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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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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Torteria San Cosme

At the start of March the chef and co-founder behind the Toronto-based Mexican restaurant Milagro opened a street-food style restaurant in Kensington Market called Torteria San Cosme. The restaurant opened the first week in March and Cynthia and I attempted to go on the Friday night and try some tortas but alas, they had sold out and were closed for the evening. Don’t worry! Cynthia and I headed around the corner to Dirty Bird.

It should be mentioned that as a general rule of thumb, I hate Kensington Market. I know, I know. As someone who loves Toronto and loves food, it should be my Mecca. But I hate it.  The majority of my exposure to Kensington is from weekends when I would go downtown with GC and then he would head to work and I would wander through the city. Kensington on the weekends, especially pedestrian Sundays is *cringe* a nightmare. There are too many people who overrun the small sidewalks that are already crowded with stalls and bins of cheap sunglasses, smelly fish and nuts. But I do have my favourites. I love Blue Banana, Kid Icarus, Sanagan’s Meat Locker, Pizzeria Via Mercanti and of course, Toronto Popcorn Company. And no, I haven’t tried Seven Lives. Yet.

IMG_5631Despite my hate for Kensington, I ventured there twice in the span of two days – shocking I know. GC and I ventured down the next afternoon to try some sandwiches. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was still closed. There was a sign on the door advising that the restaurant would be opening slightly later than advertised and there was a queue of about 20 people waiting eagerly for sandwiches. The door was opened about 5 minutes after the new time but we rushed in.

The restaurant is situated on the corner of Baldwin and Kensington and the two exterior walls facing the streets are large, airy windows. Sunlight streams in from the street and highlights the gorgeous tiles that covers the walls and floors. A large, narrow, open concept kitchen is the focal point of the restaurant with a bar giving seating overlooking this kitchen. There is not a ton of seating in the restaurant, we were perched at a chair-rail like bar in a corner behind the entrance.

I ordered the Cubana sandwich.

IMG_5637The Cubana sandwich with smoked ham, adobo pork, bacon, gouda, avocado, chipotle, mustard and tomato.

This is my favourite Cubana sandwich I have tried, and may even well be my favourite sandwich I have ever eaten. The bun (from Blackbird Baking Co. across the street – another Kensington favourite of mine) was substantial and didn’t crumble under all the beautiful meat and other toppings but also was chewy, soft and moist. I didn’t have to force the sandwich into the back of my mouth and rip with my stronger, more prehistoric-like molars.

The smoked ham was a slice of Easter dinner on a bun. It was thick, juicy and fatty. I loved that it was actually a piece of ham clearly cut from a hock rather than deli meat.The adobo pork was spicy and complimented the richness of the ham. And if two types of pork were not enough for you, there is bacon on this sandwich. The bacon is crispy and salty, making it not just a third type of pork but a third, and completely different flavor and texture profile highlighting how versatile pork is.

The condiments added a balance of tartness from the mustard and sweetness from the tomato and the avocado. The cheese melted over the meat and was smoky and cheesy yumminess.

GC ordered the Milanesa sandwich.

IMG_5634The Milanesa sandwich with breaded chicken, manchego, chipotle mayo, refritos, avocado, tomato and onion.

If there is one thing you need to know about GC it is that he loves a a good sandwich, and especially a fried chicken sandwich. While I preferred my Cubana to his Milanesa, this sandwich was exactly what he was looking for. The chicken was crispy and well battered; the batter didn’t peel off the chicken with every bite. It was spicy, crunchy and cheesy.

We thoroughly enjoyed our sandwiches and we can’t wait to go back. This summer will be filled with visits to Kensington Market, picking up take-out from San Cosme and drinking covert beers in parks. It’s going to be an amazing summer.

Happy munching!!!

Ok Ok

My experience of brunch at Ok Ok can be summed up in three statements: Ok Ok: Why I don’t go to the East end of Toronto for anything. Ok Ok: Why I don’t go for brunch anymore. Ok Ok: Why I will only order huevos rancheros from Mexican restaurants.

As you can tell, I didn’t love my experience here. We visited this spot for brunch back when I felt shackled by completing the BlogTO Top 50 list and this was one of the restaurants that made me rethink this list. The drive was too far, the restaurant was your standard diner and the menu was anything from special. It was not worth any of the effort. But of course, we HAD to go so I could complete the list.

So we went. The restaurant is cute. It is a small, retro diner with narrow booths and stools overlooking the open kitchen. There is large windows at the front of the restaurant letting in natural light and warming the place up. The decor is slightly dated and could be updated however, this adds to the comforting, neighbourhood-feel of the place. The restaurant was filled with regulars, which is typically a good sign of the quality of the food and service.

GC ordered the California Club.

IMG_3528 IMG_3529The California Club with grilled chicken breast, bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado and mayo.

GC didn’t have complaints about this sandwich. It was your standard club made fancy with the addition of some smushed avocado. The chicken was cooked properly: it was tender and moist. The bacon was crispy without being burnt. It was nothing special and certainly nothing worth going to Leslieville for.

I ordered the Huevos.

IMG_3530The Huevos with 3 eggs scrambled with mozzarella, Monterrey jack with spicy black bean and wrapped in a tortilla and lightly grilled. Topped with guacamole, sour cream, salsa and green onion.

How is this Huevos? When this appeared, my first thought was, “This is a breakfast burrito and a sad one at that.” The menu did warn me that this would be huevos wrapped in a tortilla but this isn’t how I was picturing the wrap job. I was picturing it to be more bowl-like.

When I order huevos I expect to see runny eggs, mounds of beans and salsa, pillows of guacamole and crispy tortillas. This did not meet any of my expectations. The eggs were not runny, they were scrambled dry. The cheese did not melt and becoming stringy. The black beans where folded into the eggs to such an extent that you couldn’t distinguish the flavours and textures. The placement of the condiments was bizarre since you needed to scrape them off in order to cut into the huevos.

If I lived in the neighbourhood, I might frequent this spot but as Leslieville is filled with brunch spots (Lady Marmalade and Bonjour Brioche to name two excellent spots) I think that would be a poor choice.

Happy munching!

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!

Aunties & Uncles

We all have those restaurants that we pass on a daily or weekly basis that look interesting and cause us to think, “I really should try that place.” My place like that was Aunties & Uncles.

Aunties & Uncles is around the corner from GC’s work so I have been seeing it regularly for the past 6 years. Every time I pass it, whether it be morning or afternoon, during the week or a weekend, it is packed. Finally, after 6 years, we decided to see what all the fuss was about. The first time we tried to go, we arrived about half an hour after it opened and the place was packed with a lineup about 6 people deep. We decided to move along. Our second attempt was a success. We arrived right as the restaurant opened and were immediately seat.

IMG_1025This restaurant is kistchy and cute. It has an assortment retro kitchenware, memorabilia and vintage furniture. It is cozy, nostalgic and comfortable. This comfort translates into the food and makes for food that warms your belly and your soul.

GC ordered the Breakfast Pocket.

IMG_1026 IMG_1027The Breakfast Pocket with scrambled eggs, peameal bacon, cheddar, tomato and caramelized onions with dijon and aioli on a foccacia.

I ordered the Breakfast Tacos.

IMG_1028 IMG_1029The Breakfast Tacos with scrambled eggs, pinto beans, cheddar, house-made chorizo sausage and cilantro sour cream on soft corn tortillas.

Tacos should be eaten at every meal of the day. This is the best breakfast taco I have had. It perfectly combines breakfast items with taco awesomeness. The eggs and cheddar are breakfast items that meld wonderfully with all the Mexican-taco goodness. My favourite part was how the cilantro was incorporated into the sour cream. It makes for a creamy, citrus sauce. I would drizzle, dip and coat everything in this sauce. These are delicious and I want to eat them again and again.

We both loved this restaurant. It is simple, cozy and has delicious food – the great way to spend a weekend morning. After our brunch we headed over to the Evergreen Brick Works for the Junction Flea, the farmer’s market and a walk.

IMG_1032 IMG_1035Happy munching!

 

Lady Marmalade

On Tuesday morning we enjoyed brunch at Lady Marmalade. We decided to hit up this popular East-end brunch spot during the week to avoid the notorious crowds. We arrived a little before 10 am and the restaurant was about half full. By the time we left, the restaurant was full – even on a Tuesday morning!

The restaurant has a mix-match of tables and chairs, all looking like they are from the 1960s or your Nonna’s basement. We sat at a large, round table with an enamel flower pattern on top. Each table had a different set of salt and pepper shakers adding to the vintage, Nonna’s basement vibe. The coffee cups were Pyrex mugs with floral patterns. This restaurant is cute, vintage and cozy.

GC ordered the B.A.B. Baguette with the soup of the day.

IMG_0393The B.A.B. Baguette with brie, avocado and bacon topped with spinach, red onion and mango salsa.

The soup of the day: tomato fennel.

GC loved the flavours of this sandwich. It was sweet, salty and creamy. His only complaint was that avocado and mango are both slippery so his toppings were all over the place on his sandwich.

The soup was delicious. The tomatoes were roasted and and sweet. The fennel was bitter, with a licorice taste that worked nicely with the tomato. It was a traditional, Italian combination of flavours and it was tasty in soup form.

I ordered the Huevos Migas.

IMG_0396 IMG_0398The Huevos Migas with 3 soft-scrambled eggs with cheese, sausage, tomatoes and scallions served with brown rice, smashed beans, sour cream, pico de gallo salsa and organic tortilla chips.

Any time I can have Mexican for breakfast I am down. This was an incredibly filling and delicious breakfast. The rice and beans were nutty and slightly sweet. The soft-scrambled eggs were an amazing way to serve the eggs. They were creamy and were folded with cheese, sausage, tomatoes and scallions. The addition of these ingredients took this from being your regular huevos rancheros to being a full-fledged breakfast. This bowl was great eating with a fork or eating with the still-warm tortilla chips.

We both enjoyed our brunches and were filled for an afternoon of hiking around waterfalls in Hamilton. We checked out Devil’s Punchbowl and Albion Falls.

IMG_0402IMG_0404 IMG_0406Would I recommend this place? Yes. Would I wait in stereotypical weekend lineups for over an hour? Probably not. Lady Marmalade is delicious and has a huge variety of breakfast foods. It’s definitely worth checking out but avoid weekend lineups – they easily ruin a brunch experience. If we had had to wait for our brunch I probably wouldn’t have liked my breakfast as much. Week day brunch staycations are the way to go.

Happy munching!

Barrio Coreano

The holidays have come and gone and that means life can return to normal. Normal to me means eating good food with good people: on Wednesday night Cynthia and I went to Barrio Coreano.

Barrio Coreano is Playa Cabana‘s fourth restaurant that is Korean-Mexican fusion food. The vibe is the same as their other locations: funky, eclectic and a mix of found items and repurposed items. The menus are written on the wall without descriptions, a trend I hate, but we have an overly excitable server who explained every menu item in depth. We started out with cocktails and guacamole, a must at any Mexican restaurant. We then had three tacos each ($5/taco, pretty standard) and more cocktails.

The Yuzu Tuna taco.

Yuzu Tuna TacoPhoto Credit: Toronto Life
The Yuzu Tuna taco with tempura fried ahi tuna with jicama, purple cabbage slaw and yuzu dressing.

The fish was flaky, tender and slightly sweet in a gentle covering of batter. The slaw was sweet and crunchy. The jalapeno peppers added a kick of heat that added a deeper layer of flavour and cohesion to the taco. This was tasty but still, my favourite fish taco is still at La Carnita.

The Grilled Octopus with Wasabi Salsa.

Octopus TacoPhoto Credit: Toronto Life
Grilled octopus taco with wasabi, daikon and avocado pico de gallo.

The octopus was tender and citrusy, grilled lightly to ensure it wasn’t rubbery and tough. The wasabi added a unique heat to the taco which added a deeper level of depth of flavour then your traditional heat inducers don’t add. The avocado added creaminess. The flavours and textures of this taco were complex but working in perfect harmony together.

The Korean Beef Taco Beef TacoPhoto Credit: Toronto Life
Korean Beef taco with Korean barbecue beef with house-pickled pears

This was my favourite of the three tacos. The beef was tender and easy to bite into. It was juicy and the sauce was spicy but sweet. Korean flavours start of as sweet and then hit you with a subtle heat that builds through the meal. The house-pickled pears reinforced the Korean theme of the taco and add a fresh, cool, crispiness that helped ease the spicy burn with every bite.

I really enjoyed my meal here. The cocktails were different and unique, but still well priced. The tacos had a real depth of flavour that made them complex but still enjoyable and not too overpowering. And of course, the company was unparalleled.

Definitely worth the trip to Koreatown – happy munching!

 

Playa Cabana Cantina… Again…

I am determined to try all the tacos at Playa Cantina. We went for tacos (yes, tadalafil again) last weekend and I enjoyed three new tacos.

IMG_4662The Venera Frita: Fried scallop, drug toronja salsita, try pickled jicama

IMG_4770The Langosta: Half lobster, platano coleslaw

IMG_4771The Pulpo: Chipotle grilled octopus, Spanish chorizo pico

My favourite was the pulpo. It was a perfect combination of spice and texture. It was extremely filling. I typically order 3 tacos but if the pulpo is one of them, I suggest you order just 2.

Happy munching!