We’re sipping our second tepache of the night in a mid-century-modern former movie theatre. It’s a fizzy, funky, fermented Latin American drink made with corn and upcycled whey from the kitchen’s labneh-making process. Geneviève, our dark-eyed Québécoise server (and in-house beer expert and welder, who made the hanging plant holder and airplane-shaped restaurant logo on the wall), explains that the chip or “leather” that garnished my first cocktail was made from the sediment and dehydrated pulp created during fermentation. The secret to the Garden City Sour, a sweet, tart and vivid unfiltered sake and rosé cocktail? It’s oleo saccharum, a.k.a. citrus oil, extracted from lemon rinds salvaged from a local lemonade business.
Dispatch’s kitchen is a lab for waste reduction and upcycled ingredients, using fermentation and other preservation methods to create food and drink so delicious that its ethics are a bonus, not an excuse. The global travels of environmentally conscious and community-minded Aussie chef Adam Hynam-Smith are reflected in the restaurant’s name, its airplane logo and its North African and Middle Eastern food. He’s transitioned his popular food truck to bricks and mortar, putting down roots in St. Catharines with his artist wife, and business partner, Tamara Jensen.
One bite of the explosively bright tzatziki of fermented cucumber, crispy shallots, dried Turkish mint, Aleppo pepper and spiced brown butter served with Turkish bread shows us what the chef is capable of.
One bite of the explosively bright tzatziki of fermented cucumber, crispy shallots, dried Turkish mint, Aleppo pepper and spiced brown butter served with Turkish bread spread with a tart, fruity hit of sea buckthorn za’atar and cold-pressed canola oil shows us what the chef is capable of. And when the nigella-seed-studded bazlama bread for the duck souvlaki sliders appears with precious pours from a magnum of Pearl Morissette Irrévérence, we’re hooked.
Lanky and wild-haired (“Like a Labradoodle,” he jokes), the chef explains that one of the goals at Dispatch is to create a fair, inclusive work environment made up of a team of people who wanted to see a healthier change in the restaurant trade. “It’s important to us that our team is treated as professionals, and that they can afford to not only live, but pursue their goals as individuals.”
The next three courses arrive at once, showcasing the housemade baharat spice mix: burnt eggplant and labneh; fried chicken with an addictively earthy and acidic lacto-fermented hot sauce; and a salad topped with a chicken-schmaltz bagel crumble (a community upcycling project with a local bagel bakery) and aged Gouda. “When we moved here in 2009, our goal was to help rebuild the city and transform how people viewed it,” the chef tells us. “I saw a jewel in the rough.” With food this good, it won’t be long before there’s another jewel in Niagara’s wine-country crown.