A foodie tour of Toronto
Toronto is a town of neighborhoods -- each with its own distinct personality and flair for cuisine. During a recent trip for the Luminato Festival of Arts, I discovered this bustling city rivals New York City in terms of speedy, accessible public transportation and diverse, multi-cultural residents, and took in the sights and sampled many culinary delights.
Here are the highlights of my foodie tour of Toronto:
Ultra (314 Queen Street W.)
Queen Street West is to Toronto what Greenwich Village is to New York City. The hipster strip is lined with trendy boutiques, bars, and eateries. Ultra is one of the city's swankiest supper clubs. Barely noticeable from the street, the VIP nightclub and restaurant is tucked away behind red wooden Indian doors. The rustic décor, accented by quirky transparent curtains with portraits of roosters, soft lighting and dark wooden furniture, heightens the ambient vibe. Over endless glasses of red wine, my husband and I dined on a warm shimiji mushroom salad, sumptuous kaffir glazed salmon with steamed coconut rice, and sauteed snow pea shoots with papaya mint confit.
St. Lawrence Market & Carousel Bakery (35 Front Street East)
A short walk from our modern downtown hotel, Pantages Hotel and Spa (200 Victoria Street), we visited the St. Lawrence Market in the centre of historic Old Town Toronto. Voted by Food & Wine magazine as one of the 25 best food markets in the world, the St. Lawrence Market offers more than 120 specialty merchants and vendors. Inside, we devoured egg and cheese sandwiches at the popular Carousel Bakery & Sandwich Bar, a great place to grab an inexpensive breakfast or lunch. Meat lovers shouldn't miss "Back-Bacon on a Bun ($3.60)," Carousel's award-winning peameal bacon on a soft, sourdough roll.
360 the Restaurant at the CN Tower (301 Front Street)
A visit to Toronto wouldn't be complete without a visit to the landmark CN Tower in the city's entertainment district. The panoramic city view from the 113-story tower is spectacular, and when it's accompanied by surprisingly fresh regional Canadian cuisine, the experience is even more memorable. The world's highest revolving restaurant takes a few minutes to adjust to, but sinking into a brunch spread consisting of an heirloom tomato salad with goat cheese, smoked salmon with capers, a lobster omelet with fries, sinfully rich lemon cake, and a killer Bellini was a great distraction. The restaurant uses seasonal ingredients, many handpicked from an extensive herb garden on the CN Tower grounds.
The Harbord Room (89 Harbord Street)
Nestled in the Annex, a tiny section of downtown Toronto that borders the University of Toronto, this intimate restaurant and bar is distinguished by Bismuth pink walls and a small dining room. The Harbord Room prides itself on fresh, organic ingredients and plenty of vegetarian options including the Citrus Cured Icy Waters Artic Char Salad -- bitter greens, heirloom beets, blood oranges, crispy potatoes with horseradish cream and preserved lemon caper vinaigrette, and the Spring Risotto with asparagus and sweet pea and mint puree. Cap the night with an Aphrodisiac cocktail ($13), a sensuous blend of herbs, vodka, Chambord and lemonade.
Nota Bene (180 Queen Street W.)
Hence the name, the Mediterranean cuisine at Nota Bene has been given special attention. I savored the pomme frites with shaved pecorino and the Mediterranean sea bass with spinach, lentils, lemon, and olive oil. The Quebec Yogurt Panna Cotta made with local field rhubarb was a delightfully light way to end the meal. Mangia!
Quick Bite Options
Pizza Pizza:Toronto's answer to Dominos has been pleasing locals and tourists alike for over 40 years with its large, cheesy slices made with both classic and whole-wheat multigrain dough. Look for the bright orange Pizza Pizza sign on Queen Street West and all over the city.
Street hot dogs:Toronto street vendors are known for selling plump and tasty hot dogs, sausage sandwiches, and veggie dogs with plenty of topping and condiment options. These grilled dogs put New York City's dirty water dogs to shame and for only three bucks Canadian they make for the perfect on the go lunch.
Kensington Market:This melting pot neighborhood borders the city's Chinatown. Kensington Market is a place where Caribbean fish markets stand alongside Chinese vegetable vendors and Middle Eastern grocers. And if you're a thrift hound like me, a trip to the southern end of Kensington Avenue, Toronto's destination for vintage clothing stores like Courage My Love, is a must.
Steam Whistle Brewery: Beer lovers flock to this microbrewery located within walking distance from the CN Tower. The company produces a premium pilsner lager packaged in distinctive green glass bottles and made with the use of only four natural ingredients: spring water from Caledon, Ontario; hops from Germany; 2-row barley; and yeast.
Photo credit: St-Lawrence Market, 360 -- John Carluccio / Nota Bene, Kensington Market -- Tracy E. Hopkins