by Andrew Coppolino | February 2024
Call them what you will, but “dishes to share,” “smaller plates”, “tapas” or simply “shareables” add value to your restaurant experience. Sure, you could pick a main course with veg and a starch, but bang! The meal is all over before you know it, and you’re on to dessert.
But not when you share several smaller dishes with friends or family. The dining is enhanced and becomes a shared experience when you explore a series of different smaller plates – it’s just more fun to enjoy and compare a wider variety of flavours and textures.
Here are six restaurants in the Region with shareable suggestions, perhaps for Valentine’s Day (candle-lit or not), a family birthday or other celebration – or just as a way to energize dreary February’s winter weather. And we’ve added a few choices that the chefs would like to share, too.
La Lola Authentic Taste of Spain, Kitchener
The chalkboard menu changes regularly – there’s no online menu – but there’s croquetas for sharing at La Lola, newly relocated to Benton Street, Kitchener. Plates arriving at your table could include veg or salmon torta, garlic shrimp, Iberian charcuteria with Manchego and “burnt” cheesecake – perfect for sharing. Space is tight and cozy, so make a reservation so you won’t be disappointed: La Lola is a busy tapas bar.
Madrid-born chef and co-owner at La Lola Miguel Angel Pastor Alvarez suggests a simple sip with the tapas selections. “I recommend una copa de tinto – a glass of red wine – with our Tabla de Ibéricos (Iberian charcuterie) with beautifully cured Manchego cheese.”
Red House Uptown, Waterloo
The small plates at this popular bistro – with those old-house “good bones” – and its eclectic menu include a few shareables for a date night: get happy with the “angry edamame” with spicy chili and sesame, the marvellous simplicity of warm olives marinated in thyme and lemon and then move on to the arancini with mushrooms and heady truffle oil and shaved Grana Padano. Or, just make it a cheese plate with local cheeses and a glass of vino.
Red House head chef Annie Street shares her go-to shares: “Our smoked salmon toast for sure. And with it, I’d say a glass of our crisp Riesling from Leaning Post out of Stoney Creek is absolutely perfect. Or, the grilled calamari with a sausage and tomato ragout.”
The Cambridge Mill, Cambridge (Galt)
Fully enjoy the half-shell oysters at Cambridge Mill while overlooking the rushing, icy Grand River on Valentine’s Day. The briny east-coast molluscs come with a classic mignonette and some hot sauce and fresh horseradish for a kick of spice. There’s also a vegan fried “Buffalo” cauliflower with shaved celery and dill-ranch sauce or creamy-juicy burrata to be scooped up together with a mushroom duxelles, olive oil, fines herbes and toasted focaccia.
Chef’s choice: “I would absolutely share a dozen east coast oysters,” says Mill chef Kyle Lavigne. “For me, shareables at restaurants are about creating conversation and intimacy with friends and the people we dine with. That’s the best part of dining out. Pair those oysters with a local hefeweizen from Galt’s Farm League Brewing. It’s a match I simply adore.”
The Mule, Cambridge (Galt)
Stay super casual and gritty urban. Dig into guac and chips, something called “holy frijoles” refried black beans and tomatillo hot sauce, or super-cheesy queso fundido with pickled jalapeños and chips for dipping. Plant-based diners can share crispy Brussels sprouts with guijallo sauce, cotija cheese, pepitas, lemon mayo, green onion, pickled jalapeños and cilantro. You could conceivably even share tequila flights at The Mule too, from Hornitos Black Barrel anejo and Tromba to Don Julio and Casamigos. Say Olé! to your designated driver.
Mule Cambridge chef Fred McLellan says table talk is key. “One of my favourite things about dining out is conversation over shared plates. Start with the birria foldies and a pitcher of Margaritas. And I always let my companion pick the Margarita,” he says.
The Ridge Social Eatery, Roseville
Tucked into the countryside and blanketed snuggly by snow, The Ridge combines a country-style setting with an elevated casual menu. You can add duck or smoked meat to your poutine or share spoonsful of luscious vegetarian grilled double-cream Brie with seasonal chutney.
Chef and co-owner Mike Eckhardt says the Ridge’s flatbread is approachable – and more. “It’s simple yet the blend of ingredients make this the perfect shareable dish where you can taste all of the flavours in one bite. With multiple pieces, it’s easy to share and we change it up based on seasonality,” he says.
Right now that means braised beef short rib, Brie, apple, caramelized onions, garlic crema, honey and cracked pepper.
Imperial Market and Eatery, New Hamburg
At Imperial, you can “build your own family meal deal” which pretty much embodies sharing. But I’d also consider the “Chickles:” southern-fried chicken “nibbles” with fried housemade pickles, dill aïoli and sweet mustard (as if the name “chickles” wasn’t tempting and enough). The pita is housemade too: use that and house-made kettle chips for plunging into the trifecta of artichoke and parmesan, split-pea hummus and tzatziki dips.
Chef Brendan Gingerich, acknowledged as the “bread master” at Imperial, says sharing meals and eating together is a “primal and ancient” human activity. “It bonds us like little else can. Having dishes on the menu, like the shared dip, trio is me trying to get us a little closer to that. Food is the ingredient for bringing us together.”
Andrew Coppolino is food columnist with CBC-KW and Metroland newspapers. The author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press), he is the 2022 “Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence” at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @andrewcoppolino.