Creme Brule ice cream, pears drizzled with chocolate, tandoori coho salmon, chestnut ash goat cheese and Cuban pork sandwiches are just a few of the delights we sampled on a food tour in Toronto.
Adrenaline for Foodies! That’s the slogan for the Culinary Adventure Company which provides tours of Toronto neighborhoods. We walked through the historic Riverdale and Leslieville areas with Joanne Cameron. Joanne pointed out proudly that the local residents have managed to keep almost all the national chain restaurants and stores out of their neighborhood. The stops on our tour would be at independently owned Ontario or Toronto establishments. Joanne who gained quite a name for herself in a first season episode of the reality show Dinner Party Wars, used to run a pub in the neighborhood and so she knows everyone and has lots of great stories to tell.
The two neighborhoods we toured are in the constituency of a popular Canadian political leader named Jack Layton, whose death from cancer last year ushered in a time of national mourning. We walked by his office which still has his name on it. Joanne told us Jack was a regular customer at her pub coming in to order a beer and “two burgers–hold the buns but not the fries.”
Legend has it that Jack Layton used a napkin in a bar to draw the design for these cycling posts for locking up bicycles. You see these posts all over the city of Toronto. Jack worked hard to promote cycling as a green and budget- friendly method of transportation. (Here’s a previous post about the filming of a Jack Layton movie in our Winnipeg condo)
First stop on our food tour was Dangerous Dan’s, a burger joint that features the Colossal Colon Clogger, a 24 ounce hamburger served with a quarter pound of cheese, a quarter pound of bacon and two fried eggs. It comes with a large shake and an order of poutine. We didn’t sample any food here but Joanne did point out a picture of one of the first chef’s at the restaurant, an ex-convict named Bubba who turned his life around after landing a job at Dangerous Dan’s. Before running her pub Joanne was a guard at the city’s Don Prison in Riverdale. She worked there during the time Chef Bubba was incarcerated. It was while she was at the prison that Joanne got the nickname ‘Scrappy’.
Coffee and butter tarts were on the menu during our stop at the Dark Horse Expresso Bar. The patrons were an eclectic bunch, cyclists having their morning coffee, parents reading story books to their kids, university students bent over lap tops and business people checking out the newspaper headlines.
Joanne told us butter tarts are a famous Canadian dessert. The first written recipes for them can be found in a cookbook from Barrie Ontario in 1900, but it may be that the King’s Daughters, brides from France who came to Quebec, baked the first butter tarts with maple syrup, butter and dried fruit. ( Check out a previous post I did on the King’s Daughters.)
We were off next to St. John’s Bakery. Founded by a Catholic priest named Father Roberto it is a social enterprise sponsored in part by the United Way. The people who work at the bakery are new immigrants, people struggling with mental illness, autism or physical challenges and recovering drug addicts.
One of the friendly bakers, an immigrant Mom from Greece trying to earn enough money for extra care for a daughter with medical problems, gave us a tour, showing us the many kinds of breads hand-made at the shop using organic ingredients and two hundred year old recipes from Brittany France. We could help ourselves from a tray loaded with bite size samples of many different things the bakery sells.
At the Wine Rack, a store that specializes in Ontario wines we got to taste an Inniskillin red and white as well as some ice wine. Rob, the store manager, told us that 80% of the world’s ice wine comes from Canada. Grapes for this wine are picked when the skin of the grape is frozen. One grape makes one drop of wine. When President Obama paid his first official visit to Canada he was served Inniskillin Ice Wine.
On the way to our next taste experience we stopped by The Opera House. Built in 1909 it is a former vaudeville and movie theatre that now serves as a concert venue. Many up and coming Canadian groups perform there.
The gourmet food shop Ruby Eats is run by a chef and a designer who were regulars on the reality show Restaurant Make-Over. They also run a restaurant in the Riverdale neighborhood.
Ruby Eats specialize in all kinds of home-made sauces, preserves, fillings and everything you need to use them. They favor local ingredients. Here’s Dave trying out some cranberry spread on toast.
The mustard shelf alone at Ruby Eats was something to behold– Maple Bacon Mustard, Artichoke Garlic Mustard, Carmelized Onion Mustard, Bacon Blue Cheese Mustard, Spicy Honey Mustard and Molasses Mustard.
Dave examines a state of the art cooking pot at Ruby Eats while a fellow tour member pages through a book called The History of the Hamburger. There were couples from New York City, Toronto and Nashville Tennessee on our tour.
Our next stop was an olive oil store but on our way we passed several places Joanne wanted to point out…….
an old bank building that has been turned into a women’s fashion store featuring the work of Australian designer Stephan Caras who according to Joanne, designs reasonably priced clothing made for REAL women
the Avro Pub named after a Canadian military interceptor aircraft called The Avro that was under development and widely touted for its advanced aerodynamic achievement. In 1958 all production work on the Avro was cancelled causing widespread controversy. The Avro Pub contains all kinds of memorabilia from The Avro.
the Ralph Thornton Community Centre and Library housed in a historical building that used to be a post office. The clock designed and built in England uses the same kind of mechanism as does Big Ben in London.
Finally we arrived at Olive and Olives where we were introduced to a few of the many olive oils the shop carries. The store works directly with producers like Maria Tabera Galvan from Spain to create exceptional olive oils.
After our hostess had taught us how to taste olive oil by warming a small glass up in our hand first and had explained the differences between olive oils from Spain, Greece, Italy and France she created this treat for us. It was pears drizzled with melted dark chocolate, La Laguna virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.
I think Dave is wondering how he is going to be able to finish the tour if we keep eating like this.
We made our way over to Table 17 next a three-year old restaurant run by two brothers. Joanne likes the fact that they hire local kids and train them to be serving personnel.
Over these fantastic Cuban pork sandwiches and Caesars there was a discussion between the Americans and Canadians on the tour about gun control. Our American friends owned and carried guns and told us why that was important to them and we explained how most Canadians have a slightly different view of personal weaponry. It was a great exchange of ideas.
We walked across De Grassi Street. A very popular Canadian teen drama television show gets its name from this street.
We passed this elderly woman feeding the pigeons. Joanne told me the woman does this regularly at different spots in the neighborhood.
At a fish market called Hooked they post the kinds of fish they carry and tell you exactly where they were caught and what kind of fishing method was used to catch them. The shop deals personally with Great Lakes fishermen and carries only fish and shellfish from clean waters, that have been caught using methods which do no harm to other species or to the surrounding environment.
We got to try two of their speciality products a tandoori coho salmon and an arctic char pastrami. Fabulous! The couple who run Hooked are both professional chefs and it shows!
In European style we had our after dinner cheese course at the Leslieville Cheese Market where we could nibble at a Swiss style Gruyère, a smoked blue cheese and a chestnut ash goat cheese.
Did we have room for anymore food? As you can see Dave did. Our last stop was Ed’s Real Scoop where they had more flavors of ice cream than I thought possible. Should I have lime coconut, strawberry rhubarb, passion fruit mango, pumpkin or caramel apple?
They had all kinds of gelato flavors too which made choosing even more difficult. Dave went with expresso icecream and I chose creme brule.
We’d had such a great time with Joanne that no one was ready to go home yet even though we’d been ‘on the road’ for nearly four hours. So we all made our way to a local pub, where Joanne’s husband joined us for another hour or so of visiting, exchanging work stories, travel tips, and family anecdotes.
The tour was a unique and delicious way to meet interesting people, really get to know two charming city neighborhoods, and have a taste of Toronto!