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Well-liked suburban Congee Queen franchise opens in Yonge and Dundas

Going to Yonge and Dundas and strolling via the doorways of the lately opened Congee Queen feels a bit surreal.This GTA restaurant franchise has 9 areas together with Markham, North York and Scarborough For almost 20 years, it has been synonymous with suburbia for my household. Now it’s within the coronary heart of the town middle.

For these unfamiliar with Congee Queen, it really has fairly a following.when I asked on twitter Everybody’s most well-liked order is 100 individuals responding. Cantonese-style fried noodles, fried squid with salt and pepper, and fried tofu chosen by former colleagues. Recipe Developer’s Pork Congee with Preserved Egg and Carrot Cake. One other char siu seafood porridge. No two orders are the identical, as Porridge Queen serves “jook, enjoyable, mein, fan,” which is the Cantonese collective time period for 4 dishes: porridge, rice noodles, flour noodles, and rice. Every class has dozens of iterations, leading to a menu of over 300 objects. It’d really feel overwhelming at first, however upon getting your ultimate order in place, it should really feel such as you belong to a self-evident membership when inserting an order.

Whereas many individuals could also be acquainted with the menu, few know the person behind Porridge Queen, Peter Zhang, who’s now the corporate’s president. Lastly received to see him lately, and after taking a seat on the new seat, Cheung requested the waiter to carry me not solely scorching tea, but in addition iced inexperienced tea with honey and a cup of scorching Hong Kong-style milk tea, simply in case. I Realized that for a restaurant I’ve eaten at dozens of instances, I do not know how it began.

“How a lot time do you may have?” Zhang mentioned with a smile as we chatted in Cantonese.

Cheung moved to Toronto from Hong Kong in 1994 and located a job within the kitchen at a congee store in Golden Court docket Plaza in Richmond Hill, a pure selection since he grew up serving to out in his father’s restaurant. He and his associates determined to open their very own restaurant collectively, thus opening the primary Wang Congee restaurant in Peachtree Plaza in Markham (the Chinese language identify of the restaurant is definitely “emperor” as a result of “wong” interprets to “king” ).

“We labored from morning to nighttime, from 8am to 9pm, generally till 1am,” he remembers. “You could have quarter-hour to eat and that is it. We won’t depart the kitchen for that lengthy as a result of there are so few of us.”

Chef Gordon Li (left) leads the chefs in the kitchen. The downtown Congee Queen employs about 20 kitchen staff who complete a menu of more than 300 items.

Extra Congee Wong areas opened across the GTA. In 2002, the companions determined to spin off, every independently managing a separate location.

Cheung himself took over the Congee Wong department at Finch Ave. E. and Leslie St in North York. In 2004, he opened a second congee store on Don Mills Rd. and Lawrence Ave. E. To go with Congee Wong’s royal identify, he named the brand new place Congee Queen (or “Queen” in Chinese language).

Alongside the best way, Cheung has dabbled in different restaurant ideas within the North Finish of the GTA: Petit Potato, a Taiwanese-Japanese fusion restaurant; Sushi Legend, a Japanese restaurant; and Good Catch Boil Home, a Louisiana-inspired restaurant and bar adjoining to downtown Markham Hong Kong sister restaurant Good Catch Cafe.

One of Congee Queen's most popular dishes is turnip cake, which is grated daikon radish steamed into wobbly chunks and pan-fried until caramelized on the outside.

Seven different Porridge Queens opened in Thornhill, Markham, Scarborough and Mississauga, every helmed by a distinct chef who apprenticed at a Porridge Queen for a 12 months or two earlier than establishing their very own . In its early years, Congee Queen did not get a lot consideration from the native downtown-centric meals press, but it surely did acquire a big and dependable following within the suburbs, with some inner-city people keen to move north.

In its latest location at 362 Yonge St., a glossy two-story earth-toned area, Swiss Chalet has been round for many years. As a long-time Congee Queen buyer on the Scarborough and North York areas, I knew precisely which of my favourite dishes I wished to {photograph}: the signature seafood and blended greens stir-fried Taiwanese vermicelli (E4 on the menu), fried radish cake (menu K53), also called Carrot Cake) and a tureen of the rice porridge of the identical identify, our Tremendous Bowl (A7, authentic porridge with shrimp, scallops, arctic clams, grouper and salmon fillets).

Vermicelli is without doubt one of the uncommon dishes that my father, the town’s hardest critic of Chinese language cooking, approves of. He says they do not skimp on the seafood, and it has simply the correct quantity of fried hay, an fragrant smokiness when cooked on a scorching pot. As for the porridge, I discovered the porridge right here to be thicker than the watered porridge served elsewhere, which is precisely what I crave when the climate is dangerous or I am jet-lagged. Carrot cake, by far the preferred dish in my Twitter ballot, is a labor-intensive dish by which grated radishes are shaped into patties, then steamed and pan-fried till crispy on the surface and mushy on the within.

Congee Queen's downtown restaurant spans two floors and seats about 150 people.

Now, downtown diners will get the identical expertise. Whereas the situation is not in a predominantly Asian neighborhood, tastes have modified lots for the reason that first Congee Queen opened, Cheung mentioned. “The present era (youthful individuals) is aware of extra about Chinese language meals and has the next customary,” he mentioned, pointing throughout the road to Toronto Metropolitan College, the place his two kids are college students. “Toronto is extra numerous now and meals is a crucial strategy to showcase our tradition.”

Whereas Cheung wasn’t ready for acceptance from city clients earlier than opening a downtown retailer, discovering an area sufficiently big was the logistics of it.

“We really spent greater than 5 years wanting,” he mentioned. “It’s actually arduous to discover a huge area, particularly with larger rents. Yow will discover 2,000 sq. ft, however we want no less than 4,000 sq. ft as a result of there are greater than 300 objects on the menu.”

So when Swiss Chalet closed, Cheung was capable of acquire area at a time when there gave the impression to be extra eating places closing than opening.

“The humorous factor is, earlier than I opened Congee Queen, I additionally opened a small pad thai and bubble tea takeaway throughout the road,” he mentioned. “I’d have a look at Swiss Chalet and suppose how nice it might be if I might open a restaurant there, however I by no means thought it might occur.”

Correction – November 24, 2022: Congee Queen’s newest location is at 362 Yonge St. A earlier model of this text misrepresented the handle.

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