Waiter Thomas Prost, delivering delicious brunch dishes at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen.
“I understood viral before, but now I really understand viral,” Kevin Gallagher told us yesterday while sitting at the bar at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, the highly respected restaurant he co-owns with his wife, executive chef Donna Dooher. Before this past Wednesday, Mildred’s was locally famous for its impeccable food, comfortable atmosphere, and skilled service, but with one article by Toronto Star critic Amy Pataki, it became known worldwide (discussed on Huffington Post, the Village Voice, even the Jay Leno Show) as the restaurant that encourages you to have sex in its bathrooms.
Huevos Monty: Black bean refritos and sharp cheddar, baked in flour tortillas with eggs sunny side up and avocado crème fraiche.
It all started with an email blast sent to fans of the restaurant, promoting their Valentine’s Day festivities. “Because Valentine’s Day is a Sunday, we wanted to make it a whole weekend kind of a celebration,” Gallagher explained. “A lot of people wouldn’t go out on a Sunday…they’re going to go out Saturday or Friday, so we decided we’d call it the ‘Weekend of Big Love.’”
It was a standard email blast with hours listed, reservation numbers, and descriptions of little flourishes on offer, like the “message in a bottle”—for twenty dollars a personalized message of love is penned in calligraphy, rolled, and placed in a vessel at your table. In the right margin—in tiny print—was a section entitled “101 Places to Have Sex Before You Die,” with the following underneath: “Have you given any thought of moving beyond the bedroom? Check out Mildred’s Sexy Bathrooms throughout the weekend of Big Love. You get the picture.”
Soon after the blast went out, Pataki contacted Dooher and Gallagher for an interview and photo session. While the couple thought the article would speak to the entire promotion, Pataki zeroed in on the bathroom detail, even going so far as to ask Toronto Public Health to weigh in. The rest, as they say, is internet-meme history. Pataki has since written a short piece about how the story has been misconstrued and inflated against the owners’ wishes, while deftly avoiding her role in starting it all.
Top: Black currant scone and buttermilk biscuit with homemade preserves and sweet butter. Bottom: The famous “Mrs. Biederhof’s pancakes”: Blueberry buttermilk pancakes with Lanark County maple syrup and whipped cream.
Over his decades of working in the restaurant industry, Gallagher has heard of many trysts in restrooms all over the city. “We’ve always thought it was kind of cute,” he told us. “It’s so nice to see people showing spontaneous affection.”
Spontaneity is something they try to nurture at Mildred’s. In the past, they staged short Improv Everywhere–style happenings to entertain diners. On one occasion, they hired male and female opera students to pretend to be a bickering couple before breaking into an aria from Samson and Delilah. “It’s an aria where they start out angry and end up embracing each other,” Gallagher told us. On another evening, they brought in a singer with a Billie Holiday–like voice to dress in kitchen whites and serenade an actor dressed as a waiter. While the two were locked in their final embrace, Rory Gallagher (the general manager) prodded them to get back to work.
Gallagher insists this same kind of playfulness was behind the Valentine’s email blast. “You like to sort of surprise people,” he told us. “Not surprise them, but sort of engage them. And that’s very much the same sort of spirit that this [Weekend of Big Love] is done in.”
It’s been a difficult week for everyone at Mildred’s, receiving angry emails and phone calls related to the debacle. “We thought that people would have more of a sense of humour about it,” Gallagher said. “We really did.”
Veda’s Choice: Poached eggs on croissant with Béarnaise and crispy oven-roasted potatoes.
The real shame in this whole situation is Mildred’s Temple Kitchen is one of the city’s best restaurants, and Donna Dooher is a world-class chef, but that is completely unknown to most who are parroting Pataki’s soundbites. Among Dooher’s numerous accomplishments are running the wildly successful Mildred Pierce restaurant (the precursor to Mildred’s Temple Kitchen) with Gallagher for seventeen years, establishing The Cookworks cooking studio, and starring in her own Food Network show. Next week, Dooher will be travelling to Vancouver (with Gallagher accompanying as sous chef) as one of six Canadian chefs selected by Agriculture Canada to cook at a pre-Olympic press event for international lifestyle and food journalists.
Despite the unexpected negativity, Gallagher stands by the Weekend of Big Love promotion. “On one hand, I feel badly that we’ve been misunderstood,” he said. “But it’s not that I want to apologize because I do think it’s important that people be spontaneous.”
Despite rumours to the contrary, bookings are still available for the Weekend of Big Love at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen (February 12-15). Reservations can be made on Open Table.
All photos by Ayngelina Brogan/Torontoist.