Eating my way through the Distillery District Christmas Market

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The holidays are just a license to eat and to buy treats for friends that we hope will share them with us.  Sunday’s sunny weather brought many people out to Toronto’s Distillery District to eat and drink to keep warm. There are only about two weeks left for the annual Christmas market.  If you’re going on the weekends, get there before 2:00 p.m. so that you can shop and then settle down in one of the many good restaurants for lunch and cocktails.

Maman in First Canadian Place

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Maman, the Parisian inspired bakery from New York’s SoHo district opened its second location here in Toronto on July 6, in First Canadian Place.  The bakery is in the space formerly occupied by Szechuan Szechuan on the second level food court.  The fast-casual café bakery is owned by Michelin starred, Chef Arman Arnal of La Chassagnet in the South of France and designer/baker, Elise Marshall.

The bright farmhouse chic, in blue and whites is cosy with communal tables and a wall of windows that gives it a standalone feel.

Opening hours are bright and early at 7:00 a.m. when you can get a variety of freshly baked croissants, yogurt and coffees. Lunch time offerings include traditional French favourites like Croque- Madame, Quiche, salads and fresh baguette sandwiches.  I selected the lunch box of ham and cheese Quiche and a salad of fresh greens, strawberries and goat cheese.

The Quiche Lorraine was warm, with a flakey crust and actual pieces of ham and a savoury filling where you could actually taste and see the cheese. A good change from the tasteless and rubbery Quiche available in food courts. Lemon-Thyme Madeleines are buttery treat with coffee for that mid-afternoon lull, keep one handy in your desk drawer.

A number of retail items are also available including teas, popcorn and South of France styled goods. The line up moves quickly, but always wise to get there starting about 11:30 a.m.  Most customers are grab and go, so seating up to about 12:30 is pretty good.

Maman is worth the walk over from whatever food court you inhabit in the vast Toronto Path system. They are looking soon to add a cocktail hour. It’ll be a nice place to relax after work and I look forward trying to it.  Bon appétit, fellow eaters!

Cake

 

St. Lawrence Market, Saturday in Pictures

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I spent Saturday afternoon at the market, navigating the shoppers to capture the stores that I like to go to.  These photos are from the walk around.

Caffe Artigiano now fuelling Toronto’s Financial District

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paper cupIt was about one month ago when I first spotted it. It was like running into someone you never expected to see in your town.

Walking in, it looked familiar but, I thought I would check. Indeed, as the barista informed me, scores have come in asking the same question, is this the same Caffe Artigiano from Vancouver? And happily for many of us, it is.

I first visited Caffe Artigiano on West Hastings in Vancouver 11 years ago on the recommendation of a fellow coffee connoisseur.  Back then latte art was new and Caffe Artigiano was named of the best in the country.  For many of us, it still is, both for coffee and the mastery of talented barista like Patrick at the new Toronto store.

This is Caffe Artigiano’s first Toronto store and its first location in Canada’s east.  A well established coffee shop on the west cost with eleven stores in Vancouver and four in Calgary, is in Toronto 101 Yonge St. at King.

Opened about two and a half months ago, General Manager, Meaghan Spencer, has planned this location for over a year selecting local vendors for the pastries and baked goods and making sure this store has the same vibe and groove like their west coast stores.

Salads and sandwiches are made fresh in-house and offer some new and different choices. The Fraser Valley Salad with candied pecans, cranberries and goat cheese is now a favourite of mine, it combines a sweet hit with the acid of the honey balsamic dressing for a refreshing boost in the afternoon.

Caffe Artigiano started roasting their coffee beans four years ago and have a coffee director and a coffee roaster. A good choice of blends are available. I am told that these are moving quickly, so if you want to make this great coffee at home, buy early in the week.  Here are some tips from their website on brewing the perfect cup – http://www.caffeartigiano.com

A welcome addition to the burgeoning craft and independent coffee scene, Caffe Artigiano is worth the walk to King St. The baristas are helpful, Meaghan is always smiling and above all the coffee is smooth and flavorful.

 

 

 

IL Gelato di Carlotta – an Italian Ice Cream Destination in Niagara-on-the-Lake

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Halloween has come and gone and there were a few days last week when snow flurries started to make their appearance. It’s been several weeks since my last post and the colder weather and shorter days begin are making me reminisce back to this summer’s last gelato hurrah.

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My last weekend day trip was to Niagara-on-the-Lake. As usual, I was researching where to eat, when I found what I think is one of best gelato stores I have ever been to, Il Gelato di Carlotta.  A very busy and charming store that is authentically Italian.  I read somewhere that much of the equipment in this cute and bustling gelateria was brought in from the mother country, so the look and feel is authentic and smells of coffee and pizzelle.

Gelato Burger making

As I arrive, a tour bus has unloaded a group who wait patiently for samples and place their orders before they go to the theatre. The place is packed but the line-up moves quickly and it is my turn.  I order a gelato burger, which seems to impress the woman who takes my order.  She is further tickled when I ask for the Gelato DiCarlotta as the filling, which is their signature flavour.

Gelato Burger

She fills a bun made of pate-a-chou with Gelato di Carlotta and warms inside an expressly made piece of equipment.   The bun is slightly toasted and the gelato is warmed to the consistency of a thick pastry cream.
half gelato burger

The woman walks to the other side of the counter where she drizzels (heavily) warm, melted Nutella on top.  I see the other customers’ eyes follow my desert as I get my fork and make sure the take plenty of napkins.

I settle quickly on a bench out front in the sunlight, to begin the devouring.  This is the kind of ice-cream sandwich worth travelling two hours in traffic to get (as I did that day).  The Gelato DiCarlotta is smooth and silky and well, you can never go wrong with Nutella on anything. Oh, what a happy ending to a sunny day in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  It’s available year-round, so my suggestion is get there soon.   Bon appetit!

Pavillion Pastries Cafe

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One of the advantages of being a professional pedestrian and public transit user in Toronto is that you come across some wonderful small businesses with a lot to offer. Pavillion Pastries Cafe is a thriving little coffee shop steps from the Main Street subway at Danforth.

Signage

Opened about three years ago in a small unused retail space that was formerly a doctor’s office, its main window shows off a freshly baked choice of Greek pies and specialities.  John Kodothodoros whose family owns Pavillion Pastries Cafe is a great host. Funny, congenial, he and his staff greet the regulars by name.  A welcoming little café that offers organic coffee, light meals and free WIFI is an oasis at this busy East End Toronto intersection.

Specializing in traditional spanokapita (Feta & cheese) and tiropita (cheese) pies which are baked on the premises, they also offer a good selection of cookies including kouriabedes, Greek shortbread cookies in dusted with powdered sugar.

All your traditional types of Greek sweets like baklava are available.  They have my favourite, the very difficult to pronouce, galatoboureko – a semolina custard sandwiched between layers of phyllo and drizzled with honey syrup is available as well.  Two dollars will get you six loukoumades – deep-fried pastry balls soaked in a honey syrup, sprinkled with cinnamon and lightly with powdered sugar.  Sweet and snack sized, these little gems are great when you need a hit of deep-fried goodness.  It’s hard for me not to stop in daily to buy some on my way to and from Main Subway station.  Usually, however, I just stick to getting a big cup of their fine coffee.

Sometimes it’s an adventure to get on the transit line and go to a destination coffee shop, I do it sometimes.  If you’re in the East End of the city and are looking for something different and better than your double-double coffee chain coffee, try Pavillion Pastries Cafe, John will be happy to get to know you and that you came in.

Pavillion display

Address:

  • 2554 Danforth Avenue Toronto, ON M4C 1L4

    The Danforth

  • Phone number(416) 901-3001

 

All things butter and sweetness, Nadège – Toronto

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There’s nothing like stepping into a place that is all things butter.  Butter is one of my favourite foods, sweet, creamy and when done properly, light.  Sweet pairings of fruit, custard and chocolate surround you.  You have no choice but to surrender.

Nadege is fine patisserie, in a word, art. When you first walk in to the Nadege location at 780 Queen St. you are struck by the design, the exuberant colours of arranged patisseries, like objects d’art set against by bright white walls.

Nadege display

Everything  is perfect, nothing out-of-place and the smell of filtered coffee wafting through the air.  I like to look through the big window at the back at the pastry chefs and apprentices working with butter, sugar and crème patissière.

macaron2

Nadege was one of the first places in Toronto to offer the very colourful and vogue macarons.  If you’ve not been initiated to macarons, then you must find your way down here as soon as possible.  While there are so many flavours, I love the vanilla ones.

Nadege madeleines

Boxes of tender, crumbly Madeleines are available in different flavours, simply boxed for gift giving.  Homemade marshmallows are like eating candy flavoured clouds,  full flavours and not overly sweet.IMG_7276

On a recent visit I had one of the turkey sandwiches, fresh roasted turkey, cranberry relish, old cheddar and slightly heated.  In addition, they also have croissant sandwiches with equally wonderful fillings.

sandwiches nadege

Other items of butter wonder, include these miniature almond kugelhopf – Austrian bundt cake topped with crunchy sugar glaze.  There’s no excuse not to get here, it’s right on the 501 Street Car line and right next to Trinity Bellwoods Park.  You can also find them at 1099 Yonge St (at Marlborough).

kugelhopf

Sexy coffee, Nespresso Toronto Boutique Bar

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signageThe 14,000 square foot Nespresso Toronto Boutique Bar opened in November on Yorkville Avenue, one of only two in Canada.  I ventured in today to take a look inside this great coffee tasting salon and machine showroom.

It’s Monday, December 30 in the middle of the afternoon and lots tables available.

The showroom is busy with after Christmas shoppers, using gift cards, I suspect.

I pick a seat in the centre of the store to get the best view of this massively bright, coffee emporium in Yorkville.

Clad in the usual black attire, the staff is well versed in explaining the concept.  The Nespresso Bar  offers a coffee and light sandwich and sweet menu.  Each light offering intended to be “paired” with, if you will, the various Nespresso coffee blend. The cappuccino and two small pastries is $9.00.  For downtown, and for Yorkville, it’s reasonable.

The cappuccino foam is extreme cream and looks lovely as everyone knows, in a  glass mug. It’s delicious too.  I had requested a bolder blend but it wasn’t as strong as I would’ve liked, but overall pretty good.

Let’s be clear, this boutique isn’t about the food, it’s a showroom for Nespresso capsules and high-end machines.   The museum walls showcase the various levels of machines as well as only the best accessories.

grand crus

Nespresso introduced the Pixie in the summer at less than $200.00.  You get a sampler of 16 of the 19 flavours to try. On another day when I have time, I will go back again and try another.

When it comes to owning one,  I’m not sure whether buying yet another coffee machine, one which requires individual pods is  something I want to commit to.  I will keep my twenty-year old French press and continue enjoying the work of baristas who love crafting a perfect drink.

My search for the World’s Best Cup of Coffee

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This scene from Elf makes me laugh every time,  of course, it has to do with coffee.  It seems like there are only two things we quest for, one is the meaning of life and the other is “where serves the best cup of coffee?”

As much as I have a been a Starbucks devotee since they opened their first store in Toronto, it’s just time for a change, time to move on from a tall Pike in a grande cup, and the calorie laden Cinnamon Dolce Latte.  In the past months,  I’ve spending more of my coffee dollars at smaller independent coffee shops

Here are a couple of new hangouts, in no particular order.

Manual Labour Coffee

One of the more interesting vendors at the Good Food Show and the best smooth, creamy and HOT cappuccino I’ve had in a while.  Manual Labour Coffee offers coffee catering service  from their 1969 travel trailer.  The man behind the  espresso machine is Matthew Taylor formerly of the Mercury Espresso Bar in Leslieville.  Catch them at events and on movie sets.  Check out their site at  www.manuallabourcoffee.com

Dineen

It was bright and peaceful last Saturday morning as the sky was light from the many big snowflakes whirling outside, I sat and looked through the big windows enjoying an Americano Misto.   Located at 140 Yonge St. this heritage building was the former location of the Dineen Hat & Fur Co in 1897.  Now restored to its former glory, it is home to the Dineen Coffee Co .   Baristas masterfully prepare each cup carefully.  The staff is friendly and knowledgeable about the coffee they serve.  A limited pastry choice, but all made with pure butter.  There are more choices in the sandwiches and quiche.  It truly is a beautiful building and it almost makes you feel like you’re in Paris or some far away place.  Go for the coffee and enjoy the experience. Take a look at the photos.

Sam James Coffee Bar

This is third location to the Sam James Coffee on Harbord Street. Situated in the PATH underground at St. Andrew’s station, beneath the SunLife building.  While the other two locations caters to hipsters and students,  this locations sees mostly suits looking  for a change from Tim Horton’s or Starbucks.  Rich, robust and flavourful blends, I always want more.  My cappuccino never lasts the long walk back to my office at lunch.  Think I’m going to start buying two at a time.  They feature doughnuts by Dough by Rachel on Thursday and Friday – a real treat and worth the walk.

Other notable independent coffee houses –

The Mercury Espresso, Leslieville  and Balzacs in the Distillery District.