When two DJs, a dentist and a sommelier decide to open a restaurant together, it’s easy to feel like the result could be a punchline. But in the case of Junior, the new Filipino eatery in Griffintown, the owners’ phenomenal execution, unstoppable energy and clear, honest vision have come together to produce one exceptional restaurant.
The concept behind Junior is of a Filipino market eatery, “something that would be familiar enough for Montrealers who travel to Southeast Asia,” said David Pendon, of wine agency Oenopole and one of the four owners. “The food we’re doing is home cooking; we wanted to create that feel of authentic, but exotic food.” The other mavericks in charge of Junior are JoJo and Toddy Flores (of Club Peopl) and Julian Somera, a dentist by day.
Junior’s menu is comprised of fresh, authentic dishes that are made to order. Though the adobos (braised meats) are cooked in advance to develop their characteristic hot-and-sour flavour, everything else is made a-la-minute. The menu is divided into starters and family-style main courses, all meant for sharing. A few desserts round up the offerings.
The pinakbet I had was complex, a combination of pungent shrimp paste, perfectly cooked and luscious eggplant, and the curiously sharp taste of bitter melon. The adobo chicken is a popular dish brought in from the Visayas region, and braised in a unique coconut milk sauce. The Escabeche Isda reflects the Philippines’ Spanish influences, and it’s a crispy, perfectly-fried piece of fish in a punchy vinegary sauce that is sugary and piquant at the same time — the very essence of great Filipino cooking. For dessert, turon, deep-fried rolls of plantain and jackfruit, are a safe—though piping hot—bet.
And with a sommelier at the helm, you can trust that all the beers and wines served at Junior are carefully pre-selected. They work only with smaller-scale, artisanal producers, and the beers come from local micro-breweries. The wines are all natural, non-interventionist wines that involve all natural yeast and spontaneous fermentation.
“If you’re going to drop $7 for a pint of beer, or $9 for a glass of wine, it’s a bonus that it’s not marked up battery acid,” said Pendon. But don’t call Junior a fine dining restaurant:
“I don’t want people to think that we’re trying to reinvent anything… We really want to recreate that feeling of having a Filipino best friend, and you’re eating at their house.”
At its core, Junior is a family affair. JoJo and Teddy are brothers. Julian’s relatives cook in the kitchen and help with prep. The restaurant’s colourful interior is entirely self-designed by the four owners, who also hammered in nails, assembled tables and painted walls with the help of one of the cooks. Pendon’s brother designed and drew the restaurant’s logo and all place mats and signs. Everyone involved put in long hours and a lot of creativity to bring this place to fruition.
“There was a lot of work to do to get it to where we wanted to go,” said Pendon. “The big challenge was to take the aesthetic that the four of us already knew from going to the Philippines, and conveying Montreal Filipino [identity] as much as we could.”
The result is intensely personal. Working without a chef leader, Junior is based on regional family recipes that the four owners and their families brought in. But with deep roots, a lot of advice, and a great deal of inspiration from the Islands’ diverse regions, the team at Junior manages to pull together something extraordinary: a young, contemporary eatery that doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard.
Junior is open Wednesday through Sunday, starting at 5:30 and ending at 11 p.m. on weekdays, 12:30 a.m. on the weekends. They don’t take reservations, so make sure to come by early, or be prepared to wait with a glass of wine — the place fills up FAST. On select Saturday nights, the DJ-owners have been known to mix up a party, so check out their Facebook page for any last-minute announcements.