Soon-to-open Share Freehouse on Somerset Street has fun with provocative menus to announce their arrival
MAR 11 15 — The joke in Centretown these days involves a fake menu in the window at 327 Somerset St. W. that hides the latest restaurant renovation inside, in a space where others over time have come, set up tables and lost their shirts.
Printed posters, which anyone can buy for $20 at a big-box stationery store, taped against glass have already set some tongues wagging on the free-rein Internet.
Among the curios, laptops have observed the proclaimed restaurant “Rare” teasing them with a menu that alleges dolphin fin soup, blue whale caviar, tiger and lion skewers, rhinoceros and sea turtle …
Lions and tigers and turtles, oh my!
But surely, I figure, no one with the ability to dress himself would fall for it — if only because, say, whales are mammals, after all, which would make caviar a pretty neat trick.
And who in the Western Hemisphere knowingly eats cats, albeit big sinuous ones?
Ha ha, nice one.
But restaurateur and owner Thom McVeigh is having his fun with plugged-in commentators who are easily distracted. (He’s playing with the idea, next, of erecting a window banner proclaiming a 90-storey condo tower – which should make some passers-by positively apoplectic.)
McVeigh, municipal candidate in the most recent city election, current president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association, and former general manager of five years at Absinthe Café on Wellington Street (before leaving in November), plans to open his restaurant between Bank and Metcalfe streets before the calendar turns to April.
The official start date is March 27, if indeed the fickle Gods of Renovation are smiling.
His 38-seat resto (plus room for 17 on the patio, if the snow ever melts) will be named Share Freehouse – not Rare — serving varied sharing plates under the watchful eye of chef Danny Mongeon, the talent in the kitchen.
Both chef and restaurateur assure me there will be not a single bug, pussycat, sea turtle or smear of whale caviar in sight. In fact, all that playful silliness in the window is intended to provoke, to a degree, by teasing salivating believers with menu items that are anything but what Share Freehouse is about.
McVeigh himself is a vegetarian who expects multiple dishes will cater to carnivores as well as those, like him, who eschew animal products with varying degrees of adherence. (Check out the draft menu, here.)
The restaurant is located on the ground floor in one of those modest red-brick, two-storey homes that dot the Centretown landscape.
Close inspection of a black awning above the doorway betrays a series of earlier eatery attempts where optimistic owners simply painted over the previous name to proclaim something new: The first sign announced Metro restaurant, then Bentiz Bistro painted it over in 2007 before suddenly — phft! — vanishing in 2011, then it was 327 Wine Wine Bar that opened in summer 2012 and closed maybe three months ago.
Now it’s going to be Share Freehouse.
“The concept is to share with larger platters,” McVeigh says, as I dropped by yesterday for a quick chat and look-see behind the papered panes. All I had to do was knock on the door …
“That’s how people usually eat at home – sharing and talking about the food, the textures, the flavours and how the pesto works with pasta,” he says.
“So we’ll have a broad selection with one dish that’s vegetarian, another that’s vegan, as well as meat and seafood and steak.”
McVeigh put up the decoy Rare signs a few days ago “to have fun.”
“My design team asked, ‘what’s the furthest thing from what we’re actually doing?’ And that would be things like unsustainable seafood, dolphin, sea turtles, whale caviar – as if it existed.”
“We wanted people to be interested while we still gave them clues. But the sign is not really serious.”
Share Freehouse will feature Beau’s Lug Tread and, likely, Beyond the Pale The Darkness beers – always local, always microbrews on tap. The wine list offers 24 red and whites from around the world. Signature cocktails will be made using in-house flavourings like ginger beer, syrups and sodas.
“I like surrounding myself with crazy people like Danny who will take risks, while I try to keep things sane,” McVeigh laughs, again.
Food disciples will recall Mongeon as the energetic chef with a head full of ideas who in 2013 opened the kitchen at 40-seat Hooch Bourbon House, an eclectic eatery known for its horse tartare and stuffed pig trotters, likely the most odd items, on a leg of Rideau Street perhaps better known for panhandlers, tattoo parlours and payday loan windows.
Last year, Mongeon launched a collective with eight young chefs under the name Flux to raise money for charity by visiting off-site locations – farms, vineyards and the like — serving memorable meals. In all, he hosted four dinners through the summer, and plans to resume this year with a different slate of eager chefs.
But, first, he has to get the kitchen running at Share Freehouse, which over the past few weeks has involved a lot of elbow grease and tweaking. “I heard in late January that Thom was looking for a chef,” Mongeon says, “so we met over a bowl of Pho in Chinatown and hit it off right away.
“I really like the concept and the opportunity to be creative. I like the idea of sharing plates – but not exactly family style where you pass a big bowl of mashed potatoes or ham or carrots.
“Here you’ll be served a large composed platter with a protein meat and side dishes that people around the table will share. You can make the plates large or small to serve two people, or many more if you’re in a group.”
Says McVeigh: “It takes the concept of sitting down to a plate of nachos and beer and elevates the experience with more refined, more thoughtful food.”
“But no nachos,” Mongeon hastens to add. (That much is clear from draft menus that appear here.)
“I’m particularly excited to serve ingredients that chefs don’t use too often like birch syrup – similar to maple syrup, but made with birch sap – and foraged items like wild mushrooms, edible tree bark, tender shoots and blossoms,” Mongeon says.
“Many people think I’ll be doing crazy meats, but with Thom being vegetarian I expect a lot of vegetarian choice on the menu using ancient grains, buckwheat, steel-cut oats. And we have so many local farms around, so we’ll definitely take advantage of what they offer.
“In summer we’ll be using seasonal produce, and putting down our own preserves that will carry us through winter.”
Mongeon expects customers looking for two appetizers with a glass of wine can expect to pay in the order of $40 plus tax, tip. Everything from bread to ketchup will be made from scratch.
Although the space is still pretty much an empty shell, McVeigh promises what he calls the “frontier bordello” look with “prettified barn board” and velvet drapery that will help dampen the sound. (Many trendy restaurants these days sport bare walls and subway tiles, which makes conversation difficult when the place fills.)
But, I ask, isn’t McVeigh a tiny bit nervous about opening another restaurant given the vagaries of today’s economy?
“The places that do well and are well run will always survive,” McVeigh says matter-of-factly.
“We’re unique and our price point will be attractive.”
And, not a single fish fin or whale’s egg in sight.