Beloved young professional staple JOEY opened the doors of a third GTA location this past Friday as part of Yorkdale Shopping Centre’s anticipated expansion and just in time for the mall’s busiest season. As the final touches were put in place, we found ourselves at JOEY Yorkdale twice last week, once for an exclusive tasting on Wednesday, and again on Thursday for the official launch party.
With a distinctly different look and feel from other Toronto-area JOEY restaurants, the new space is rich with a refined modern industrial aesthetic – with elements like a stylized smokestack entrance and a window pulley system with a giant counterweight – which is balanced by warmer materials like hickory, pecan, and walnut hardwoods, and brick, granite, concrete, and rich Italian leathers. There is a lot of glass; the entire front of the restaurant has retractable windows all the way up that allows for a surprisingly beautiful sunset (who would have thought you’d get a sunset at a restaurant in Yorkdale mall?).
It’s all in the detail with JOEY and the space features reclaimed heritage elements. too, like (our personal favourite) the “F” from the beloved old Four Season’s Hotel, a very retro-looking sign that reads “Courtesy Liquors,” from one of Chicago’s original liquor stores and a bench made with salvaged wood from the original Coney Island boardwalk. A stunning feature is an Alice in Wonderland/mushroom-esque Calvin lamp designed by Marcel Wanders in Amsterdam, which resembles an end table lamp blown out of proportion. Its underside is made with 500 metres of woven sheer that took three days to install.
Three massive hanging chandeliers in the centre of the space, designed by CHRISTIAAN+PLANCK from Calgary, took 500 hours to install and add to the warehouse feel of the space with their metal and chains. In terms of the design, as JOEY Executive Chef Mills tells us, “the more we play around with food, the more we have to be careful to keep everything else casual.” In describing the décor, he says then “rather than art, we want stories.” Looking around, there was certainly no shortage of talking points.
On the ground level is a main bar with a raised lounge, with the main dining room connected to the kitchen on the upper level. The exposed theatre-like kitchen gives guests from all tables on the restaurant’s upper level a first-hand view of the culinary works in progress. The JOEY Yorkdale menu was developed by Chef Mills, and is inspired by his travelling, tasting, and seeking culinary inspiration from around the world as he sources local ingredients, flavours and preparation techniques. We sat down with Mills and sampled a few things from the menu, including menu items exclusive to the Yorkdale location like the Ahi Tuna Sashimi & Watermelon, Charred Albacore Tuna, Florentine Ravioli and the Chocolate Decadence Happy Ending.
Mills tells us he was initially hesitant to do sushi because it positively has to be done right. Now JOEY actually has a sushi line in the kitchen. The sushi tasted fresh and delicious and has a JOEY twist, like the charred pressed sushi and sushi of different shapes, rather than a typical sushi roll. One of our favourites from the tasting was the Tempura Prawn Sushi roll, a perfectly shaped cone filled with comforting goodness. We also tried the Crispy Chicken Sandwich on homemade bread, which comes conveniently cut into three (and what we’re told is the ultimate “hangover cure”). After an exhausting day of navigating the soon-to-be bustling mall, a comforting option is the Florentine Ravioli, which is complete with crispy prosciutto, scallops and seared tomato.
A theme on the JOEY menu, Mills tells us, are sharable plates, like the delectable Happy Endings, which was heavenly and shared among three of us, with everyone receiving the perfect amount without feeling guilty. A self proclaimed “texture guy,” a secret ingredient, Mills tells us, is chocolate-coated rice, which adds a nice crunch. Other sweet treats were the Italian Donuts in a lemon curd and vanilla mascarpone cream, which could almost rival those of Krispy Kreme. The tasting was complete with JOEY signature Vanilla Apple Mojito (available at all locations), made with apple juice, vanilla vodka, fresh mint and soda.
The service was impeccable as well. To ensure customers receive the signature JOEY experience from day one, the new restaurants work on an Ambassador Program, where 58 seasoned employees (or “partners, as they are called) are flown in and housed for up to two months to train new employees, filling the gaps with training and allowing for a seamless experience for guests. These include both serving staff and kitchen staff. Speaking of the serving staff, they look like they could be the cast of The Bachelor, the females all in perfectly tailored dresses with their hair in super cute double ponytails (each girl with her own individual spin on this) on Wednesday as they prepped for their practice round with friends and family.
Judging from the success of the party the following evening, the practice round paid off, as the evening ran smoothly and free of any awkward lineups at the bar or serving mishaps. The vibe was comforting and celebratory and made for a memorable Thursday, offering a glimpse of what we can now expect from Yorkdale’s new après-shop scene.