So finally I’ve managed to snag some time to post here about my recent trip to Toronto. It’s only taken the best part of a month! Seriously- where did that go?!?!? Anyway before time moves on even quicker I CANNOT wait to tell you about the city of Toronto and what it has to offer. Most of what I say will indeed be food orientated but hey- why else would you be here?
We decided to take adavantage of a child-free week (thanks to family!) and jet off to the land of bacon and maple syrup, Apologies for the massive stereotyping there but they do make hella’ good bacon and no one, but no one, does maple syrup like the Canadians.
Our first day there and I had a couple of hours to myself as my husbear was getting some business meetings out of the way. First on my checklist (and you’d better believe I had a checklist!) was St. Lawrence Food Market. If you’re a foodie and you’re in Toronto, you MUST go here. It’s the Mecca for mezze; the Valhalla for veal; the…you get what I’m saying? I arrived there not long after opening so there weren’t many people and it was fantastic to be able to meander the hall at a leisurely pace taking in a myriad of sounds and smells- meat being cut on the bone; cheeses; freshly baked breads; smoky tendrilled BBQs being fired up; ice being tumbled onto gleaming fish; freshly roasted coffee beans – this was seriously foodie heaven. Suffice to say I spent most of the free time I had here. In fact I had to take in a few laps of the hall as my first couple were spent in complete, child-like wonder at every new stall and culinary treasure trove I found.
One delight I didn’t manage to partake of was a peameal bacon roll from Carousel Bakery. Consosting of lean back bacon rolled in cornmeal, or “peameal” and served in a soft roll, this apparently is a national insitute with near legendary reviews on the internet. It’s available served in a number of ways from additions of fried eggs and cheese to just good ol’ fashioned mustard. It’s the breakfast sandwich of choice for many discerning Torontonians.
And so on to my next Toronto “Bucket list” destination- “The Gabardine”. I cannot rave about this place enough! Sitauted in the finacial/ business district it’s a haven for suits and secretaries alike so I’d recommed going there slightly after what you would expect to be business lunch time. On our first visit we arrived at 1.30pm and not long after being seated the majority of diners left to go back to work. It seems the Torontonian lunch hour is a little ahead of the Britisih one. There were two things on our “must-try” list- the Mac and Cheese, and the Chicken Pot Pie. I’m not normally a pie type of guy (believe it or not!?!) but after seein this featured on TV I knew I needed this in my life! Rich, creamy and utterly, utterly comforting this was a chicken pie of dreams. Not at all scrimping on the filling of mosit chunks of meat and sublimely favoured herb sauce this needs to be perserved for the sake of humainty. If chicken soup heals, then this pie can raise the dead. The best way to eat it is to break off the surrounding pastry crust and dip in, scooping up rich sauce, whilst harpooning meaty galline nuggets. That way you get the flaky, buttery pastry with the creamy herb sauce and succulent chicken…now just STOP IT!
The Gabardine: Chicken Pot Pie
My other half opted for the other dish synonimous with The Gabardine – their Mac and Cheese. Being of the more Umami persuassion than me, he opted for the pimped version with ham. Now, we were excpected diced bacon mixed into the cheese sauce, or maybe some lardons to add some extra flavoursome oomph. What arrived was…
The Gabardine: Mac and Cheese (topped with smoked bacon)
Yup – ham topped Mac and Cheese. Topped with ham chunks the size of sugar cubes and then some! Rich, cheesy (sad to say not cheesy enough) sauce with a crispy hearb crumb and then topped with “man chinks” of smoked ham this was no “sissy side dish” . Now while I say the sauce wasn’t cheesy enough I do reckon this was just a one-off as on another visit we say other diners having the dish and there was plenty of “cheese pull” to be had.
Purely in the name of research, I opted for the pudding special that day. Peanutbutter Cream Pie. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.
The Gabardine: Peanuttbutter Cream Pie
So you may gather I was particularly fond of this restaurant. You’d be right. So much so that we went back a second time for dinner. I opted to try the special of “Korean Fried Cauliflower”- and I was not diappointed. This indeed was a special dish. Cauliflower was fried and transformed into crispy, sweetly spicy morsels with jam-like stickiness served with green leaves and creme fraiche. If you’re there and this is on the menu (or specials board) I whole-heartedly recommend ordering it. Now I normally errupt in Verruca Salt-esque pouting if I can’t see meat on my plate but so good a dish was this that in fact I happily scoffed the lot and ne’er a word of complaint was uttered! This was follwed by the pork chop, hominy and greens. And boy what a pork chop it was. Brined, moist and succulent- I was a happy man indeed. So happy was I, that I completely forgot what my husabnd had ordered for his meal!
The Gabardine: Korean Fried Cauliflower (l); Pork Chop w/ hominy (top right); House Chocolate Brownie (bottom right)
And that was just one restaurant! The next on my “To Do List” was the fine establishment called “Rock Lobster”. Or rather one of the fine establishments of Rock Lobster. Part of a trio of seafood resturant set up by Chef Matt Dean Pettit, we went the the Queen West venue. Situated in the Boho/ Alternaitve area of Toronto (think Camden-esque thrift fashion shops and tatoo parlours) it’s still within easy walking distance. In fact so eager were we (well, was I) to get there that we arrived to be one of the first that day for lunch service. Chef Matt has taken seafood and made it appealing- even for me! I digress a little by saying that prior to this we had sampled our first Canadian signature dish that is “Poutine”. Made up of fresh cut fries, topped with “squeaky” cheese curds, and then finished with gravy, this sounds like the stuff of late-night, taxi rank nightmares. In fact it’s quite tasty! Getting back on track it was with much eagerness, and I believe I errupted with a gurgling of, “Nommm!”, that I saw one fo the dishes on the menu was Lobster Poutine – hand-cut fries; cheese curds; Nova Scotia Lobster; lobster bisque gravy and chives. Yes Sir, I’ll take one of those! This along with the Jerk Shrimp Roll were the highlight for me. While the house Lobster Roll was good with creamy, succulent lobster chunks (none of this spreadable, mayo paste nonsense), it was the juicy shrimp and the wonderful punchy jerk spice seasoning that won me over. My only greivance being that they didn’t have my size available in their Rock Lobster T-shirts (Chef Matt, if you read this please feel free to send one over!). Again if you’re in Toronto make sure you make time for a visit to Rock Lobster and feel the Lobster Love.
Rock Lobster: Lobster Roll (front); Lobster Poutine (l); Deep Fried Clams (r); Jerk Shrimp Roll (back)
Rock Lobster: Lobster Poutine
Next on our foodie stop was the CN tower and it’s signature resturant 360. Very much a tourist “must do” the CN tower is none-the-less awe inspiring for it’s views of Toronto and surrounding areas. It was from here that we realised just how big the subrban sprawl fo Toronto really is- whilst getting unnaturally freaked out by the glass floor in the observation area. The first few steps onto it are fine, but it’s when you start getting a couple of feet from the solid floor plate that your feet seem to grind to a halt of their own accord!
Whilst the food at the revolving 360 restuarant is good the main selling point of it are the views afforded from a loction at such a height. Prompt service, to the point of being a little too prompt, gave the venue an air of table-turning and client conveyor-belting. I guess it’s be expected in such a place with massive footfall. Admittedly this was a downside but overall the food was good and we enjoyed the visit here- particularly the aerial views of the neighbouring Hamptons Islands. I would recommend here for lunch, a good place to eat but not to linger too long.
Dining at CN Tower 360 restaurant
Speaking of awe ispiring views we decided to go uber-touristy and take a trip to Niagara Falls. Well if you’ve seen The Great Barrier Reef you may as well take in once of the other Wonders of The World, right? We opted for a bus journey that would take us into Niagara-on-the-Lake prior to dropping us at Niagara falls itslef, while stopping at a vineyard en route. All might sound very hectic but was paced really well and I’d throughly recommend it. The vineyeard stop allowed us to sample the Niagara speciality that is “Ice Wine”. Made from picking grapes harvested on the coldest night of the year, so cold in fact the grapes freeze, this is a crisp, sweet dessert wine that is definately worth sampling. Niagara-on-the- Lake is one of those quaint Colonial towns here everything is apple pie and shiplap boared houses. Ambling along it’s wide, sun-drenched streets with horse drawn carts it was all too easy to forget the frentic pulse of everyday life. But alas the Falls beckoned! Niagara Falls itself proved to be somewhat of an antithesis with Niagara-on-the-Lake. Gone were the quaint boutiques, open boulevards and porch festooned houses to be replaced with Hard Rock Cafe; traffic ensanred roads and josstling pavements. The Falls themelves are magnificant and the “Maid of the Mist” boat ride places you right in the middle of The Falls- so much so that the obligatory plastic poncho is required. Although you can be soaked to the skin from the spray it’s a worthwhile trip where you can appreciate just how small humankind can be in the face of Mother Nature.
Ice Wine grapes
I can hardly write aboout Toronto and not mention Church and Wellesley. Otherwise known as The Gay Village, this has beome a distict in it’s own right. This is where being LGBT has become life, work and leisure- not only were the people are gay, but also the crossings and ATMs! 13 years ago I went to Manchester for Mardi Gras weekend and feel in love with it. My visit here showed me I didn’t have to compartmentalise who I was; to leave being a gay man until the weekend at certain venues, or mind my Ps & Qs with who I was talking to. It was part of something that made up who I was, not defined me. In Manchester I saw people going about their eveyday lives, enjoying and celebrating their lives and loves. I realised I wouldn’t have to go without those things, both large and small, that sometimes can be taken for granted – public displays of affection; a significant other and a family, to nut name a few. Walking through Church and Wellesley I sensed that same resoulte, steadfast sense of pride around me. Being LGBT wasn’t a taboo here- it was a cause for celeration and pride. Celebrating everyday life. One sight still sitcks in my mind and at the time made me swell with emotion- an elderly couple of gents walking along arm in arm. Not looking to see if they were being noticed they were too engrossed in their own conversation. Who knows about what? It could have been anything from what to have for dinner, to resolving that morning’s argument, to what color to order the new couch in? The thing was they were having that conversation, arm in arm and not heeding the surrouding world. It was everyday life to them.
Some of the sights of Church and Wellesley Village
And so that was our trip to Toronto and I loved it. It’s a place of great food, great culture, where the people are friendly and relaxed- free from the hectic pace of life so easily found in London. A place where rush-hour is just that – an hour! Would I go back? Absoluely! But maybe next time it’ll be winter- there’s a hankering to see the place snow covered and white, and feel the bitter chill while walking along Church Street. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off the bath in maple syrup!
In the meantime,
“Remember Mom’s the word- that’s Mr. Mom’s!”