After moving to the soggy Fraser Valley of British Columbia in 2006, I always seem to migrate back east in the summer, when the humidity clings to you like Saran Wrap. I love the heat that radiates off the sidewalks in Ontario for three solid months, a heat that can fry eggs and bare feet in the same amount of time. Being a Toronto expat, I am still trying to adjust to the funeral skies and perpetual rain of BC. Living in the suburbs of Abbotsford, I am struggling even more with the chicken wing and B.L.T.-peppered menus. Year-round margaritas from a slushie machine, potato skins and Cheez Whiz nachos are still the amuse bouche here. Susur Lee means nothing to the population of Abbotsford, and ordering crab cakes is an adventurous risk. Crab cakes with mango salsa on Blustone’s menu caused a collective jaw drop.
I’ve only been away three years, but my Toronto travel itinerary has been reduced to streets and eats. My partner asked what I wanted to do when we were back in Ontario this June, and the question prompted a feverish(and growing) list. I didn’t realize that I wanted to eat my way across Toronto so badly. Yes, there’s the CN Tower, the ROM(mummies and dinosaurs, oh my!) and the AGO (closed now until fall anyway), but there are so many places to eat that my culturally anesthetized palate needs to re-visit.
First off, I have to have a Charlie & The Chocolate Factory kind of experience at SOMA Chocolatemaker in the Distillery District. The toasted corn tumbled in creamy milk chocolate married with Mayan spice makes me swoon. The Mama and Baby-sized flourless pecan fudge cakes and handmade ginger snaps are what dreams are made of.
A few steps away from the magnet-like force of SOMA, the Mill Street Brewery lures me in with that punch-in-your-face robust Coffee Porter made with beans from Balzac’s coffee (also worthy of a pit-stop) and my favourite tastebud titillator, Tankhouse Ale.
Visiting the St. Lawrence Market has also become a necessity. The Saturday farmer’s market that began operation in 1803 makes buying and enjoying peameal bacon on a bun a respectful nod to history. Due to geographical proximity, I can’t avoid the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar either. The pinballing action of the chefs in the open kitchen, hot Yukon frites in a cone and the perfect wine pairing can easily make the hours slide by.
At some point during my stay, my brother and I will slip into the Laide Lounge where black and white films play on a small screen. There are piles of pillows and sheer curtains and fab cocktails like the Woody Woodpecker (gin, sweet vermouth, Couintreau) and the Black Tulip (black Sambuca and champagne). We will drink both, and probably several others for quality assurance. Yeah, that’s it.
I have nine days to squeeze in sticky pork buns on Broadview, warm Korean walnut cakes on Bloor (that make Timbits seem like the tacky sister) and a Garage Sandwich Company veggie special stacked higher than a Dagwood with roasted sweet potatoes and eggplant. When will I pack away a sloppy Polish sausage buried in corn relish and jalapenos from the cart on Yonge and Bloor? Two scoops of Greg’s roasted marshmallow ice cream will have to be squeezed in too, perhaps after I have my stomach pumped.
Before I visit my parents in sleepy Brantford, Dax and I will have to visit Pusateri’s Fine Foods (see above cannoli being devoured) and find my mother something sinful. This has been a pre-requisite since she was spoiled by one of their stylish mousses a few years ago. All the Pusateri desserts belong in an art gallery, but it’s the cakes that make my mother weep.
I need more days. When will I have a homemade Italian vanilla cream soda at the Bulldog off Church? How about a ginger beer and Jamaican Patty on a coco bun from the Patty King in Kensington Market? Oh no, and I just remembered the fantastic oxtail and plantain at Mr. Jerk that makes me sweat in minutes. Sigh. And Harbord Fish & Chips all wrapped up in inky newspaper?
If I schedule everything intelligently I think I will successfully manage to eat my way through Toronto, from the appropriately vintage-greasy Patrician Grill on King to one last soya mochacinno in the sun on the sidewalk in front of Jet Fuel. I’ll take the escargot thin-crust pizza from Trattoria Al Forno for the flight home. Done.