It’s hard to describe Continental Deli Bar Bistro, which was opened this week by Porteño and Bodega’s Joe Valore and Elvis Abrahanowicz, because there isn’t really anything like it. It’s split in two, with one side filled with stacked cans of house-made creamed corn and Spanish tinned fish, and the opposite side with eight stools at a cocktail bar. Everyone is sipping Mar-tinnies (that’s a tinned Martini) and vermouth has a charcuterie plate, cheese and crackers, a bagel or a mini degustation of tinned seafood.
The space itself is bright, simple and small, with about 20 stools arranged either at the bar, next to the deli stacks or in the façade’s sunlit window. With a blockish red door opened by the turn of a terrace doorknob, it looks and feels like entering a private birthday party, that is until everyone behind the bar raises a hand and welcomes you to the Continental. The blackboard menu, although small in scope, is intimidating and exciting in equal measure. The long list spans rare tinned seafoods, cheese, cured meats, and many of the former can be stuffed into Brickfields ciabatta rolls. Everything can be ordered simply out of a can or by the slice, with bread, crackers and olives, or as part of a wider platter.
The best way to approach anything unfamiliar is to simply tell Abrahanowitcz or Jesse Warkentin (the soon-to-be chef of the upstairs bistro) what you’re into and let them guide you through a snacking journey. “Myself and Jesse have a slight canned-food addiction, I always have. Whenever it was my birthday people would buy me tinned fish, whenever people came back from overseas they'd bring me something rare. I grew up eating it,” says Abrahanowitcz.
All of the meats, cheeses and tinned goods mix a range of premium names with some hard-to-obtain Eastern European specialities and local produce, some of which is made by LP’s Quality Meat Luke Powell. “You’ve got Jamón ibérico, which is the most expensive you can get, then you have this liverwurst which is like 10 bucks. To me they’re equally good for different reasons,” he says. Similarly, there are cans of Latvian sprats next to premium Conservas de cambados clams from Spain. The latter are so adored by the Continental team any order is matched with a clam cocktail. “What we do when you dine in, is we pour a bit of the clam juice out and Mikey makes a little vermouth cocktail with Lillet, Tio Pepe and some clam juice,” says Abrahanowitcz.
Mikey Nicolian, who worked under Abrahanowitcz and Valore at the Porteño bar, is running a short cocktail menu based on simple drinks and old classics. “You don't have to use liquid nitrogen to make a nice drink, there’s no smoke and mirrors, just nice ingredients and it's awesome that it fits in with the style of the venue,” says Nicolian. All of the cocktails feature either vermouth, an Amaro or one of Nicolian’s house-made liquors.
Next month the upstairs venue will open as a casual European bistro with Jesse Warkentin running the kitchen.