Eat! Bistro

Neighbourhood: Downtown
Address: 274 Garry St
Phone: 204-949-1231
Entrees: $7-$11

(Editor’s Note – This business is no longer open.)

Diners secretly crave to make a meal out of appetizers for two reasons: it means you can sample a variety of flavours, and control portions with ease. First courses can be the highlight of a meal, mostly because chefs are able to perfect the tastes of compact morsels. This is the case with Chef Candace Hughes of Eat! Bistro, who honed her hors d’oeuvres skills with catering king Bergmann’s on Lombard. At Eat! she eschews a menu of heavy entrées for dainty small plates that diners share and compare.

The 50-seat eatery tucked inside Aqua Books is homey and unpretentious, and feels like you stopped by a friend’s for a quick bite. A fresh, whimsical setting is created with giant gerbera daisy cut-outs on the walls, which also serve as colour inspiration. Random sky blue and sunny orange walls, and a hodgepodge of vintage furniture are the perfect backdrop for the endearing mix-and-match menu.

The most popular way to sample Chef Candace’s house-made nibbles is with the Eat! platter. This buffet of innovative finger food is a playground of flavours, anchored by the chicken feta dip in the centre. Instead of the expected pita or tortilla chips, fried wonton wrappers add an exotic crunch to the creamy concoction. Vegan black bean cakes make diners swoon. These earthy brown patties are given a jolt with a slathering of guacamole and salsa that simultaneously cools and heats. Crab cakes are perfectly crisp along the edges, but flakey and moist in the centre. Toonie-sized chick pea fritters, most familiar to Ethiopian cuisine, are the highlight of the platter. Place a fraction of the golden disc on your tongue and it’s buttery goodness melts away.

Diners can forgo the platter and order appetizers à la carte. Mexican wontons, not available on the platter, are delicious: biting into these crispy parcels releases a saucy beef filling. A creamy chipotle dip adds a lingering smokiness, while a tower of Spanish rice fills out the dish.

Chef Candace fulfils another dining fantasy in the cheeky ‘Dip It Good’ section of the menu. Select a choice dipper—fries, onion rings or chicken batters—and pair it with a few experimental dips (there are nearly two dozen). Here, double dipping is forgiven. Monstrous tempura-battered onion rings take on different personalities when alternated between fiery wasabi mayo and tangy lime cocktail.

Add leafy relief to the communal meal with a creative salad. Caramel-brown pieces of chicken coated in tangy balsamic vinegar lift the creamy caeser. Spinach salad tickles the tongue with puckering citrus slices and a splash of light, refreshing white wine vinaigrette.

Chef Candace also deserves a nod as the city’s up-and-coming dessert diva. A front-and-centre showcase of individual pies, tortes and cheesecakes demands attention. The desserts are pretty and refined in flavour. The velvety passion fruit cheesecake dissolves on the tongue with a lingering sour note.

Eat! Bistro is open Tue-Sat 11 am‑9 pm.