The core of The Root Cellar’s creative, co-operative structure includes, from the left, Mariam Waliji, Ellie Cook, Melissa Harland, Aaron Lawrence, Paul Harding and Jeff Pastorius.
BY BRYAN LAVERY
Delve into the emerging food and cultural district in London’s historic Old East Village. Stop into The Root Cellar Organic Restaurant, with its fresh, from-scratch organic offerings, artistic interior and friendly workers. Since its inception in July of 2012 as a small 20-seat café, The Root Cellar has evolved into a 70-seat destination café/pub and restaurant.
On the second floor there is a new special events venue called Taproot. With a reclaimed aesthetic, carpentry by Arlen Galloway and metalwork by Wojchiech Sikorski (the craftsmen behind The Root Cellar’s artistry), the LCBO-licensed space with a 55-person capacity has been designed for special events and is also available for rent.
The restaurant’s interior is artful and functional with many comfortable seating options that add to the eclecticism of the space. Monthly local art exhibits and decorative features like the large sheet-metal flowers suspended above the bar reflect the café’s artisan sensibility.
The Root Cellar is in transition to a worker-owned co-operative business structure. Known as the Forest City Worker Co-operative and closely aligned with On the Move Organics (OTMO) and London Brewing Co-operative (LBC), members find satisfaction in the community that they live in and love, while serving up the best organic products from the local food shed (food consumed within 100 miles of where it was produced). Founding members are Jeff Pastorius (also founding partner of OTMO), Aaron Lawrence, Joel Pastorius, and restaurant manager Ellie Cook. What they advocate goes way beyond local and organic eating and drinking.
The business embraces the principles of the Slow Food movement, the non-profit educational organization dedicated to supporting and celebrating regional culinary identities, while encompassing the purity of the organic movement. The concept for The Root Cellar originated from the ambition to bring the community together with area organic farmers and producers as an outgrowth of OTMO, the progenitor, supplier and sister organization that connects people to local certified organic food producers. This is accomplished through its community-supported agriculture home delivery service and its organic green grocer at the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market at Western Fair on Saturdays.
There is also an organic juice and smoothie bar known as the Root Cellar Market Kitchen on the second floor of the market. Customers can choose from a menu of nutritious, energizing, detoxifying, or just plain refreshing drinks. The staff concoct fresh, healthful creations every weekend to keep things interesting. Organic cold-pressed juices and bakery products are also available.
Chef Paul Harding’s former TOOK (The Only on King), with its enthusiastic support of local farmers and producers, embodied the farm-to-table philosophy. When TOOK ceased operations Harding, who is credited with helping to revolutionize the local restaurant scene with farm-to-table ideals, became the standout choice for Executive Chef, to give The Root Cellar’s kitchen some recalibrating. Sous chef Hunter Guidon and junior sous chef Michael Schart are pivotal members of the energetic culinary team who have helped to fine-tune the already successful operation and increase the dinner offerings.
The repertoire of from-scratch menu offerings with ever-changing specials are all organic (with minor exceptions), procured from the local farming community. All of the produce and ingredients in the restaurant’s dishes are certified organic, with 80% local in season. The challenge is how to compete with less expensive, imported foods and how to compensate organic farmers with a fair price yet keep menu offerings accessible to patrons.
Harding has added more protein choices (wild-caught fish, organic grass-fed beef steak, and free-range organic poultry) while keeping lots of plant-powered dishes on the menu. Wild-caught Manitoulin whitefish and potato cake with kimchi, bacon and Gingerich Farms poached certified-organic egg is on the current dinner menu. The ploughshares board is exceptional and is designed for both vegans and carnivores — there are so many good components that it will require your undivided attention. House-made pickle coins are deep-fried in London Brewing Co-op beer batter and are served with a curried BBQ sauce. We are long-time fans of the locally-sourced Berkshire pork sausages and the free-range, pasture-raised water buffalo burger recommended by long-time worker Kim Miller. Check out the sourcing blackboard in the dining room to find out which ingredients are sourced from each farm or producer.
There is ethically-sourced and wildcrafted tea. Coffee beans are organic and either Fairtrade certified or bought directly from the growers and roasted locally by Patrick’s Beans. Milk, cream, sugar — it’s all organic. The house-made baked goods are made from the historic Arva Flour Mill’s organic grains and flours.
The wine list features VQA wines from Pelee Island Winery, Southbrook Vineyards (certified organic), and Frogpond Farms Organic Winery. Our server, Raven Brown (former TOOK manager) tells us that the list will soon be expanded to add more wine diversity from Ontario. There is a small curated cocktail menu that has just launched. Think matcha, ginger Booch, basil, and Junction 56 gin.
To be a great restaurant, you have to provide an exceptional experience. Food enthusiasts aren’t just going out to dine any more, they’re looking to have a great encounter. The Root Cellar excels as a hub for community creativity, innovation and food-focused special events. Be sure to keep an eye out for cooking classes, workshops, community dinners, and collaborative efforts. The knowledgeable workers invite you to discover what it means to be rooted in your community, a local economy and a local food system.
The Root Cellar Organic Café
623 Dundas Street, London
623 Dundas Street, London
Photography by Mariam Waliji