Laughs were shared on the sunny patio at UpFront at the Market while owners Jody and Josh Stall reminisced over past and present splendours. “It was the first time Jody cooked me dinner. I tried to carve her over-roasted duck, but I just kept hitting bone. Then I realized she roasted it upside down!”
The couple has come a long way since the infamous “upside-down-duck” date that sparked both their personal relationship and entrepreneurial careers. The endearing culinary disaster that set the stage for this duo over 20 years ago is a far cry from the dozens of ducks Jody now roasts on a weekly basis for the Chinese Barbeque Duck Clubhouse Sandwich. This recent favourite also features their house-cured and smoked bacon, snug between slices of house-made cranberry pecan bread. Front of house manager, and chef by trade, John Gillan swears by the Roasted Porchetta Sandwich, another highlight of UpFront’s current menu. Described by Josh as a “hearty man sandwich,” the sandwich begins with a herb-dressed pork loin wrapped in pork belly. It is then roasted, sliced, and seared. Nothing is wasted as the pan drippings are transformed into a pan jus which tops the fresh brioche bearing the seared pork slices. The owners pride themselves on their creativity and emphasis on fresh, handmade menu items.
The original UpFront Café, which opened in 2005 in nearby Strathroy, was a quaint 50 seat space in an 1867 bank building. The Stalls were determined to carry their from-scratch philosophy over to their new 220 seat location – a daunting objective. The staff utilizes the basement prep kitchen located in the new space. This convenient setup has reduced the anticipated challenges that came with quadrupling their capacity. The space, in combination with a loyal and competent kitchen staff, allows for all sauces, proteins, breads, and desserts to be prepared in house. Having longtime brigade members such as Josh’s right-hand-man Alex and partner Vickie (joked to be the new Josh and Jody), the owners can breathe easy as Alex runs the line and Vickie bakes the breads and dessert items. Vickie is famous for her Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Buns and is now churning ice cream alongside Jody, with plans for unique flavours like Lemon Meringue Pie.
There is an emphasis on variety at UpFront, which is apparent when perusing their new brunch menu (available Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-3pm). The menu offers three variations on the traditional Eggs Benedict, one of which includes grilled black tiger shrimp, fresh avocado salsa, and their house-smoked bacon. Other brunch items include Hot Shot Prime Rib Hash and Vickie’s French Toast, made with her orange infused brioche and topped with a tantalizing whipped maple orange marmalade mascarpone cream.
The restaurant also features international dinner menus called ‘Destination Dinners’, comprised of a three course meal with choice of starter, entrée, and dessert. For June they chose A Taste of Spain, including a starter called the Matador Meatballs – veal and beef meatballs with creamy gorgonzola cheese on a bed of piquant tomato sauce – and entrées including a seafood, chorizo, and pepper packed Paella. They offer daily specials as well, in order to tickle their creativity bone and to keep the variety flowing. Josh explains, “We have specials because we want to make something special, not just to move a product.”
The emphasis on variation carries over into their beverage menu, but in choice more than price range: the restaurant offers a flat rate on all glasses of wine and drafts, making each drink accessible to all clientele. This is important to them, as they carry a beverage to complement each dish in particular, say the Stalls. “We value the customer’s experience over our own profit.” Occupying a space previously famous for its diversity on the rail, the Stalls not only maintained the wide variety, they actually added a tap. They want to cater to everyone, offering both local microbrews as well as large beer manufacturers. Josh puts it well, “If you can’t find a beer on our menu you like then you don’t like beer!”
To add to their already ambitious food and beverage undertaking, the restaurant has committed to showcasing local independent musicians all summer during their Steam Whistle Patio Party Series. London’s Sweet Leaf Garret will perform live every Sunday from 8 to 11pm. Another example of their commitment to engage with the community is their Starter Coupon Booklet. This offers local organizations the opportunity to purchase a coupon booklet for fundraising. Vouchers for discounted appetizers allow organizations to earn twice the cost of the booklet and diners to enjoy $8.00 starters. UpFront is also a proud sponsor of our London Knights, Original Kids Theatre Company, and the London Lesbian Film Festival.
As Jody says, “Our food is addictive. We just want London to try it and they will be hooked.”
UpFront at the Market
130 King St, London
Hours of Operation:
Brunch Saturdays and Sundays 11am-3pm
CHRISTIE MASSÉ is a graduate of the Stratford Chefs School
Photos by Terri Low