I had to get my manager to the airport so it made sense to hit the junction so she could get to the 427 relatively quickly after we were done. Other than that, I decided to ad lib dinner and saw Roux sitting on the corner Indian Grove along Dundas street. It was still rather early so it wasn’t too busy but the dining room was filled within an hour of our arrival. It’s a smallish place with a number of tables, a few high stools by the front window and a dozen or so seats which faces the bar/open kitchen. There are oysters on display is an ice filled bin as you walk in. It had a comfy aura; mixing the feel of an underground speakeasy with a southern US kitchen. The walls are filled with artistic script outlining recipes for jambalaya or what looks like hand drawn pictures of oysters.
Whether the concept of southern hospitality is a theme or we just had a friendly waiter, we were immediately made to feel at home. We were offered a drink from a short list of local brews (including a Conductor’s craft ale from the Junction Craft Brewery down the road), one of two kinds of wine on tap and a short list of cocktails including a blueberry old fashioned and the suffering bastard. I opted for the latter; a simple mix of bourbon, gin, bitters and a splash of ginger ale for $8.50.
Perhaps in the spirit of both famous and infamous cinq a sept (referring to Quebec’s happy and/or France’s term for the time a debutant may plan a tryst with his mistress) , the waiter boasted a $5 at 5, a list of appetizers taken from the menu with slightly smaller serving sizes. We opted for a trio of mussels, shrimp fritters and pulled pork poutine. Although smallish, the mussels, soaked in a beer broth seasoned with a mirepoix.were rather enjoyable. All of the components of the pulled pork poutine had great flavour although it was served a bit cold. The shrimp fritters were a bit disappointing…the flavours hit the mark but they were doughy in the middle.
In addition to the nine or ten entrees, there were a number of specials that evening. Despite these numerous temptations, I was sold on the yardbird (fried chicken). Furthermore, I had the dubious task of choosing between sides which included waffles, creamy grits and spicey slaw. I was promised the waffles were the way to go. The chicken was middle of the pack (I was hoping for it a little crispier) but the waffles were terrific especially when coupled with the bourbon maple syrup. Despite the fact I was reluctant on the liberal use of powdered sugar and cranberries, it kind of worked.
My manager opted for scallops. Although I didn’t try them, I did request a taste of the grits (the boundary between manager/employee sharing food starts at protein so I was safe). They were a fantastic twist on the standard. They lacked the normal cream of wheat gruelness and instead were presented with the firm yet soft texture of a risotto. I completed the experience with a side order of collard greens which hit the mark made with a simple yet authentic recipe.
As mentioned above, early on the service was friendly and prompt but did diminish a bit as the place filled up and things got frantic. There were a number of forgetful moments and it took quiet a while to get the bill despite many indications we were done. For this reason (and the need to get my manager back to Saskatoon that night), I skipped on dessert.
There has been an emergence of high and lower end BBQ joints that have opened up across the GTA. However, most focus on the art of low and slow smoking and sides more characteristic of a Texas family gathering than a Louisiana cook-off. Chef Derrick Markland infuses New Orleans into the junction, offering a joint that is casual, unique and refined. One can argue that the junction’s clientele can be described the same way. Beside us sat a couple; the guy looked like the white version of the Fresh Prince’s Carlton and she looked like a very feminine incredible hulk, complete with bright green hair and matching eyebrows (which left me wondering….never mind). On the other side was a guy and his date who were clearly fans of the Big Bang Theory (I think I even heard a bazinga once or twice). Even an cute, older Asian couple showed up to share a few of the $5 at 5 choices and sip on water while blending in with the mosaic of characters which graced the small dining room.
In an environment of restaurants serving small plates with inflated prices, Roux does bring some promise of value back to dining out. The $5 at 5 choices, cocktails under $10, six dollar glasses of wine on tap and a number of good sized entrees under $20 make it worth the cab ride or the extra gas you’ll need driving a few blocks further west to the bustling Junction triangle. Plus, it’s kind of fun with a passionate chef, a zany cast of fellow diners and sultry blues filling the air in between laughs, conversations and the bumbling banter of pleasant yet overwhelmed waitstaff.
In the end, Roux is like a wedding. Passion reigns as you hang out with a cast of characters you may otherwise never associate under the same roof. In this case, it’s a passion for food as opposed to that shared by your third cousin on your mom’s side and his high school sweetheart from smalltown Ontario. Even if everything isn’t perfect, you’re still glad you went.