Leslieville: The First Food Tour

We are now on month 3 of living in Leslieville, and both my boyfriend and I agree that it’s such an amazing neighbourhood. Certainly lively and full of surprises. Now that we have had a chance to try out some great food spots in the area (with, admittedly, still so many left to try), I wanted to share my Top 5 Food Spots in Leslieville (for now).

1. Lady Marmalade: I don’t need to rehash how amazing this place truly is. So worth the wait. But just in case you forgot…

Baked french toast is the cat's pyjamas...

2. Ed’s Real Scoop & Bobbette and Belle:

Both of these spots make me all sorts of happy when it comes to dessert/snacks. Grabbing ice cream at Ed’s Real Scoop has now become my favourite passtime on warm summer nights (maybe a little too much…dangerous stuff!), and Bobbette & Belle makes nothing short of incredible desserts. My recommendation? Get a macaroon from them, pair it with the cookies ‘n creme ice cream from Ed’s, and call it a day.

3. Rashers & Leslieville Pumps:

I talked about the amazingness of Rashers way before I even lived down the street from it. Their sandwiches are still delicious. A new favourite we recently learned about is the Leslieville Pumps – on its face, this spot is merely a run of the mill gas station. But inside you will find more than just candy bars and chips. They have sandwiches with smoked meat, BLTs, pulled pork, poutine, coleslaw and deep fried pickels. Yum! Perfect hangover or late night food (while Rashers closes at 8pm, The Pumps is open 24h!)

Simple grilled cheese? Not these sandwiches!

Rashers’ goodness…

4. Paulette’s Chicken and Doughnuts:

Freshly made doughnuts (like, my favourite, the s’mores doughnut) + fried chicken + your choice of sauce makes this place a fun spot to have an unhealthy but utterly delicious snack. We recently tried their deep-fried macaroni ‘n cheese balls, too…can’t say you would be wrong in doing the same. I love this spot because it’s one-of-a-kind in the area and offers a fun alternative to fast food. If you’re feeling like something bad for you, but oh-so-good, this place delivers.

5. Prohibition Gastropub & Riverside Public House:

Riverside was the first place we tried upon moving in. And Prohibition has now become the “go-to” when meeting friends for a drink. They have great beers on tap, a fantastic happy hour, prime location at Queen and Broadview plus their food is  pretty damn good. My favourite dish that I’ve  had so far is their “Pulled Pork Grilled Fromage” – exactly what it sounds like: pulled pork +grilled cheese. But the kicker is that it comes with fries and a slightly tangy raspberry flavoured dipping sauce. It shouldn’t work, but it certainly does. Definitely work a try.

We fully intend on trying more places this summer (like Ruby Watchco/Ruby Eats, “The Nose”, Swirl Wine Bar, among others), and I will be sure to get more on he list.

The new 'hood!

The new ‘hood!

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Night Out: Wine and…Tacos?

Tonight I had the privilege of attending the summer opening of Mavrik Wine Bar. It’s a well-known fact that I love wine and anything wine bar related. Sadly, I had never been to Mavrik before but, after this introduction, you can bet I will be going back.

Grapefruit + wine + berries is delicious!

Grapefruit + wine + berries is delicious!

This little Queen West haunt is owned by two ladies who did the unthinkable – left their law and investment banking jobs to pursue a passion and open their own restaurant. They differentiate themselves from all other wine bars in a really great way, offering up local wines that are produced in small quantities (read: too small to be found at the LCBO) and a really good selection of fresh, healthy cooking.

A small sampling of Mavrik's menu - awesome tacos and great wine pairings

A small sampling of Mavrik’s menu – awesome tacos and great wine pairings

I got to sample two of their tacos with wine pairings. The first was a Portobello Taco with guacamole, tomatoes, red peppers, black beans, jalapeños, and basil aioli. While I’m not the biggest mushroom fan, this taco had great texture and flavour to it – not too spicy, just tangy enough, with the basil aioli adding a unique taste to otherwise “typical” taco fillings. The second – and my favourite – was the Sweet Potato Taco, filled with sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, parmesan and lemon aioli. This taco was so refreshing, tasty and was fabulously complemented by a Niagara Region Muscat. This was a perfect summer meal.

Portobello Taco (left) and Sweet Potato Taco (right)

Portobello Taco (left) and Sweet Potato Taco (right)

The vibe of the place is great – small and cozy – and, aside from the wonderful and unique food, there is also a healthy selection of cheese (after all, wine + cheese are the best of friends). My only gripe? With the wines being so local and limited in supply, you may fall in love with something that you can’t get your hands on too easily at the LCBO or Wine Rack. I guess that just means you have to return to Mavrik again.

mavrik vibe

Brunch Is Never A Bad Idea

Brunch is one of those lovely meals that typically only gets enjoyed on a lazy Sunday. There’s been a brunch revival in the last few years (particularly in Toronto) and now there is a smorgasbord of places to pick from if you want to get your “not-quite-breakfast, not-quite-lunch” fix. In fact, the Drake General Store even has a portable brunch map it sells, with all the city’s hot spots.

Stick this map in your wallet and go!

Stick this map in your wallet and go!

Ever since we moved to the new ‘hood, everyone I talk to has the same 3 or 4 places they say we HAVE to try. One of those places is Lady Marmalade, a breakfast/brunch/lunch spot that seems to have a perennial line out the door. After a few weekends of balking at the wait, we finally gave in yesterday and decided to try it. I can say the wait (in warm sunshine, finally!) was well worth it.

LM menuTheir menu is slightly Mexican-themed (lots of “huevos” involved), but their flavours are delightfully all over the map. They have a great selection of eggs benedict, as well as some fun daily specials. Plus, if you don’t eat gluten, they have the option of making a lot of their menu gluten-free. On this particular morning, my boyfriend had their eggs benny special (“Hawaiian Eggs Benedict” which included locally-sourced ham and a poached egg, as well as the unique flavour of roasted pineapple chunks and aged white cheddar) and I had the french toast special (moist baked french toast with raspberries and oranges, and maple syrup, obviously). Both were delicious and oh so filling!

Baked french toast is the cat's pyjamas...

Baked french toast is the cat’s pyjamas…

Aside from the delicious food and good service, I think one of the biggest draws to Lady Marmalade is the fact that they work with local food shops (like the nearby Rowe Farms) to source locally-grown, organic ingredients for their food.

Given the success of this MUST TRY spot, I’m certainly looking forward to hitting up the other local neighbourhood favourites during the summer. Oh, and if the picture of my delicious baked french toast is making you hungry and you want to give it a try at home, I recommend this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. There’s booze in it!

Loving…

Listening:

I stumbled on this song through the amazing We Are Hunted app in Spotify (the app was recently bought by Twitter and was launched yesterday as “Twitter #Music“, which is so far a super cool offering). The track reminds me a lot of Vampire Weekend and the almost island feel of the chorus makes me smile every morning on my way to work.

Reading:

Behind the Ktchen Door

I saw Saru Jayaraman on an episode of Bill Maher about a week ago and loved how passionate and knowledgeable she came off. Behind the Kitchen Door is a look at what goes on in the restaurant industry (focused on the US, naturally) behind what we all normally see – the powerful lobby groups, the “sustainability” trend that isn’t very sustainable, and the difficulties restaurant workers have living within the economic system. Really interesting read, especially for someone who frequents restaurants quite a bit.

Cooking:

Dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow will be one of my favourite salads: pear + arugula + blue cheese (with mustard-vinegar dressing). It’s such a refreshing salad with so many different flavours (I like to also add candied pecans for a bit of sugary sweetness to further cut the blue cheese). I’ve been craving it all week, ever since I had a meh salad at work on Monday, and I can’t wait to have it again. Bonus: it’s quick and easy to make and requires very few ingredients. Every time I have a salad, I can’t help but think of this.

My fave! via the Food Network.

My fave! via the Food Network.

Anticipating:

We recently purchased tickets to see The Lumineers on May 2nd, and I seriously can’t wait. Their album is pure perfection for me right now!

Lumineers

Happy Friday and have a lovely weekend!

72 Hours in Ottawa

Now that my boyfriend and I are coming to the end of the long-distance part of our long-distance relationship, I’m starting to learn to appreciate the perks of it a little more. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that the train trips, scheduled weekends and countdowns between visits will soon end. But there is a certain romanticism – even fun – that only seeing each other once every couple of weekends brings.

Take this weekend, for example. Because of Ontario’s Family Day long weekend (thank you, Dalton McGuinty!), I was able to spend an extra day in Ottawa, and it was a fantastic 72 hours. But…what do you do when you’re visiting your long-distance boyfriend for a longer stretch than normal?

Friday Night: The fun began when I arrived, to this…

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As a (very nice and highly unexpected) surprise, I was treated to freshly shucked oysters, my favourite non-meal meal of charcuterie and cheese, and a nice bottle (ok, two) of wine. Plus, he had made a playlist for the occasion – one thing everyone needs to know about me is that I’m a sucker for a good playlist (I’m not nearly as devoted to them as John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, but I get his obsession).

Saturday: Ottawa has an incredible attraction that nothing in Toronto can ever match – the Rideau. Whether you’re one for skating and winter activities (or not), it’s a gorgeous part of the city, a little haven that just lights up on clear winter days.

photo (45)

This weekend happened to be Winterlude, so there were lots of activities, kids, ice sculptures and skates all over the place.

photo (44)

As I’d mentioned before, there are many good places to eat in Ottawa, and Saturday night, we tried a new one that (almost) makes the list. We went to Navarra Restaurant in the Market – a tapas-style, highly rated, but tiny restaurant. Dinner overall was good – we shared a foie gras appetizer, something called a “Mexican Bricklayer Dip” (kind of a spicy guac, with cactus in it!), and then shared mains of duck belly and an interesting take on penne carbonara (with crispy pork belly in place of bacon). Dessert was kind of a miss for me (with a spicy chocolate panna cotta) and a total win for him (citrus-infused creme brulee), and the wine/cocktails we had were great. The service wasn’t stellar (we awkwardly waited around in the doorway for a few minutes while our table was getting ready), which made it sadly less than perfect.

Sunday/Monday:

My favourite part of most long weekends is the implied approval at being totally lazy – while we went out to watch a movie, we spent most of the time inside (aka away from the cold), just hanging out. Pizza for dinner, apartment hunting online, another movie…the works! And these are the moments that I always look forward to when visiting and that I miss most when we’re apart. It’s nice to be able to just span time with someone (a la Vincent Gallo in “Buffalo ’66”).

All this is to say – I had a really good weekend (even though it already feels like it was eons ago…).

Bellwoods Brewery

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Last night, my friend and I hit up the Bellwoods Brewery on Ossington for some munchies and home brew. Bellwoods opened up last April in an old auto-repair shop on the Ossington strip. After waiting on a table for a bit (this is one popular spot!), we were seated upstairs with an overhead view of the downstairs bustle. The vibe in this restopub is classic Ossington – candlelight, rustic decor and awesome soundtracks.

The whole draw of Bellwoods is their home brews – while we were there, we sampled 5 between the two of us. There was a light, summer-y Belgian beer (White Picket Fence); the classic IPA (Roman Candle); the chocolatey-tasting, Guinness-like concoction (Bootknife); the Christmas-inspired ale (Blitzen); and the delicious double IPA (Witchshark). In addition to the drink menu, they have a snack menu we just had to sample (beer on an empty stomach is never a good idea) – sharing a delicious Canadian cheese plate (with fresh, warm sourdough bread from Woodlot), then each having a homemade sausage, with beer-braised cabbage+beans+bacon, and topping it all off with a death-by-chocolate style triple chocolate brownie, drizzled with caramel and roasted almond slivers (in a word: wow).

The Ossington strip is full of little bars and restaurants that are full to capacity on any given weekend night (Yours Truly is one of them). It’s not a hidden gem it once used to be, but it’s become better for it in my opinion because of the quality of food and drink you now find. The trek to get there (if you don’t live on the West end) is well worth it, especially when the weather warms up and the patios open. If you’re up for a good beer night, Bellwoods is a great place to go – plus, if you’re ever craving any of their beers in larger quantities, they have a retail store open every day where they sell bottles of their brews. Yup – I will definitely be going back.

Diner Date

Toronto’s Thompson Hotel is quite the venue. Aside from the gorgeous rooms, stunning rooftop patio/pool, and prime location for drinks during the summer, the Thompson has 3 awesome restaurants: Scarpetta (an Italian fine dining restaurant with fabulous and unique dishes), Wabora (in my opinion, one of the best sushi restaurants in Toronto, only bested by the original in Bracebridge, Muskoka), and the Thompson Diner (which is what this post is really about).

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper

Recognize this? The All-American diner…”Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper

There’s always been something so fun and vintage about diners. And the Thompson Diner is almost an exact replica of the look and feel of this all-American establishment. I had a great time the last time I was there for a relaxing dinner. The menu items are what you would expect from a diner, but with a twist – mac and cheese made with truffle oil, reuben sandwich, burgers (like the “Deep South” made with pulled pork and onion rings), and buttermilk fried chicken (yum).

My friend and I each had one of their footlong hot dogs – hers with grilled onions, mushrooms, melted swiss cheese and bacon; mine with fresh cole slaw, dijon mustard, onions and relish. Both were incredible and accompanied by onion rings and french fries, respectively.

The best part of the meal? Their specialty milkshakes! They offer spiked shakes that are absolutely delicious – I had a vanilla shake spiked with Niagara Ice Wine, and my friend had an amazing mudslide.

Filling and delicious diner food

Filling and delicious diner food

The Thompson Diner is open 24 hours a day, which makes it perfect for late night eats during nights out and also for brunch (their brunch menu, by the way, looks absolutely scrumptious – bacon and sausage stuffed pancakes? bloody caesars made with bacon-infused vodka? yes please!).

Happy as an Oyster

I am not a fan of shellfish. I like cooked fish and most sushi just fine, but things like calamari or even lobster ? No thank you. I chalk it up to the overall ickiness, overwhelming ocean-y smell and often rubbery texture. But other people may just chalk it up to being picky. Whatever the reason, I shy away from even smelling shellfish dishes.

But, in my attempt to grow my palate (at least a little), I decided to give oysters a try last year. My first attempt at sucking down a fresh, slippery taste was at Origin Restaurant – I figure if I’m going to try something new, go big or put it off to a later date. The verdict? Oysters are delicious! They’re fresh, instantly transport you to a seaside sunset and are brilliant with a glass of chilled white wine. Naturally, a year later, I’m an oyster expert.

An Origin (Restaurant) oyster. See? Expert.

An Origin (Restaurant) oyster. See? Expert.

Since that first encounter, I have been more active in seeking out oysters as appetizers at restaurants. It’s amazing how different oysters can taste when they are dressed up (like Oysters Rockafeller, avec bacon!), and a lot of restaurants that serve them have their own unique spin, like at Yours Truly. If you’re in Toronto, I recommend Rodney’s Oyster House or Pure Spirits in the Distillery District for a night out. And Ottawa’s got the ever-touted Whalesbone Oyster House (disclaimer: on my list to visit, but haven’t made it yet).

Oysters Rockafeller, via the Bite Size Blog.

Oysters Rockafeller, via the Bite Size Blog.

And if you’re having an event that needs to be catered (or happen to be at one of the Toronto Underground Markets happening next year), check out Neptuno Oysters. A university friend of mine started this raw oyster bar catering company out of a sheer love for fresh, sustainably farmed oysters and simple-yet-delicious dressings.

My next oyster hurdle will be serving them myself. I’ve only ever shucked one…during an oysters-cheese-wine-games night at some friends in Ottawa. But I imagine that spending a warm spring afternoon, with friends in the backyard shucking oysters, sipping wine and listening to Passion Pit or some summertime, indie playlist would be a near-perfect day.

Yours Truly

This holiday season will be very busy but before the craziness starts, my boyfriend and I decided to take a night out for just us two. We decided to try a restaurant I’ve been hearing nothing but great things about – Yours Truly.

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The venue itself is awesome – rustic industrial decor, the music’s not too loud, lights not too dim (am I getting old or what?) Perfect ambiance. But the menu and food is something else entirely…

The full menu at Yours Truly

The full menu at Yours Truly

The premise is simple: it’s a four-course tasting menu. You’re given a selection of 2 main ingredients per course (i.e. carrot or beef, egg or grouper…) and you choose the one you want. From there, they make the dish using the main and other local, seasonal ingredients. While the dishes themselves are smaller than you’d expect (as per a “tasting menu”), they provide a few amuse bouches in between that get you just full enough so you’re not scrambling for pizza afterwards.

The view at Yours Truly

The view at Yours Truly

We both had very different things from the menu. My favourite dish had to have been the “egg” dish – it involved pea shoots, a poached egg, purple potato crisps and a lightly whipped foam of egg whites on  top. My boyfriend really enjoyed his second course, consisting of delicious pan-seared scallops. There was also a great chicken dish, which involved chicken breast with crispy skin, blue cheese mousse, pine nuts and apple slices. In between our courses, we were given oysters, a delicious fruit+pomegranate palate cleanser, garlic buttery buns, a mini seared eel sandwich, and my favourite, devilled eggs.

By the time dessert came (an awesome cheese plate for him, a delicious “Christmas-y” cake made with eggnog for me), I could safely say that I will be returning to this restaurant. Highly recommend it for a unique dining experience and great service.

Remnants of a delicious night out

Remnants of a delicious night out