Tag Archives: Food

Stratford, Ont. – Traditional with a Twist

The city’s magnificent City Hall.

I had not been to Stratford, Ont., for a few years and this time I was surprised by some great food, chocolate (in a realm of its own) and a marvelous transportation option. Getting there was a breeze. You can hop on a $29 bus from downtown Toronto as long as you have purchased a theatre ticket. So relaxing!

Welcoming cocktails at The (Old) Prune’s Bar 151.

After the two-hour bus ride, which picked me up at 10 a.m. from in front of the InterContinental Hotel, it was time for lunch. The (Old) Prune was located in the historic downtown in a lovely old house that has been remodeled. Casual yet sophisticated, they offered locally inspired cuisine and the newest addition, Bar 151 offered creative cocktails.

Delectable garden radishes.

I sampled a number of dishes including garden radishes with wasabi butter and sea salt, mussels escabeche, and foie gras & chicken liver mousse (restaurant owner Shelley Windsor’s favorite. “I almost gave myself gout, I ate so much one year,” she confided.)

The main plate was spring pea ravioli with morel mushrooms, white sesame and wild leeks. So fresh! Dessert was a delicate chevre cheesecake with macerated rhubarb and fennel. Shelley Windsor, from Cornerbrooke, Newfoundland, and her husband Bill, moved to Stratford 18 years ago from New Brunswick. “We had an opportunity to go to Vancouver or Stratford. We chose lifestyle over career,” says Shelley. But career has taken off, too, and they now own numerous restaurants in town including Mercer Kitchen + Beer Hall. It’s also interesting to point out that the Stratford Chef School, renown for education some of the country’s best chefs, started off in the Prune kitchen.

Gallery Stratford, housed in the old Pump House.
An exhibit by Libby Hague featured provocative wood cuts.

My group, a number of journalists and local Stratford tourism reps, boarded a bus to get to our next destination. It was supplied via Meet Stratford Road Trips. The company offers lots of options to explore the surrounding countryside but we focused on in-town attractions – Gallery Stratford and Stratford Perth Museum. Gallery Stratford is one of Ontario’s longest operating public art galleries, open since 1967. Contemporary exhibitions focus on regional and Canadian art. Located in the former pump house, its a five minute walk from Stratford Festival Theatre and the Avon River. The gallery is open seven days a week, making it a pleasant stop before a matinee. Admission is free but donations are appreciated.

Me and the Biebs.

At Stratford Perth Museum, I walked through the front door and pop phenom Justin Bieber popped out to meet me. Well, his cardboard cutout, that is. The Steps to Stardom exhibit (which runs until November) chronicles the Stratford native’s journey to the top of the charts, starting with busking in front of the Avon Theatre to raise money for a trip to Disney World with his mom. “The exhibit opened last February and lineups started at 6 a.m. People came from all around the world including Paris, Berlin, and Australia. The Belieber Community is really strong online. They took shots, tagged them, and the exhibit grew,” notes Kelly McIntosh, the museum’s administrative co-ordinator.

If you want to be in the heart of the action, there are a couple of downtown boutique hotels to chose from including Bentley’s Lofts, bi-level loft suites, or the Mercer Hotel, with Jacuzzi tubs and faux fireplaces. Both are close to restaurants, shops and all four theatres. I stayed in the Mercer Hotel and loved being able to pop downstairs to shop on Ontario Street’s many unique boutiques.

The Common’s uncommonly delicious green Thai curry.

One dinner to remember was at The Common with Chef Tim Otsuki, a Stratford Chefs School alumnus. The menu was a fustion of Asian, Caribbean and North American dishes featuring many local ingredients. My meal in a bowl was a green Thai curry that had subtle flavours of lemongrass and just the right nip of hot spice.

Chef Eli demonstrates the proper way to dice an onion.
Getting my shallot chop down.
Voila! The perfect French omelette.

At the Stratford Chefs School Open Kitchen you can take a one-off cooking class and our group opted for a champagne breakfast. Latkes with smoked trout, French omelette, and puffed pastry with rhubarb and strawberries was a decadent way to start the day. My biggest takeaway was learning how to make a French omelette. Now I need to practice at home! Thankfully, chef Eli Silverthorne was an excellent and patient instructor.

On the chocolate line at Rheo Thompson Candies.
Mint Smoothie madness – ice cream, coffee, liqueur and tea!
At Rheo Thompson they understand the importance of the giddy up.

The sweetest part of my adventure was a visit to Rheo Thompson Candies. Traditional recipes dating back to the 1930s have made this spot a favourite for locals and visitors alike. The Mint Smoothies were to die for — I especially liked the dark chocolate version with a dark chocolate peppermint center. The company is 50 years old and was bought from original candymaker Rheo Thompson in 1992 by Christine and Mark Steed. Christine was born and raised in Stratford and is adamant about keeping her customers happy. “We don’t monkey with the traditional recipes Rheo Thompson used, especially the Mint Smoothies which we are famous for.” They also make around 150 other confections including pecan patties, humbugs and fruit jellies. Plus, now you can get Mint Smoothie coffee, ice cream and liqueur.

Phil Buhler demonstrates a flight of beer fantasy.

A working man’s kind of place, Jobsite Brewery, is also very family friendly and served great wood oven pizza. Opened last August , the location used to be a lumberyard and inspired the name. The two owners are also agricultural construction dudes (need a manure pit installed?) and converted the site into a brewery in a scant two months. Phil Buhler and Dave Oldenberger view beer production similar to construction. “We love producing a product and seeing people enjoy,” explains Buhler. A cute touch was the different coloured construction nails you use to pick out the beers for a flight. My favourite brew was the Impact IPA with delighful grapefruit notes.

Ash Moore demonstrates the art of the pour at Junction 56.

Junction 56 Distillery is the place to go for creative spirits. Along with vodka, gin and whiskey, they make a Fireshine liqueur with cinnamon, the Rheo Thompson Mint Smoothie liqueur and a rhubarb gin. Owner Mike Heisz worked at Blackberry as an engineer but got tired of making lists of people to lay off. “I wanted to work for myself,” he says noting that now he uses an iPhone. The distillery opened in 2015 and now offers 15 products, five of which are available in the LCBO – vodka, gin, black raspberry gin, Rheo Thompson’s Mint Smoothie (soon to come) and Moonshine.

Being a chocoholic, I couldn’t resist doing Stratford’s Chocolate Trail. For $30 you get six vouchers to trade for delicious treats in various shops. At the MacLeod’s Scottish Shop I scooped some chocolate chip shortbread, at Buzz Stop a quarter-pound bag of Bavarian Chocolate Coffee, at Rheo Thompson four Mint Smoothies, at Olive Your Favourites an aged dark chocolate Balsamic vinegar, at revel coffee cafe a mocha coffee/steamed milk concoction, and at Treasures a jar of Nith Valley Apiary’s cocoa honey. Chocolate heaven!

Chef Ryan O’Donnell at Mercer Kitchen + Beer Hall shows off one of his Asian-inspired creations.
Our server (another Ryan) was in charge of the dessert flights.

Dinner my last night was a Mercer Kitchen + Beer Hall. Executive Chef Ryan O’Donnell is an afficiando of Japanese fusion cuisine and some of the small plates I dug into included Karaage fried chicken pieces, crispy tuna sushi roll, pulled pork toastada with spicy BBQ sauce and a Spider Dog 2.0 with flaming chorizo sausage, Desserts are pretty amazing here, too.

The fantastic Festival Theatre where Billy Elliot was playing.

Theatre is what Stratford is really known for, and that night I witnessed a performance of Billy Elliot at the Festival Theatre. It was top-notch and the actors received a standing ovation.

The beautiful Avon River.

As I climbed on the 11 p.m. bus, that picked me up right at the theatre, I looked forward an easy trip home. But that night the Raptors became NBA champions. Many downtown streets were closed for the jubilant crowds, so the driver dropped us off at Islington subway station. No complaints from me, the subway was still running and I avoided traffic jams.

Stratford is a dining delight, a cultural treasure and beautiful, to boot. Definitely worth the two-hour drive from Toronto. Especially when taking the special Stratford bus!

More Good Eating in Banff

I don’t eat a lot of red meat at home, but when in Rome…or I should say, Alberta, I do. Striking out from the delicious Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, I was determined to see what else the mountain town had to offer. If you want to know where the beef is on Banff Ave., go to Chuck’s Steakhouse. Shortly after sidling past the meat cooler and sitting down, our server showed us a wooden board with different types of beef on the menu, from waygu to prime cut. ChucksTasteoAlbertaOur group’s choice was to share the Taste of Alberta platter with slices of waygu, grass-fed tenderloin and a prime cut. This was casual fine dining and we learned that not only did Benchmark Angus Ranch provide all their top menu items, but the third generation of Muntons, who owned the operation, was sitting a table down from us. Good to know they approved. We did, too.ChucksChef copy Chef Tomas Bustara even agreed to pose for a picture.
The next day, a spirited prelude to lunch was had a Park Distillery. Located on Banff Ave., the main drag, it is the only distillery in a national park in Canada. ParkDistillerySampleTrayDylan Liebe, the bartender, laid out a flight of gins and vodkas, plus an unaged, clear rye. The gin used typical botanicals – juniper, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica, orris root, licorice and cinnamon – but added at top note of spruce tips. My favourite spirit was the vanilla flavoured vodka…very smooth. ParkDistilleryCocktailsThey also do pre-made, bottled cocktails that are barrel aged in ex-bourbon casks for six months, available in their little off-sales shop. The Distillers Series included a Negroni, Glacier Manhatten and Martinez. I was most intrigued with their Observation Peak (not pre-mixed), a cross between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan that Liebe made with rye whisky, dark rum, dry Curaçao, amaro Montenegro, a touch of syrup and then, after whipping out a blow torch, he topped with a smoking cedar square. Now that’s campfire!ParkDistilleryObservationDeck
Just a tad wobbly, we headed up the gondola to the top of Sulfur Mountain and Sky Bistro. GondolaAir copyGondolaPathResto2 copyAt 7,500 feet, the views were stupendous – the generous outdoor wooden walkways and scanning scanning platforms put a shine on the $25 million renovation done two years ago. Anthony Mason, the restaurant’s senior sous chef, greeted us with a big smile and suggested we start lunch with the duck wings.SkyBistroDuckWings Easy to make a meal out of. Butternut squash salad, and fries and aioli followed, washed down with a smooth Liquidity Vignoner.SkyBistroSalad Tanya Otis, a public relations consultant with the destination told us Sky Bistro does regular wine-ticketed events that take over whole bistro. Costs are $149 for seven courses, paired with wine. Sounds like a good deal. “In the summer they use the terrace above for a sunset festival called Mountain Top Yoga with beer and champagne. Nice way to ease into downward dog.
I had been to the Banff Centre for the Arts more than 20 years ago, and it sure looks different now. Twenty per cent government funded, this unique university facility sits on 42 acres and features an art gallery with visiting exhibits and commissioned work. Artists of all genres come to work in studios, take part in workshops and spend time getting creative. Along with their lodgings, there are 217 guest rooms open to public. There’s no need to go off campus to eat, especially if you are looking for fine dining. Three Ravens opened nine years ago and Executive Chef Sebastian Tessier is proud to source mostly from local farmers. “We strive to source seasonal foods that thrive in the Canadian climate. We source Alberta ingredients and are conscious about sustainability because the food just tastes better,” he explains. 3RavensTroutWe started with smoked Alberta trout, with local winter greens, smoked aioli, beet chips, and Banff Centre grown sunflower shoots (from their cultivar). 3RavensPorkFirst course was pork tenderloin, roasted organic parsnips, charred organic red cabbage, topped with a bacon and stout jus. 3RavensElkTenderloinThe main was juniper rubbed elk tenderloin, on braised Alberta beef cheek, with local brown butter ricotta gnocchi, sautéed oyster mushrooms, and maple glazed organic carrots. 3RavensDessertWith just a sliver of room left, I dipped my spoon into a delicious Saskatoon berry compote with yogurt ice cream and FallenTimber mead reduction. Our paired wines were all from British Columbia, Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay, Stoneboat pinot noir and Gray Monk cabernet sauvignon.
Believe it or not, I was hungry the next day and brunch was at Juniper Bistro. JuniperBennyMy friend Elizabeth tucked into a Juniper Benny with bannock, buffalo mozzarella and braised rabbit while I enjoyed a tangy Shakshuka with tomatoes, onions, eggs and touch of za’atar. JuniperShakshukaOur food was matched royally with stunning mountain views.JuniperView copy
My final meal (before falling into a deep food coma) was at Sleeping Buffalo Lodge &Restaurant, a property belonging to the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts family.SLeepingBuffLobby It was a Chef’s table event, a series that is held on Fridays in the winter. Although I was staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, our kind host Brad Royale, Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts’ wine director, told me ticketed guests receive 40 per cent of their room rate when they attend. Brad rolled out the red carpet for us, pulling all sorts of older vintages from his cellar. SleepingBuffPokeAccompanying our starter of tuna poke, with scallions, cucumber, roast sesame, crispy won ton, avocado, and wasabi foam we had a 2003 Tahbilk Marsanne, 1927 Vines (Victoria, Australia). Soft and easy with a slight tang of mineral, it set off the tuna beautifully. Pulled duck confit came next with a double smoked bacon butternut squash risotto, baby heirloom tomatoes and arugula. It was paired with a 2006 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia (Rioja, Spain) that was hearty enough to offset the richness of the duck. SLeepingBuffBisonShortRibsOur main dish was bison short ribs with potato and celery root puree, roasted baby beets and morel mushroom thyme glaze. I was eager to try the bison, since it was from Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts game ranch south of Calgary and I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was flavourful and falling off the bone. The wine was a 2004 Domaine de la Janese Chateauneuf du Pape Vielles Vignes (Rhone Valley, France). Of substantial body, it paired well with the heavy meat. SleepingBuffTripleChocoMousseI can never resist dessert, even when full, so I dug into the triple chocolate mousse with bourbon berries and raspberry black pepper sorbet. Wow. Rich and creamy and delightful with a 2005 Quinta Do Noval Silval Port (Douro Valley, Portugal).
In summary, yes, Banff offers mountain adventure, but the quality of its culinary offerings can easily make the summit of any foodie’s priority destination list. And me? I’m ready for a juice cleanse.

Biting into the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

GondolaBanffView copy
I knew Banff’s mountains were jaw-dropping, but I had little knowledge of the culinary treasures to be found there until visiting this November.
It all began in the Scottish baronial castle known as the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. BanffSpringsExteior copyAfter checking into my room and gasping at the gorgeous view, I looked down at the desk and this is what welcomed me!WelcomeBoard Yeesh. A very good start. Wanting to explore the hotel’s many foodie options, I signed up for the “Eat the Castle” walkabout, led by Alberta Food Tours president and CEO Karen Anderson. “This is a history, art and architecture tour meets food tour,” she explained of the $175, two-and-a-half-hour indoor expedition. The tour is billed as sampling both food and beverages in four of the hotel’s onsite noshing venues. My group was also lucky enough to have the hotel’s executive chef Robert Ash join us. Ash had just joined the Fairmont four months prior (previously he had been resort executive chef for Omni Hotels in Orlando) and his dedication to every detail was deep.
Our first stop was at Stock Food & Drink, a breakfast, lunch and snack emporium off the lobby.Stock Robert stopped in front of the cultivar, a set of temperature-controlled wall cabinets with grow lights and trays of tiny seedlings.Stock-Cultivar copy “What would you like to try?” he asked. I opted for a thumb-sized sprout of kale. So tender! Other trays contained an array of tiny greens including cabbage, peas and sunflowers. The micro-greens are used in all 12 of the hotel’s restaurants and food outlets. Robert shared a bit of culinary data – the hotel sources from 25 farms in the area, there are 25 chefs in the apprentice program, 150 chefs in total and they serve between 1.5 and 2 million meals a year. Wow. Sitting at a long table in Stock, we sipped a glass of locally made Grizzly Paw Power Hound blonde ale and nibbled on a variety of sandwiches including goat cheese and roasted peppers, smoked meat and house-cured bacon and tomato.Stock-VegSam “Ninety per cent of what the hotel serves is made in house including sausages and charcuterie, bread, pastries, pickles and vinegars. We specialize in local sustainable cuisines, have an in-house butchery, and are part of the Ocean Wise Seafood program,” Ash told us.
As we made our way to the next sampling, Karen gave us a bit of hotel history. The building was the brainchild of Pacific Railway CEO George Stephens who brought in architect Cornelius Van Horne. Van Horne designed a series of gorgeous CP hotels back at the turn of the last century that connected the railway and the country and this was his second (Hotel Vancouver was the first). The Banff Springs Hotel opened in 1888 and originally was a wooden structure (and built backwards to plan!). In 1926 there was a fire and in 1928 it was rebuilt, this time of brick and stone (Rundle Rock from Mount Rundle, overlooking the hotel).MtRundle copy Karen pointed to a Latin crest woven into the lobby rug, “It spells out the hotel’s motto ‘Semper Eadem,’ Always the Same.” There have been a few additions and changes to the 754 guest-room hotel over the years, but the exterior facing of Rundle Rock has always been maintained.
At Grapes, on the mezzanine-2 level, we tucked into two boards of charcuterie, smoked trout and cheeses.Grapes-Charcut Grapes chef de cuisine Tait Robinson pointed out the three types of trout, smoked and candied with maple syrup, gravlax and a hot smoked variety with brown sugar and salt. The hot smoked was my favourite. There was also a velvety duck liver pate, elk salami, Canadian camembert with quince jam and bread and butter pickles. All paired with a light white Cote du Rhone.
Karen then held up cards with French names of a kitchen team. Chef de Partie, saucier, potager, rotisseur, grillardin, friturier, poissonnier. Who knew?
In the 1888 Chop House, we stopped by the bar to sip a deep purple blackberry margarita made with Chambord, Don Julio blanco tequila, lime juice and a pink salt and pepper rim.1888-drinks Next was the beef…a huge tomahawk chop and bison tenderloin that was sliced up family style.1888ChefSteaks In Alberta, they know how to do red meat!
The regular tours usually end with a do-it-yourself profiterole-making session in the Vermillion Room, but Chef Ash, who is partial to sweets, wanted to do something special for our little band of writers and he pulled out all the stops. What does that mean?1888Pears Poached pears dipped in dark chocolate, apple beignets with caramel sauce and ice cream, New York-style cheesecake, cake pops, candied apple pops and a chocolate mousse. A veritable dessert banquet.
The next morning was the Banff Springs behind-the-scenes tour, arranged specially for our writers group, starting in the bread and pastry kitchen. OMG. Pastry-MoTrufflesMore sugar was just what I needed and I found myself making Grand Marnier truffles at 10 a.m. with chef Pirzad Amalsadiwalla. We learned about the tempering process of heating and cooling chocolate so that it remains solid at room temperature. ChefAsh-CookiesWe even tried some of Chef Ash’s chocolate chip cookies, “Made from my family’s recipe,” he confided. The combination of pure butter and chocolate was irresistible. Pirzad told me some of his chocolate bon bons can take a day more than a day to make. He also did a demonstration of dark chocolate bark sprinkled with festive pumpkin seeds and cranberries. “Who doesn’t love making people happy with chocolate?” he responded when asked what drew him to this specialty.
In the hotel butchery we watched meat expert Derek Alexander slice up a side of beef from Benchmark Angus Ranch, outside of Calgary.Butcher “We only serve Prime, it’s one notch above AAA,” he told us.That afternoon he was scheduled to stuff sausages. What kind do they do? You name it, chicken, pork breakfast, calabrese, bratwurst, chorizo, and beef. Peeking into the cooler he showed us a rack of Christmas hams and a seasoned tray of wild boar belly. “You won’t find any store-bought deli meats here,” he said. Game meats are on many of the hotel restaurant menus, including farm-raised bison and elk. “People want to eat what they see in the park,” he explained. All the trimmings get used in a variety of ways, including in confits and mashed potatoes. Vermillion-RoastWe capped the morning with a lunch in the recently renovated Vermillion Room, where chef Ryan Watson oversaw the carving of a melt-in-your-mouth Alberta raised prime rib roast, matched with mashed potatoes, and a platter of roasted vegetables.VermillionPlate A newly introduced Sunday night special!
The Fairmont Banff Springs is truly a world of its own. It’s a place where you’ll never get bored…or hungry.
(see my next blog about Banff’s other culinary hot spots)

Eating my Way Through Toronto’s Historic East End

Recently, I signed up for a culinary tour of Riverside, Corktown and the Canary district of Toronto’s east end.
BroadviewHotelBarCulinary Adventure Co. “Big Cheese” (aka owner) Kevin Durkee and his colleague Leo Moncel, city manager, Toronto, met our group at the Broadview Hotel in Riverside (Broadview and Queen Street East) where we took a gander at the rooftop bar,BroadviewRooftop copythen headed down to the cafe for a delicious plate of hot smoked salmon and cucumber salad with Easter egg heirloom radishes.BroadviewSalmonSaladThe salmon was flaked and the warmth went beautifuly with the cool, crisp cucumbers and radishes. Leo gave us the background on the hotel, and the area.
Back in the day, the east side of Toronto was populated by the working class because the winds here tend to be easterly and the gentry, who lived on the west side of the city, didn’t want to get a whiff of stockyards, tanneries and sundry industries. The Broadview was originally built by Dingman, a soap tycoon, for travelling salesmen.BroadviewPlaqueThe Broadview I remember was inhabited for 40 years by Jilly’s a notorious strip club.
As we walked, Kevin told me that Culinary Adventure Co. offers tours in Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg year round and from June until end of September in Charlottetown, Kingston and Halifax.
“Sixty-five per cent of our business is local, celebrating the city or using gift certificates,” he noted. In Toronto’s east end their tours are usually either Riverside/Leslieville, or Corktown/Canary district tours but today, special for our little group they merged Riverside into the Corktown/Canary district tour. Kevin used to own a restaurant called Cheeseworks,at Bathurst and Niagara Street. The Culinary Adventure Co. was started by a couple who separated in 2013 and Kevin, tired of the restuurant business, bought it in 2014. “Good tastes better when you know where it comes from,” he explained.
On this tour they were covering…
1. History/background of establishment and area
2. Stories of team in kitchen.
3. Diversity – TO most diverse city on the planet.
“It’s a casual learning experience and great way to rediscover the city,” he noted. Why are we so obsessed with food today? “Because of the Food Network, Anthony Bourdain, and Instagram. There’s a real appreciation for taste of place.” The tours usually have a maximum of 12 people and cost around $80 per person.
Walking west on Queen Street from the Broadview Hotel, we went past the storefront that was the original Canadian Tire, then off to Merchants of Green Coffee.MerchantsofGreenExterior Standing out front of the two-story brick building overlooking the Don Valley Parkway, Leo held up a picture of Shirriff marmalade. “Remember this?” I did. Mom bought the stuff when I was a kid. “The Shirriff factory owner was from Scotland. He brought the marmalade recipe back and in 1909 built his plant here. The second floor is the Jam Factory event space,” explained Leo.
Inside, Megan Thibeault part-owner and marketer, gave us the scoop on importing green beans that were certified Free Trade and organic.MoGGirlRoasting “We buy from a collective in Honduras. We helped them get financing from the International Development Bank. Now the collective members have a sustainable livelihood, plus this kind of crop helps to save the rain forest.” She told us the company’s two founders, Derek Zavislake and his brother Brad, are environmentalists with three bottom lines – profits, people & the environment. For our coffee tasting, the first step was to roast the beans in a mini roaster, similar to a hot air popcorn maker. “Once roasted it lasts seven days before becoming bitter. You want it lively and sweet and still containing antioxidants. It’s hard to find fresh roasted beans,” she explained. We watched the beans turn from green to brown, going through “1st crack” when it starts to roast and the the chaf comes off, and “2nd crack” the sugar inside the beans gives it a sweet taste and it becomes caramelized. MoGPouringCoffee copyThen it steeped and was filtered through an organic cotton hemp filter. I had a small sip, without milk, and found the flavour to be intense, with a spike of sharpness mellowing out with a soft sweetness in the finish. Who knew? If you can’t make it to the Riverside location, the beans are available at Rowe Farms.
Crossing over the Don River into Corktown, we came to the Dominion Pub and Kitchen, a gastro pub located at 500 Queen St. E.DominionHotelInterior Leo had gone ahead and was ready with some hearty comfort food including a tater tot, pulled pork poutine, a huge, freshly baked pretzel with grainy mustard and a flight of Henderson’s Best, a microbrew named after the 1st brewery in Toronto, plus Brickworks 1904 cider. “1904 was the year of Toronto’s second great fire, and much of downtown was destroyed,” said Leo. Delicate and apple-y, there was nothing hot or fiery about it.DominionHotelPoutineDomionHotelPretzel
It was time to take in a little street art in the Canary District at Underpass Park.UnderpassPark copy Tucked below Corktown at River Street and Eastern Ave., the underbelly of this section of the Gardiner Expressway is covered in colourful graffiti art, complete with mirrored ceiling.UnderpassPark3UnderpassPark4
“In the Canary District, a former industrial site, it took 10 years to clean the soil before they could build the Athletes Village during the Common Wealth games. This area was once home to one William Davies pork producers, one of the biggest abattoirs in the world at the time,” Leo told us.
What better time to taste some vegetarian delights?TabouleDips At Souk Tabule Middle Eastern Restaurant we munched on chef’s platter with labni (creamy garlic yogurt cheese), beet mutable (with tahini and lemon), muhamara (roasted red pepper and walnuts), babaganouj (eggplant and tahini), quinoi tabule and Arabic slaw. According to BlogTO, this chain (there are four) has the best falafels in city and I’d have to agree.TabouleFalafalBallsTabouleInterior Another dish that was over the top was arnabeet,TabuleCauliflower flash-fried cauliflower, drizzled with tahini. “The owner, chef Rony Goraichy is from Beirut. He came to the city as a student and worked at The Jerusalem restaurant. He became an actuary and got married to the boss, Diana Sideris,” Leo explained. In 2005, Goraichy traded his suit for chef’s whites and he and his wife opened the first location at Yonge Street and Eglinton Ave. The other two are in Riverside and Bayview Village Shopping Centre.
Our final stop was Roselle Desserts, a bakery at King and Parliament in Corktown. RoselleBananaFosterEclair“The owners, Bruce Lee and Stephanie Duong, got married a month ago,” Leo told us with a big grin. We tasted what the bakery is best known for, a Banana Fosters Éclair. OMG. Thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Loved this culinary adventure…and my waistline was glad there was so much walking involved.

Tasty Ann Arbor

Voted one of the most liveable city’s in North America, Ann Arbor, Michigan, is tree-lined oasis full of independent shops, restaurants and cocktail bars. The University of Michigan injects 42,000 students into the city each school year and liberal-minded entrepreneurs dote on catering to this crowd. On a recent visit, I made it a point to tuck into as many of these establisments as possible.
Here’s my overview, one taste at a time…
Ayse’s Turkish Café – tucked into a strip mall in a decidedly non-trendy area, this café is a treasure. Ayse-ExteriorAyse Uras is from around Cappadocia and her home cooking is magical with lots of vegetarian options. There’s no printed menu because it changes daily. Ayse writes the dishes out on a white board just before lunch and dinner. Ayse-MenuboardsThere’s tons of variety depending on the season but she told me there is always and eggplant dish, and thimblefuls of potent Turkish coffee.Ayse-TurkishCoffee The day I went for lunch for appetizers I tried the Atom, friend zucchini and carrot w yogurt and the cold yogurt cucumber soup. There were lots of delicious entrees to choose from and since I was with a group I was able to taste most of them. They included lamb kofte w/potato,Ayse-lamb chicken with plum (yum), cauliflower with tomatos (double yum!), lima beans with carrots and bulgur pilav. Dessert was a little sample of things including halva.Ayse-Dessert
This is the place to try wines produced in northern Michigan, specifically from Black Star Farms, Good Harbor Vineyards and L. Mawby Vineyards. VinBarThe wineries are all on the Leelanau Peninsula near Traverse City and their vintages had a northern European edge – flinty yet fruity whites and bold reds. I was surprised they were so good.
THE STANDARDStandartInterior
Chef Alex Young had no formal culinary education. Instead he learned to cook by working in restaurants all over the U.S. and in London. He has a global approach to food with a passion for local and natural. In Ann Arbor, he helmed the kitchen when Zingerman’s Roadhouse opened in 2003. After 13 years, and a James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes region (including Chicago) he went out on his own and opened Standard Bistro & Larder.Standard-chef “Julia Child was my inspirational mentor,” he told me. The restaurant features French Country dishes using seasonal ingredients from local producers and responsibly sourced ingredients from producers elsewhere. The night I was there my favorite dishes were cream of celeriac soupStandard-Soup and pot-au-feu French beef stew -–– so tender it melted in my mouth. The walls were hung with distinctive, cubist-style artworkStandard-Art2 and a larder sold dry-aged and custom cut beef, pork and lamb, charcuterie, and sausages.Standard-SausageCoils
A Nightcap at NightcapCocktailGuy
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In the neighbouring town of Yipsilanti there’s a little area known as Depot Town. That’s where I met chef Travis Schuster whose seasonal menu featured locally sourced ingredients from area farmers. All dishes were made from scratch using whole ingredients, nothing processed. “The theme here is heartland, Michigan comfort foods,” he explained. I went for an all veggie meal including roasted radish & turnip salad, spiced potatoes,OllieGarlicRoastPotato spring salad, and a marvelous spring tartineOllieBeetBread with grilled Zingerman’s farmhouse bread, topped with cashew beet butter, garlic sautéed veg, spiced local turnips, chorizo tempeh, pickled onion and mustard seed, toasted pepitas, and a spring greens pesto. Wow. Who knew veggies could taste so sophisticated.
This gracious Italian restaurant opened 1987, in what was the Orpheum Theater, a movie house from the 1930s. A sculpture of Orpheus looked down on the bar, and on the back wall was an intriguing, renaissance-style, mural of bacchanal.GratziMural
I sampled some pizzas – funghi arostiti, smoked salmon and margherita,the spaghetti ratatouille and a delicious filetto di manzo which was a filet mignon with Portobello mushroom, tomato, goat cheese, and crispy fried leeks. Out of this world. I also sampled my friend’s Chilean sea bass.GratziSeaBass Room for dessert? You bet! TiramisuGratziTiramisu.
Zingerman’s Roadhouse
Founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig opened this Americana gem in 2003 with Paul Young (now of The Standard) helming the kitchen. Today the chef is Bob Bennett who worked his way up from Zingerman’s Deli (also owned by Saginaw and Weinzweig) sandwich line where he started in 2002.ZingerChefBBQ We started with an old school pimento cheese ballZingermansCheeseBall and progressed to Mac Cheese, which was voted best Comfort Food in America on Best Of, Alton Brown’s Food Network Show.ZingerMacCheese The buttermilk fried chicken was crispy and moist inside,ZingerChicken the pulled pork melted in my mouthZingerPulledPork and my dessert of butterscotch pudding was smooth as satin and not too sweet. In 2009 Bon Appetite named this restaurant Top 10 New Barbecue Restaurant in the U.S. I could see why. They’ve kept up the standards!
Chef Raul Cob from Valencia, serves up delicious Spanish comfort food including interesting tapas and a decadent seafood paella.AventuraOctopusAventuraPaellaAventuraChefRaul Cob This is a dish he told me he is internationally known for. Everything was paired with excellent Spanish wines.
Slurping Turtle
Chef owner Takashi Yagahashi spends half his time in Chicago (where he has two other restaurants) and half in Ann Arbor. The Slurping Turtle opened in 2014 and the seasonal menu and casual but authentic Japanese. Head chef Tadashi Gaura likes to get creative with his flavourings. STurtleTaroTacosSTurtleNoodleSoupSTurtleDessertSTurtleChef
Finally, the last night I indulged in delicious pizza and delightful cocktails at this popular spot. Heaven.ManiHamPizzaManiCocktail

Very Delicious Vancouver

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It’s been a few years since I visited Vancouver and it really is a gorgeous place. And delicious. I ate, drank, cycled, swam (in the hotel pool) and ate some more.
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Cafe Medina, with a Mediterranean feel, was my favorite breakfast place. Owner Robbie Kane is originally from Toronto and loves to walk around and chat with customers. I learned that after he opened the restaurant he was sitting at the bar and a woman came in and sat at a table for four. Since it was busy, her server asked her to sit at the bar instead. She did. Robbie asked her her name. “Medina,” she told him. He couldn’t believe it. What did he do? Marry her, of course!Robbie’s brother Brian is an Emmy Award-winning set designer who stops in frequently. “I took three months off and did the decor,” he told me. Favorite dishes are the fricassee (a bestseller), lavender latte, and waffles with caramel, passion fruit, chocolate, and honey dipping sauces. MedinaEating2 copyMedinaLatte copyMedinaFricasse copyMedinaWaffles copy
A cool dinner spot was Nightingale, which opened last May in the Coal Harbour area. It’s casual but classy and specializes in small plates. Apparently it’s very popular with the business crowd at lunch. I loved the roasted brussel sprouts, the salads and the desserts were divine, especially the flourless chocolate cake.NightengaleApp2 copyNightengaleApp3 copyNightengaleDessert1 copyNightingaleResto
The best seafood I had was at Yew Seafood + Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel. The soaring ceiling, magnificent wall hangings and toasty wood paneling gave the room an airy yet warm feel. Fabulous mixologist Lauren Mote shared a few cocktail secrets first, then it was seafood heaven.Here are a few of my favourite dishes: halibut, oysters, scallops….YEWHalibut copyYEWScallopsOysters copyYEWScallops copyYEWShrimp copy
Cacao Vancouver is a tiny resto in Kitsilano with a huge reputation. It was nominated as one of Air Canada enRoute’s 2017 Best New Restaurants, and rightly so. Chef Jefferson Alvarez is a creative genius and is happy to share all the tricks of his trade at the open kitchen. Depending on the season, he features all sorts of regional ingredients and a very forward cocktail menu. CacaoHalibut copyCacaoMeat copyCacaoKitchen copyCacaoSmores copyCacaoChefMo copy

Explore Ontario Culinary Travel Special Report

Farmer'sMarketI compiled and edited this special culinary report — EOC.FINALFinal[1] — on southern Ontario for the Globe and Mail. Thank you Michele Sponagle (Relishing the Past), Doug Wallace (Back to the Garden) and Liz Campbell (Savoury Sanctuary) for your contributions!

Cool Things About Vietnam

1. Fish sauce. A salty clear-ish liquid made from fishies like anchovies. Add chilies and lime juice and splash on just about anything.
2. Ice tea and ice coffee. Usually served in a tumbler with one or more big chunks of ice. Tra da (pronounced cha da) is “tea” “ice.” Caphe sua da is “coffee” “milk” “ice.” The milk is sweetened condensed. In the north they also mix in yogurt. Caphe sua chua da. Yum. Like a milkshake.
Tea from the north I find bitter, but I love the artichoke tea from Sapa and the ginger tea is wicked. At cafes you often get a free glass of ice tea along with whatever else you might order.
3. The conical hat. I went to a village where these were made. By hand. Takes a good solid two days and many, many stages including softening the palm leaves by foot, drying them, ironing them, hand stitching them to a frame. They sell for $5. Incredible.vci230-conical-hat-incense-making-village-in-hue5-5108fe0c158f8
4. Beer with ice. And I don’t even like beer.icebeer
5. Tiny plastic stools. These are whipped out for eating or drinking on the street. A little tough on guys with long legs.tinystools
6. Silk scarves. Everywhere in every colour. Gorgeous and cheap.SilkScarves_fall2010
7. The word “oi.” “Oi gioi oi” means “Oh my God.” “Em oi” is what you yell at waiters to get their attention…means, “Oh hey there young person.”
8. Bun Cha, a delicious noodle soup with bbq pork patties and fresh herbs. Great in winter.BunCha
9. Pearls. Not always the best quality but fun and cheap. Bought some from a woman in a boat in Halong Bay.

A necklace in Hanoi I'm coveting.

A necklace in Hanoi I’m coveting.

10. Love of poetry. Reading and writing it is a national pastime. Wonderful.

KOTO Restaurant in Hanoi Brings Hope to Homeless Kids

At KOTO Restaurant, disadvantaged youth get a fresh start at a new culinary career. Great food, great concept! Here’s my story on Innovate Development’s website.

Lip-Smacking Louisiana!

Shreveport is the world capital of crawfish!

Shreveport is the world capital of crawfish!

Check out my story on Louisiana’s hidden foodie gems on the hospitality site AmberSpire