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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Rickshaw Bar

A few weeks ago I met up with my friend Lynsey for some gossip and some South/Southeast Asian street food from Rickshaw Bar on Queen Street West.

We met up at 5:30pm only to realize the restaurant did not open until 6:00pm. I understand why the restaurant opens at 6 o’clock, but you would think they would try to capture the immediate after-work-crowd? I guess there isn’t an after-work-crowd in that area?  We loitered outside on Queen Street for half an hour, people and dog watching, and leaning on hipster bikes. We were seated quickly and there was only one other couple who made the same mistake as us. The restaurant filled very quickly, and by about 7 o’clock it was full.

The restaurant is very simple: smooth concrete floors, simple wooden tables, exposed brick walls with traces of graffiti and tagging, a long dark bar running the length of the restaurant and industrial copper pipe lighting. We were seated at the first table of the long row of banquette seating and were ready to enjoy some food. Like many restaurants in Toronto, Rickshaw is a sharing/tapas style restaurant so we were able to sample across the menu.

I have to mention our server. Or servers with an “s” I should say. When we were first seated, Server #1 seemed great. He was engaging, excited about the food and made suggestions on the menu. He was understanding about my allergies and checked with the kitchen regarding preparation and accommodation of this. Ok, great. A great server can be the difference in feeling comfortable, safe and happy while dining out with an allergy, especially when you have a nut allergy at an Asian restaurant. We tried to order various beef-related dishes (Ismaili beef curry, khao shay, Makai curry) but everything with beef is prepared with cashews and therefore is off-limits to me. Server #1 didn’t make this connection that all the beef is prepared together and that this might be an issue. He had to return to the kitchen several times to confirm if beef dishes contained nuts. We tried to order the khao shay which he said might contain nuts and he would check with the kitchen. He asked for a substitute order in case the khao shay contained nuts so we requested the lamb mishkaki. SERVER #1 NEVER CAME BACK. Not to tell us that yes, in fact because the khao shay is prepared with all the other beef and it will have nuts or that because of this, he had put in our alternate order. FINE.

Then Server #2 came to our table and asked if we would like anything else. We said Server #1 was checking on something for us and that we had another order coming. Server #2 offered to check on that for us. Server #2 actually came back and said no, your replacement order was never put in with the kitchen and no, you unfortunately you cannot order anything with beef because all beef is prepared together. From that point on, Server #2 was our server. I don’t know how or why this switch occurred but I am glad it did. He took care of us for the rest of our meal. He brought us the lamb mishkaki and our desserts. I left a larger tip then I normally would because we were abandoned and then saved by Server #2.

Back to the food. To start we had the Scallop Puri.

IMG_5965The Scallop Puri with scallop tartare, spiced puffed rice, cucumber, chili oil and lime.

This is a beautiful and simple dish. I love the bowl it is served on with its low sides and leaf-like shape, transporting you to a South-East Asian jungle, as if you are enjoying street food, roadside on the edge of a dark and mysterious jungle on a giant tropical leaf from the trees contained in the jungle. The puffs of rice are crunchy, light and with a slightly nuttiness from the rice. The scallop tartare is almost non-existent. You get a bite of fishiness, none of the texture or butteriness of scallops and then it is overwhelmed by spicy citrusy notes. I did enjoy this but it will not satisfy scallop or tartare cravings your may have.

Then we had the Pakora Fritters.

IMG_5966The Pakora Fritters with potato, zucchini, onion, apple and green chutney.

These were delicious. They were very similar in texture and taste to the squash fritters at Sabai Sabai. The vegetables were grated into thick strands that were then battered and fried. The coating was crispy, light and not greasy. It didn’t overwhelm the subtle flavours of the potato and zucchini. The natural flavours of the vegetables were able to compliment the batter, and offer the first tastes of summer. The chutney was fruity and played up the bright flavours of the zucchini.

Next we had the Spiced Coconut Chicken.

IMG_5967The Spiced Coconut Chicken with green peas, curry leaves and cilantro.

This was my favourite dish of the night. The broth was creamy and thick from the coconut milk and had a touch of sweetness to it. The sweetness mellowed the spiciness of the dish, which allowed the spices to gradually build and the flavor to slowly intensify. Hidden in the luscious broth were tender pieces of chicken that fell part so easily when grazed by a fork or spoon. Ordering rice on the side allows the broth and chicken come together as more of a cohesive whole on a bed of rice, making it more of an entrée rather than a soup. Don’t order the rice if you want to eat as much as possible and not fill up on plain carbs.

And lastly we had the Lamb mishkaki.

IMG_5968The Lamb Mishkaki with grilled lamb, tamarind, mint chimichurri and naan.

Lamb is one of those meats that I have a difficult relationship with. No, it has nothing to do with ethical reasons (I am a horrible person, I know. Did I mention I love veal?) it is the flavor. I don’t mind the taste, I just always forget what it tastes like. Whenever I have the first bite of something with lamb I think “oh right, that is what lamb tastes like.” But that did not happen this time. This time I LOVED the lamb.

It was tender and soft, and had a lighter flavor to it. The lamb is marinated in yogurt which gives it a bit of sweetness and adds to the tenderness. The chimichurri added a floral brightness to the lamb and the naan was a crispy yet doughy plate for it all to sit on. If you like lamb, you definitely need to order this. And if you are like me and you are not sure if you like lamb, you will like it like this.

Although we were absolutely stuffed, we of course ordered dessert. Lynsey had the crispy milk pastry and I had the coconut panna cotta.

IMG_5969Crispy milk pastry with milk, cardamom, almonds and rose petals and the coconut panna cotta with coconut, pineapple and lime.

The panna cotta was light, milky with hints of tropical fruit. It was absolutely delicious and easily rivals any traditional Italian panna cotta I’ve eaten. Although I was absolutely stuffed this did not push me over the edge.

Our meal at Rickshaw was delicious and I would definitely return. The food is accessible but still different from both your every day cuisine and traditional South East Asian food. It expands your horizon to what street food can be and transport you to the crowded street markets of Asia with every bite.

Happy munching!

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Uno Mustachio

One of my favourite parts of my new job is the proximity to St. Lawrence Market. Before I worked at Yonge and King, discount I was forced to visit the market on Saturdays due to the less than convenient hours. The market on Saturdays is an unbearable event. It is crowded, ambulance people are violently shoving you out of their way as they try and sample their 18th pretzel with Kozlik’s mustard and you can’t spend time looking at the bounty in front of you. Because I was visiting on the busiest days of the week, I would try and make my visits to the market as short as possible: a quick dart, in and out, to pick up a fancy cookie cutter, a bagel with lox and cream cheese or a tube of cured meat. I had no idea about the amazingness of the prepared foods in the basement of the market.

Until now. The basement of St. Lawrence is truly what makes the market amazing and contributes to its title from National Geographic as the world’s best food market. The basement houses all sorts of food stalls where you can buy prepared menu items to enjoy in the food court downstairs or one of the many picnic tables surrounding the building outside. My first visit to the basement of the market left me with an order of pierogis from European Delight ($4.25/dozen) and I was hooked. I knew I slowly had to discover the halls of the basement and see what other deliciousness it had in store for me.

Last week I visited Uno Mustachio in search of a sandwich.

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It should be noted that I am fairly loyal to California Sandwiches and have eaten dozens, if not hundreds of sandwiches from them. I even had to delete the Uber Eats app from my phone at one time because I was ordering too many chicken parm sandwiches. Yes, I have re-downloaded the app and have since ordered more sandwiches.

But when I saw something called the Godfather on Uno Mastachio’s menu I knew it had to be good. Uno Mustachio doesn’t limit you to just a chicken/veal parmigiana or an eggplant parmigiana sandwich. They allow you to get BOTH and have a name for it so you don’t feel like a ridiculous, glutinous human being! I ordered my Godfather sandwich with veal and all the fixings (roasted red peppers, sautéed onions, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted jalapeno peppers) and this garnered me much respect from the older Italian gentleman who rang through my order.

This sandwich is unreal. The pieces of veal are generously massive, spilling g over the sides of the Kaiser bun. The veal is crispy but the breading is a light coating, it is not overly greasy or too heavy to stick to the meat. The veal itself is thin and moist. The meat is tender and easily bites off intact with its coating. The eggplant is thinly sliced, avoiding any of the fibrous starchiness that is common with eggplant parmigiana.
The toppings are the right mix of flavours and textures. The combination of both sweet and hot peppers adds a kick and sweetness with each bite, playing on the same flavours found in the sauce. There is a generous smear of sauce on the bun but not in excess that will result in sauce flying everywhere. You could wear a white shirt while eating this sandwich.

This sandwich blew me away and was incredibly filling. I obviously finished the whole thing even though it was the size of my head and then I felt like a whale immediately after. I will definitely be having another one of these sandwiches (not with much frequency as I am trying not to have a heart attack before 30) and I think my California Sandwiches days are over.

Happy munching!

Provo Foodbar

Every time I go to the AGO I wonder, patient “Why are there not more restaurant options near this gallery?” My last visit to the AGO was proceeded by a visit to Mother’s Dumplings for lunch as I couldn’t think of a better option closer by – which if I am completely wrong about this, please let me know. But no longer will I have to trek from College and Spadina before or after the gallery in search of food. I can now go across the street to Provo Foodbar.

I went to Provo last Friday night with my friend Lynsey, to catch up about the drama of life over delicious food and drink. Provo opened earlier this year and has been popping up all over my Instagram feed ever since.

Our reservation was for 5:30 and we were seated at a small table near the front of the restaurant. There were a few people there as the after-work crowd shuffled in but it was relatively quiet for early on a Friday night. I would imagine (and hope) that is gets much busier as the night wears on.  The restaurant is deceptively large, with large windows that open at the front of the restaurant onto Dundas Street making the front half of the restaurant seem almost patio-like. There is a long bar anchoring the middle of the restaurant, and more seating at the back of the restaurant up a few steps. It is a huge space that could definitely host an intimate date-night dinner or a large group of friends for any occasion.

We started off with cocktails. Lynsey had the A.G.O.M.G (Smirnoff vodka, prosecco, maraschino, lavender and pomegranate) and I had the Middle Daughter (Bombay sapphire gin, elderflower, vanilla, grapefruit and lemon). The A.G.O.M.G is to be pronounced AGOhmygod and not as “agomg”. The prosecco and maraschino make this cocktail extremely sweet. When the prosecco falls flat the drink becomes almost unbearable to drink. But of course you do because there is alcohol in it. The Middle Daughter on the other hand is a beautifully balanced, strong cocktail. It tastes like spring in a glass – it is fresh, with floral notes and citrus zing to it. I could drink about 30 of these but then I would likely be on the floor. After my one cocktail I switched to beers by Collective Arts Brewing.

We ordered 6 different plates to share. We started with two different types of crostini: the Duck Confit Rillette and the White Anchovy and Oven Dried Tomato.

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Both of these were absolutely amazing and captured different seasonal flavours. The Duck Confit Rillette was hearty, smoky and had a richness to it which is perfect for warming up on a cool spring night. It was the right consistency to be spread thickly across the toasted and crispy crostini. It was priced just right – $6.00 for a small pot of rillette and four crostini. The rillettes was more than enough to be spread across four crostini, and we had extra rillette leftover which we obviously spread across other things because you can’t let good food go to waste.

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The white anchovy and oven dried tomato crostini tasted like Italian summer nights. The tomato was blistered and slight caramelized, allowing that sweetness to ooze out of the charred skin and onto the crostini. The tomato was dotted with garlic which was slightly peppery. The white anchovy added the saltiness to the crostini that brought out further sweetness of the tomatoes but were not overly fishy. This is definitely a crostini that easily can and will be recreated at home with fresh tomatoes from the garden.

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Little Fin

I am slowly discovering my new neighbourhood at work: there are trips to St. Lawrence Market to gawk at cheese and meat, wanderings down to the lake to soak up some sun and getting lost on side streets that you otherwise wouldn’t notice unless you pass them ever day.

A few weeks ago I wandered down a side street, Temperance Street, which is just south of Richmond. This little street is being obscured by construction but is the location of Little Fin. Little Fin is a restaurant that I have been eyeing on Instagram since it opened in October 2014 and have been drooling over and wondering when I would get to try ever since.

The restaurant is small, with a nautical/East-Coast vibe to it including marlins on the wall and fresh lobsters walking around in their sea water tank. You order at the counter and then wait in anticipation for your number to be called. On a Friday afternoon the wait was about 20 minutes which isn’t crazy but in the future it might be better to order ahead.

I ordered the Lobster Roll.

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Yes, I contemplated ordering the fried chicken BLT but I thought rationally that the first time trying something at a seafood restaurant, I should probably order the seafood.

The sandwich is $16.00 which seems a little pricey but is fairly standard for a lobster roll: the lobster roll at Buster’s Sea Cove in St. Lawrence Market is $15.00. For your $16.00 you get your choice of sides and I chose the garlic potato wedges and the house salad.
This sandwich looks beautiful but unfortunately, did not have enough lobster for my liking. Half of the sandwich was filled with lettuce, to give the illusion that it is filled with lobster when really it is not. The lobster salad itself it good: large chunks of lobster, fresh dill, small pieces of celery to give the right crunch to the softness of the sandwich and topped with fresh green onion giving a hint of heat and freshness to the sandwich. I would like this sandwich more if it was all lobster, with little to no lettuce but that would probably cost me $40.00.

The garlic potato wedges were amazing. I am not a huge fan of potatoes (much to GC’s chagrin). I hate home fries and baked potatoes, would much rather have rice than mashed potato, scalloped potatoes are eaten as a vehicle for cheese and French fries are often left to grow cold and limp on my plate or at the bottom of my take-out bag. But these wedges. These could convert me to being a potato person. The wedges are sweet and garlicky, with the right amount of kick from the garlic but not the amount that would give you the breath to ward off vampires and attract Italian Nonnas. The outside is crispy and tough with the skin still being on the potato but the inside is fluffy and starchy. These are a definite must as a side to anything ordered from Little Fin.

The house salad is a safe bet – nothing remarkable but solid and fresh. The next time I visit I will be trying the seaweed salad.

Little Fin is a cute spot that is quick and convenient for me to indulge in seafood during my lunch hour. As an indulgence it will be saved for pay days and definitely not once a month. I will likely not be having the lobster roll again but I wouldn’t say no to trying the crispy haddock sandwich or fried chicken BLT. Oh, and they do breakfast and have a chicken-waffle sandwich. So yes, I think it is safe to say I would be trying a few more items off this menu. Eventually.

Happy munching!

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!

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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Café Neon

My first brunch of 2016 was at Café Neon, health a restaurant listed by BlogTO as one of the best new brunch places of 2015.

Café Neon is a long, case narrow restaurant on West Queen West that is essentially a coffee shop taking it up a notch and serving food beyond scones and pastries. The interior features cozy tables and tiny booths. There is a large counter located near the front of the restaurant to order various coffees and espresso-based drinks from. The restaurant has a very coffee-house vibe to it: cozy, intimate, with eclectic art and design.

There is actual tableside service which is not always the case with restaurants serving more than coffee. Our server was energetic and excited about their menu which in turn, made us very excited. We hemmed and hawed over the menu and then with prodding from the server I ordered the Eggs Benny.

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IMG_5338The Eggs Benny with two poached eggs and smoked pulled pork on a scone with béarnaise sauce, salad greens and potatoes. Continue reading