The Hamilton Spectator
These are good times for foodies in downtown Hamilton.
Established restaurateurs are opening new locations, newcomers are offering fresh fare and there is an upswing in ethnic cuisine, including Korean, Peruvian, Caribbean and Croatian.
Dishcrawl has started events in Hamilton and popular TV food shows Eat Street and You Gotta Eat Here have made several stops to show off local eateries.
Jackson Square will soon unveil an Asian-inspired grocery store and new gourmet burger joint and has recently welcomed chicken wing icon Anchor Bar.
The Lister will soon be home to a European-style café and a 1920s-inspired New York-style steakhouse is planned to open late in the summer. Along with all that are plans for The Mustard Seed grocery co-op, still scouting downtown locations.
Sarcoa arrived last summer offering upscale waterfront dining.
The lower city is rapidly gaining a culinary reputation, from its celebrated food truck culture and hugely successful rallies, upscale coffee houses and some highly successful homegrown offerings, such as The Bread Bar, Rapscallion and Harbour Diner.
Those join the core’s venerable landmarks, including The Black Forest Inn, Shakespeare’s and The Capri.
Paven Bratch is aiming to make Radius such an institution on James Street South.
The Radius Café opened a year ago, a dining component launched last fall and sometime this spring patrons will be able to eat on a 200-seat multi-level patio.
“It’s the right time for Hamilton, especially downtown,” said Bratch, whose partner is wife Bela. He says the city’s active social media community is playing a big role.
“It’s on fire here. I think it’s a catalytic. You’ve got that kind of drumbeat you never could have without social media.”
Radius is located in what was once the home of city builder Isaac Buchanan at the corner of James and Augusta. The ceilings, which soar 16 feet, are the original tin. Huge windows face the street and there is exposed brick, heavy beams and the work of edgy Hamilton artists on the walls.
Paven Bratch, owner of Radius Cafe and general manager Scott Leslie in the dining room.
This is Bratch’s first restaurant foray after making a career in marketing. Radius is linked to his 100-acre farm in Carlisle which will grow much of the produce.
The menu is “urban casual,” stressing local ingredients in season and house-made preparation, says general manager Scott Leslie. Hamiltonians know their food, he says, and actively promote their favourites.
Juan Castillo, co-owner of Culantro on King William, has been overwhelmed by the support shown for his Peruvian restaurant.
“All the feedback is great. Plates empty, that’s what I want to see.”
A native of Lima, Castillo has an extensive food background, including 20 years in San Francisco. He says there is much about Hamilton that reminds him of California’s city by the bay.
“I knew I wanted to be in Hamilton. I didn’t know I would be introducing people to Peruvian cooking. I just wanted to do something I have a passion for.”
In addition to a range of independent eateries, Glen Norton, manager of downtown renewal for city, says he knows of a couple of large chains looking for downtown sites.
“I think they’re feeling the buzz that downtown is benefiting from new hotel suites. And there will be 2,000 new condo units over the next few years and these are typically people who go out to eat more often.”
As well, art crawl events have drawn people from Hamilton’s suburbs and outside the city who are discovering a new side to the downtown.
“I think people are discovering it’s a good choice to come downtown and the restaurant owners want to get in while locations are available and rents are down,” said Norton.
Kristin Archer, who writes the I Heart Hamilton blog, says she can’t keep up with the city’s new offerings.
“There is such a variety that if you walk down one street, you’ll find such diversity.”
There have been a number of new Korean offerings, including U Shao Korean BBQ on John Street, Alirang at Main and Locke and Cho Sun OK on King Street, and the addition of a Burrito Boyz on King facing Gore Park.
There are plans, too, for a second location of Locke Street hot spot Chuck’s Burger Bar downtown and a new gourmet grilled cheese shop at King and Hess.
A jobless stint last year convinced Chanry Thach that she doesn’t have to go to Toronto for good food.
“I was always recommending Toronto restaurants to my friends,” said Thach, who commutes to a Toronto hotel for her job as an assistant food and beverage manager.
When she had time to explore the Hamilton she didn’t know after 10 years in the city, she started The Hungry Gnome blog to document what she found.
“The food scene is getting more active. There are so many little places that don’t always get the love they deserve … It’s amazing the quality that’s here.”
Kathy Drewitt, executive director of the Downtown Hamilton BIA, says the majority of the 34 new businesses opened in its jurisdiction in 2012 are restaurants, bringing the total to 190. She’s aware of a number of more that are coming, including a new eatery in the former Junction space on King William.
“I think it’s a testament to the city’s efforts to get more people to live downtown. That contributes to more confidence.”
David Hanley says it was an easy choice when he began to scout for a new Dishcrawl location in Ontario.
“I’ve been knocked out by the calibre of restaurants and the volume here,” he said.
“People from outside are stunned by it.”
Dishcrawl Hamilton hosted its first event on Locke Street in March and another on Hess Street in April. Diners register for $60 and sample three items at four restaurants in a night. Participants don’t know their destinations until they arrive at a meeting point.
The organization started in San Francisco and has spread across North America.
Hanley says he sees strong collaboration between restaurants and a social media community that supports establishments.
“People enthusiastically boost Hamilton businesses and restaurants. You don’t see that anywhere else.”
The next Dishcrawl Hamilton event, James Street South May 21, is sold out. There are some tickets left for James Street North on May 28.