Tendrils of steam gently billow from the fare at The Burnt Tongue, and as I sit with co-owner Leo Tsangarakis it's nearly impossible to peel my eyes from the hypnotic puffs of steam that accompany each order.
Since opening its doors last September ““ on Friday the 13th no less ““ this cozy but comfy Hamilton restaurant has propelled itself to success by pinning its menu on a unique and untraditional main course: soup.
From squash and sage with Parmesan cheese to chipotle and sweet potato with yogurt and cilantro, the restaurant offers guests five unique soups every single day. With more than 30 different soups on offer each week, it's easy to believe Tsangarakis when he tells me he sees a lot of the same faces in a week.
Located at 10 Cannon St. E, the restaurant functions with a casual, café-style walk-up order system.
Step inside and you'll see nine chalkboards hung up in front of the counter, five of them detailing the soups of the day while the other four offer guests a series of classic side dishes like an order of frites, a burger, a grilled cheese sandwich or a light salad.
While the chalkboards add a unique touch, they also allow the staff to easily make menu changes on the fly. Even during my brief visit with Tsangarakis he needs to briefly step away in order to erase Cream of Mushroom & Sherry with Tarragon from the board and swap it with Roasted Garlic & Cauliflower with Cheddar. With all this soup swapping, its no surprise to learn The Burnt Tongue has offered more than 600 soups in little over a year.
However, it's tough to say whether this daily soup stratagem would work so deliciously if it weren't for the restaurants' conscious effort to embrace social media from the very start. Unlike most restaurants that offer a fixed menu ““ with little to no menu changes in the week ““ The Burnt Tongue uses Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to broadcast its menu for the day.
Guests are encouraged to check the restaurant's Instagram page every day. Unlike many restaurants social streams, the promise of a new menu every day provides the incentive for guests to follow along and helps to ensure each post is relevant and mouth watering ““ since last September the restaurant has cooked up a combined 4,933 followers on Instagram and Twitter alone.
Tsangarakis attributes this social success to his previous experience, “I've been in Hamilton for the past 15 years and I've always been involved in promotions and shows and that sort of thing, so I already had a pretty huge social network.”
Teamed with business partner Dan Robinson, a restaurant veteran with more than 30-years experience, the two decided to time the launch of the restaurant with Super Crawl, Hamilton's annual music, arts and culture festival that draws upwards of 250,000 people. Tsangarakis says the festival, held last year on September 13 to 15, helped to boost word of mouth and propel the restaurant's growth.
As for what is inside the soup bowl, The Burnt Tongue chooses ingredients based on seasonality, freshness and time of year. For example, during the winter months, the restaurant frequently uses locally grown squash from Hamilton's own Buttrum Farms. However, Tsangarakis points out that in order to keep costs down, not every ingredient can be sourced locally.
With about six tables, a few stools and a handful of parking spots, the restaurant is not what you would describe as a large establishment and, on certain days, lines can wonder out the door. Open for a little over a year and now serving up more than 120 litres of soup per day it's no surprise The Burnt Tongue is already looking to cook up a second location.
RECIPE: Mushroom Tarragon Soup
RECIPE: Butternut Squash Soup with Sage, Almonds & Parmesan
– 10 Cannon Street East, Hamilton; 905.536.1146; theburnttongue.com