Destination: Toronto, Ontario

In just under three hours we drove from Grand Bend to Toronto and I have to say Google maps was spot on with the timing. We had chosen to drive back on the Civic holiday and almost everyone who we spoke with from Toronto said we were in for a long journey back; at least 4-5 hours so I guess we were lucky.

We were meeting a longtime friend in Toronto and her boys for a week in the controversially named neighbourhood of “The beaches” or “The Beach” east side of the city where she grew up and still resides. It was mid-afternoon and she greeted us in her usual style over a cool, crisp glass of white wine. I believe it was a gewürztraminer  and the first time I tasted a gewurz was four years ago with her in the Niagara on the lake area vineyards.

I finally introduced my son to her sons and it was a wonderful feeling to see them unite. The boys were still on holidays so it worked out perfectly. We enjoyed some beach fun,  another beautiful freshwater lake beach. Pictured is a lifeguard from Woodbine Beach on Lake Ontario.

My friend’s local cafe ‘Lazy Daisy’s’ located at 1515 Gerrard Street, Toronto, Ontario, became our local favourite over the course of the week. Each morning we ordered a delicious coffee which is a challenge to find anywhere in Canada, but they do exist! This homely place which has been described in reviews as ‘farmhouse chic’ reminiscent of her childhood days on her family’s farm. The menu provides a large selection of healthy options using fresh local produce and sweet treats that tasted more wholesome than naughty too.  We loved the blueberry cornmeal muffin, cooked beautifully and the right size for the three of us to share a couple of bites with our coffee. We must have worked our way through a good proportion of the sandwich menu with favourites like the Coronation Chicken, Veggie Patch wrap and Farmer’s Club with mouth-watering Egli’s smoked bacon and garlic aioli which would please most I suspect.

The owner has catered to kids with books, a train table, comfy seats and colouring in sheets with a wall of fame for the youngsters (if they are worthy) to put their finished art up on.

As my world revolves around delicious food much of the time, a trip to St Lawrence food markets – was in order. It is somewhat an escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto with like-minded people gazing at the endless treasure trove…a foodie’s heaven.

The number of food markets I have visited on my travels has really clocked up over the years. I would have to say that this one was serendipitous.

There were so many specialty ingredients and produce items you could source in the realms of this grand building. The selection of smoked meats, cheeses from around the world, seafood, wines, produce, ice-wines, truffled products, rainbow coloured pasta, tomahawk steaks from Alberta, baked goods galore was mind-blowing. It hardly does it justice, but I guarantee it is a must do, must see for yourself experience! After wearing ourselves out in the market, my friend took us to a restaurant she knew well from trips with her parents as a child. An institution which has been running for over a quarter of a century; Paddington’s Pump – St Lawrence Market, 93 Front Street E, Toronto sure packs a punch with its ‘Oink on a Kaiser’. It is the most bacon I have ever seen on a bun!

Ok, so moving on…I must note that the days have passed where I used to spend hours shopping in gorgeous boutiques and finishing with a good wine while taking great pleasure in my purchases. I am lucky these days if I can enjoy one or two stores at a time with a little boy in tow, but a girl can fantasize right?

A streetcar ride up Queen Street and I had to ask my girlfriend what area we were in at some point; she said ‘Queen West’, only one of Toronto’s coolest neighbourhoods and shopping districts. I so wanted to jump off right there and then and while away the hours with all my favourite things; fashion, art-design, patisserie and wine.

Before I could think about it a moment longer we were somewhere else, however this is moving to the top of my list next time I visit Toronto.

An area we spent time in together was a good compromise as I was able to step into some unique stores where there was something for everyone in Roncesvalles Village which is an area located east of High Park and north of Lake Ontario. Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and this part of the city is better known as the Polish community’s centre. We were funnily enough heading to lunch at Cafe Polonez – 195 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto.

Superb! Between us, we ordered:-

Traditional Beetroot soup with dumplings (Barszcz czerwony z uszkami), which is Borscht consommé with a choice of mushroom or meat dumplings.

Pierogies (rozne nadzienia), homemade boiled dumplings served with side of sour cream and fried onions & pork; we chose the sauerkraut and mushroom, minced pork, cheddar and potato ones.

Polish Schnitzel (kotlet schabowy), plain cutlet served with potatoes and a bouquet of salads.

If I had the stomach the size of four people, I would’ve also ordered the cabbage rolls (golabki), polish sausage (kielbasa z frykami) and Goulash (gulasz wieprzowy) too!

How does the Polish proverb go? “A good appetite needs no sauce”.

My friend and her boys are so fortunate they have a wide selection of top quality Polish food on their doorstep and this is the advantage of living in a city steeped with multiple cultures and heritage.

We girls had to have a night out together to catch up. My friend booked tickets to see The Temper Trap in concert who were touring in Toronto coincidentally when we were there. They are an Australian band and had global success after releasing ‘Sweet Disposition’ which played at my wedding so it’s pretty special. The concert venue was the ‘Kool Haus’ in the Guvernment Entertainment Complex – 132 Queens Quay East, Toronto. It was a really cool space and relaxed enough for us to enjoy our vodkas and catch up over some music from home.

Dinner beforehand was a few minutes away from the venue at Against the Grain Urban Tavern – 25 Dockside Drive. When I spotted the Hendrick’s Gin that put a smile on my face and we tried the barman’s cocktail with a rosemary infused sugar syrup in it which took it to a new level for me! We ordered the fish ceviche soft tacos which were amazingly good. We were seated right on the harbour front which gave me a taste for more seafood so we both chose the Urban lobster roll with a cold glass of Niagara riesling.

I am not sure if I am saving the best till last, because the entire week was special seeing my girlfriend and her boys. However, when we were offered a date night; that is my husband and I, we jumped at the chance and booked a restaurant she recommended from a choice of a few. Given I am reading the 100 Mile Diet at present, I wanted to dine at a restaurant that focuses on locally sourced produce and more importantly we were enthusiastic to try Caribou, Elk or something that may be a rarer find on the West Coast. We dined at Globe Bistro – 124 Danforth Avenue, Toronto. To our delight, we were fortunate to enjoy the taste of Elk (a first for us) along with a duck dish, a selection of freshly shucked Malpeque (Prince Edward Island) oysters and a host of freshly picked ingredients from Ontario’s best farms on each plate. The restaurant had soft lighting with elegant chic furnishings as well as a friendly and discreet waiter who seemed to only appear with a smile whenever we needed anything leaving us to immerse ourselves in the ambient vibe.

I know my pattern of storytelling often skews towards food, but all in all the week was about seeing a very dear friend and her family at home in Toronto, meeting friends and family members.  It was a memorable time and I will miss them…until next trip of course!

“Flatiron Building” – Historic landmark of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


A Sunday cycling down commercial drive on Italian day.

It has been a big day. We set out on bicycle today to Commercial drive, on the east side of Vancouver for the ‘Italian day’ festival. The roads are closed off between Parker Street and East Third Avenue between noon and 8pm. The Italian community first opened business on the Drive in the 1940s and ’50s. There are numerous ethnic restaurants, cafes, cakes, bakeries and sports bar type places lining the street.

Co-incidentally, the Euro Cup opening cup match between Italy and Spain was on and in the final minutes of the game when we arrived. The final score ended up being a tie at 1-1 which meant that spirits weren’t dampened, but also fortunately not crazy on the streets given the crowd of about 60,000 that attended.

We arrived a little early at around 11am and after a twenty-five minute ride in the freezing cold, we well and truly deserved a coffee/hot chocolate. We stopped into Prado Cafe at 1348 Commercial Drive (on the corner of east fourth). Prado means open spaces in Spanish. It was the large windows, minimalist decor and overall look of the place that was inviting enough for me to want to stop in and fortuitously they were serving some of the best coffee available in Vancouver; 49th Parallel Roasters!  The vibe was laid back with really friendly staff who wanted to ensure a perfect coffee upon our first experience.

It felt really good to walk or do a slow cycle on a Sunday sans cars.  people watching, checking out what foodie treats were on offer, listening to the Italian music harmoniously blending into the happy atmosphere that surrounded us.

Our toddler needed to burn off some energy after drinking a reasonable amount of his hot chocolate, and we were again lucky enough to be metres from beautiful Grandview Park, 1657 Charles Street (at commercial drive) for a play. There was a fantastic play area with equipment set up with shady maple trees amongst the space. There is even a log table which comes from a 537-year-old cedar tree which blew down in Stanley Park.

Next stop, lunch at Biercraft Tap and Tapas at 1191 Commercial Drive. It was conveniently placed on the corner near Grandview Park.

We ordered from the brunch menu which was open on festival day till 3:30pm and ordered the Caesar Salad with a zesty lemon & Asiago dressing and grilled filone crouton, Fish and Chips, beer battered seasonal catch with Belgian frites & house made tartar and the Pulled pork sandwich, twelve-hour slow roasted pork shoulder with Grimbergen barbeque sauce, white cabbage coleslaw on a warm bun. I enjoyed it immensely and guilt-free too, knowing I had to also ride another twenty five minutes back home.

All washed down with a beer from their extensive list. My husband ordered a bottle of Canadian Bête Noire which was a smooth and creamy black ale, with notes of coffee, chocolate and roasted malts. I ordered a Tripel Karmeliet which was a beautiful clear gold sweet and fruity taste with layers of citrus, spice and caramel to finish it off. I didn’t take any notice of the alcohol content which was almost double my husbands! I am glad I was not responsible for cycling our ‘precious cargo’, aka our son, back home.

A couple of hills home and I probably only burned off about ten Belgian frites, but when we opened our front door I knew I had earnt a well deserved Sunday siesta.

It was a really enjoyable way to wrap up the weekend and I think we’ll be heading back for more fun the following weekend for car free day on Commercial Drive.