39 Carden Street Bistro
39 Carden Street
Guelph, Ontario N1H 3A2
Cost: Dinner for two of snacks, cocktails, glasses of wine is $100
I imagine that if you were to drop in magically from out of nowhere somehow and into 39 Carden Street Bistro in downtown Guelph, you’d think you were visiting a small bistro in Quebec or France, for that matter. The preponderance of English spoken and written aside, the relaxed, casually appointed and relatively small restaurant just emits that style and timbre. The food is very good too.
The address that is 39 Carden has been a few restaurants in its past, with the current iteration having been around for four or five years by my rough count. There’s a half dozen or so tables with black lacquered chairs and a couple of walls of comfortable banquettes in the dining room, along with a nice sidewalk-side patio.
The focal point of the dining room, however, aside from chalkboard menus (including a beer menu which lists several local craft beers), is a lovely set of re-furbished cabinets that simply ring out with quaint French country farmhouse. They are interesting and gorgeous — and while defining decor or its features ain’t really my thing, I will guess that those are what is known as leaded windows.
Chef Becky Hood oversees the kitchen. The menu is tight and interesting — and appears on a blackboard (and the restaurant website). 39 Carden serves a weekend brunch and about 10 snacks — of which I eat most. That includes a cheese plate ($17) featuring supplier and neighbour Tomme Cheese, an italicized Cobb Salad with pickled peach and strawberries and prosciutto, giving a little twist to the melon and prosciutto pairing.
The snacks range from $9-12, with several seafood items — oysters, crab legs, lobster tail, mussels, shrimp cocktail — appearing at 5 p.m.and slightly more expensive.
Principle dishes have a slightly heavier and more dense composition and they range from chicken dumplings with chanterelles and a flat-iron steak, fingerling potatoes and blue-cheese butter. A British Columbia halibut dish includes scallops and garlic scapes and measures in at $36, the most expensive (understandably so) dish on the menu. Other entrees are between $19 and $32.
It think the way to eat at a bistro like 39 Carden is to thoughtfully wend your way through the snacks, which are served noon to late.
I could eat a couple of pounds of Hood’s blue cheese and n’duja toast, the latter a looser, pork-based salumi that is from the rugged southern-most toe of the Italian boot and slathered on a crunchy piece of bread. Zucchini parm is very good with a firm texture yet satiny mouthfeel. Parmigiano is, well, Parmigiano.
The Beef tartare with a horseradish cream is given a layer of added flavour and texture with some crisp and tiny frites making it simply delicious, and there’s a bit of playfulness in digging below to gain the beef. It’s a beautiful dish to look at too.
Even more lovely is the tostada dressed with peas, fava beans, mint ricotta and a garnish of radish peas sprouts. The plate is a balance of textures, flavours and acidity — the colours make it visually stunning as well. It’s a dish worthy of the bistro name.
The service at the bistro is relaxed, friendly and competent; there’s a decent selection of wines (on a blackboard), and there’s a very good vibe and energy to the venue. To me, it does says bistro. And 39 Carden Bistro is worthy of your attention.