After years spent working at several restaurants across Toronto and running his own catering company, in March 2020, chef Jerome Robinson opened The Heartbreak Chef in Parkdale, where the restaurant remained until October 2020 when it reopened at 823 Dundas St. W.
“We lucked out because we got into neighbourhoods that are very community-oriented,” Robinson says. “We got a lot of support from our neighbours to push us through the first part of it [the pandemic] and then when we moved to Dundas we had a bit of a name in the restaurant industry and a lot of the people who would visit us in Parkdale would make the trip.”
While the Heartbreak Chef doesn’t currently sell liquor, Robinson and his team recently paired up with Collective Arts Brewing (777 Dundas St. W.). where from Tuesday to Sunday, the menu features a special selection of addictive eats from The Heartbreak Chef that pair perfectly with craft beer. “It’s similar to our restaurant menu, but there are smaller portions and a lot more vegetarian options,” Robinson says.
The restaurant is also bringing their comfort foods to a few different bars around town – an ideal pairing for bar-goers looking for late night snacks after a long night. Other summer ventures include late night bar service at Dundas Video (831 Dundas St. W.), Laylow (1144 College St.), Montauk (765 Dundas St. W.) and Sidestreet (768 Dundas St. W.) Guests can simply scan a QR code, place their orders, and the food is delivered to the bar.
The Heartbreak Chef has attracted crowds from across North America who are eager to try Robinson’s take on classic comfort foods that, as he puts it, “break your heart” but won’t break the bank.
“I wanted to make food that I’m passionate about and enjoy eating,” Robinson says. “I respect fine dining and the art, skill, and time that goes into it, but I don’t personally eat that; on a lazy rainy day, there’s nothing better than comfort food.”
Open for takeout and dine-in on the patio, the menu is devoted to several two-hander sandwiches and classic sides that are typically seen at smokehouse joints or on a food truck. The best of both worlds is on offer with the Big Jerk Energy Sandwich — a decadent grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with fried chicken and tossed in jerk sauce, and topped with coleslaw and jerk mayo.
A creamy, five-blend mac and cheese is sold as a side, but for those who can’t choose between that or the fried chicken, the Mac and Charlie Sandwich (macaroni and cheese stuffed inside a grilled cheese, with the option to add fried chicken for an extra $5) should do the trick.
“A perfect sandwich needs a great sauce, whether it’s a burger or a fried chicken sandwich,” Robinson says. The preparation of the meat, too, is also important. “We marinate our chicken in a buttermilk-based marinade for 24 hours,” he adds.
But the most underrated part of the sandwich? The bun. “It’s all in the bread, and that’s a huge part of any good fried chicken or burger sandwich,” Robinson says, noting that The Heartbreak Chef uses potato rolls for their crowd pleasing favourites like the Big Ass Chicken Sandwich (two pieces of fried chicken tossed in housemade Carolina butter sauce, topped with spicy ranch, sweet pickles and creamy slaw).
“Our sandwich is a sloppy, messy sandwich,” Robinson says. “It’s not trying to be something it’s not. It’s quite messy, and we take pride in that.”
Cajun tater tots, deep-fried Brussels sprouts, creamy coleslaw and tater poutine (tater tots tossed in a Cajun spice blend, topped with cheese and gravy) are also available. Later this summer, Robinson says the secret menu items will get an overhaul, and a new version of tater tots (chilli cheese) will make its debut.
For the Heartbreak Chef’s hours and menu info, click here.