I recently took a trip to Ontario for my cousin's wedding in Hamilton and my sister's wedding the following week in Ottawa. I was able to sandwich this family wedding trip with a few days in Toronto putting in some work at my company's main office in Toronto. I got a chance to eat some really great food on this trip, here are some highlights:
My esteemed colleague JB, recognizes and appreciates my nerdy food ways. After we chatted about some dinner options, she mentioned that she had recently discovered a new favourite burger in TO and I was sold. After my visit, I did some research and this place has received plenty of burger acclaim and is one of the top places consistently mentioned in the debate over where to find the best burger of the city of Toronto.
It looks like a standard, clean, bright, efficient fast food place. You place their order at the counter and then wait for your name to be called. The menu is full of drool-worthy sounding options- it was a tough choice and I was tempted by a number of options including Le Croissant du Paysan (single beef patty with cheese, two slices of crispy pancetta, french fries, a fried egg all between two croissants), The Smokey Cow (double burger layered with smoked mozza, smoked sea salt and double smoked bacon), The Jerky Cow (double cheeseburger with bacon fried in a spicy and salty jerk sauce and topped with a fresh slice of seared pineapple). I ended up going with The Grind n' Shine: Double Cheeseburger with baconm caramelized onions, topped with crispy homemade potato chips and a fried egg ($10.99) with crispy fries and a fountain pop. With the runny egg, this was a 10 napkin burger, sloppy, and epic-ly delicious. The topping and other components were fun and all but the burger patties were actually the star here. This meat is filler-free, ground in house daily and these patties are made with TLC. They are juicy, smooth, full of flavour and cooked to a wonderful medium on request.
JB blew me away with her order, the extremely impressive The Cowlorie: Double Cheeseburger with bacon, caramelized onion between two grilled cheese sandwiches ($11.99). This was a repeat of her previous "best burger" experience and she loved it just as much the second time around. She says their milkshakes are AMAZING (their varieties include Strawberry Cheesecake, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Nutella and Salted Caramel).
The fries are also worth mentioning, wonderfully crispy and you can smell and taste the fresh thyme and parsley. Also worth mentioning is the Coca Cola Freestyle Drink machine that offers it user over 100 varieties of pop. Pick Diet Coke, then choose from Cherry Vanilla , Orange, Raspberry, Vanilla, Classic. There are a variety of flavours available in all of their fountain pops. Mind blown. A legendary burger experience that will be etched deliciously into my food memory and put me into a heavy, burger, meat sweats-type state.
Mangia and Bevi
I visited this casual Italian restaurant tucked between two office buildings off King for lunch with some colleagues at their recommendation. Their lunch menu had plenty of delicious sounding salads, paninis, pizzas, and lunch special entrees. They both gave high praise to their pizzas and as soon as I saw their Neopolitana (front and centre) with tomato sauce, bocconcini, capers, olives, and anchovies ($16). This thin crust pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven (which we could see) was wonderful with a beautiful soft, crispy, with a nice chew and slight charring bubbles giving it a nice smoky flavour. Service was great and I loved the side servings of chili sauces, including a rich, full-bodied house made "bomba" tomato-chili paste sauce.
Fresh- Queen St W and Spadina
My trip to Fresh was a solo evening stroll from my hotel, exploring downtown. I had done some research and was eager to experience this TO vegetarian food and fresh juice institution. They've been around for nearly 20 years and have four downtown locations. Their mission is "to prove that vegetarian food can be satisfying, energizing, and crave-able with food made daily in-house from whole natural ingredients."I arrived around 7:30/8 pm and the place was packed. The wait wasn't too long since I was dining solo. It's a cozy place and tables are quite close together. The menu is large and it was really hard to decide from an abundance of salads, bowls, burgers, wraps and more. There are tonnes of choices and then there are many ways to tweak individual dishes to meet dietary needs, quirks and whims. In my case, I wanted to try the BBQ Burger, but I was still recovering from my carby pizza lunch, so I made it a salad, on a bed of lettuce without a bun. BBQ Burger with bbq sauce, quinoa onion rings, garlic mayo, napa cabbage, hot banana chillies, tomato and lettuce ($11). All of their burgers come with a side of marinated kale slaw. This was really tasty, especially the bold, bursting with flavour sauces and crispy, crunchy, light and not too oily onion rings. Their house hot sauce is out of this world- not burn your mouth spicy but with a bold punch of heat and flavour with a slight garam masala taste!!!!!
I really love falafel and middle eastern wrap cuisine in general. The pita, the fixin's, the sauces....and the wonderful purveyors always know just how to wrap up all of that goodness in a tight little bundle of chow down perfection. When I told a few people that I was going to Ontario, I had a few people emphatically tell me that I shouldn't leave without having at least one shawarma. People love their shawarma in Ontario and there are shawarma shops seemingly on every blcok.
For those of you who are By definition, “Shawarma (Arabic: شاورما,) is a sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shawarma is a fast-food staple across the Arab world, Europe and the Caucasus.” (Wikipedia)
I grabbed one near my office for lunch on my last day in TO and let me tell you, it was pretty great. The key foundation- the meat was juicy with a slight crisp, well seasoned and marinated, the sauces were wonderful (especially the sauce) an I was thankful that they were generous enough to indulge my request for extra pickles and pickled turnips.