When Ernest Hemingway wrote that “wine is more enjoyable than nearly anything,” he knew what was up. And Mignon is exactly the sort of bar a clean-shaven young Hemingway might have frequented to blow his meager Toronto Star paychecks on good Sauvignon Blanc.
An intimate space, a handful of stools ring the island bar. Mismatched flea market art adorns the dark blue walls, and chandeliers made of clothes-hangers dangle from the ceiling (a nod to the tailor shop that once occupied the location). Cardboard boxes of wine and beer are stacked against the walls. At once kitchen, dining room, and storage closet, the tight space is oddly forthright, not unlike its proprietor, Santos Uy.
With a black backwards cap and a gray CrossFit tee, Uy is something of a nouveaubro. He’s also, in a way, the Hemingway type. Understated and to the point, he prefers to leave the shallow pleasantries of customer service to his bartenders, checking in with regulars instead. If he comes across as a pessimist — most realists do — it hasn’t affected his anomalous success; at 32 he has four successful restaurant startups under his belt: Bacaro, Mignon, Papilles, andRice Bar. If you count Cento Pasta Bar, his lunchtime pop-up, make that five.
At Mignon the menu changes every few weeks. Alongside small bites and impeccable cheese and charcuterie boards, chef Johnny Palomino dishes up a $30-ish three-course prix fixe. Braised lamb belly with roasted carrots might be the crux of a meal, or, perhaps, a hanger steak drizzled with rich bone marrow sauce.
The wine, needless to say, eclipses the food. Natural wines are a favorite of Uy’s — thin and sippy reds from France and Italy in particular. On a trip to Paris years ago, after an oenological research binge, he stopped into every bistro he could find that poured them. He came home enamored. Light and ever so slightly chilled, a glass or three of, say, Sebastien David’s 2013 Cab Franc “L’Hurluberlu” will imbue you with gentle bliss.
An insider crowd of Downtown residents — artistic types and freethinkers, mostly — keeps the place humming on weeknights. They’re devoted to wine, of course, but they’re devoted to Mignon in particular. (Once, when Uy removed baked eggs from the menu, somewhere around 100 regulars signed a petition to bring them back. He did.) It’s an easy locale to grow fond of. Come around with a couple friends to shoot the breeze or wax philosophical, and, over time, you’ll be welcomed into the fold. Mignon makes for a cozy haunt — as worthy a hangout as any for this generation’s Lost Generation.
Written by Thomas Harlander
Photographed by Jack Strutz