Front Street Food

Last summer Front Street Foods launched outside of Union Station. It was a giant food market with various vendors that served all the tastes of Toronto conveniently in the Financial District. But it was not so convenient for me who spent part of last summer in exile at Eglinton and Mount Pleasant *shudder* and the remainder of the summer at Yonge and Bloor. I was so excited to hear that the market was back this summer but in a new location: a courtyard at Adelaide and York. Last week Giancarlo and I had a lunch date and went over to the market to check it out.

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The market is not in the greatest spot and you won’t randomly stumble across. It is up a flight of stairs and tucked in between two office towers and a hotel. But once you arrive at the market, healing it is like stepping into a city oasis. You are greeted with a large sign encouraging you to eat in large marquee letters. There are dozens of picnic tables, high tables for standing and trees to provide ample shade. We did a quick circle around the market and decided on two options: Hot Bunzz Street Cuisine and Fish’d by Edo.

IMG_6678We ordered the Seoul City Beef Short Rib and the Texas BBQ Pulled Pork bun from Hot Bunzz Street Cuisine.

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Left: The Seoul City Beef Short Rib bun with slow braised beef short rib Kobi style with caramelized onion; topped with kimchi puree, sesame soy sauce and garlic aioli.

Right: The Texas BBQ Pulled Pork bun with pulled slow roasted pork with caramelized onion, herbs and spices; topped with chef’s Pork BBQ sauce and coleslaw aioli.

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Brunch: My Top 10 Picks for Toronto

Brunch is my favourite meal to eat out. I like arriving before the crowds and enjoying a nice, leisurely meal and good conversation. I like ordering something ridiculous and massive off the menu and feeling satisfied until dinner. I like getting my caffeine fix for the week in the matter of an hour or two as I down four or five cups of coffee. I like restaurants that have a comfortable and homey décor and feel to them but with an interesting menu. I don’t want to eat a “big breakfast” with eggs, toast and three types of breakfast meat. I want something I can’t make at home or something that I can’t be bothered to make at home because it will dirty about 27 different dishes. I want a restaurant that is in an interesting neighbourhood, somewhere I want to wander in and out of shops for the rest of the afternoon looking at furniture, records and prints.

On this list you won’t find anything east of Yonge Street. The west is my Toronto. I know that is terrible and very limiting but its brunch. I don’t want to waste an hour or more of my time trying to get to the East End to have brunch at Lady Marmalade only to wait another hour or more in line. I will acknowledge that Lady Marmalade is delicious, unique and cozy. But it’s not my favourite. If I ever move east of Yonge Street this list will dramatically change but for now, west is best.

10. Smith

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Ok, I lied. Smith is east of Yonge. I have only been to Smith once for brunch but I was completely enamoured by it when we visited. It was a quiet fall afternoon, just a few weeks before our wedding and we were seated on one of the most romantic and cozy patios in the city. The patio has taken over a back alley and looks out onto a side street just off Church Street. We were alone on the patio which allowed us to take in everything: the exposed brick walls, the various textures and patterns on the cushions, the lights strung up in a zigzag pattern over head, the single piece of lavender in a antique porcelain cabinet knob turned vase on the rustic wooden table. The whole atmosphere was so simple but so well thought out and put together. This attention to detail and capturing of comfort in décor would translate into the capturing of comfort and warmth into the food.

The Eggs Benedict manages to turn an already adult breakfast item into an even more sophisticated and decadent meal. Instead of traditional hollandaise sauce, the Benedict is drenched in a parmesan leek fondue. Any restaurant that is going to allow me to justify eating fondue at 10 am on a weekend morning is a place that warrants another visit.
I also consider this restaurant worthy of a top-ten spot because Smith is one of the preferred brunch spots of Al and I trust her opinion on most everything.

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Wilbur Mexicana Restaurant

It is no secret that I love Mexican food, especially tacos so it was shocking that I hadn’t yet tried Wilbur Mexicana Restaurant given that it opened over a year ago. A few weeks ago I was finally able to check this restaurant outwith my friends Lynsey and Sarah.

The restaurant is named after the chemist Wilbur Scoville, who created the Scoville scale which is used to measure the heat of peppers. No, this isn’t something that I just randomly know because I am a huge history nerd (which is true); the restaurant provides fun facts on the menu and the table numbers.

The restaurant’s interior is industrial and resembles a 19th century laboratory. There is a combination of sleek countertops, high-top tables and lower tables clustered around tufted-leather booths. The back wall of the restaurant is a feature wall: there is a large, apothecary-cabinet like wall piece that houses dried chilies and other supplies, ready for scientific experiments. The light fixtures are appropriated scientific beakers, giving the restaurant that hipster-industrial cool edge that King West craves.

The restaurant features casual ordering: you order from the front counter, they give you a number which features a stylized drawing of a pepper on the front and the back provides various factoids regarding the pepper. How could I not love Wilbur: good food and knowledge! We each ordered 3 tacos, and starters to share: chips with guacamole, chips with queso fundido and Mexican street corn.

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Easy Restaurant

The only appropriate way to kick off a cottage weekend is to go for brunch. Back in the summer, ampoule we headed up to Muskoka for some much needed rest and relaxation. Before we hit the road we went for brunch at Easy Restaurant. Nothing makes me feel more relaxed than enjoying some delicious food with my best friend and not in the midst of the usual weekend-brunch craziness.

We went to the College Street location. The restaurant is filled with movie memorabilia, advice retro toys, ailment and heavily features images and posters from Easy Rider. It has a very chilled out, hanging out in your grandparents’ basement vibe to it – I was into it. It was cool without being pretentious and fussy and was accompanied by a great soundtrack.

The menu was a mixture of Mexican flavours with brunch classics. I ordered the Huevos Divorciados.

IMG_1325 IMG_13262 sunny eggs on a corn tortilla with spicy green & red salsa, re-fried black beans with side guacamole, ancho jam, toasted baguette with home fries.

I’ll be honest: when I ordered this I really thought it was going to be your regular huevos rancheros with a different name and maybe more salsa. Don’t be fooled, I actually know nothing about food. So you don’t make the same naïve mistake that I did, here is a description of the dish: Huevos divorciados, or “divorced eggs,” is a Mexican breakfast featuring two fried eggs separated by chilaquiles or tortillas. Refried beans with tortilla chips can also be substituted. One egg is covered in salsa roja and the other is covered in salsa verde.

There you go! My dish delivered in all the way it was supposed to. The red salsa was fresh and summery, and the green salsa stood in sharp contrast with its spiciness and heat. I liked that the beans on the eggs were refried but in their original form, rather than a mash but you still had the option of a more dip-style bean on the side of the plate. The eggs were perfectly cooked sunny-side up: the yolk had just started to solidify on the bottom into a creamy thickness but the rest of the yolk was still runny on top. The guacamole was delicious. It did not have tomato, which I prefer because I find tomatoes make the guac watery. It had the right amount of garlic, and zesty citrus flavour.

My favourite touch: that it was served with baguette instead of tortillas or regular bread. Delicious.

GC ordered the Guacamole BLT.

IMG_1323 IMG_1324The Guacamole BLT with crispy bacon, guacamole, tomato, and greens on a whole wheat panini with home fries.

This was a delicious and cozy brunch. The flavours were fresh and summery. This is the perfect brunch for feeling summery and starting a cottage weekend. It would also be the perfect brunch to enjoy on a cold winter day similar to what we are experiencing now. This is not my favourite brunch in the city but it is a solid choice and the price is right. It may not be in my Top 10 but it would grace the Top 20. If you are looking for a relatively greasy, Mexican-ish brunch, Easy Restaurant is the perfect choice.

After we brunched, we drove north and enjoyed a relaxing weekend on Georgian Bay. The weekend was perfect: good food and drinks, a steam, a black bear and even better company. I would recommend that you have a weekend like this too! Happy munching!!

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Universal Grill

As 2014 winds down, the BlogTO Top 50 is slowing being crossed off and whittled down. I have 6 more restaurants to go and 8 more to write about – not bad for a list that was released in August 2013. The yet-to-visit list consists of East-end spots and one vegan restaurant – no surprise there that I haven’t eaten a vegan brunch yet.

A few weeks ago we visited Universal Grill. We pass this spot constantly as we drive along Dupont and its brightly coloured exterior has always appealed to me. The inside is your typical retro diner, with stools at the bar and lots of booths. When we arrived on a Saturday morning the restaurant was full but not packed. Given this, I was disappointed that we were shoved in the corner. The spot was tight and awkward. GC and I are not obese or huge, but we are also not small people. This was not a nice fit for us.

Maybe it was because we were hidden in a corner, but we waited too long to be served. Tables that arrived and were seated after us were served before us. When we did finally order, it took FOREVER to get our food. I’m not speaking in hyperbole here: we waited at least 45 minutes to get our order. Ok. I guess this would fall under hyperbole but still a ridiculous amount of time to wait. This is a ridiculous amount of time to wait for any meal let alone brunch which heavily features eggs which take hardly any time to cook.

GC ordered The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich. IMG_2516

The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich with spinach, bacon, farmer’s Swiss, cheddar, goat cheese and tomato on challah with spuds.

GC was apprehensive at first that the combination of cheese would be too much and would create too much contrast. Instead, the various cheeses added depth of flavour and texture that worked in harmony together. It was oozy and gooey. Despite all the cheese, it wasn’t overly salty. The spinach and tomato added the perfect amount fresh, crispness to cut the richness of all the cheese.

I ordered the Huevos Rancheros.

IMG_2518The Huevos Rancheros with grilled tortilla, spicy red beans, fried egg, cheddar, guacamole and sour cream.

This was a tasty huevos. The crispy tortilla spears were a great garnish, giving a balance of tortilla crunch through the dish rather than just supporting it. Often the tortilla supporting the whole tower will become crispy and soggy, this ensured you would still enjoy a crunch with every bite. The beans were the right amount of spy. The egg was a little too fried for my liking: there was no oozy, running egg all over my rancheros. The guacamole was too thick and I prefer mine without tomatoes. It allows the guac to be smooth and creamy with the occasional chunk.

This place is cute and is obviously a neighbourhood hot spot. If I lived down the street, and this was my local brunch spot, I might be able to tolerate the service since the food was fairly decent. Since I have to trek out this way, I won’t become a regular.

Happy munching!