My Favourite Things in Toronto

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After four summers of working in Toronto, I’ve learned some things. I spent my first summer figuring out the layout of the city, the second summer learning about the main destinations, the third summer visiting the destinations and the fourth summer writing about everywhere I had been. I figured the way to make the most of the money I spent to commute to Toronto was to immerse myself in the city while I was there. I have been able to share my knowledge of the city with friends and family by bringing them to my favourite places or sometimes, as the case may be, to BlogTO’s favourite places. Now that I’m going to be away from the city for a while, I thought I would share some of my favourite places in Toronto so you too can go to some of the best places in the city. Advance warning, as I am not BlogTO and most of my adventures have been self-funded, I am not an authority on the best and worst of all things in Toronto. These are just some of the places I have frequented and enjoyed. Also, as I am not BlogTO, I’m hoping that today won’t be the first day in the history of I’m on a Journey that I receive an influx of comments saying that I suck and this post is awful. (Seriously, you should see the trolls on their Best Of lists.) Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s a list of some of my favourite places in Toronto.

Best Bakery: Bunner’s Bake Shop, 244 Augusta Ave or 3054 Dundas St W
Bunner’s makes vegan and gluten free desserts that definitely don’t sacrifice flavour. I recommend their cinnamon buns and the soft serve ice cream.

Best Bar: Cold Tea, 60 Kensington Ave
I liked this bar so much, I made it the subject of a blog post. It’s a great place to go to if you want to hang out in a more laid back environment. It’s also a great place to bring friends to if you want to impress them with your knowledge of little known Toronto bars or if you want to terrify them by bringing them to a bar you can only access by walking through a sketchy looking mall after hours.

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Best Brewery: Bellwoods Brewery, 124 Ossington St
Though I love the beers at Mill Street Brewery and Amsterdam Brewery, and I love the atmosphere at Steam Whistle Brewery, Bellwoods is my new favourite because their beers can’t be found anywhere else. In the summer, the pub area is open, turning the entire brewery into a patio looking out into Ossington.

Best Burger: The Burger’s Priest, 463 Queen St W and other locations
This is a hotly debated category, owing to the number of places in Toronto with good quality, inventive burgers. I had the best overall eating experience at BQM at Queen and Spadina, but I’m giving the award to The Burger’s Priest because I’ve never eaten a burger like the one I had with both a beef patty and a deep fried, cheese-stuffed portobello mushroom. make sure to check out their secret menu before you go.

Best Burrito: Burrito Boyz, 218 Adelaide St W and other locations
Everything I have had at Burrito Boyz has been great. They have a wide range of meat and fish options as well as an impressive assortment of vegetarian options. When I want something more filling my go to is the veggie soy. All of their locations offer vegan guacamole by request. Erica and I may or may not have run through the streets of Toronto one time so we could make it to Burrito Boyz faster.

Best Coffee: Jimmy’s Coffee, 191 Baldwin St
I always have great service and great coffee at Jimmy’s. The barista at the Portland location is great, but nothing can beat the patio at the Kensington Market location. While you’re at their Baldwin St location, consider stopping by Tom’s Place to buy some three for one suits.

Best Cookies: Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, 287 Augusta Ave
Bunner’s is hard to beat for vegan cookies, but Wanda’s definitely has my favourite traditional options. Ask the servers for their recommendations. I’ve found you can’t go wrong with any of them. See the lead photo for a picture of a beautiful cookie.

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Best Food Truck: tied between Buster’s Sea Cove and Gorilla Cheese
Buster’s Sea Cove has two to four tacos on offer from their truck, including fish, squid and shrimp. Their food is always fresh and perfectly spiced. The only thing better than their food truck is their St. Lawrence Market location. If you like fish, try their lobster bisque.

Gorilla Cheese is my favourite food truck, but I couldn’t put them alone in this category because they come from Hamilton. All of their grilled cheese sandwiches are awesome but my favourite is the Zesty Mordant, a grilled cheese with jalapeños and Doritos.

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Best Izakaya: Guu Izakaya, 398 Church St
A crazy atmosphere, gigantic glasses of Sapporo and great Japanese bar snacks make Guu Izakaya a place you have to check out. Inside is always loud because each group that enters the bar is greeted with cheers by the kitchen staff and hosts. The wait can be long if you go later on a Friday or Saturday ( or if you go on any day, actually) but it’s worth the wait to be there when the place gets loud.

Best Japanese: Fin Izakaya, 55 Eglinton Ave E
Though Fin is a bar like Guu Izakaya is, there as more emphasis on shareable main dishes than  on bar snacks. Go for the food rather than the bar atmosphere. It was only half full when I was there at around 7:00 on a Thursday. Order anything and everything that’s stone grilled.

Best Lunch: Urban Herbivore, 220 Yonge St (Eaton Centre)
Urban Herbivore has great options for a take out lunch, especially if you work in the Financial District or around the Eaton Centre. The sandwiches tend to have a strange taste if you get tofu or tempeh in them, but I’ll put up with some strange tasting tempeh if it means I can get a vegan sandwich at lunch. The lines can be long and the sandwiches don’t come quickly, but the portion sizes are worth the wait. The sandwiches and salads are enormous. Go on Thursday and get a half sandwich and a half salad for $10.

Best Music Venue: Horseshoe Tavern, 370 Queen St W
I love the Horseshoe for its atmosphere. The small venue makes performances feel intimate without losing the energy of a larger venue. When I saw Fucked Up during NXNE, the place was packed and the area in front of the stage was crazy. (So crazy, I saw a couple of high school classmates crowd surf by me.) The Horseshoe draws a good crowd with an interesting mix of people even on nights when there aren’t any big shows going on. It also feel really cool to go to a bar where Willie Nelson and the Ramones once played. There’s a reason why the Horseshoe Tavern is considered legendary.

Best Salad: Fresh, 326 Bloor St W and other locations
Fresh makes salads so good, my friend Alex and I often text each other about them even when neither of us are in Toronto. The Ironman is great salad if you want something more filling because it comes with  falafel. The Phytosalad is definitely the prettiest salad because it mixes greens with edible flowers.

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Best Sandwich: Uno Mustachio, 95 Front St E
Uno Mustachio serves enormous sandwiches in the basement of the St. Lawrence Market. I have had the chicken parmesan and the eggplant parmesan, and both were amazing. It’s a well known fact that Uno Mustachio’s sandwiches make the world a better place.

Best Tacos: Seven Lives, 69 Kensington Ave
At one point I would have argued for Grand Electric as the best taco place in the city, but Seven Lives is even better. They have a great range of fish and seafood tacos, as well as an awesome  mushroom cactus taco.

Best Thai: Khao San Road, 326 Adelaide St W
I’ve been to a number of Thai restaurant in Toronto and Khao San Road is definitely my favourite. If you’re going for your first time, order the squash fritters as a starter and the khao soi as a main. I recommend drinking the Thai iced tea or the Singha. The place is crazy busy, so I recommend getting there when it opens at five for dinner.

Best Veggie Burger: Fresh, 326 Bloor St W and other locations
Though it’s Fresh’s salads and bowls that are the most talked about, they also have great veggie burgers. All of the burgers are vegan but cheese can be added for a few dollars. I’ve gone back time after time for the BBQ burger. If you’re going for the first time, get your burger with a side of quinoa onion rings.

If you happen to be in Toronto, say hello to all my favourite places for me. Next time I’m in the city, I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to find me somewhere near Burrito Boyz. Until then, I’m on a mission to find the best burrito in Vancouver. If you know of any places I should check out in Toronto or Vancouver, let me know in a comment. I’m always out looking for a good cup of coffee or a good pint of beer.

Song of the Day: Crabbuckit by k-os

It’s a Great Day for IndyCar Racing

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A few weeks ago, I felt what might be best described as a need for speed. I realized that this need for speed could only be solved by one thing: race cars. I knew the Honda Indy was going to be in Toronto, so I decided to look into it. I know nothing about cars other than how to drive them and  when I drive, your grandmother could probably pass me on the road. Even still, I couldn’t get the thought of going to the Honda Indy out of my head. I was debating about whether I was willing to pay to go when it occurred to me that I could go for free if I volunteered. It was because of this plan that I found myself on a GO bus at 6:15 in the morning, surrounded by the denizens of the dawn, heading towards Toronto. If you hadn’t noticed for my post about NXNE, I tend to sign up for things without really considering what I’m getting myself into. That was definitely the case with the Honda Indy. Though I still can’t claim to be a race car expert, after two days of watching races, I’ve learned a few things. If you’re anything like me, a number of images come to mind when you think of IndyCar, many of which involve screaming eagles, gun clubs and middle-aged hoodlums who say Goddamn a lot. Rather than offer my retrospective race commentary on the Honda Indy, I have decided to present to you the myths and the realities of IndyCar racing so you can find out if there is any truth to the IndyCar stereotypes.

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Myth: Everyone at an IndyCar race is a red neck.

Reality: Admittedly, I was hoping that the Honda Indy was going to be full of hillbillies. Instead, I saw people from all walks of life and all backgrounds and was pleasantly surprised to see that the Honda Indy didn’t exclusively attract white males. Though I saw a lot of fathers and sons at the event, I saw a number of  mothers and daughters too.  With that in mind, I did see a number of people who had come from, say, small town Indiana and who had made the trip to Toronto without all of their teeth. I saw as many people with bad teeth as I saw  people with grills at the A$AP Ferg concert. All it took was a ‘Hey y’all!’ from a man with fence post teeth wearing an Indianapolis 500 muscle shirt to make it clear where the stereotypes about race car fans had come from.

Myth: IndyCar is Americacentric.

Reality: I talked to as many Columbians as I did Americans at the Honda Indy. Four of the drivers were Columbian and five were American, and the Columbians came out in droves to watch the race.  Surprisingly, the beer for sale at the event wasn’t Budweiser. The beer sponsors were Ontario craft brewers Amsterdam Brewery and Muskoka Brewery. Though the beer choice reflected local taste, the food certainly didn’t, as the food truck area was dominated by pulled pork and Texas barbecue. (The most remarkable dish I saw was the pulled pork parfait.) One might argue that the inclusion of Smoke’s Poutinerie make the Honda Indy a quintessentially Canadian experience, but all I wanted was a veggie burger.

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Myth: Everyone at an IndyCar race is a die hard fan.

Reality: Maybe Toronto’s Indy differs from some of the Indys in American cities, but I found that some of the people who attended didn’t know very much about racing. A number of people went so they could check out a major event going on in their city or so they could see something they hadn’t seen before. I talked to two women who came to the Honda Indy so they could check out the Firefit event that was part of the off-track action. There were even some people who came out mainly to watch the Stihl Timbersports competition, which I mistakenly called the Wood Olympics.  (Yes, there are people out there who call themselves lumberjack athletes.)   I’m sure there were also a few people like me in attendance, people who just wanted to be a witness a spectacle.

Myth: IndyCar races are really loud.

Reality: Yes, yes they are. However, I have been told that they aren’t as loud as NASCAR races, which brings me to the next myth.

Myth: All car races are the same.

Reality: There is a difference between IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One. Unlike NASCAR races that are run on ovals, IndyCar races are run on tracks that are irregularly shaped. This adds a level of complexity to IndyCar races both as a driver and as a spectator. For drivers, it means that each part of the track presents a different turn. For spectators, it means you can see the cars as they pass you and then you lose them for about a mile. This is a great convenience if you wish to have a conversation in the middle of an IndyCar race because you can still hear the person beside you half of the time.  However, it is an inconvenience if you wish to keep track of the race, which leads me to the final myth.

Myth: It’s easy to keep track of what’s going on in an IndyCar race.

Reality: Until the presentation of the trophies, I knew neither the leader nor the lap. When I found out the winner of the first race had lead the entire time, I thought for sure I knew which car that was. It turns out that the lime green car that I thought was back middle of the pack had actually led by as much as three seconds the entire way. This observation is probably the reason why no one let my join the Honda Indy social media team. Even though I didn’t know who won the race, I still had a fun time watching the red car I thought was the leader go on to a mid-pack finish.

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I had a great time at the Honda Indy and I’m really glad I took the opportunity to experience it. As much as I enjoyed it, I didn’t turn me into a racing fan.  I liked the speed and even the sound of the race, but overall, I prefer a spectator sport that makes the action easier to follow. In the future, if you’re ever looking for me at an IndyCar race,  I’ll be the one driving the Stadium Super Trucks. I’m just kidding. I’m not Danica Patrick. I probably won’t go to an IndyCar race any time soon, but if I do, I’ll be sitting in the Turn 3 Grandstand eating a veggie burger instead of a pulled pork parfait.

Song of the Day: Drive by Miley Cyrus

Cold Tea

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This story begins like many good stories, in Kensington Market at 10:30 on a Saturday night. Jessica and I said good bye to her friends after we ate some cheap Mexican food at Sneaky Dee’s — which is, of course, another way that many good stories begin — and we headed towards Kensington Market. Jessica asked where we were going, and I told her we were going to an unmarked bar that was just down the hallway of the Kensington Mall. “You mean, just down the sidewalk?” she asked. “No,” I said, “I mean just down the hallway.”

We walked through the door under the Kensington Mall sign and down a yellow and white hallway. The storefronts that usually line the hallway were blocked off by graffiti-covered garage doors, with dim light and sound emanating from a single door. This looked promising, but this was not where we were going. We were directed to a unmarked steel door by a bouncer who made no move to find out who we were. Hell, he didn’t even tell us where we were going, but I guess he assumed we had to know the name of the bar to find it.

The first thing I noticed when we stepped into Cold Tea was the overwhelming darkness. The second thing was the dim sum stand. We ordered Labatt 50 and whiskey on the rocks while a mass of people moved around us. The dark room was packed, so we proceeded out to the less dark patio. All manner of humanity was on the patio that evening, from hipsters to bikers to a man in a Burberry trench coat. A pair sat down across from us who I mistook for a couple. They introduced themselves as Shana and Fabio. Shana explained that Fabio was from Brazil and they had actually just met, though their at-the-table make outs suggested otherwise. “He’s as much of a stranger as you are!” she said enthusiastically to Jessica and I. “I think you know him a little better than you know us,” Jessica said. Our new found friends left, presumably to do more of what they had started without the audience. We remarked upon the friendliness of the people and sat back to see who we would meet next.

The rest of the night led us to a fine cast of characters. Aside from the man who looked a lot like a drug dealer who kept leaving his drink beside me, everyone was friendly and normal. Some of the people we met had talked to Shana and Fabio, which basically made us automatic friends. We talked to the groups of people we shared the communal table with, until we decided it was time to head home. We stayed long enough for one last dance party to “Get Lucky” — and no, this isn’t a bar with a dance floor — and then we headed out into the night.

If you’re looking for a good bar, just walk to the end of the hallway under the Kensington Mall sign. Once you get there, tell the bouncer that Courtney sent you. No, don’t tell the bouncer that. He didn’t look at my ID and he certainly didn’t ask me to introduce myself. But trust me on this one and go to Cold Tea. If your friends ask you why you’re leading them down a hallway in the middle of the night, that’s when you tell them that Courtney sent you. If I happen to be there too, the first round of Labatt 50 and whiskey is on me.

Song of the Day: Electric Pow Wow Drum by A Tribe Called Red

I’m spending three more months in Toronto before I move to Vancouver at the end of the summer. As part of my summer long farewell to Toronto, I’m starting a feature about some of my favourite places and events in Toronto. I’ve never been one to shy away from a good alliteration, so I’m calling it Toronto Tuesdays. If you have any suggestions about places I should check out, I’m always up for a good adventure.

Happy Birthday Toronto

 

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In honour of Toronto’s 180th birthday today, I’m reposting Farewell to Toronto, the post I wrote when I returned to school after spending the summer working in my favourite city.

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I’ve been away from Toronto for a week now, after working there for four months. As it was the place where I spent the most time this summer, I feel the need to make a formal good bye to the city. I decided to follow in the tradition of Isabella Whitney, the Renaissance author who wrote a poetic farewell to London. What follows is my own poem as I leave some of my favourite places behind.

The time is come I must depart

From Toronto, the Big Smoke.

Before I leave I must give praise

To the city some call a joke.

Mayoral instability

And crumbling roads aside,

I think well of this fair city

And speak of it with pride.

I’ve spent the bulk of four months’ days

Working at York and King,

But I’ve crossed downtown many times

To hear bells on Church St ring.

With blessing that are numerous

And so many things to tell,

I must cut short this prologue for

It is of the city I’ll speak well.

Though many gifts I take with me

From the places I have found,

Much I must now leave behind

For when I’m not around.

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And now let me dispose such things

     As I shall leave behind

So you may now encounter them

With an open, willing mind.

I leave tinted office windows,

And buildings standing tall,

No longer will I have to face

The grey cubicle wall.

I leave York under construction,

And to Bay I say goodbye.

I won’t be away forever,

But I certainly will try.

I leave Restaurant Row to King St,

Say farewell to the clubs,

And also to Belly Buster’s,

Where I ate late night subs.

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David Pecaut Square and new friends

I leave, but that’s for the best.

I will think upon encounters

As I head further west.

Queen St’s diverse seek to conform

In tank tops all girls wear.

Infinity on tops and rings,

Flower crowns for your hair.

The tourists I will leave behind,

Denizens of downtown too.

Hipsters and those who loath the term

Drink Amster’dam good brew.

To The Horseshoe specifically

I must pay due respect.

I leave the legend behind now,

Which is my deep regret.

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I look at groups on patios

As tattooed people meet.

They seem to match the area,

Tattooed buildings on the street.

Vintage stores near Grand Electric,

With bourbon all in rows.

Perhaps for tacos I’ll return,

In winter, when it snows.

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Chinatown left for another,

I know I’ll miss the walks.

I move past shops to Kensington

As friends continue talks.

I leave College to schools and bars

And I leave Sneaky Dee’s.

A sticker from a booth inside,

I took and keep with me.

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Head back to Dundas, AGO,

OCAD on spindly legs.

Students take a break from work, and

Sit taking cigarette drags.

Queen’s Park up University,

I leave Osgoode Hall.

I sat with 1984,

Then would not return at all.

I pass by the Eaton Centre

With haste, but that’s just as well.

I shall not dwell upon it now,

But that mall is my hell.

(I stretch the truth, I’m sure you know,

But that’s a place I will not go.)

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I leave the St Lawrence Market,

So I’m forced to replicate

The eggplant parm I had before

That really is so great.

Eating yogurt covered pretzels,

David Crombie’s where I sat,

Thinking of Distillery District,

The sunset at my back.

From Mill St where I’ve often been,

Tankhouse I take with me.

But as I’ve travelled far and wide,

Union’s where I must be.

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I leave the lake in passing now,

Leave TO in good care.

There is much more that I could say,

As much I have left there.

Now it’s to London I must go;

I can’t help but feel merry.

So finally I make an end

 No longer can I tarry.

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Happy 180th birthday, Toronto!

Song of the Day: Meet Me In The Basement by Broken Social Scene

Farewell to Toronto

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I’ve been away from Toronto for a week now, after working there for four months. As it was the place where I spent the most time this summer, I feel the need to make a formal good bye to the city. I decided to follow in the tradition of Isabella Whitney, the Renaissance author who wrote a poetic farewell to London. What follows is my own poem as I leave some of my favourite places behind.

The time is come I must depart

From Toronto, the Big Smoke.

Before I leave I must give praise

To the city some call a joke.

Mayoral instability

And crumbling roads aside,

I think well of this fair city

And speak of it with pride.

I’ve spent the bulk of four months’ days

Working at York and King,

But I’ve crossed downtown many times

To hear bells on Church St ring.

With blessing that are numerous

And so many things to tell,

I must cut short this prologue for

It is of the city I’ll speak well.

Though many gifts I take with me

From the places I have found,

Much I must now leave behind

For when I’m not around.

Image

And now let me dispose such things

     As I shall leave behind

So you may now encounter them

With an open, willing mind.

I leave tinted office windows,

And buildings standing tall,

No longer will I have to face

The grey cubicle wall.

I leave York under construction,

And to Bay I say goodbye.

I won’t be away forever,

But I certainly will try.

I leave Restaurant Row to King St,

Say farewell to the clubs,

And also to Belly Buster’s,

Where I ate late night subs.

Image

David Pecaut Square and new friends

I leave, but that’s for the best.

I will think upon encounters

As I head further west.

Queen St’s diverse seek to conform

In tank tops all girls wear.

Infinity on tops and rings,

Flower crowns for your hair.

The tourists I will leave behind,

Denizens of downtown too.

Hipsters and those who loath the term

Drink Amster’dam good brew.

To The Horseshoe specifically

I must pay due respect.

I leave the legend behind now,

Which is my deep regret.

Image

I look at groups on patios

As tattooed people meet.

They seem to match the area,

Tattooed buildings on the street.

Vintage stores near Grand Electric,

With bourbon all in rows.

Perhaps for tacos I’ll return,

In winter, when it snows.

Image

Chinatown left for another,

I know I’ll miss the walks.

I move past shops to Kensington

As friends continue talks.

I leave College to schools and bars

And I leave Sneaky Dee’s.

A sticker from a booth inside,

I took and keep with me.

Image

Head back to Dundas, AGO,

OCAD on spindly legs.

Students take a break from work, and

Sit taking cigarette drags.

Queen’s Park up University,

I leave Osgoode Hall.

I sat with 1984,

Then would not return at all.

I pass by the Eaton Centre

With haste, but that’s just as well.

I shall not dwell upon it now,

But that mall is my hell.

(I stretch the truth, I’m sure you know,

But that’s a place I will not go.)

Image

I leave the St Lawrence Market,

So I’m forced to replicate

The eggplant parm I had before

That really is so great.

Eating yogurt covered pretzels,

David Crombie’s where I sat,

Thinking of Distillery District,

The sunset at my back.

From Mill St where I’ve often been,

Tankhouse I take with me.

But as I’ve travelled far and wide,

Union’s where I must be.

Image

I leave the lake in passing now,

Leave TO in good care.

There is much more that I could say,

As much I have left there.

Now it’s to London I must go;

I can’t help but feel merry.

So finally I make an end

 No longer can I tarry.

Image

Song of the Day: Dead Disco by Metric