|Matthew Kershaw at the pass.|
During our interview (for Part 1 see last week’s column), Chef Matthew Kershaw, co-owner of “The Alex” and “Rapscallion” in Burlington and Hamilton respectively, told me some of his own favourite dining had been at places like Black Hoof in Toronto and au Pied du Cochon in Montreal. (Both are known for their relatively informal, snout-to-tail approach to cuisine.)
“I love fat, I love flavor and I love meat, so that’s what we wanted to do for Rapscallion”. The best meal he’s had in the last two years was at Chasse et Pêche in Montreal, with its hunting and fishing lodge theme, and renowned for its use of local meats.
He makes around half the charcuterie for his restaurants, including duck prosciutto, bresaola, and pancetta. Things that take longer (e.g. lonza, prosciutto) he sources from Woodbridge and Niagara. There’s a charcuterie board at the Alex which is at a very reasonable price point ($16), but Kershaw says it’s really a teaser for the one at Rapscallion which has a “much broader array…seven items (of ten) on any given day” ranging from “spicy soft salami you can actually spread on bread, foie gras, terrines, chicken liver brulé parfait and other smoked meats.”
Rapscallion is meat-centric and French-style. “Yes there will be a bit of tenderloin, but we’re going to focus on the wobbly bits, the cheeks, the tails, the ribs. If you call a week ahead we’ll do a whole crispy pig’s face, which is literally what it sounds like. It’s a whole pig’s face marinated in salt and herbs and roasted real slow.” It’s terrible for you” he laughs, describing the crackling as awesome, and noting that “the cheeks inside are like butter.”
“The presentation is hilarious.” As the dish is served people do a double take and ask “did a face just go by me?” Strangely enough he has a lot of vegans coming in. “Are you kidding me?” says dinner companion Anne.
Kershaw responded, “There are tons of hipsters coming in, young people excited that a weird restaurant has opened in Hamilton. There’s a buzz. Apparently, often there’s a vegan in each group, so we realized (we needed to) have vegan and vegetarian food available at all times, even though we are clearly a meat place.”
“I love to cook for my Mum. She loves the Alex, because there are vegetables and fish and seafood. She comes to the other place every week because she wants to support it but I know she doesn’t like it because it’s meat, or heavier, (he makes a meat ripping face and growls) grrrr.”
“It’s always going to be meat, meat, meat. But even if I want to I’m can’t change the menu for her. I won’t change it for her”.
Anne (herself a writer who does a lot of interviews), can’t help herself and pitches another question, asking what the motivation for a meat centric restaurant was given that the Alex is “so diverse”. I saw a bit of a renaissance in Hamilton, what’s going on with James Street, the Baltimore, the CBC coming in, new buildings going up, I thought it was worth risking.”
Rapscallion is open only on weekends, for dinner Friday thru Sunday and lunch on Friday. The Alex is closed on Sundays, so Matthew is always there on one of the days Rapscallion is open. Lance (who was his sous-chef at the Alex and worked in the famed Langdon Hall for three years), runs the kitchen and Erin (Kerhaw’s girlfriend and partner) is always there too. “Lance is a wonderful chef… He has an utter love of charcuterie.” As Kershaw describes it this was Lance’s dream job and he couldn’t believe he had fallen into it. Together they work out the menus.
Rapscallion seats 34 and is a hot ticket: it opened four months ago and originally only on Sundays. Currently for Sunday reservations, book two weeks out for a good time slot, and a week ahead if you are willing to settle for 5 or 9 pm. (Since all their advertising is currently word of mouth it is easier to get reservations on the other evenings.)
There’s been a buzz about Rapscallion. Numbers skyrocketed on Twitter and Facebook. “We’ve already surpassed the number of followers that we have for the Alex which has been open two years” notes Kershaw.
Anne expresses surprise. “I hear everyone I know saying the Alex is their favourite restaurant”
“It’s a great way of dining” responds Kershaw. “We want it to be fun and we want to make it really tasty, extra flavor.” Perhaps you’re catering to an older crowd at the Alex muses Anne. Though Chef hasn’t categorically said so, I think that’s what he’s been alluding to all along.
That’s not to say there can’t be a crossover is my take. But, unless they’re foodies, getting people across the border between Hamilton and Burlington might continue to be a challenge. Then again that’s probably OK if one wants to get a fix of pig’s face on a Sunday night.
To see more pictures, click here