Report by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
The fact Joe Beef has been voted Canada’s best restaurant isn’t going to come as a surprise to enthusiasts of the nation’s food scene. But many will be shocked that the iconic restaurant’s hometown, Montreal, trails Calgary in the number of entries placed in the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide.
Montreal ranks third in the nation with seven entries on the list that was determined by a mix of votes from 34 judges and the Canadian public, who submitted more than 8,000 entries that covered more than 425 restaurants in the nation. Toronto led all cities with 10 entries while Calgary — once thought of as a culinary desert — landed eight restaurants on the Top 50 list. Connie DeSousa, the co-owner of fifth-ranked CHARCUT, Calgary’s leading entrant, was recognized as Canada’s Best Female Chef while year-old Model Milk landed at No. 7.
“It’s great to see Calgary’s talented chefs and restaurateurs receive recognition for their creativity and passion that have helped build the culinary scene in our city,” says Gisele Danis, VP Marketing and Communications of Tourism Calgary. “The results from the Top 50 list are exciting for us. Calgary is well known for our iconic Stampede and the Rockies; this helps shine a spotlight on our flourishing culinary scene that the rest of Canada may not been aware of.”
David McMillan, co-owner of Joe Beef, was thrilled with the recognition as the nation’s No. 1 restaurant. Joe Beef has been a force in Montreal’s restaurant scene both as a destination for culinary travellers and as an influencer of other establishments in the city. McMillan and business partner Frédéric Morin published a best-selling cookbook in 2012 that further boosted their reputation. “The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts” won the renowned Piglet award for best cookbook last year and was shortlisted for a James Beard prize.
“This is amazing and I am honoured,” McMillan said when he found out about the win in a telephone interview that took place during a taping of the rankings.
In the Vacay.ca poll, Joe Beef led all restaurants in voting from the judges — who include some of the nation’s finest chefs such as Rouge’s Paul Rogalski, Raymonds‘ Jeremy Charles and Terry Pichor of Sonora Resort — and placed seventh in votes from the public. Votes from the judging academy make up 75% of the Top 50 results, with the public votes accounting for the rest of the total.
Diner Jo-Ann Samo praised McMillan and Morin’s enterprise in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood when she submitted her vote. “I must admit the Joe Beef experience is unlike any other that you will encounter. It is a cavalcade of outstanding dishes, each a conquest of amazingly glorious, gluttonous and eccentric recipes. Servers were knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming. It’s a celebration that needs to be on everyone’s 2013 bucket list,” said Samo, a finalist for the Vacay.ca Foodie of the Year Contest that gives one public voter a luxury getaway and dinner at the Top 50 restaurant of his or her choice.
Vacay.ca judge Dustin Gilman, who runs the Montreal Food Guy website, credited Joe Beef for its inventiveness and consistency. “I can’t remember if I’ve ever had anything Dave and Fred made that I didn’t like. There’s a reason why a reservation at Joe Beef is one of the hardest to make in the city,” Gilman said.
“Creating a comprehensive list of the best restaurants in Canada is no simple task. It involves finding the right judges with the right experience, but it also means finding judges who can adequately represent each region of our vast country,” said Janine MacLean-Kennedy, the Chair of the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada. ” The great thing about the dining scene in Canada is that it’s less about hype and pretense and more about quality, experience and innovation. Our judges get that, and so do the Canadian public who came out in droves to vote for their favourite restaurants. From strict adherence to our Top 50 Constitution, our amazing judging panel and the huge out-pour of public support, the list we have developed is representative, transparent and puts food quality above all else. I am extremely proud to have been a part of this endeavor in the company of some of the country’s best chefs and food writers.”
The top 5 this year:
- Joe Beef, Montreal, Quebec (last year: 3)
- Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Ontario (2)
- Vij’s, Vancouver, British Columbia (1)
- Atelier, Ottawa, Ontario (5)
- CHARCUT, Calgary, Alberta (new entry for 2013)
Mono Cliffs Inn Wins People’s Choice Award
Another big honour went to the Mono Cliffs Inn, which stormed past Langdon Hall and Atelier in the final weeks to win the People’s Choice Award. Run by transplanted Australian Carol Hall, the historic property in Mono, Ontario — an hour’s drive northwest of Toronto — drew hundreds of emails from customers who showed effusive praise for the hospitality and cuisine they discovered in this out-of-the-way favourite in rural Canada.
“It is a huge award for us to be recognized by our patrons,” Hall said. “We just can’t say enough about what fun we’ve had with this whole process and what it means to know we’ve had so many people speak fondly of us.”
Bill Campbell of Mississauga, Ontario, wrote in his vote for the property: “Carol and the Mono Cliffs Inn hosted a ‘celebration of life’ luncheon for my mother-in-law Claire Van Kampen on Saturday, August 25th 2012. The family continues to receive compliments to this day about the food and the hospitality on that special day. We all feel that Claire would have been immensely pleased. … We had requested a ‘country luncheon’ like the ones hosted by farm folk in bygone times. … Carol and her staff did wonders making folks comfortable and made to feel at home.”
Calgary Cooking Up a Storm
The strong showing in the rankings gives Calgary a significant boost and also shows the growing economic trend happening across the country. Chefs who worked around the world are moving back to Calgary or relocating there for the opportunities presented by one of the nation’s wealthiest and fastest-growing urban centres.
In 1999, actor Dylan McDermott ridiculed restaurants in Calgary and vicinity for serving “ketchup for tomato sauce.” It was a damning statement that played into the stereotypes other Canadians had about the prairie city. The Vacay.ca ranking makes it clear that Calgary has propelled to the upper echelons of fine dining in the country.
“Rouge is one of the best restaurants in the world, not just the country, and the reputations of Model Milk, CHARCUT and others continue to blossom,” says Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi, who created the Top 50 guide, which was first published in 2012. “Most importantly, what the Vacay.ca vote shows is how enthusiastic Calgarians are to champion their city’s culinary stars. Whether Calgary is among the top two or three or four cities in the country for fine dining is a topic of debate, but what is clear through this public vote is that Calgary has more community spirit than any of the nation’s big cities.”
The 8 Calgary restaurants on the Top 50 list are:
- CHARCUT (No. 5)
- Model Milk (No. 7)
- Rouge (No. 11)
- Muse (No. 17)
- River Cafe (No. 22)
- Q Haute Cuisine (No. 28)
- Teatro (No. 43)
- Cucina (No. 47)