Though it’s only been a week, I’ve already seen a good portion of this city. I’ve walked many miles–36.56 mi according to my Fitbit–better acquainting myself with Toronto, taking in the sights, the people, the smells (both good and bad), and the food.
Saturday night, my friend Tiffany and I went out. After a failed attempt to get into a packed Aperol Spritz popup, we walked to Mahjong Bar in the Little Portugal neighborhood, a cool bar hidden behind a storefront offering Chinese small plates and cocktails. Definitely not the place you want to go to if you want to have a quiet conversation–it’s pretty noisy here–but a perfect place to start or end your night.
Later on we went to Bar Raval, a small pintxo bar in Little Italy. The space, a dimly lit Gaudi-inspired wooden interior including a long central bar and side counters with only a few stools, felt like a bar you’d find in Barcelona.
After taking a look at the menu, we ordered a couple of cocktails, and a few pintxos including the basque cheesecake.
Basque cheesecake, baring little resemblance to New York style, is a culinary masterpiece. A thin deeply caramelized exterior layer teetering on the edge of burnt, envelops a lightly sweet cloud-like interior that just melts in your mouth–no bottom crust of any sort to be found. Best cheesecake ever? I’d say it’s a strong contender.
The next day, a trip to the grocery store allowed me to explore more of the neighborhood. Leslieville, a hip brewery-filled area is also home to a diverse mix of residents–ranging from older to younger people, young families with children, to different ethnic and socioeconomic groups–I observed during my walk.
On Monday, I went to a local cafe to get some work done. Merchants of Green Coffee, in nearby Riverside, is a relaxed cafe housed in large jam factory old warehouse, a perfect place for freelancers like myself to work in.
After a few hours in the cafe, I left and walked over to Underpass Park, a public space under–you guessed it–an overpass. Much of the concrete columns are covered in large pieces of street artwork by local artists.
On my way back, I stopped into Leslieville Cheese Market to buy some Canadian cheeses–Chèvre Noir, an aged goat cheddar from Quebec is a new favorite of mine.
Tuesday involved more exploration of Leslieville, as well as a peek into East Chinatown + Gerrard St. E
Hastings Snack Bar just off of Queen St. E on Hastings Ave., is a retro lunch counter with touches of Polish decor, serving classics like stuffed cabbage (aka golumpki), kielbasa and homemade pierogis–dishes that’ll make you feel like you’re sitting in your Babcia’s kitchen.
In the late afternoon, I headed to East Chinatown/Gerrard St. E. The neighborhood was busy with people running errands, many of them stopping at Fu Yao supermarket to pick up fresh produce.
Sandwiched in between the supermarket and a dim sum restaurant is Andrea’s Gerrard St. Bakery. The small bakery offers a wide variety of home-baked goods including scones, cookies, cakes, and traditional Canadian treats like butter tarts. I opted for the butter tart, a small flaky pastry with a sweet and buttery maple syrup filling, and an “Eh” bar, a combination of a butter tart and another Canadian treat, the Nanaimo bar. If find yourself near this bakery, go get the “Eh” bar, you won’t regret it.
Just a few doors up from the bakery is Wong’s Ice Cream. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that even ice cream in Toronto is reflective of the city’s multicultural influences–and this place is no exception. Churning out Asian-inspired ice cream and sorbet flavors including Thai Iced Tea and Lychee Lemonade Sorbet, Wong’s give traditional ice cream an exciting twist. I had a scoop of Coconut Mango Sticky Rice, a creamy coconut milk-based ice cream with a thick swirl of mango puree throughout–the sticky rice also present gave an interesting textural element.
Midweek, I headed back up Gerrard St. E towards Little India to Udupi Palace. The large South Indian restaurant was empty of customers other than myself, but it was noon on a Wednesday–I imagine it’s packed in the evening and on the weekend. As a fan of dosas, a thin rice and lentil crepe-like wrap, I tried the paneer dosa. Unsurprisingly, the wafer thin dosa filled with paneer was quickly scarfed down–I’d like to go back to try their curries.
Me being the prolific walker I am, then decided to walk to Woodbine Beach (aka beach volleyball paradise) and along Lakeshore Drive. On the way back, I stopped in at Bobbette + Belle–a bakery I had heard a lot of good things about–on Queen St. E. After being temporarily overwhelmed by the display of cakes, cupcakes, macarons and other sweet treats, I chose a slice of carrot cake. Spoiler alert: it was delicious (and took three days to finish).
Thursday was a trip up to the Danforth/Greektown area. On my way there, I came across Riverside Park East, a public park offering stunning views of the city skyline. Once in Greektown, I headed to Messini’s for a “legit Greek gyro” as my Greek friend puts it, with french fries in it. From the street signs and businesses, to the people speaking on the street, it was clear that locals were proud of their Greek heritage here.
My bakery tour of Toronto took an international turn at Serano Bakery, a large family-run Greek bakery in Pape Villlage, just outside of Greektown. With traditional cookies, pastries and rows of baklava as far as the eye can see, it was clear why there was a steady stream of locals coming in and out of the place. Thankfully this bakery is a long walk from where I’m staying. Quick tip: Get several pieces of caramel baklava.
Friday was a break from the culinary tour with a walk through The Village, Yorkville and the Yonge-College Park area. On Bloor St. W, the flagship location of Aritzia, a Canadian women’s clothing brand, had caught my attention.
Saturday was a bagel and beach day. Tiffany and I walked to Bagels on Fire, a shop making Montreal style bagels in the Beaches neighborhood. Bagels in hand, we headed to Balmy Beach, a short five-minute walk away.
After walking along the beach to Woodbine, we headed back up to Queen St. E. and stopped in at Bobbette + Belle–Tiffany had never been, so it would’ve been rude to not oblige. I tried the chocolate hazelnut cake with an iced chai latte…I thought the carrot cake was good, but holy moses, this cake was on another level of sweet, sweet indulgence.
I ended the week with a “rest day.” When I say rest day, I mean I walked to & from the gym and worked out.
Today is a civic holiday, so I’ll be back out exploring tomorrow. Until next week!