Neighbourhood: St. James
Address: 3123 Portage Ave
The old adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ could have been written after a trip to Steve’s Bistro. As one of hundreds of storefronts in a sea of Portage Avenue strip malls, the restaurant’s plain exterior cloaks a stylish and charming 71-seat dining room.
This restaurant’s earth-toned colour palette and refined decor details—including numerous vibrant paintings by local artist Lennard Taylor—create a dining atmosphere rare on West Portage. A charming wrought iron gate, series of columns and arches, and a drop-ceiling nod to the menu’s Mediterranean influence and create intimate space in the lofty dining room.
Self-taught Chef and owner Steve Kandilakis was born in Greece. Since 1982, he has been living and cooking in St. James. In February, 2009, Kandilakis closed the doors to his first restaurant, Steve’s Place—a family-style eatery known for big breakfasts and burgers. Ten weeks later, the doors opened to newly named Steve’s Bistro.
The polished, expensive look of the space is coupled with the welcoming, down-to-earth approach to service imperative to lasting neighbourhood eateries.
This philosophy of elevated comfort also guides the menu, where Kandilakis’ family recipes are offered alongside the chef’s own savoury creations. In fine fusion form, Kandilakis updates classic Greek recipes with world influences and contemporary preparations.
Mussels arrive in a steaming bowl accompanied by two crusty wedges of garlicky bread. Every morsel is put to work, sopping up cream-laden, fennel infused white wine broth that flavours the tender, dark-shelled molluscs.
Delight in house-made dips, served up with soft and chewy bakery-sourced pita wedges. Roasted red peppers and fresh mint get a boost of briny feta flavour in kopanisto spread, while olive tapenade reflects a Mediterranean taste tapestry featuring minced capers with green, black, and kalamata olives.
Burgers, the former star of Steve’s Place, continue to shine brightly. Hefty 6 oz patties of juicy Angus beef on giant Kaiser buns can be tailored to taste by selecting fun toppings, like calamari or fried egg, from the burger bar menu.
All entrées come with a medley of oven-roasted vegetables, and generous helping of rice, mashed, or classic oven-roasted lemon potatoes.
Lamb chops prepared according to an old family recipe are a stand out offering. Pan-seared and deglazed with whisky, these morsels of fall-off-the-bone meat release sweet juices with each bite through their tangy, citrus-heightened coating.
The chef’s creativity nods to regional ingredients using traditional Greek preparation. Lemon juice and cool tzatziki complement pan-fried, cornmeal-dredged Lake Winnipeg pickerel fillets.
In a creative dish, sweet meets savoury when pork tenderloin is rubbed with rosemary, thyme and pepper before being baked and topped with creamy caramel sauce. This marriage of classic Greek preparation and an au courant sweet sauce is surprisingly addictive.
The passion behind the food of Steve’s Bistro can often be spotted tableside, as Kandilakis typically stops by during dessert. Bread pudding is nostalgia executed with excellence. Each chewy, moist bread cube is bonded by sweet custard with the oven-crisped top wearing a crown of melting vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle.