One of my earliest memories is of being a toddler on a road trip to Myrtle Beach with my mom and dad and one of my aunts.
I remember sitting in my little booster car seat, the backs of my dimpled knees sticking to the grey plastic and my bare back warm against the soft fabric of the seats in our brown Chevy. I remember building a castle and an impressive dragon in the sand with my mom, and trying to figure out in my little mind how we could possibly make a princess and then somehow get her inside the castle. I think I remember fireworks.
And I definitely remember my first taste of seawater, the salt sting on my lips. A glutton for sodium, I’m pretty sure I had to be closely monitored lest I completely dehydrate myself every time my parents took me into the water.
So I suppose it’s no surprise that I grew up to love the taste of seafood, and in particular, the creatures who put me the most in mind of my memories of fresh seawater: oysters. I’ll order them by the dozen on a night out, but I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of shucking my own. So I jumped at an invitation from iYellow Wine Club to swing by their wine cave last week for an evening of wine tasting and oysters, complete with a lesson on how to shuck oysters properly.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from iYellow, this being my first wine club event, and I was a little worried it might be a bit stuffy, or worse, I might be outed as the woefully uneducated wine drinker I am, despite it being my most frequent alcoholic beverage of choice. So I was happy to find that the club’s founder, Angela Aiello and her team were certainly knowledgable about grape products, they were also welcoming, enthusiastic and not the least bit condescending. In other words: the perfect sort of people to learn from while we sampled some tasty fruity and floral wines from Stoneleigh vinyards.
iYellow’s wine cave, where the event took place, had a fun speakeasy feel, hidden away with the entrance in the alley behind Queen Street, with a stellar mix of cozy kitsch and elegant decor, and a layout perfect for mingling and/or just setting oneself up conveniently close to the beautiful cheese selection and befriending anyone else who lingered there, which is how I met lovely fellow Toronto bloggers and food enthusiasts, Janu (of aathma) and Danielle of Ginger Rose.
While I roped my pal Emma into coming along with me this time, we both agreed that an iYellow wine school class in the cave would make for a fun alternative to a typical dinner/movie date night with a less platonic companion.
I mean, wine, oysters, and a mysterious “cave”, what could be more romantic?
Although, I might skip putting my hand into the communal oyster-shucking gloves for that one.
Have you guys ever been to a wine club? Are you aficionados or just indiscriminately enthusiastic wine drinkers like yours truly?
Sitting in the sun-drenched dining room at Dessert Trends Bistro sharing tea with a friend is definitely a little luxury.
I love whiling away an afternoon chatting and laughing and dreaming over earl grey. Throw in a few stuffed animals and it’s like my childhood make-believe tea parties come to life.
Then they bring out one of their seriously gorgeous house-made desserts and it’s pure bliss.
Do you guys have a favourite spot to stop for a cuppa?
It can be overwhelming trying to explore a city as lively and diverse as Toronto. There is so much to see and do (and eat!) that it’s hard to know where to start.
Lucky for me, I’ve always had friends who lived in the city and could point me in the most delightful, delicious or entertaining directions. And lucky for you, I’ve decided to share some of their recommendations in a little series called Favourite Places.
Long before I moved back to the city as (what apparently passes for) an adult, my very first Toronto guides were my mom and dad, who settled in the city for a few years as newlyweds after galavanting around Europe, building boats in France, camping on the beaches in Italy and just generally making the most of their 20s.
I definitely inherited my appreciation for and adoration of good food and my fairly adventurous palate from these two, and I love taking them to all of the new amazing restaurants I’ve come across in Toronto. Still, we can never go to long without a trip back to their old favourite: Astoria Shish Kebob House on the Danforth.
When did you first discover Astoria?
Mom: We first went there with my roommate Jill when she and I were living in Cabbagetown. She learned about it from her office.
Dad: We first went to Astoria in the late 70s or early 80s when we were introduced to it by our good friend and sometimes roommate Gerry.
Glad we’ve got that straight. You two should be on the Newlywed Game. How did it become a favourite?
Mom: They served a giant plate of souvlaki with tons of garlicky tzatsiki and garlic bread and Greek potatoes and some very drinkable cheap Greek wine. I know they had other good stuff but we always had the same meal. The only difference is that now we get the smaller portions. Usually there were long line ups because the restaurant was about half the size it is now. It was always noisy and fun for big groups of friends and after we had kids, it was still the perfect family restaurant and we lived about 5 minutes away.
After we left the city we used to get take out if we were in Toronto. First we’d get the Greek food and then we’d get a box of our favourite Greek cakes around the corner on Pape. We’d put them in the trunk of the car and bring it all home to savour the food and the memories.
Dad: It became our favourite because the food was great, the prices were good and it was a noisy family place, always busy. Sometimes you had to wait either in the lobby or outside to get in. once we moved into the ‘hood, living on Eastmount and then Garnock ave. it became our first choice for restaurants. we did lots of eating in and lots of taking out. The takeout was always bigger.
What is the best item on the menu?
Dad: The best item on the menu when we first went there was the large souvlaki platter -on a platter not a plate. It was two giant skewers of bbq pork with rice, potatoes, salad and pita bread with killer tatziki.
Mom (listening in on dad’s answers at this point): We never had room for dessert.
What is your favourite memory/story from the restaurant?
Dad: When you guys were older, we were living in Stratford and drove in to go to the zoo, and we wrapped up the the day with dinner on the patio and watched a huge thunderstorm pass by to the north, and we found out later on the news that it washed out some of the roads to the zoo
Mom: Also, the old Greek men who were career waiters and who got to know us over the years, and always remembered us, and just the memory of when Sarah was little and would stand on the seats to peek over the booth and talk to everyone in the restaurant.
Some things never change.
One of the things I was the most excited to move to the city for was the food. Toronto has an incredible array of diverse restaurants in every price range, helmed by some incredibly talented chefs.
Lately I’ve been documenting some of this incredible fare for spotted by locals, a fantastic travel guide written by locals in the know that you should definitely take a look at if you are travelling to or live in any major cities in the UK or North America.
Here are a few of my delicious, delicious outtakes for you to feast your eyes on.
When I lived in the country, there were three meals in a day and everyone I told I was vegetarian (lapsed these days) just blinked at me blankly and tried to feed me summer sausage.
Now that I think about it I should really have re-thought the timing of my meat embargo. It would be a thousand times easier to accommodate now than it was when I lived across from the Legion Hall (which featured a meat draw every Sunday).
In the city, not only are there menus to suit just about every dietary whim out there, there is also an extra meal. Brunch.
What is it about brunch? Are there so many fantastic Toronto restaurants that we need an extra made-up meal to give ourselves a fighting chance at trying them all? Or is it just embarrassing to admit that we’ve had a glorious layabout morning and are only now, at 12:30 pm, rolling out of bed to break our fast, so we call it something else? Who knows! And really, who can be bothered to care when there are sunny mimosas to be drunk and a myriad of hollandaise/potato combinations to be savoured among friends?
I have had to search for new places to enjoy this fictitious meal these days, as Prague Deli on Queen, where I once had a brunch special so delicious it made me tear up –yes, again, has inexplicably closed. So, in no particular order, here are a few I’m digging these days:
Fanny Chadwicks – (or as Red and I refer to it, Fanchads, we are very busy women you see) For being off the beaten path, this place is never short of brunchers. It would be surprising if the food wasn’t so remarkable and the staff wasn’t so friendly and the place wasn’t so cozy. Their build-your-own benny with smoked fish is a thing of beauty, my friends.
L’Ouvrier – Still too new to the neighbourhood to have gained the lengthy lineups of their Dundas West neighbour, Saving Grace, L’Ouvrier features plenty of refreshing roughage for mornings (or early afternoons) when you just can’t stomach another heavy meal. Although, happily, the menu does include some bacon, so you won’t leave unsatisfied or ravenous either. I love how open the space is, (a rarity not to feel like you’re in your neighbour’s laps at brunch), their miss-matched teacups, and the fact that they serve fresh-baked scones (To be clear, I actually didn’t think the scones were that spectacular compared to some, I was just excited to have a vehicle for crème fraiche and jam)
The Saint – A gleamingly polished upscale pub on Ossington, everything in the place is attractive. Seriously, it’s not just the decor or the food. When I was there it seemed like there was a surpluss of attractive servers and brunchers alike, but maybe that was just a fluke. Anyway, I didn’t have much time to look at them because I had to focus all of my attention on the insanely delicious poached eggs & prosciutto-wrapped asparagus WITH pommes dauphine and bernaise that I ordered. I mean, come on.
The County General – I feel like I need to pop back in here again before giving this one a permanent spot in my favourites list because while I thought the buttermilk chicken sandwich at this Queen West nook was SO scrumptious, I was also really, really hungry after Barreworks and about an hour of wandering around in search of sustenance.
Kalendar – I keep trying to order other things on the menu but I’m just too obsessed with their salmon quiche and salad with poppyseed dressing. It’s just plain old tasty and it’s a perfectly portioned meal so I leave feeling satisfied but never to the point of comatose. I love the rich décor, the friendly servers and the quirky little details in this place AND once a couple of years ago I was seated at a table next to Michelle Williams, who is just so bitty and pretty and glowy in real life that it took all of my willpower not to just stare at her like she was on my tv. So, basically if you eat there, you might be a celebrity.
How about you guys? Are you brunch fans? Are there any spectacular places I should be adding to my list?