There are literally thousands of reasons to visit Toronto. It's an exotic, compelling mix of nationalities, art museums, the CN Tower, parks, festivals, Bluejay Baseball, high fashion, world class museums and restaurants, the Toronto Film Festival and more!
This trip to one of the world's most diverse cities, I focused on food.
The “Taste of Toronto” is known as one of the world’s greatest restaurant festivals, and its second event was held in July. I’m excited to report that the festival was everything we expected!
Toronto’s most celebrated chefs and rising stars (yes, you can meet them!) were featured, including foodie entertainment, cooking demos, a boutique food and drink market and tents upon tents showcasing the most delectable offerings imaginable, all set inside the historic walls of Fort York with the gorgeous city skyline surrounding it.
The city’s latest, greatest and most unique restaurants were featured including top local and international chefs, more than 70 local artisans and a range of interactive culinary features. This year dates are set for June 23-26, 2016.
We didn't stop there, of course. We had a self-made tour of some of Toronto's hottest bars.
Two hotspots for cocktails in the city are Rush Lane on Queen Street and Rhum Corner. We started at Rush Lane, where one of the most popular drinks is “Green Goddess,” and an unusually named drink, “Sorry He’s Not Here,”which is named for one of the investors who is always traveling. Rush Lane Bar has a diverse menu, offers include grilled octopus and Australian Wedges. Rush Lane’s signature is clarified ice, made from a 300 pound ice block and cut with a chain saw. This is done in the alley behind the bar, Graffiti Alley (just as it sounds-an alley filled with colorful graffiti), which is also a tourist spot for weddings, tours and lots of visitors. The ice is formed from an aluminum presser which transforms the ice into a brilliantly clear frozen orb.
Rush Lane Bar is thoughtfully accommodating when it comes to “last call.” If you call in, they will put your name on a glass so you are not waiting for last call, because the glass is waiting for you!
Rhum Corner is located at Grace Street and Dundas Street West. The concept of Rum Corner came from Jen and Roland's long awaited idea to do a Haitian restaurant, with a cool atmosphere. They are known for affordable, tasty food and, what else, rum drinks. Lots of rum!
Hip to the bone, Carbon Bar, offers down-home food, including collard greens, barbecue, fried chicken and grits. I ordered the Black Mamba Margarita and found it very interesting! Coal black with salted rim – I've not seen this before.
We stopped in for dinner at Kasa Moto (in Yorkville) Restaurant, which had just opened four weeks prior, serving a unique Japanese experience with a menu of contemporary Japanese cuisine. This very lively spot is owned by Chase Hospitality Group and offers fine dining space, cozy areas, chef’s table and an enormous rooftop terrace where the hip, cool people are! You’ll find wood ceilings and lush indoor topiaries to enhance any occasion.
We dined at Furlough, which is a new restaurant serving European bistro fare. Owners Brent VanderVeen and Frankie Solarik wanted to have a classy neighborhood place, with a menu of global-accented bistro staples. Great burgers!
The next day had an unusual beginning – breakfast at Bar Raval, where the cool factor is sky high. Bar Raval which is known for both octopus and donuts. Chefs work in a small open kitchen, setting out small plates of delectables – and neighborhood milliennials pop in for a quick bite. As the morning slips into day and then night, the bites change, along with the guests, and coffee turns into cocktails. This is a Spanish tavern with authentic Spanish tapas served on the patio or standing inside. It is located in Little Italy, a really happening area with highly coveted living spaces and sky-high property values. There is no sign outside this bar - just go by their address and look inside that spot on the corner. Can you see the food on the bar and the ultra-cool staff? – Yep, that's it.
A must for all foodies is to take a food tour of Toronto. We were lucky enough to choose The Culinary Adventure Co. Chef Scott was our merry and informative host who accompanied us on a tour through the world famous St. Lawrence Market and a few nearby places too.
Chef Scott, originally from New Brunswick, was previously a restaurateur as well as a private chef to Houstonian Dan Duncan and now he does culinary tours to showcase things you might not find on your own in Toronto. Everyone has a culinary background at Culinary Adventures and the tours are led through neighborhoods by artisan food makers, butchers, bakers and chefs. A very popular tour is a canoe paddle with a five-course picnic. From visiting vineyards and meeting wine makers to eight-course seafood dinners or foraging for mushrooms, they do more than 75 tours per month. Try your hand at cheese making, BBQ grilling, oyster shucking or Canadian artisan cheese appreciation pairing and more. The Toronto Island Canoe and Beach Dining Adventure is designated as a Canadian Signature Experience, which is given to less than one percent of all attractions in Canada!
Chef Scott’s company is in its fifth year. He requests a maximum of 18 persons in a tour party, and only nine people in the Little Italy tours.
Scott greeted us outside the doors at the St. Lawrence Market South. The St. Lawrence Market has been operating since 1803 and is comprised of the north building, south building and St. Lawrence Hall. It offers a farmers market and antique market. What more can you want?
More than 120 vendors of every type and persuasion can be found at the market. Nearly every city has a specialty they like to claim and Toronto is no different. We began our tour with the famous Toronto pea meal bacon sandwich. The local lore is that an early Toronto resident became wealthy raising hogs. He heard about a shortage of meat in the UK, so he rolled up some of his bacon in crushed green peas and shipped it over. When it arrived, it was green, so they didn’t like it. His next batch was rolled in cornmeal and they loved it! He was so successful that he eventually sold his company, became a very rich man and moved to Georgia, where he was killed by a goat. This is the part of the story that vegetarians love! His company is still around today and is called Maple Leaf Foods.
Next we tried the pasteis de nata, Portuguese custard tarts. Hundreds of years ago, culture dictated stiff starch for the habits of nuns and clerics. This custom left them with extra egg yolks, so this custard started as a result, and became a staple Portuguese dessert.
We found the Kozlik’s Canadian Mustard store, which has been making mustard since 1948. Family owned and operated, they make their mustard with 100 percent Canadian mustard seeds. Canada is the largest producer of mustard seeds in the world – who knew?
Scheffler’s Delicatessen and Cheese is another family owned business we visited; they are a giant in the market, offering many specialty foods, even pickled pepper berries. Whitehouse Meats is known for the best selection of game meats in Toronto, such as the ones in the coolers: musk ox, camel sliders, camel strip loin, turtle bone in meat, peppered beef and peppered camel sausage. St. Urbain Bagel serves not just bagels, but Jewish bagels as well. They are actually boiled in honey water, and then baked. They also had flat bagels and knishes, just out of the oven, and smelling divine.
Future Bakery has that name because it represented the future for this family-run business. The current owner’s Polish grandfather used to be a master baker for Czar Nicholas’ court, where he baked until 1915. He fell in love with the owner’s Ukrainian grandmother and immigrated to Canada at the outbreak of World War II. Love that story! Future Bakery features “Old World Goodness” and has been in business for more than 30 years, with quality, fresh baked European-style breads, buns, bagels, croissants, baguettes, pies, tarts, cookies and more. Butter tarts, an Ontario invention, are $1.25 each. They also sell a line of all-natural cultured dairy products. At most of their locations, they sell fresh brewed coffees, teas, hot chocolate and sandwiches.
If you’re looking for ethically-sourced luxury foods that have no preservatives, Caviar Direct is the place. They are purveyors of caviar, artisan smoked salmons, truffle products, foie gras and organic gifts. We found Indian candy, fresh truffles and birch syrup. Indian candy is made from a salmon candy recipe Family-fun European Delight specializes in homemade Ukrainian-based food, including perogies and cabbage rolls. Bella and Boris have been in business since 1999, and they use fresh ingredients which they purchase right here at this market. Traditional cheese and potato perogies are available, as well as many other varieties. Made us a believer in their motto, “Every culture has a dumpling.”
Rube’s Rice might very well have the largest selection of rice in Canada, if not North America. Rube was born in 1921, and is one of the oldest vendors at the St. Lawrence Market. He offers dozens of varieties including Forbidden Rice, which is called that because at one time, it was only served to emperors.
Uncle George's Sprouts is Toronto's premiere source for artisanal, OCIA-certified organic sprouts, salads and snacks which are available online and at local retailers such as Whole Foods Markets. Uncle George started out selling a few trays of sprouts at local farmers markets, and has since expanded to have his product carried all over the city.
Scott’s knows a lot about the city and as we walked, he shared lots of history and interesting stories. It entailed anecdotes of several buildings, including Toronto’s history, such as ghosts in the ballroom of the Omni King Edward Hotel, and the secret tunnel that runs from King Edward Hotel to the iconic Flat Iron Building. Chef Scott pointed out all the great restaurants with celebrity chefs all over downtown.
Our downtown Toronto food tour ended at Kanga, which offers a variety of meat pies, including kangaroo, buttered chicken, pulled pork and creamy zucchini. You must order a lamington for dessert. It’s a classic Australian dessert - sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. Owners Erynn and Megan lived in Australia and fell in love with meat pie, so they moved to Toronto and set up shop, based on their love of wholesome food.
Summerlicious! A Culinary Celebration of Canada
Summerlicious is one of Toronto's favorite culinary celebrations. For three mouthwatering weeks in July, savor delicious three-course prix fixe menus served by close to 200 of Toronto’s top restaurants. This year, the dates are July 8-24. We spent an enchanting Sunday morning enjoying brunch at Casa Loma, a stunning castle, a former palatial residence and is now a museum, restaurant and a venue for special events such as weddings. We strolled through the lush, picturesque gardens to enjoy a smorgasbord of fresh fruits, vegetables, and an assortment of delicious dishes including wild Bison sliders, waffles and Ontario maple syrup, summer stone fruit crumble and hand-carved Niagara prosciutto at chef-manned stations. Winterlicious, January 27-February 10, 2017, offers a variety of experiences including cooking classes and demonstrations, dinner theater, tastings and pairings, intimate chef dinners and more.
The Ritz Carlton Toronto is the city’s most centrally located luxury hotel, with 267 elegantly appointed guest rooms and suites. Magnificent views of this Canadian city can be seen from the floor to ceiling windows. It features the alluring Urban Sanctuary and Spa, DEQ Lounge with spacious outdoor terrace and signature Ritz Carlton Club Level service, including the TOCA restaurant. The DEQ lounge is shady, comfy and is super popular with locals. Enjoy a spa treatment at The Ritz Spa, nestled in the heart of downtown Toronto. The floor to ceiling windows brings the outside in, and guests are soothed from sights and sounds of urban life. Treatments are inspired by Canada’s great outdoors. Gentlemen are embraced in the Blokes and Beer treatment, leaving them feeling relaxed and in good spirits. After their treatment, Blokes and Beer guests are treated to local beer while catching up on local events on the flat- screen TV in the Gentlemen’s Relaxation Lounge.
To get the most out of visiting Toronto, visit