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Where to Eat Toronto

Hops of Fun: 7 Stops for a Refreshing Pint of Craft Beer

CRAFT BREWING CONTINUES TO BE A BIG BUSINESS ACROSS NORTH AMERICA, WITH A GROWING GROUP OF INDEPENDENT BEER MAKERS PRODUCING NEW EXCITING ALES, LAGERS AND STOUTS, AND EVER MORE CUSTOMERS DEMANDING THE SMALL-BATCH BEVERAGES AT THEIR LOCAL WATERING HOLES.

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Photo Credit: Amsterdam BrewHouse

In Toronto, both supply and demand have noticeably increased over the past half-decade. Though corporate beers remain predominant, most respectable establishments now serve at least a couple of options for more discerning drinkers, and connoisseurs can look to any of the bars and brewpubs recommended below for some truly memorable beer-based experiences.

1 Indie Ale House is a straightforward name for a joint that specializes in decidedly non-standard bevvies. Look for rare releases like its “Fates and Furies” series—barrel-aged beers brewed using ancient techniques.

2 Though relatively new, Bloordale’s Burdock has already established itself as a microbrewery and resto-bar to watch. Eight taps pour its “approachably experimental” offerings while the kitchen serves gourmet comfort fare.

3 Still a foodie favourite, Bar Isabel is also very well known for its craft beer list, which, among other things, has many bottles from top-tier Quebec brewers Trou du Diable and Dieu du Ciel.

4 Toronto hipsters’ beers of choice come from Bellwoods Brewery, which offers exceptional drinks—the Farmhouse saison and Witchshark IPA are both classics—in its brewpub and bottle shop.

5 Amsterdam Brewhouse is a massive Harbourfront hub—with three lakeside patios—for enjoying beers by Toronto’s oldest independent brewery. Try a flight of four beers, or see what’s new in the tanks.

6 Family-owned Bar Volo is one of the city’s more venerable spots for craft brews. Can’t decide from among the 100-plus taps and bottles? Its house line of cask-conditioned ales are always intriguing. (Volo is closing it’s Yonge Street location in September; a new location is yet to be announced.)

7 Just outside the Financial District, Beerbistro entices area hot shots with brasserie-style fare and a massive selection of everything from local lagers to trappist ales.

Chabrol: A Tiny French Bisto in the Heart of Yorkville

SMALL BUT MIGHTY CHABROL SERVES UP EXCELLENT SOUTHERN FRENCH CUISINE

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The buttery, unforgettable tarte aux pommes.

Chef Doug Penfold knows Spanish food. For years he’s served some of the city’s best tapas at midtown institution Cava. Turns out he’s equally passionate about French fare, as evidenced by his cooking at Chabrol, a tiny bistro Penfold launched with Cava co-owner Niall McCotter. Set back from the bustle of Yorkville Avenue, it’s an elegant hideaway for unfussy indulgence. Order and aperitif and some oysters, then spoil yourself with the rich wild mushroom and artichoke ragout—plus the chef’s acclaimed tarte aux pommes for dessert.—Craig Moy

 

•90 Yorkville Ave., 416-428-6641; chabrolrestaurant.com
Map and reviews

Global Eats

EXOTIC YET AUTHENTIC FLAVOURS OF THE WORLD CAN BE FOUND RIGHT HERE IN TORONTO. HERE, YOUR PASSPORT TO PALATE-PLEASING DISHES FROM SOUTH AMERICA, EUROPE, THE MIDDLE EAST AND BEYOND.

Fried chicken at Omaw

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Omaw riffs on Southern American cooking like no other restaurant in the city. Inspired by Carolina cooking, chef Matt Blondin slings plates of aged wagyu with beef fat vinaigrette, baguettes topped with pickled mussels and creamed corn, and recently he’s been winning crowds with heaping plates of his signature buttermilk fried chicken.

88 Ossington Ave., Toronto. 416-477-5450; omaw.ca

 

Pastries at Lucullus Bakers & Roasters

Lucullus’ third outpost brings 26 years of European pastries and Chinese breads in a posh boutique setting in Markham. The selection varies daily but you can expect an assortment of stuffed croissants along with steamed baskets of dumplings, and of course the iconic bo lo bao (pineapple buns).

31 Elm St., 416-792-1886; 7750 Kennedy Rd., 905-513-1188; lucullusbakery.com

 

Octopus at Bar Isabel

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Photo by Nicole Kim.

Chef Grant van Gameren was cooking up whole octopus at his Spanish restaurant Bar Isabel long before cephalapod reached mainstream fame. It’s a dish he can’t remove from the menu, grilled tentacles swimming in a tomato sauce with chunks of chorizo and Israeli couscous. Once you’re done mopping up the bowl, finish with some basque cake.

797 College St., 416-532-2222; barisabel.com

 

Rabbit Stifado at Mamakas Taverna

Classic Greek cooking with a facelift is what Chris Kalisperas does best at Ossington hotspot Mamakas. One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the rabbit stifado. Kalisperas braises whole legs of rabbit in red wine, mirepoix, bay leaf, cinnamon and peppercorns for a few hours. It’s finished off in a pan with roast cippollini onions and parsley and served with a purée of local sunchokes.

80 Ossington Ave., 416-519-5996; mamakas.ca

 

Thali at Indian Street Food Company

A visit to Hemant Bhagwani’s midtown restaurant is a must if you want a true representation of street food prevalent in India’s many railways stations and roadside stalls. The rotating daily thali is a sublime experience, a mound of rice and freshly baked naan is served with a half a dozen dips and curries that take you on a flavour-packed trip of salty, tangy and spicy.

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Thalis at Indian Street Food Company include a variety of flavourful curries and dips .

1701 Bayview Ave., 416-322-3270; indianstreetfoodco.com

 

BBQ-Glazed beef tongue at Diwan

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The gorgeous dining room of Diwan at the Aga Khan Museum.

At the Aga Khan Museum, where chef Mark McEwan has recently taken over the food and beverage services, tuck into a vibrant Middle Eastern-themed menu while enjoying sprawling views of the Aga Khan Park. The top sandwich on the menu sees cooked beef slathered in a barbecue reduction and served with an East African salsa and pepper aioli on sourdough.

Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr., 416-646-4670; agakhanmuseum.org

 

Curry udon with shrimp tempura at Menami

This new Sanuki udon house is putting out some of the best Japanese noodle bowls in the city. Kagawa-style artisanal “big fat noodles” is what MeNami specializes in, hand cut with a soft, al dente bite, tossed in a variety of broths (there are 15 versions in total). The signature bowl is the curry udon, noodles drowning in a rich clear broth, topped with vegetable and shrimp tempura.

MeNami Japanese Udon House and Sake Bar, 5469 Yonge St., 416-229-6191; menami.ca

 

Torta Cubana at Torteria San Cosme

Ever since restaurateur Arturo Anhalt laid eyes on a former cafe space in Kensington Market, the owner of Milagro restaurant wanted to open a traditional Mexican torteria. Nearly everything on the menu is sourced from the market, tucked generously into soft breads called pan teleras. The crowd favourite is the Cubana: thick slices of smoked ham and chunks of adobo pork are bathed in gouda and coated to the rim with a chipotle sauce.

181 Baldwin St., 416-599-2855; sancosme.ca

 

Quail and Foie Gras at Scaramouche

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Sacramouche specializes in upscale French dining.

Upscale French dining doesn’t get any better. Keith Froggett’s longstanding Scaramouche restaurant has set the standard for refined food and service in this city. They continue to entice diners night after night with dishes like the quail and foie gras. It’s a decadent dance of sweet and savoury notes with stuffed quail, double smoked bacon, and sauternes raisins drenched in foie gras jus.

1 Benvenuto Pl., 416-961-8011; scaramoucherestaurant.com

 

Maha’s Mind Blowing Chicken at Maha’s

A family-run Egyptian restaurant near Little India is redefining what it’s like to brunch in the city. Imported drawings and fixtures dress the tiny dining room with a menu that is all about flavour and getting your hands messy. The quintessential Maha dish is a messy tower of slow marinated chicken dripping in mayo and garlic sauce, covered with onions, tomatoes and parsley.

226 Greenwood Ave., 416-462-2703; mahasbrunch.com

Suresh Doss is a Toronto-based food and drink writer. You can follow him on Twitter @spotlightcity or Instagram @suresh.

 

Seal the Deal at These Big-for-Business Restaurants

YOU AND YOUR COLLEAGUES (AND CLIENTS) WILL BE TREATED RIGHT AT THESE SOPHISTICATED TORONTO RESTAURANTS

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Hy’s Steakhouse is a classic clubhouse for Financial District dealmakers (photo: courtesy of Hy’s Steakhouse)

We know that not every meeting takes place in a boardroom; some negotiations are better handled over a leisurely meal or a few drinks. Fortunately there are client-friendly restaurants in some of the city’s classiest neighbourhoods.

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Mark McEwan Takes Over Diwan at the Aga Khan Museum

THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM’S DIWAN RESTAURANT NOW FEATURES A NEW MENU DESIGNED BY CELEBRITY CHEF MARK MCEWAN

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The serene Diwan dining room at the Aga Khan Museum (photo: Janet Kimber)

At museums, change is inevitable. It’s most evident in the opening and closing of temporary exhibitions and special events, but evolution also occurs elsewhere—in the way programs are delivered, in the layout of galleries, and, in the case of the Aga Khan Museum, the operation of its food and beverage services. Late last year, the celebrated institution for Islamic art and culture partnered with chef Mark McEwan to revamp the offerings at its Diwan restaurant. Though McEwan’s background isn’t exactly steeped in the cuisine of the Islamic diaspora, he’s nothing if not adaptable: his restaurants’ culinary profiles range from contemporary Continental (North 44) to brassy North American (Bymark) to rustic Italian (Fabbrica), and his two upscale supermarkets demonstrate his long history of sourcing the absolute best ingredients. At Diwan, the chef and his team have retained the restaurant’s artful approach to Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian cooking, while also making its lunchtime dishes a little more accessible. A traditional wedge salad, for example, gets a Moroccan twist with cilantro mint dressing, tamarind chutney and crispy daal, while salmon is glazed with harissa and served with quinoa, falafel and pomegranate yogurt. What hasn’t changed, however, is the beautiful, serene dining room, which is accented by hand-carved and painted wood panels dating back to 19th-century Damascus.  —Craig Moy

• Diwan, Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr., 416-646-4670; agakhanmuseum.org/dine
• Map and reviews

Sample Superior Southern Fare at Omaw

OSSINGTON AVENUE RESTAURANT OMAW MARKS CHEF MATT BLONDIN’S RETURN TO THE CUISINE OF THE AMERICAN SOUTH

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Mussels on toast (left) and wagyu beef are among the elevated options you may find at Omaw (photos: courtesy of Omaw)

You might think it’d be easy for a top-tier catering company to open up an equally prosperous restaurant. But the two operations don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Recipes don’t always translate. Staffing requirements are different. A restaurant’s customer base can be unpredictable at best. Toronto’s Food Dudes caterers, however, seem to have found some success. In business since 2007, chef Adrian Niman’s outfit rolled out a still-popular food truck in 2012, and in 2014 its Rasa bar and restaurant became an instant Harbord Village hit—thanks to its trendy yet accessible ambience and cosmopolitan cooking. Late in 2015, the company launched its second bricks-and-mortar space, in collaboration with noted chef Matt Blondin.

Omaw, on hip Ossington Avenue, moves away from the Food Dudes’ more pluralistic culinary outlook and instead focuses on Carolina Lowcountry cuisine—the kind of U.S. South cooking Blondin became known for at a previous post, but now arguably even more refined, and definitely a little more experimental. Take a recent offering of wagyu beef: more than a mere slice of steak, it was instead served as a paper-thin square coloured by a Pollock-like mélange of pea relish and onion slivers. Or order the keylime pie, whose meringue looks like it was made by Frank Gehry. The drinks selection, too, is worthy of both the menu’s provenance and the restaurant’s chic address, with bourbons, craft beers and short list of original cocktails.  —Craig Moy

• Omaw, 88 Ossington Ave., 416-477-5450; omaw.ca
Map and reviews

Jamie’s Italian Boasts Rustic Fare for the Whole Family

CELEBRITY CHEF JAMIE OLIVER’S ITALIAN-FOR-ALL CONCEPT RESTAURANT HAS OPENED IN NORTH TORONTO

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It was about four years ago when one of Britain’s most famous chefs tweeted his admiration for Toronto’s Buca restaurant. “My favourite meal of the year,” wrote Jamie Oliver, he of the myriad television shows, cookbooks and chain of 60-plus restaurants. So it came as little surprise when in the summer of 2014 Oliver announced that his brand would be coming to Canada, courtesy of the King Street Food Company, Buca’s owners. Eighteen months later, Jamie’s Italian is now open at the ever-busy Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Combining the erstwhile naked chef’s well-documented love of regional Italian cuisine with his advocacy for healthy, honestly sourced ingredients, the restaurant boasts an approachable—and relatively affordable—menu designed for the whole family. House-made pastas and pizzas are naturally a big draw, but don’t sleep on the rustic mains either: they range from simple pork and fennel sausage to prosciutto- and cheese-stuffed turkey to pan-fried whole fish. Budding foodies, too, are assured more than standard fare, with meals that balance meats, vegetables and grains to please pint-sized appetites and provide their parents peace of mind.  —Craig Moy

• Jamie’s Italian, Yorkdale Shopping Centre, 416-238-7450; jamieoliver.com
Map and reviews

Wine and Dine on Valentine’s Day in Toronto

A Valentine's Day table at George is highly desirable

A Valentine’s Day table at George is highly desirable

Dinner is a staple of date night, and Toronto is full of impressive restaurants. But it can be daunting, making sure you choose a cozy, candlelit spot and not a place that, while excellent, may be an overly boisterous environ. Our picks for a meeting of the hearts combine palate-pleasing plates with a congenial ambience and discreet service.

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Loka Garners Grassroots Success

CHEF DAVE MOTTERSHALL’S CROWD-FUNDED RESTAURANT IS AN ECLECTIC ADDITION TO QUEEN WEST’S DINING SCENE

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photos: courtesy of Loka

One could argue that Loka represents the something close to the Platonic ideal of a modern restaurant. Chef and owner Dave Mottershall, who made his name at Charlottetown, P.E.I’s hyper-local bistro Terre Rouge, prides himself on running a zero-waste kitchen, buying whole animals and cooking nose-to-tail cuts with seasonally appropriate accompaniments. He’s also savvy about the Internet’s role in the contemporary dining industry: as @chef_rouge he’s garnered more than 40,000 Instagram followers; he also famously leveraged $40,000 in Kickstarter crowdfunding to help open his new Queen West space. Understated and casual, the smallish dining room now fills with a cross-section of Toronto foodies seeking easy-eating yet highly inventive dishes from Mottershall’s daily menu. Maple pork belly with creamed leeks was a recent highlight, while other features have included smoked bone marrow, lamb liver, pig’s head, duck breast and chicken hearts. There’s also a curing chamber with an oft-changing salumi selection, plus a few snacks for those of us seeking a quick after-work or late-night bite.  —Craig Moy

• Loka, 620 Queen St. W., 416-995-9639; Facebook page
Map and reviews

13 of the Most Unique Cafés in Toronto

VISIT ANY ONE OF THESE UNIQUE TORONTO CAFÉS FOR HIGH-QUALITY COFFEE AND DECADENT BAKED GOODS—PLUS BONUSES LIKE AMAZING AMBIENCE, SUPERIOR SERVICE, GREAT VIEWS AND EVEN BOARD GAMES!

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Boxcar Social makes its coffees and espresso-based beverages with a often-changing selection of beans from world-renowned roasters (photo: Boxcar Social)

Is a proliferation of cafés any indication of a city’s success? It’s not hard to argue in favour of the idea. Those who pass time at coffee shops necessarily have the leisure to do so. Leisure implies financial comfort, freedom—at least temporary—from work. Others, of course, use cafés as de facto workspaces, with caffeine helping fuel their creative contributions to the economy. And then there are the café owners themselves, who must be sufficiently confident in a city’s commercial vitality to have opened their businesses in the first place.

Ever dynamic, downtown Toronto hosts innumerable independent coffee-sipping spots. Many of the most popular, like Dark Horse, Sam James, Crema and Jimmy’s, are successful enough to support multiple locations across the city. There are far more excellent cafés than can reasonably be counted here, so let’s just say we hold the 13 places below in high regard—not only for their beverages, but for their delicious snacks, congenial ambience and other intangibles, too.

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Salute The Commodore in Parkdale

THE COMMODORE BRINGS SEAFOOD AND NAUTICAL STYLE TO THE WEST END

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The Commodore’s subtly nautical dining room (photo: Joel Gale)

The eastern portion of Parkdale (or, if you prefer, farther-west Queen West) continues to be a focal point for interesting, low-key eating experiences: hipster taco hub Grand Electric still draws crowds, while Chantecler and recently christened Miss Thing’s have cachet, too. The Commodore is one of the newest additions to this worthy group and boasts many of its hallmarks, including a designer—but not too designer—dining room, highly curated cocktail and craft beer program, and an overall intimate vibe. A menu highlighting smaller, shareable portions is also de rigeur for the region; in this case it champions unique seafood-forward dishes like swordfish crudo with sea asparagus and crispy chicken skin, brown butter–sauced shrimp, and squid ink and calamari ragu risotto. Without going overboard, the restaurant accentuates its naval nomenclature and ocean-going offerings with an interior reminiscent of a ship’s hull, and an above-the-bar assemblage of lights that could pass for the suckers on a squid’s tentacles.  –Craig Moy

• The Commodore, 1265 Queen St. W., 416-537-1265; commodorebar.ca
Map and reviews

The Hottest Heated Patios for Winter in Toronto

THESE DISTINCTIVE HEATED PATIOS MAKE OUTDOOR DINING HIGHLY DESIRABLE DURING WINTER IN TORONTO

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The Drake Hotel’s heated Sky Yard patio has been transformed into a cozy, contemporary legion hall for winter (photo: the Drake Hotel)

Whether or not you accept the science behind climate change, there’s no denying that Toronto experienced an unseasonably warm end to 2015, with temperatures reaching the low teens all the way up to Christmas. But now it seems winter’s chill (a modest version of it, at least) has indeed taken hold, ensuring that on most days it’s preferable to be indoors rather than out. Of course, even on the coldest of days there are those of us who yearn for a bit of fresh air and a view of the (slate grey) sky. A handful of Toronto restaurants are set up to oblige our “outdoors, indoors” desires with their popular heated patios.

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