Meanwhile, dessert sees the return of Mildred’s classic profiteroles, as well as solid – and tasty – classics such as a variety of tarts (apple with tamarind ice cream, lemon or chocolate praline).
We’ve yet to try the wine or cocktails; Dooher and Gallagher spent last Friday running around to various government offices encouraging inspectors and administrators to complete th
e long-promised permits that would allow them to finally obtain their liquor license. But son Rory explains that the drinks menu will be modest, classic and seasonal, designed to complement the dishes but also continue the overall theme of sleek and classic with a touch of fun.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the washrooms, because they continue the same theme, while managing to feel like a completely separate entity. An unmarked door near the entrance in the same warm wood found throughout the restaurant leads to a row of unisex stalls. A motion sensor triggers a recorded loop that includes the Price is Right theme song, a French-accented pilot advising patrons that they can unfasten their seat belts and then Nancy Sinatra singing “These Boots Are Made For Walking”. It’s another jolt of 60s-inspired surrealism that again makes me think of French director Jacques Tati and his film Playtime (well, except for the disastrous restaurant opening scenes), but no one we spoke to has actually seen the movie.
While it’s taken a while to come to fruition, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen has managed to tick all the boxes and should offer something for everyone. There’s enough of the old Mildred’s to keep long-time fans happy, while acknowledging changing trends in both food and design to keep the restaurant current and forward-thinking. The food remains solid and well-presented and the room reflects Dooher and Gallagher’s love of dramatic spaces, but is fun and beguiling and not at all intimidating. Sleek, but also welcoming, the restaurant makes dinner more than just a meal, turning it into an event.
At their first official “open to the public” brunch yesterday, the energy in the room was busy but not chaotic. Old regulars returned, joy on their faces as they dug into long-missed stacks of pancakes. Just as if they were moving house for real, Dooher and Gallagher have managed to take everything people loved about their old restaurant and combine it with something fresh and new. And Toronto diners are set to offer them the best housewarming party they could ever have.