Tag Archives: Toronto

Munching my way Through Chinatown & Kensington Market

It was a cold morning in early January, but that didn’t stop us. My husband and I bundled up and headed out to Spadina Ave. and Dundas Street. This colourful area has been a draw for me ever since I was in university. Coconut buns, egg tarts, cheeses of the world, fruits, spices and funky boutiques. I have always loved it, but lately I haven’t spent much time down in Toronto’s Chinatown/Kensington Market area and I thought what better way to get acquainted with all that was new and delicious than take a three-hour food tour? I had been on one in the city’s east end with Culinary Adventure Co. in the fall, so we decided to try them again. And Forbes Magazine has called this one “one of the best food tours in the world.” You can’t buy endorsements like that.
CatPoleOur guide, Daniel G., met us under the yellow chair, topped with a waving cat. It’s one of the art installments along this stretch of Spadina. In China the cat waving its left paw is a sign of welcome. Aha! That’s why Asian shops always have those waving kitty figures in their front windows. “Back at the turn of the last century, Kensington Market was filled with fish mongers…and feral cats,” Daniel explained, noting the two neighbourhoods are intrinsically tied.
RolSanExteriorCrossing the street, we headed into Rol San, a restaurant with a huge exterior banner stating that it serves dim sum all day long. I had actually been here before, but today the dishes we tried were all new to me. Sitting at a table draped in white plastic (for easy clean up, the waiters just lift the whole thing, dishes included and whisk it to the back), we went through the yellow paper menu. Bottomless jasmine tea was $1 per person. The small plate dishes ranged from $4-5. Daniel told us the family-run business had opened in 1994 and in 1999 it became an all day dim sum spot, now open from 9 a.m.-2 a.m. “It’s the go to place to sober up late at night,” he joked.
RolSanMushroomDumplingFirst to the table was the bamboo fungus with mixed mushrooms dumpling. Delicious, especially when dipped into the hot, homemade chili sauce that graced every table. The next three dishes came at once. RolSanChineseDonutRice rolls with Chinese donut – a deep fried donut wrapped in gooey rice roll that we dipped into a mixture of spicy, sweet hoisin sauce and peanut sauce. I probably should have saved that for last. RolSanTripeNext came beef tripe with ginger and scallions, and steamed BBQ pork buns. The tripe was chewy, nicely offset with the tangy ginger and scallions. RolSanPorkBunThe pork buns were puffy and filled with a sweetish pork mixture.
LongAnAs we departed, Daniel treated us to some longan fruit. About the size of a grape, he told us to peel it and be careful of the hard seed in the middle. As I bit in, the flesh reminded me of lychee, but the flavour was more like a plum. “The name translates to ‘dragon eye,’” he said motioning to the fruit stand we were now standing in front of. “You can pick them up here, one of the oldest produce stores in Chinatown.”
This was just the start. We had three more restaurants to visit, plus some other little nibbles along the way. I knew I had better start pacing myself.
KingsNoodleExteriorKing’s Noodle, also on Spadina, specialized in BBQ pork and duck. They proudly use every part of the animal and we peered in the window at a pig’s head, and many hanging ducks, wizened and reddish with barbequing. “Stanley and Grandee Lee are the owners and the restaurant opened in 1984,” Daniel told us. Stan had been a chef in a hotel in China before he came to Canada, but the hotel specialized in western food. Now he and his wife serve multi-generations of clients with Cantonese dishes such as congee with ginger, onion and BBQ pork. KingsNoodleFrontKitchenThe pork, Daniel explained, was marinated, then cooked slow and low for hours, giving it a caramelized coating. KingsNoodleCongeeWe filled our bowls with the congee, a soupy rice porridge and dove in with our chopsticks for succulent pieces of pork. I loved how the chili oil here had a smoky flavour and blended beautifully with the congee. We also sipped an earthy black Chinese tea and dipped squares of deep-fried bread into our bowls to complete the taste experience.
Walking up to Kensington a few blocks away, Daniel stopped and pulled out a White Rabbit. WhiteRabbitSweetsWhite Rabbits are Chinese sweets and he had a bag full. We sucked on the mild, vanilla flavoured treats as he told us about Kensington Market. KensingtonSignThe history goes back to 1815 when George Taylor Denison had an estate on a 100-acre piece of land just west of Spadina Avenue. Eventually the land was divided into plots sold to British and Irish immigrants in the 1850s and 1860s. In the early 1900s came an influx of Eastern European immigrants and many of the Jewish families built outdoor stalls in front of their homes turning the area into an outdoor, old-world style marketplace. That trend has continued and today the area is very diverse, perhaps the latest immigrants to populate the shops are from the Caribbean and South America. The people here are fiercely independent and you won’t see any chain stores. “Sobey’s was going to open an outlet, but when they put up their sign, the residents rebelled and threw eggs at it,” Daniel recalled.
SanCosmeCounterAcross from Global Cheese on Kensington Avenue at the corner of Baldwin Street was a Mexican torteria called San Cosme. This was brand new to me. We sidled up to one of the high stools at a communal table and Daniel headed to the counter, returning shortly with a sweet, creamy rice drink with a hint of cinnamon called horchata and a huge veggie sandwich called a De Nopales, that sells for $9.95. SanCosmeSandwichThe sandwich contained sautéed cactus, panela cheese, tomatillo, serrano salsa, refried beans and avocado. It was hot and richly delicious, the cactus having a little slippery, pickled taste. San Cosme is an authentic Mexico City style puesto (street food stand), serving tortas – sandwiches done a la plancha in buttered soft telera bread stuffed with assorted fillings along with pickled jalapeños. “They support their neighbours by sourcing many of their ingredients right in Kensington Market,” Daniel explained.
Time for another sweet treat. CXBOExteriorWalking along Baldwin, we came upon a jewel box of a store called CXBO Chocolates. CXBOInteriorEntering, a portrait of Willy Wonka greeted us, along with a case of the most divine looking art pieces. Well, they were actually chocolates. Daniel had us each pick one. CXBOBonbonI went for a dark chocolate salted caramel (their most popular) while my husband opted for a milk chocolate with sherry. The handmade collection was created in 2015 by chef Brandon Olsen and artist/filmmaker Sarah Keenlyside. “In 2017, they opened Restaurant La Banane, named Canada’s Best New Restaurant in 2017,” said Daniel. I noticed on the counter was a huge chocolate egg covered in splatters of edible colour. The Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg is served at La Banane and has been frequently called the “most Instagrammable dessert,” the counter clerk told us. Decadent! Not sure how much it costs at the restaurant (in another part of town, on Ossington Avenue) but at the shop it was $50. I was more than satisfied with my salted caramel and found out that a box of 9 cost $22.50. They also had a selection of bars for $9 (the Kensington Bar has apricots, chili and coffee) that I wouldn’t mind trying next time.
WandaExteriorWith just a tiny slice of room left, we headed to Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, a funky bakery café around the corner on Augusta Avenue. WandaInteriorInside it was strictly old school with hardwood floor and glass case after glass case filled with savouries, cakes, pies and cookies. We were there for the pie. “Wanda Beaver started out making sour cherry pies, using fruit from her family’s small orchard when she was a child. As an adult, she began baking for consumers at a location in Etobicoke, but she’s since moved to Kensington Market,” said Daniel. WandaPieHe had brought a tray over with a small Ontario sour cherry pie and three plates. “I’m a sweets guy. This is my favourite item on the menu here,” he continued. We divided up the flaky pastry and juicy fruit and I took a bite. OMG. The crust was slightly sweet with a hint of almond. The sour cherries were floating in a bath of delicious sweet-tart goodness. What a note to go out on!
Culinary Adventure Co. offers tours in Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg year round and from June until end of September in Charlottetown, Kingston and Halifax. In Toronto they offer King + Queen St. W. brunch, St. Lawrence Market, Leslieville/Riverside and Kensington Market/Made in Canada, and Escape the City Canoe Paddle + Dining Adventure tours in addition to Chinatown/Kensington Market. Maximum number of people is 12 and costs start at $80 per person.

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.

Classic Cars on the Queensway

Blue1940sFord On the Queensway, in Toronto, Saturday night is for cruising…classic cars, that is. In the Canadian Tire parking lot near Sherway Gardens, the hot rods, rat rods, and vintage vehicles of all types start rolling in around five p.m. Owners buy a parking spot for $15 and the proceeds go to Darling House for Kids, a palliative care center for children. For spectators like myself, it’s free. Want to know a little bit more about the cars? The owners usually set up in folding chairs nearby. Some even sit in their vehicles. Others have print outs propped in the windshield outling the car’s provenance. I got there and started roaming around at 5:30 p.m. Just in time for magic hour to take a few shots. Love these cars!! Runs mid-May to early October.HerbieLoveBug1968Herbie the Love Bug!PinkCamero19681968 CamaroGMCTruck19491949 GMC truckGreenBuick19321932 BuickCorvair19661966 CorvairChevyNomadFire&Smoke19581958 Chevy NomadGreenFordGalxay19671967 Ford GalaxyBlack1950sLincoln1950s LincolnBarraccuda19671967 BarracudaGeneralLee1969Charger1969 General Lee ChargerBLueChevi19491949 ChevyOldRedChevy19301930 Chevy1923DurantStar1923 Durant StarMotoMysteryBikeMystery motorbike. I can just see Batman flying around on this rig.

Omni King Edward Hotel Serves up a Menu fit for TIFF Royalty

Sipping champers in the Consort Bar at the Omni King Edward Hotel. How TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) can you get? The hotel recently put on a press preview of its pop-up Moet & Chandon Champagne/Hennessy Cognac inspired menu, running through to the end of TIFF (Sept. 6- 16).SteveMoLighterHeritageBottlesLighterBoy, were my husband and I treated like royalty. Although there were a few items for my tax bracket included on the menu, I could tell they were really hoping to land movie industry whales with the big ticket offerings such as the Royal 75, a cocktail of Hennessy Paradis Imperial, citrus cordial, fresh lemon juice, and Dom Perignon, garnished with a lemon twist. Price? $500. Or if that’s a bit rich, you could just order an once of the Hennessy Paradis Imperial for $340. Needless to say, these weren’t on offer at the preview.UnconventionalLoveBut this was, The Unconventional Love cocktail with Moet & Chandon Imperial Rose, Belvedere Vodka, coconut water and muddled raspberries ($35).RoyalBurgerDo you like gold flakes with your burger? Try the Royal Burger with wagyu beef, Hennessy caramelized onions, shaved fresh truffles, black garlic aioli, Ontario heritage cheddar paired on a brioche bun topped with gold flakes. Can’t forget the truffle parmesan hand cut fries…all for a mere $149! (This one was for photos only.)
Here’s what else they served…Smoked Fiore de LatteSmoked Fiore de Latte, a lovely plate of herbed migas, heirloom tomato, tomato gel and rooftop garden pesto ($20).Yuzu Seared TunaYuzu seared tuna with citrus compressed watermelon, Acadian sturgeon caviar, avocado cream and crisp bread ($45).RoyalBugerMiniLuckily they gave us the mini version of the Royal Burger, since one on the menu was the size of my head.DuckCreme bruleeFree-form duck egg crème brulée ($15).ChefLighterChef gave us a little run down of his creative process.DianaLighterGetting the champagne/cognac story.QueenPaintingLighterI think she would approve.

My Fave Old Timey Toronto Diner

LakeviewExterior copy
I had been meaning to go there for years. Not, of course, when it opened in 1932. But close enough. Finally got to Lakeview Restaurant recently and loved it!! This “Always Open” establishment got its 24/7 groove on when, during World War Two, the owners realized a clientele opportunity – shift workers from the nearby Massey Ferguson factory who would nip over for a 3 a.m. dinner.LakeviewEntrance copy LakeviewCounter2 copyLakeviewBankettes copy
LV_Menu_BS_11.07.17The comfort food menu is extensive. LakeviewGrilledCheese copyI opted for the grilled cheese Fromage a Trois with asiago, cheddar and havarti. It came with a delicious side salad of dark greens with sunflower seeds, but I was told I could have both fries and salad if I wished…along with delicious chipotle mayo! Heavenly. LakeviewPhillyCheese copyMy husband opted for the Philly Cheesesteak with shaved sirloin, bell pepper, carmelized onions, melted havarti and BBQ sauce on a brioche bun. Delcious, I was told. Plus, every day there are drink specials, including $4 wine. Wow.Apparently there was a secret code word that would bring you an extra portion of a certain pork product. We had enough on our plates as it was, so will try that next time.LakeviewMoviePhotos copyOn my way to the washroom, I passed the hall of fame with photos of the many movies that have used this terrific diner as a set location – Hairspray, Boondocks, Take this Waltz, Cocktail and most recently The Shape of Water. LakeviewKitchenEntrance copyEating here, in the land that time forgot, I really did feel like I could have been in a movie. Love that.

Camping out in Toronto

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I had no idea Toronto had an urban campground. Located in the Rouge Valley on the very eastern edge of the city, it’s called Glen Rouge and has 124 campsites (87 serviced for RVs, 27 unserviced, five for backpackers, and five oTENTiks). CampRVs copyAlthough there are busy roads nearby, at the far end of the campground all you hear are the leaves rustling and the birds singing. CampRougeRiver copyCampTrail copyIt’s on the Rouge River and there are great trails you can follow into the nearby woods. CampoTENTik2 copyI was most impressed with the oTENTiks. They have a canvas roof and are perched on a wooden platform — and they sleep six! Great for families, and inclement weather. CampSwingsWashroom copyThere’s a washroom and shower building up the hill from the campsites, and a few swings. The whole set up is rather basic, but that’s the beauty of it. Once you get to the far end of the campground and the quiet settles in, you’d never know you were on the eastern edge of a bustling metropolis.
Prices are competitive:
Per Night
Backpacker site – $28
Unserviced site – $33
Serviced site (30AMP) – $40.50
Serviced site (50AMP) – $43.50
oTENTik -$106.20
Monthly rates are available as well.

Bluffer’s Park, a Scarborough Oasis

Bluffs2 copy
Leafy trails, quiet cycling paths, sandy beach and awesome swimming might not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Scarborough. For me, the easterly borough conjures strip malls and busy, multi-lane thoroughfares.BluffBeachSign copy That’s why I was delighted to discover Bluffer’s Park. BluffBeachView copyBluffBeach copyThe beach was large and sandy…and groomed! Lifeguards kept a close watch on swimmers. BluffTrailRidgie copyCalm dogs on leashes combed the trails.BluffMarinaLeafview copyA restaurant and pub at Bluffer’s Park Marina!BluffHouseboats copyLovely houseboats nestled in the moorings around the marina.
Who knew? Certainly not me, a west-end girl.

St. Anne’s Amazing Artwork

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I had walked by the church many times, but never gone in. This Sunday, the plaque in front of St. Anne’s Anglican church intrigued me.StAnnePlaque copy A service was about to begin and… so I went in.
The interior was gorgeous. I picked up some information sheets on a table by the front door and learned the church was built in 1907 in a Byzantine Revival style and designed by Ford Howland. The inspiration for his amazing design? The Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, built in the 4th century before that city fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and became Istanbul.
After the lovely, welcoming service, I sat under the large domed roof and marveled at the amazing murals depicting the life of Christ in the chancel, some of which were done by members of the Group of Seven – J.E.H MacDonald, F.H. Varley and Franklin Carmichael – as well as their colleagues.StAnneInterior copy One of the pamphlets gave me some fascinating details about the murals.
The piece to catch my eye was The Nativity, done by Varley.StAnneBirth copy Apparently the shepherd on the left is Varley’s self-portrait, possibly a little muscled up.
The Stilling of the Storm was done by J.E.H. MacDonald and Jesus seems to leap out of the canvas.StAnneWalkWater copy Looking closely, I thought the waves and clouds had a distinctly Georgian Bay appearance.
StAnneRaiseDead copyThe Raising of Lazarus was done by Thoreau MacDonald, J.E.H. MacDonald’s son.
StAnnePalsiedMan copyThe Healing of the Palsied Man was done by Neil McKechnie.
StAnneJesusDonkey copyThe Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, by Frank Carmichael.
StAnneCruxifiction copyThe Crucifixion, by J.E.H. MacDonald has a skull at the base of the painting, a reference to Golgotha (the place of a skull).
StAnneForevermore copyThe Resurrection, by H.S. Palmer.
StAnneAscent 2 copyThe Ascension, by H.S. Stansfield.
In the 1960s, the central mosaic work was added…StAnneMosaicAlter copy
A spiritually uplifting and artfully enlightening way to spend a Sunday morning.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery

I find cemeteries fascinating. The tales the tombstones tell are snapshots of history.Here are some photos taken by my husband Stephen Plunkett on a recent trip to Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto… OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATragedy, old age, accidents, status, age…the markers lay out a story for us. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWilliam Lyon MacKenzie King, a prime minister (22 years in power) with a dodgy legacy…Japenese Internment Camps, turning away Jews in WWII. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen there are the wealthy establishment families…Eaton, Weston, Massey. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the flamboyant modern entrepreneurs such as Steve Stavro, a grocery store magnate, sports team owner and philanthropist. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMedical history was made by Sir Fredrick Banting, insulin pioneer. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALarger than life Larry Zolf, a journalist and commentator I used to see on CBC news shows such as This Hour Has Seven Days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEntrance on Yonge Street. The living still get to exit here, too.

Toronto Island Life

Ward’s Island is a lovely respite from muggy Toronto on a hot summer’s day. There’s nothing I like to do better than hop on the ferry at Queen’s Quay and 15 minutes later I’m wandering the paths, gazing at the residents’ cottages, and stopping for a coffee or cool drink at the Island Cafe.HeavenWILeafyGateWIGreyHouseFlowersWIWhiteHouseLaneWIGreenChairsCatsWIWalkwayFlowersWICafe