Karelia Kitchen
By YP Contributor

Looking to the North

Toronto is a veritable United Nations when it comes to its foodscape, ranging from Filipino to French and to Ethiopian fare and back again. But despite all the culinary representation, Scandinavian fare has long received the short end of the stick. Fortunately, Donna Ashley and her husband, Leif Kravis, run Karelia Kitchen, which manages to be a smokehouse, café and restaurant wrapped into one. “We’re a bit of everything,” Donna says, “but we are a smokehouse, first and foremost.”

We’re a bit of everything, but we are a smokehouse, first and foremost. - Donna Ashley, co-owner
The brunch menu includes baby shrimp with duck egg and sprouts, smoked salmon or, for those keen to indulge, a version which pairs buttermilk fried chicken with smoked bacon and tarragon mayo.
Photo courtesy of Karelia Kitchen
Inside, the narrow restaurant feels cozy with cheery yellow accents and plenty of vintage Marimekko posters.
Photo courtesy of Karelia Kitchen

A Friendly Space

Donna and Leif have had their fair share of kitchen experience between them. In a former life, Donna worked on a ship that crawled through both Arctic and Antarctic waters. Meanwhile, Leif pulled his weight in the heat of Abu Dhabi. But Karelia Kitchen gets its moniker from a noted Scandinavian design shop that Leif’s father owned in Toronto in the ’60s.  As for the Nordic connection, there is none – save for the far more important devotion to the cuisine. While Leif lords over the smokehouse (using shaved hickory), Donna is both the face of the restaurant and the pastry chef.

Karelia Kitchen is easy to spot on the Bloordale strip, thanks to its vibrant orange facade. Inside, the narrow restaurant feels cozy with cheery yellow accents and plenty of vintage Marimekko posters. Come sundown, white tablecloths and candles up the game. Regardless of the time, the room fills quickly – and for good reason.

The brunch menu includes baby shrimp with duck egg and sprouts, smoked salmon or, for those keen to indulge, a version which pairs buttermilk fried chicken with smoked bacon and tarragon mayo.
Photo by Karolyne Ellacott

The Smokehouse and Beyond

The brunch menu dips from picks like a luscious mushroom tart to French toast made with Finnish cardamom bread and smoked strip bacon. Smørrebrød is, naturally, a linchpin of the menu and is available in a clutch of permutations. Think: baby shrimp with duck egg and sprouts, smoked salmon or, for those keen to indulge, a version which pairs buttermilk fried chicken with smoked bacon and tarragon mayo.

Classics like the smokehouse platter are available anytime, where a handsome board gets dolled up with smoked salmon and paired with pork loin, flatbreads and endless other Scandi goodies. And anyone wishing to recreate this at home can with ease; Karelia has plenty of vac-pac smokehouse items primed to impress guests.

Dinner picks are slightly more substantial. The Frikadeller comes loaded with pork and beef patties, cauliflower gratin and cabbage – all loaded up with plenty of gravy and lingonberry jam. Not to mention Donna’s incredible desserts which flit from rather buttery cookies to mini cheesecakes topped with slivers of pear. There’s no doubt that Karelia Kitchen is making a helluva name for Scandinavian fare.

[Header image courtesy of Karolyne Ellacott]

Come sundown, white tablecloths and candles up the game.
Photo courtesy of Karelia Kitchen
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