Oh Canada! (Niagara Falls + Toronto)
-as seen on chibbqking
Hey all long time no post. My bad. I recently had a travel month (July) special over at da ole blog
and this is from there. A recent Roadtrip took us thru and then back into Niagara Falls. We opted to go from Buffalo, where we spent Night One, straight into Toronto so that we could enjoy it there on a weekend and then returned to Niagara Falls for two nights before heading home. Second trip here for me which if you've never been is best taken on the Canadian side. Yes it's true the downtown area near the Falls is no different than the Wisconsin Dells or the Jersey Shore but the American side is no different than whatever sleepy suburb you want to name. There are more things to do on Canada's side. This goes for both kids and adults. The views are better too.
Niagara Falls, Canada
I had two fond memories of my trip here as a kid. The first being the fact the police there rode horses and carried a stick, the mounties. I didn't see any this trip but there were plenty of squad cars to keep the peace which was there despite the big crowds.
The busy season was getting into full swing as the place was packed despite it being a Mon and Tues night we were there. My other memory was the ride on the Maid of the Mist which is in it's last year. They're building a winter storage garage on the New York side which is where it will operate out of next year. They've been giving up close tours of the Falls since 1846. Double damn when the entire downtown area lost power on a beautiful sunny day and they couldn't sell Mist tickets, thus we never made it on. Gotta look at the positives though, I can at least consider myself lucky I wasn't riding the Ferris Wheel when it went out.
Some sights around town....Call me maybe?!?!?!
There's alot to do for kids here but not too much for adults. The dining scene is the same way. The downtown area is full of stuff you can waste money on and has all the dining options of every mall in the state rolled into one. If its a chain they're there. From Tim Horton's to TGI-Friday's and every awful spot in between. Although I did read that one of Toronto's top chefs opened a place
at the Sheraton at the Falls. We didn't go there and unfortunately the fish and chips place Geo rec's upthread closed down but I did manage to find a few other spots like it around town. Assuming you'll have a car (most people there do) these places arent far and are way better than Wendy's Fried Cod sandwich. So I'd say they're worth seeking out.
Mini-Chain with three locations incl. one in Niagara Falls
I found Lakeport Fish & Chips while googling the info for Geo's place. I'm glad I found it because they do an excellent frying job here and serve creamy haddock with crispy chips. I had been fiendin' for some all thru our trip to Toronto where "Chippy's" like this are popular. I held off knowing it was one of a few good eating options around the Falls. Fish and Chip spots seem to be everywhere in Ontario. Most of them having been around a while. Lakeport's original location in nearby St. Catharines opened up in 1970. Just $7.95 for a one piece haddock which was a generous sized piece (pollack and halibut also offered). Sun. and Mon. it's buy one dinner and get second half off so you could feed a family here for cheaper than Applebee's.
Haddock and Chips
Day two we needed some lunch before hitting the wineries so we rolled into St. Catharines which was a 10 minute drive from downtown at the Falls. The Fryin' guys is another place I found while searching for Geo's spot and since they've been around since 1949 and so many people were praising the place we went there for lunch.
St Catharines, Ontario
I hadn't heard one "Eh" in Toronto but must of heard 20 from the lady owns this place. She was really welcoming and wasn't lying when she said that we're going to eat some of the best damn fish and chips we ever had. I got a two piece haddock with chips along with a single piece of halibut for us and was loving life then and there. Both Chippy's visited had some of the best damn fries I ever had and served perfectly fried fish atop them. Seek 'em out. There's also Batter Up
which I wanted to try but they were closed on Monday and didn't open until 2p on Tuesday.
Fish & Chips at the Fryin' Guys
Other non-chain dinner options include quite a few Canadian-Chinese places as well as some Indian eats and an Indian-Chinese restaurant. Me having a little guilty pleasure fascination with other countries takes on Chinese cuisine I had to have some Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls while on this trip. I got an order for $6 with fried rice and an egg roll that wasn't that bad. Actual chunks of white meat chicken inside a dough fried batter formed into balls. Served with sweet and sour sauce on the side. It's basically Canadia's version of ours. More on this cross cuisine with a rich history in another post. This was from China Express which I drove by and decided to try.
Sweet & Sour Chicken Balls...yes I'm immature and laugh every time I say that
So is there anything to eat that isn't fried? Yes there is and aside from the casino (and dirty strip clubs) there's another place near where adults can have some fun. I found myself comparing Toronto to Chicago alot on this trip and the town of Niagara on the Lake is to Toronto what Michigan's Harbor Country is to Chicago. Plus theres the added bonus of the Falls nearby. It's about a 15 minute drive.
Niagara on the Lake, Ontario
This is where I would have stayed had I known. Its the heart of Ontario's Wine Country which is a very booming business these days. There's close to 40 wineries in the area. With them come Tastings, Charming B&B's, Shopping, Spa's, Horse Rides, the renowned Shaw Festival Theater Company
and good restaurants cooking with locally grown ingredients. All right there on beautiful Lake Ontario.
If you're going to stay in Niagara Falls make sure to check out a site like Travelzoo for deals as there's tons of hotels there so they have to give things to get people in. Stuff like free wine tasting cards and a $50 credit at the slot machines which was included in a package I got. We didn't get into town until the early evening on the 1st night opting to further explore Toronto during the day so we planned to use the wine voucher cards the next day. Nice call.
I'm glad we did as I'm now a little more experienced in something I dont have all that much interest in drinking if beer is an option. I never tried Icewine until this trip. It was pretty damn sweet (and not cheap) so I didn't buy any but could see myself sipping it after dinner now and then if it was around. There was a local brewery there as well. Oast House
is putting out some nice stuff. I was sipping it at a bar and later that night for dinner. We tried to stop by their red barn brewery but they weren't open on our trip. Peller Estates
So with all the wineries and a cute little town filled with visitors year round you have some nice food options to choose from. I stopped into an outlet of Kurtz Orchards Gourmet Foods while in town and noticed a sandwich menu. I asked what was up and the nice lady working there informed me that they serve soup and sandwiches at their Marketplace a few blocks down. So we rode over. Kurtz Orchards Farm and Gourmet Marketplace
Inside they have all sorts of products as well as a place to grab a quick gourmet lunch and some coffee and or ice cream in back. I love Turkish Delights and never saw so many flavors offered anywhere else. I never had better. Also grabbed a few jams and jellies to get my mom mothers day basket going. But my main reason for visiting was to try the Montreal Style Smoked Meat sandwich I saw on the menu at their other place.
Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich
They told me their grilled sandwiches were the best sellers and this one was #1. Good for them. This was a nice tasty snack before heading back to Niagara Falls and attempting to ride the Maid of the Mist. We had also decided we would be back later in the evening for dinner from somewhere around there. We chose Zees Grill
over the restaurant at Peller Estates which came with high praise but the lady liked what she saw on Zees menu so that's where we went. The restaurant is on the property of the Shaw Club Hotel and Spa
located in downtown Niagara on the Lake. Looked like a beautiful place to stay. The menu is described as "Contemporary nostalgic comfort food updated with a unique twist".
Dumplings to start. I love me some dumplings and these housemade ones with "Pork, Chicken and Shrimp" with "Sweet and Sour Soy Sauce, Cucumber, Daikon and Green Onion Salad" seemed like a good way to start the meal. The waiter informed us one sous chef is from China and this is his grandmas recipe while the other sous chef was from India and used his mothers recipe for the samosas which are also an option under appetizers. I wasn't expecting them to come fried but still pretty damn tasty I thought. Next up for me was a popular Canadian treat I hadn't had all week.
Nova Scotia Lobster Poutine
Despite many options for both smoked meat and poutine while in Toronto I didn't have either of them there so I crossed them off the list on my visit to Niagara on the Lake. Obviously this wasn't your average poutine. Its the only menu item that's remained on it since they first opened, so it's very popular. "House Cut Fries, Butter Poached Lobster, Thornloe Natural Cheese Curds, Red Wine Veal Jus Reduction & Lemon Herb Hollandaise Sauce". Very rich, in taste and style.
She had the "Pan Seared East Coast Sea Scallops". Served atop "Sweet Pea & Best Baa Ricotta Ravioli, Warm Chorizo & Tomato Vinaigrette, Pea Puree & Sprouts For Life Organic Pea Shoots" I got to try half of one and this was an expertly prepared dish. Afterwards we had a few drinks at the bar and then took a walk around on the unusually warm night before heading back to the bright lights, beeping noises and carnival games at the Falls.
Late Night Stroll down Queen Street...
...See y'all in Toronto!
Lakeport Fish & Chips
8214 Lundy's Ln
Niagara Falls, ON
The Fryin' Guys
155 Lake St
St Catharines, ON
Niagara Falls, ON
Peller Estates Winery
290 John St E
Kurtz Orchards Farm and Marketplace
16006 Niagara Pkwy
92 Picton St
Beautiful Weekend to be here...
...eating and drinking in this world class city
Toronto was my choice (with her consent) for my recent recreational trip. As time passed flight prices rose sky-high to out of country places we had in mind. So why not Toronto? It's not in America and it's only an 8 hour drive from Chicago. After this trip I'm ready to say it's easily the best place to visit that you can drive to in that time frame. Hell it might be my favorite city to visit in all of North America. There's also the added bonus of Niagara Falls nearby
so if you've never been there to see that, this road trip is well worth it. It's got alot of similarities to Chicago down to it's beginnings as the center of the countries Stock Yards. Actually it just passed us in population.
Before this trip was decided upon me and friends have had a trip here planned for Summer when Caribbean Carnival aka Caribana kicks off. it's the largest outdoor festival in North America with over a million visitors each year. It's rare for me to be overwhelmed with food options but there was no way I was going to be able to cover what I wanted to eat on three nights in town. That said I still think I did the city justice with this. It's a vibrant multicultural city that cant be covered in one, two or even three trips there. The type of place you look forward to going back to and see what else is going on. Let's do it.
Popular Sandwich Shop in Little Italy
We got into town around lunchtime and decided to check out this trendy area before checking in. Traffic is pretty bad in Toronto but we found it easy to get around in other ways. The Fish Store and YuNes' Sandwiches was a high priority as far as eats go and my hunch was dead on. Fresh fish for sale and grilled sandwiches to-go are what they do. There's a few seats outside but other than that it's small. I went with the Artic Char Sandwich and added on avocado for a bit extra.
YuNes' Arctic Char Sandwich
As tasty as it is pretty. Simplicity wins here. Perfectly grilled Canadian water caught fish with just garlic and herbs served on a soft Portuguese roll by a cute old Asian couple. This eclectic mixture of things became a trend on this trip. After that we strolled over to another spot I wanted to try. I found this BlogTO
site to be pretty useful as far as finding locally loved food goes. They cover every last bite. Of course this thread was every bit as helpful and just as lusty.
Another popular Sandwich Shop in the neighborhood called Porchetta & Co.
Porchetta is what they do here. Obviously. Although on our Friday visit they were serving soft shell crab sandwiches which they had on special all weekend. If they were half as good as they looked then I know they were great. As was their signature sandwich. The Housemade porchetta with cracklins' topped with grain mustard and Parmesan cheese served on the perfect roll to hold it all together was memorable to say the least.
Their Signature Sandwich is one of the best you'll find anywhere
Couldn't ask for a better start with that 1-2 punch. We stayed downtown not far from the shopping district which is where you'll find Eaton Centre
which was an absolute madhouse on a Friday around 5p. All of downtown Toronto was, it actually made Chicago seem kind of tame. Eaton Centre is one of the prettier damn malls I've ever walked thru. Taking up an entire block it's multi-leveled with a vaulted glass-ceiling galleria thats modeled after the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. I believe I read it's the cities largest attraction with one million+ visitors each week.
Inside the Eaton Centre
I had to leave her behind to do her shopping solo while I went and had a beer. Beer Bistro in Toronto was right down the street from our place of rest so that's where I went. Plenty of good cold beer options here as well as some really nice looking bowls of mussels and what many call the best fries in Toronto. They were just ok. Either I've never had real frites or every place I've ever had them at serves them authentically limp. Still good beer food.
Beer and Frites at Beer Bistro
Toronto has a little bit of an Izakaya Scene going on. It seems that most of these places come from other parts of the world. Mainly Japan but also Vancouver which is where Guu is from. They call themselves "the Pioneer of Izakaya" there on the West Coast and have a 2nd outlet in Toronto. It was on or list for Friday night.
Guu Izakaya via Vancouver
We put our name down and were told a 35 minute wait which ended up being well worth it. The atmosphere makes you want to drink and the food is well done and of all the places stopped in at on our trip, it probably had the best bang for your buck value. The entire staff is imported from Japan and it's like having one big happy family welcome you to their home. Everything we ate was great, service was top notch and everyone in there was leaving with a smile on their face. Fantastic place. I can easily see why it's so popular.
a peak inside
Scallops Wrapped in Bacon and Takoyaki to start off
Spicy Negitoro (Chopped BC Tuna w/ Scallion)
Grilled Saba Mackerel w/ dill herb, garlic, lemon and onion on sizzling plate
Maguro Tataki (Seared BC Tuna Sashimi w/ Ponzu and Garlic Chips)
Went to a couple other popular izakaya's on this trip so I'll just share them here so they can all be together as one. Izakaya Nejibee has over 30 spots in and around Tokyo with their one location outside of Japan located in Toronto. The subway was pretty easy to navigate and well ran. We used it a few times to get around while in town including our trip here. The place is hidden off a busy street in downtown Toronto.
Izakaya Nejibee via Tokyo
Nice place to start the night, or end it I imagine. It was rather quiet here compared to the scene at Guu the night before but it was earlier in evening. Ice cold Asahi from the tap to start was so fresh and so clean. They have different Teppanyaki style items on the menu including their signature "Keichan-yaki". It's a popular eat in Hida-Takayama, Japan made with diced chicken thigh meat, assorted vegetables and a signature sauce served on a sizzling hot plate. Good drinking food. I almost ordered another round despite being headed elsewhere after that.
Saturday around 1a we stopped into Ryoji in Little Italy post bar for some late night slurping. "The only Okinawan-style Izakya in Toronto. With Okinawa's rich history and slightly different culture from mainland Japan, Ryoji offers traditional and inventive Okinawan cuisines and Ramens." This is the first location outside of Japan. There's five others in Okinawa.
Ryoji Ramen & Izakaya via Okinawa
Large space with indoor, outdoor and bar/grill seating available. Our bartender was an engaging guy saying "bet you never expected to find a black bartender at a Japanese bar in an Italian neighborhood in Canada?" but as I said earlier this was a recurring role. Almost 49% of Toronto's population was born outside of Canada. Tonkatsu Ramen is their most popular item and a good way to end a night of drinking. I've never been asked "How would you like your noodles done" when eating ramen before and that was a good start to everything about the bowl with the exception of the meat itself which was too tough.
I spied this place below that was flooded with cabs, some double parked to grab food to go, while waiting outside at Guu Izakaya and went inside to try a samosa as an appetizer.
Popular Cabbie Stop
Had to pass on steam table options but fried to order curry chicken Samosa was good
We made it to a few places as far as drinks go with SpiritHouse being one of the fun ones for crafted cocktails. Yep they've made their way up into Canada, eh. Not cheap, but what places are? Even beer is expensive up there. That said SpiritHouse pour some very good drinks.
Strolling around town
Saturday Morning was going to be spent at the St. Lawrence Market
. This is the day to be there and it was just a 10 minute walk from our hotel so this one one of the things I had on my "must visit" list. I'll just reiterate what everyone else says, why dont we (Chicago) have anything like it? Only answer I can give is that there's not many places in North America that have something similar. What a spot.
St. Lawrence Market
The Market is open Tues, Wed, Thurs and Fri from 8a to 7p. On Saturdays it's open from 5a to 5p and gets full use with a farmers market and the entire south part of the market open for business. "Pictures say 1000 words" is the old saying so I put a little collage together. It can do most of the talking. I'll just add it's an amazing place on Saturday's.
It was almost torture not being able to buy much since I had no time to cook any of it. They pretty much have any and everything covered as far as food goes. Every last inch of Toronto's oldest market which has been greatly expanded was covered with vendors. I had an excellent wood fired bagel from St. Urbain to start the day. This is just one of many places cooking food to order inside. I also got some stone crab claws for a $1/each off some kid selling them alongside one of the fish vendors permanent stands and tried plenty of samples from other sites inside. The other item I was going to have to give try was Toronto's signature sandwich.
Which one is it gonna be?
The peameal bacon sandwich might be Toronto's most iconic food offering. In a metropolis filled with delicacies from all over the globe, this is an eat people from the city can call their own. Nothing fancy here, it's very straightforward in fact. Just thick cut slices of peameal bacon on a fresh baked Kaiser Roll. What's Peameal? "The name reflects the historic practice of rolling the cured and trimmed boneless loin in dried and ground yellow peas, originally for preservation reasons." St. Lawrence Market has two places that serve a popular version of this. I chose Carousel Bakery over Paddington's Pump.
Peameal Sandwich from Carousel Bakery
The bacon itself was really good as was the bun. So obviously so was the sandwich but if they added an egg and some cheese you got a world class breakfast sandwich to be had here but you cant wish ill-will towards those that dont want to mess with tradition.
Street Performer outside St. Lawrence Market
Toronto's other signature eat might be Roti. Not from there but popular around different parts of the globe which made its way there with the people that eat it. It's a south Asian bread made with stone-ground wholemeal flour consumed in places like Pakistan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka as well as South Africa and the Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago in particular. Toronto has all sorts of variations of these on offer. I decided to wait on the Caribbean roti's which should be abundant during Carnival while trying a popular place for East Indian style ones instead.
Eastern Indian Style Roti Shop on Queen Street West
I read this is one of the cities best places for Roti of any kind so had to give them a try. They were making the roti fresh in the hot stove before filling it with any of their wide variety of options. I chose a butter chicken with some mango chutney on the side. Similar to burrittos although this roti wasn't eatable by hand. I was fine with that as it was excellent. Nothing like it here in Chicago that I know of so I may have to go back when I return.
Butter Chicken Roti from Gandhi
My favorite neighborhood on this trip is another popular marketplace that has a multicultural community within it. The entire area of Kensington Market is a National Historic Site in Canada. It's a unique blend of specialty food shops, bars, restaurants and homes where many people from all walks of life in in Toronto descend upon, especially on the weekends when it's nice out. That it was on my strolls thru the area which I visited 3 of the 4 days we were in town. Let's have a look around.
Some sights from the neighborhood
Just like St. Lawrence does, Kensington gives shoppers the luxury of a wide range of cooking needs all within a one stop reach. But here they're open for business seven days a week. It's not centered on food though you will find plenty of options for that. It's Chicago's Belmont and Clark mixed with Logan Square, Hyde Park and Maxwell Street Market and whatever summer street festival is going on all rolled into one. Tons of specialty stores ranging from clothes to music with most every bar and restaurant offering outdoor seating in the middle of all of it. If you're looking to step away from the chaos you can check out the world famous Hot Box where $5 gets you a non-alcoholic drink and access inside where theres pool tables, board games and a nice outdoor space out back to make all those things more enjoyable.
I'll be right back...
I stopped in for research to see what was up. "We do not sell Marijuana" greets you a few times upon entry. But they do have papers, pipes etc. After you give them the fee you're free to play Hungry Hippos, shoot some pool or do whatever it is you do out back. What I walked into was a scene similar to the rest of Toronto. A few young Asian ladies speaking in native tongue followed with some hipsters seated next to a group of well dressed 40 something doctor looking yuppies with a Jamaican crew blowing big ones in back. No violence or tension whatsoever but there were quite a few blank stares. So uh yeah, you know where to roll. My bottle of Ting was as refreshing as ever. As far as crack dens go? I dont know, you'll have to ask the Mayor where to find those.
Toronto is the North American hub for Caribbean people so there's no shortage of snacks from the islands. Mentioned upthread and also on BlogTO's "Best Patty list" I took note that the Patty King had a location in the Kensington neighborhood. Ever since my first (of many) trips to Jamaica I've had more than one love, beef patties included. This is a Asian-Caribbean owned bakery putting out some top notch patties and a common street food in Trinidad & Tobago called Doubles. They're sandwiches made with fried flat bread with curried chick peas in between. Chutney toppings vary.
Jamaican Beef Patty and a Trinidadian Double from Patty King
"JeffB"Any good Mexican?
While walking around one of the days I got a whiff of some really great smells coming from a small walk in space with lots of people around it. Upon stronger smells I realized it was a taqueria which goes by Seven Lives Tacos y Mariscos. With the smell too much to pass up we got a spot in line.
Inside Seven Lives Tacos
The people who opened up this popular place came from San Diego so the tacos are reflective of the offerings you'd find there. Both the blackened mahi-mahi and their signature Gobernador were excellent. The latter coming with smoked marlin, shrimp and cheese. At $5 each they weren't cheap but were stuffed as far as fish and shrimp goes. Really good.
Blackened Mahi-Mahi and a "Gobernador" Taco
One of our days walking around we decided to sit-down on the patio at Amadeus which is a Portuguese restaurant around the action. Sausage was good but expensive as were the mussels and sangria. This is one of the few places I'd probable have little interest in going back to but would be down to drink on the deck.
Outdoor Lounging/Dining at the Market
Sangria and Mussels in the sun at Amadeu's
Aside from Guu we had two other dinners planned and unfortunately I forgot my camera in a rush to make our reservation at Enoteca Sociale
in the West End. So those of you with the attention span to read this report take note, the place is f'ing amazing. Nothing fancy just simple Roman cooking with the best possible ingredients. Amazing pastas and perfectly paired drinks. Rodney's Oyster House is the 2nd location from a Vancouver original. If you're in love with bi-valves like I am this is a great stop. Wonderful selection from both coasts and plenty of freshly grated horseradish and strong martinis to boot.
The bar at Rodney's Oyster House
a pretty plate of slurpers served
On our last day before heading to the Falls we spent the morning and early afternoon walking around the Spadina avenue Chinatown (there's four total in town) and just like every other market and mall we went too on this trip it was pretty impressive.
Spadina Avenue Chinatown
I love me some dumplings and had seen the Dumpling House mentioned upthread amongst other places and decided to walk in for breakfast which ended up being perfect. An order of the pork ones fried and the pork and cabbage steamed were around $10 and normally would of been more than enough for two people but these were really hitting the spot and as good as any I've had in some time. Particularly the fried ones.
Handmade Dumplings - Steamed Pork and Cabbage
Fried Pork Dumplings
Final activity was to take the drive around thru some different neighborhoods we hadn't seen since my car was left with the hotel valet for most of the stay. As I did this I was left with wanting more and excited about the prospect of coming back. Added bonus while doing that I also managed to squeeze out a couple spots I'd had on my hit list.
Rolling thru the neighborhoods
The Original Mr. Jerk in Cabbagetown
1/4 Jerk Chicken Dinner w/ Cole Slaw and Rice & Pea's with Gravy
Fantastic 1-2 Punch to end my trip. Mr. Jerk is a popular place with several outlets outside of the original I visited. The chicken might of been a tad bit dry from sitting in the warmer but it was authentic with hints of smoke and a really nice paste on top of the gravy they lace over the rice. Some of the better stuff I've had outside of the island served by a sweet Chinese-Jamaican lady.
Pizza Pide in East End of Toronto
Turkish Pizza from Pizza Pide
I've never been to Turkey but now love me some Turkish style pizza courtesy of Pizza Pide. Fantastic! I got the Turkish sausage with cheese after a long contemplation of some excellent looking offerings. It was enough to feed two ($10) which worked great because the leftovers were better than anything I was eating in Niagara Falls later that evening. All the side toppings of parsley, onions, lemons etc and the bread itself was something I want now But I know I cant get any until I return to one of the great melting pots in all of the world. Toronto, if you didn't know, you need to go.
Hope you enjoyed the ride...see ya next time
The Fish Store & YuNes' Sandwiches
657 College St
Porchetta & Co.
825 Dundas St W
18 King St E
559 Bloor St W
24 Welesely Street W
Ryoji Ramen & Izakaya
692 College Street Unit 690
487 Adelaide St W
St. Lawrence Market
95 Front St E
Gandhi Indian Cuisine
554 Queen St W
187 Baldwin St
69 Kensington Avenue
1288 Dundas St W
Rodney's Oyster House
469 King St W
328 Spadina Ave
Toronto, ON M5T 2E7, Canada
209 Wellesley St E
949 Gerrard St E