enRoute: a Covert Operation, a Delicious Mission

enRoute Magazine recently busted out their famous Canada’s Best New Restaurants list. It’s a list I like to call ‘The Good Luck Getting a Reservation Now List.’ With so many good new restaurants out there, I was sure someone was collecting a bribe or two…(I’m just kidding!)

I had to find out more. Ilana Weitzman, Editor-in-Chief of enRoute magazine, helped me get to the bottom of the top new 10 in Canada. Ilana explains the covert operation, food trends and a special treat she got from one chef’s mom in Toronto.

How does an enRoute “food critic” take note on the food they eat?
We send a single food writer, Sarah Musgrave, right across the country on a month-long trip to eat at each restaurant on our long list. Let’s just say that Sarah may take an unusual number of bathroom breaks for note taking. Plus it helps that so many people are tweeting what they eat nowadays that what would have otherwise stood out – like snapping a photo of your food – seems completely normal.

Is it true that Sarah ran around the country as an undercover journalist?
Sarah travels undercover using a fake name. Every food critic knows it’s hard to be covert, but the idea of anonymity is that Sarah’s experience is the same as that of any traveller or reader walking into the restaurant. The last thing we want is any special treatment.

How does a restaurant qualify for an enRoute review?
We considered everything from a taco truck to a beer hall this year. The only qualification is that the restaurant is a new opening and is offering diners an exceptional experience, from service to what’s on the plate

Do you realize the power of your voice for these businesses and those surrounding?
It’s great to see the impact the list has. Past Top 10 restaurants have included Joe Beef and Au Pied de Cochon, which are now household names. We can’t necessarily attribute that simply to the ranking, but we do know that the restaurants featured are usually booked out for a month at the very least. Michael, the chef at Edulis, remembers that when he and his wife were thinking about opening a restaurant – they were actually in Panama at the time working for a luxury fishing lodge – one of their goals was to make enRoute’s top 10. Right after the announcement went out on Canada AM, I could hear the phone ringing. I don’t think co-owner Tobey Nemeth has ever taken a reservation at 7:45 am before.


Do you think this kind of publicity can ruin the quality of a small restaurant’s service and cuisine?
I actually chat with all the chefs about this, strongly encouraging them to continue doing what they’re already doing right and to prep for the onslaught. If they have to turn away tables, so be it. Our readers are now used to the list’s popularity and are pretty good about being patient for a reservation.

Can you tell us about something that you truly loved more than anything at one of these places?
I ate at Edulis last night, and Michael made a fig leaf ice cream from scratch, with figs that a chef friend had given him from his mom’s tree. That’s pretty special.

Have you noticed trends in food around Canada?
Each year we capture something different. Big trends this year include call-ahead menus, where you actually order your meal 24 or 48 hours ahead, so chefs have time to prepare everything from a piglet to a whole chicken or duck. And of course, the other big news this year is Toronto’s showing, with the city taking 6 of the 10 spots.

…and a little love for (my) Montreal:

Pastaga (pictured, middle): One of my personal favourite places in the city. And probably the best place to watch any sports game and eat more than delicious food. Just ask for the chef’s table.

Nora Gray: David McMillan from Joe Beef told me not too long ago that his favourite place to watch the game and eat some of the most amazing Italian food in Montreal is at Nora Gray.

Photos: John Cullen, enRoute Magazine