Diamond In The Rough| The Annex HodgePodge.
If there is such a thing as a “rave” restaurant review, this is definitely one of them. Don’t get me wrong—I never sing praise where praise isn’t due—but for the Annex HodgePodge, an hidden-gem of a bistro located in Toronto’s historical Annex district, praise is definitely in order.
Tucked away on the ground-level of 258 Dupont Street, the bistro itself is a hodgepodge of eclectic decor. The menu—which features light fare a-go-go, everything from grilled panini sandwiches, to homemade soups, to delicious salads—is entirely prepared from scratch, using simple and whole ingredients, made fresh daily.
“We call it the HodgePodge because it’s a place where anybody can come and eat” says owner and manager Jenna Katz. According to her, the crowd is both diverse and hungry, which is exactly what she loves. From behind the counter, she chats with me about the bistro while grilling panini sandwiches and ladling out soup for locals.
“When we first opened two years ago,” she says between ear-to-ear smiles shot at grateful patrons, “we were catering to vegans and vegetarians in the area, but we’ve since expanded our menu to include meat options.” As a meat-eater myself, I’m glad she did! I sampled their signature sandwich, The Madison, which is a herb-basted grilled chicken breast served on a Swiss panini with tomatoes, havarti cheese, and zesty chipotle mayo. Delicious! Like all of their sandwiches, The Madison is named after one of the Annex’s well-known streets, adding some local flavour to an already seasoned menu.
A spirited and warm entrepreneur, Katz says she learned to cook out of necessity; her mother disliked cooking, so Katz took on the role of family chef at an early age. And although cooking has always been a hobby, a fun pastime that garnered her a chef title among friends and family, Katz takes her job seriously. She works hard to meet the demand of her customer base, which grows daily.
Cooking for her family back in Winnipeg, Katz learned how to prepare tasty and healthy meals while still working within her family’s budget. She quickly mastered the skills required in order to be resourceful and creative at the same time. It was then that Katz also learned how to play with food. “My family let me mess up a lot,” she bashfully smiles. While she may have experimented a lot to perfect her recipes, her menu is error-free. All of Katz’s dishes are finely tuned, with special attention paid to flavor, texture, presentation, and yes, cost.
After years of preparing meals for her family, Katz decided to open up a space of her own to share her culinary talents. She completed a Small Business Entrepreneurship program at George Brown College and, with perfect timing, spotted a rental sign on the small storefront on Dupont. As an Annex resident herself, Katz now offers her culinary talents for locals and visitors to enjoy.
Although the bistro started as a one-woman show, with Katz handling all of the food preparation and administrative duties, she’s recently hired full-time help. Chef Vicky Tran helps prep the flavourful soups, creative salads, and delicious sandwiches.
I sampled all of the leafy greens, the best of which was their signature spinach salad. This baby spinach delight is mixed with tangy dried cranberries, candied pecans, and (my favourite) brie chunks! Like, whole chunks people. No skimping here.
In addition to providing Annex residents with a quick and affordable lunch option, The AnnexHodgePodge also sells take-home packages of freezer-ready food, making healthy eating both convenient and affordable. For $7.99 you can take home a jar of home-made soup and for $18 flat you can take home six of her vegan wraps. Both the soup and the wraps are prepared according to Katz’s two fundamental rules: simple ingredients and natural flavors. “Most of the soups contain less than five ingredients” she tells me, comparing their sodium levels to a boxed or canned soup. In addition to having a low sodium content, all of the soups at the HodgePodge are low in calories (two cups of their delicious curried carrot and ginger soup is only sixty calories, so sip up!)
The Annex HodgePodge is a great spot to visit for a lunch date or after-school snack. You’ll love it so much, you’ll want to visit every weekend to stock up on wraps and sandwiches for the week. Recommend the HodgePodge for your next business meeting, and order from their detailed catering menu. Yo won’t regret. WOMAN.ca swears on it!
For more information, visit their website by following the link.