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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Maker Pizza… again.

Yes, I went to Maker Pizza two weekends in a row and yes, I had the Bodega sandwich both times. But this time, we split the Bodega and ordered a small pizza to share. I don’t think that is an argument in my favour for health and fitness but it is definitely an argument in my favour for good life choices in delicious food.

We ordered the Porkys but this is what came out to us.IMG_5869No, that is not pork, it is mushrooms and lots of them. Although I love mushrooms and mushroom pizzas, not everyone in attendance that afternoon loves them. When I returned to the counter to clarify my order, the woman behind the counter said, “Oh, ok. Sorry about that. Just keep it. I’ll bring out your order shortly.” HELLS YES. I already was in love with Maker Pizza but now I am completely sold on them.

The pizza that was brought to us was the So Mushroom: honey mushrooms, mascarpone, chopped garlic, grana padano, sea salt and pepper.

Oh. My. God. This is the best mushroom pizza I have ever had and one of the best pizzas I have ever had. Unlike other Neapolitan pizzas, this crust is slightly thicker and completely cooked through to the middle of the pizza. There is none of that your toppings will slide off the centre and burn your face nonsense that can often happen with this style of pizza. The crust itself is salty, doughy and has subtle yeasty flavour to it. It is the best pizza dough I have tasted. The dough is all made by a guy named Kevin who’s name adorns every box of pizza. At first I thought this was a play on Home Alone and Kevin McCallister’s love of cheese pizza but quickly learned that Kevin is Maker Pizza’s pizza maker and he knows what he is doing.

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I loved the mushrooms on this pizza. The honey mushrooms are thin and papery, melting as soon as they touch your tongue. I love any mushroom that looks like a toadstool; they have a whimsical quality about them which almost makes them taste more woody and earthy. The cheese was creamy, milky and thick and was wrapped up in flavours of pepper and garlic.

I want to eat this pizza again and again and again.

Once I was almost too full on pizza, the Porkys came out and I obviously had to have a slice of that too.

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The Porkys with pork shoulder sugo, stracciatella, basil, garlic, chili peppers, grand Padano, sea salt and pepper.

Again, another delicious pizza. The pork shoulder had a pulled-pork consistency, wrapped up in delicious tomato sauce rather than barbecue. It added a slightly fruity acidity to the richness of the white pizza, which you don’t often find; most white pizzas feature more veggies than meat.

Yes, for those of you keeping track, as this point I had enjoyed half a Bodega sandwich, a slice of So Mushroom pizza and a slice of Porkys pizza. I was obviously stuffed but took my leftovers home and waited anxiously to eat the next bites of this pizza. Even now, I am thinking about my next bite. Maybe this weekend, make it three in a row?

Happy munching!

Niagara-on-the-Lake 2016

A few weeks ago we had a belated one-year anniversary brunch with my parents in Niagara. The reason we were about 6 months behind was because in the fall JDL had his knee replaced and then who wants to go to Niagara in the winter?

The day started with a visit to Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s first bio-dynamic winery. We tasted a flight of four different wines, two whites and two reds, each highlighting the unique growing conditions and techniques at Southbrook. Our server was incredibly knowledgeable, having studied cuisine and wine at Niagara College. He was well spoken on the interplay between wine and food, something I completely lack and admire in other people.

After a few tastes of wine, we headed over to Trius Winery for our celebratory brunch. The brunch at Trius is a three-course tasting menu with the option to pair each course with wine as selected by the restaurant. Mom, being the classy and knowledgeable person she is, made her choices based on the wine; everyone else made their choices based on the food.

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The dining room at Trius has been recently redone, featuring bold furniture in yellows and reds. The main dining room features huge spherical light fixtures that resemble fireworks exploding in a night sky. The dining rooms open out onto a patio which overlooks the vineyards. In early April this is not quiet the focal point that it is in the summer. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, which was a little more private and with a view of the courtyard and vineyards.

After we were seated, we were immediately greeted with glasses of Trius Brut Rosé – all brunches should start with pink bubbly. It should be noted that this is apparently supposed to serve as a palate cleanser between courses and should last the length of your meal, not gulped down shortly after the first course like mine was. Oops. It was just too tasty to not enjoy that quickly.

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Maker Pizza – The Bodega

I’m currently on a huge sandwich kick: I’ve been eating various iterations of Cubano sandwiches, I recently munched a lobster roll from Buster’s Sea Cove in St. Lawrence Market, I’m planning a burger date in the next week or so with my pal Lynsey and I’ve been eating copious amounts of breaded chicken sandwiches from California Sandwiches thanks to Uber Eats.

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While the excessive eating of Uber Eats has to stop (or I at least have to walk to California Sandwiches location that is 10 minutes away from my house), the sandwich eating does not. Sandwiches are the most convenient way to eat meat and cheese. On the weekend GC and I put this theory to the test and headed down to Maker Pizza to try their sandwiches. Yes, we went to a pizza joint to eat sandwiches but I suggest you do too. We both ordered the Bodega which is arguably one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten.

IMG_5815The Bodega with mortadella, ham, turkey, salami, mozzarella, provolone, tomato, white onion, iceberg lettuce, roasted red pepper, roasted jalapeno, pepperoncini, sub sauce and served on a sesame bun.

This sandwich is as intimidating, epic and ridiculous as it looks. Despite having four types of deli meat (which I now think all sandwiches should), the sandwich is not greasy or heavy. This is because the veggie portion of the sandwich is made into a slaw with a vinegary tartness to it, which lightens the sandwich. By making the vegetables into a slaw, you do not have any of that wet, sliminess that can sometimes happen with having lettuce on a sandwich – which is why GC does not put lettuce on his sandwiches. The lettuce doesn’t shift and pull with each bite, leaving your sandwich intact until the very last bite. The jalapeño and pepperoncini add a nice level of heat to the sandwich which also helps break up the greasiness of the deli meat. The heat doesn’t overpower the sandwich or your palate, simply highlights the peppery tastes of the mortadella and salami. The cheese combination is perfect. Provolone and mozzarella play together to create a smoky and creamy cheese duet that can stand up against the strong flavours of the meat quartet.

I fell in love with this sandwich and Maker Pizza. I am already planning my next date with this sandwich (hopefully this Saturday) and future picnics that will happen in Alexandra Park with various pizzas from this restaurant.

Happy munching!

Antler

Sunday morning was cold, snowy and dreary so it only seemed logical to brave this ridiculous April weather for some brunch. We headed down to Dufferin and Dundas to try brunch at Antler with our friends Renée and Sean.

Photo Credit: BlogTO’s review of Antler

Antler is unassuming from the street: the restaurant’s frontage is a large, simple window surrounded by what is now black painted wood and with simple yellow block letters spelling out the restaurant’s name. The large window looks immediately on to bar seating at the window, allowing passers-by on the street to be tempted by the beautiful food inside. The restaurant has that cozy, hipster restaurant vibe that has exploded all over Toronto: exposed brick walls, pew seating, simple textiles, large reflective surfaces to give the illusion of a larger restaurant and industrial lighting.

Antler’s tagline is “Inspired Canadian Cuisine. Regional Ingredients.” which was part of the reason for choosing it. I’m always intrigued by restaurants that are trying to help create a national cuisine by using local and seasonal ingredients. The menu features ingredients like boar, bison, foraged mushrooms and foraged black walnuts. These ingredients are hearty, abundant and reflective of the country they are made in. They can also be used in a variety of different ways, highlighting their versatility and range of flavours and textures.

Renée ordered the House Baked Granola (pictured clockwise to the right).

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Note: I have started following chocojanna on Instagram because everything is beautiful, Toronto and food which are my three favourite things.

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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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The Pressed Cubano from La Cubana

When you are in school the easiest lunch is a sandwich. It is quick, and easy and portable. But sandwiches can become routine and boring, pill topped with the same meats, generic cheeses and condiments. There is typically one type of meat, one type of cheese and maybe mayo and mustard. In elementary school it was a turkey breast or ham sandwich with Havarti and mayo. No mustard. I hate mustard. In university, it was an everything bagel, topped with herb and garlic cream cheese, spinach, tomato and sometimes ham. Now lunches consist of soup or leftovers but rarely sandwiches unless they are bought out.

A few weeks ago I was walking down Ossington Avenue with Giancarlo looking for a spot to grab a coffee. We decided to pop into the La Cubana expecting to be greeted with the brunch menu familiar to us from the Ronscevalles location. This location is very different. It is a long, narrow restaurant with a counter for ordering. The menu consists of sandwiches with some plates but no brunch. The only thing resembling brunch is the breakfast sandwiches on weekends made on weekends.

Disappointed, but still hungry, we both opted to order the Pressed Cubano.

IMG_5603The Pressed Cubano with ham, pork, gruyere, red onion, cornichon, grainy mustard and mayo.

This killed my coffee craving. The sandwich was buttery and cheesy. The pickle and mustard added complimentary tang that worked with the sweet tartness of the onion. The gruyere added a nutty taste and the ham and pork were fatty and delicious. This sandwich is the perfect snack while wandering this neighbourhood. However, if I am craving a Cubano/cubana sandwich I will be visiting San Cosme in Kengsinton Market and I am craving La Cubana I will be visiting the Ronscevalles location for brunch.

Happy munching!

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!!!

Bar Buca

When you’ve eaten your way through most brunch restaurants in Toronto you get tired of seeing the same thing on every menu. I can make your standard bacon and eggs big breakfast that appears at every restaurant and to be frank with you, I like my eggs better. Now when I go for brunch I am looking for something more; I am looking for something different. This fits the description of Bar Buca.

I first went to Bar Buca back in February for brunch with Cynthia. Bar Buca is sleek and modern, using slick materials like marble, steel and concrete. It very much captures the look of contemporary and upscale Italy. You could easily picture this restaurant juxtaposed against the historic streets in Rome. There is an espresso bar at the front of the restaurant that brews coffee for dine-in and take-out. There is a long, wooden chair rail that wraps around the front of the restaurant. The tables are high bar tables with smooth wooden tops and stool seating. There is a long marble bar with leather stools and overlooks the tiny, open-concept kitchen. Seating is limited and communal, a concept I support. I will gladly take sitting with strangers if it means I can enjoy good food instead of waiting in line.

We were seated at the marble bar, drooling over the fresh foccaccia that was coming out of the oven in a steady stream.

I ordered the Ammazza Fegato.

IMG_3303The Ammazza Fegato with Tuscan offal sausage, farro, cavolo nero, king oyster and a poached farm egg.

This is rich and decadent. The farro is meaty, with a slightly crunchy grit to it. It is swimming in a pool of butter. The king oyster mushrooms are woodsy and fleshy. They add a silky meatiness to the base of this dish. The egg is nested and protected in one of the best sausages I have ever eaten. Offal refers to a combination of organ meats and this combination creates a juicy and evenly flavoured sausage. When I slice into the egg, it oozes all over the sausage and mixes with the butter and farro and creates this thick and creamy sauce.

This is one of the best breakfast I have eaten.

Cynthia ordered the Uova Rossa.

IMG_3301The Uova Rossa with duck egg yolk, bay scallop, crisp potato and scallions.

The duck yolk is thick and creamy. The scallops add a sweet ocean flavour to the dish. They are salty and fresh. The potatoes add a crunchiness and the scallions are freshness.

The highlight of the brunch: we were seating at the bar with a single seat on either side of us. The manager came over and asked us how we enjoyed our breakfast. I assumed that because we are adorable (obviously Cynthia, not me) he was just being polite. He proceeded to ask us if we could move seats and it would be worth our will. He brought over a beautiful, perfectly round bombolone filled with vanilla cream and rolled in cinnamon sugar.

IMG_3692All I have to do to get a free donut is move over one stool? OBVIOUSLY. This is the best donut I have ever eaten. It was still warm from being fried. It is filled with a thick and luscious cream, with the most aromatic vanilla flavour I have had in any dessert. The cinnamon sugar is lightly covering the entire surface of the donut. The donut itself is airy and light.

I only* (coffee is slowly becoming a necessity in my life despite having always made a conscious effort to not be a coffee drinker) drink coffee when I go for brunch. And Italians know coffee. Bar Buca is an amazing place to get your coffee fix. They serve their coffee with a sugar that is a mix of espresso crema and sugar. This is basically crack. It is thick, creamy and the right balance between coffee bite and sugary sweetness.

This donut and that coffee was the reason I wanted to return to Bar Buca with my favourite Italian, GC.

GC ordered the Carbonara Schiacciata or stuffed foccaccia.

IMG_3689The Carbonara Schiacciata with guanciale, farm eggs, crotonese and black pepper.

This sandwich. The foccaccia is light but at the same time dense. It is salty and is subtly piney from the rosemary. The egg is partially broken and spread thinly across the bread. Guanciale is a cured Italian meat made from pork jowl and the use of this meat adds a salty briny flavour to the sandwich, rather than a smoky taste which would be derived from using a meat like prosciutto. The crotonese cheese is salty and nutty, but more subtle and sweet than most Italian sheep cheeses.

I ordered the Coniglio Alla Milanese.

IMG_3690The Coniglio Alla Milanese with rabbit loin, prosciutto, smoked mozzarella and fresh gremolata.

Rabbit is not my favourite meat. I find it too much work for what you get. But this. This is how I can eat rabbit. This is essentially an Italian cordon bleu. The rabbit is thinly sliced and is extremely delicate. The prosciutto is even more thinly sliced, draped over the rabbit like tissue paper. The mozzarella is smoky and creamy, it oozes out over the rabbit with each slice and bite. The gremolata adds a fresh, spring citrus element to the rabbit, lightening the dish. The egg floating on top of the rabbit makes this meal breakfast and not dinner.

I am obviously in love with this restaurant. It is an upscale brunch that is not for the faint of heart. I acknowledge that to many, this is not what brunch is about but this is what I am looking for when I go for brunch. Brunch should not be restricted to just eggs and toast. Brunch is just as much of an opportunity to experiment and push boundaries as any other meal. And Bar Buca does that.

Happy munching!

Me & Mine

In the early days of Fall 2014, we visited Me & Mine for brunch. Me & Mine is a cute, small restaurant on College Street West. The interior is very simple and modern, with touches of mid-century modern art. There is plenty of natural light and the light wood of the tables and floors creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. We were seated at a small table at the back of the restaurant near the bar. Coffees and food were served on vintage camping dishes – another rustic, comfortable touch.

I ordered the Brussels Sprouts & Vintage Cheddar Pie.

IMG_1586The Brussels Sprouts & Vintage Cheddar Pie with pickled beet and sage salad.

The pie was fantastic. I love when brunch is actually a combination of breakfast and lunch foods. The crust was flaky, buttery and light. The filling was creamy and cheesy. The Brussels sprouts were roasted nicely – caramelized and slightly crispy on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside. This pie tasted like a Thanksgiving side dish at breakfast time.

As it was brunch it was necessary to order a poached egg on the side. Although the egg was poached nicely it was an awkward side to have ordered – I regretted this decision even though it only cost $2. The whole purpose of eating a poached egg is to have it explode over toast or eggs Benedict and sop up all the delicious lusciousness into your mouth. Not to have your yolk spill into your salad.

I have said it before and I will say it again: salad is not a side for brunch. This time it at least was a logical side, as having home fries accompany a pie would be a ridiculous carb-indulgence.

GC ordered The Breakfast.The Breakfast with house cured pork belly, pork sausage link two poached eggs, toast and compound butter, roasted potatoes and salad.

This is your standard big-breakfast on another level. All bacon should be house cured pork belly and all breakfast sausages should be this thick, meaty and juicy. If you are looking for something a little different in your brunch, but not too different or unconventional, check out Me & Mine.

My only criticism: while we were settling up our bill they asked if we wanted to take dessert to go. Of course we were tempted. The desserts available were peanut butter cookies (obviously not) and butter tarts. I asked if the butter tarts had nuts and I was told no so we ordered 2 to go. We get home and GC goes for the first bite and of course, there was walnuts in my butter tarts. This is incredibly irresponsible. Obviously, if you have a severe allergy, you should never take any chances and probably never even risk eating out but I also operate under the impression that restaurants are responsible and employee somewhat competent employees. WRONG. That’s ok. I’ll stick with the pies and breakfasts, GC said they were better anyway.

Happy munching!