Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 at 11:06 pm
Eat, Drink and Be Early: Toronto Highlights
I’m still amazed at how much we managed to pack in during our short trip to Toronto back in May. It helps, of course, that on one of the days, we were already up and at ‘em by 7 a.m. Vacation? What vacation?
Aunties and Uncles
Mack and I only had one occasion to take in brunch during the trip, and we probably picked the absolute worst day to do so: Mother’s Day. Getting a reservation was near impossible, so after some research, we chose the walk-in only Aunties and Uncles (voted best brunch by Blog T.O. last year).
By the time we arrived, the line was forty-five minutes strong. It is a small restaurant, but in the summer, the patio seating easily doubles the number of tables.
The Mothers’s Day line
We were fortunate to get an al fresco seat, shaded by a large umbrella. In the early afternoon warmth, it was outdoor dining that wasn’t yet possible in Edmonton at the time.
Mack on the patio!
The food was well worth the wait. My omelette was chock full of rapini, tomatoes and smoked gouda, and the hash was nicely charred. The sweet and springy sesame-crusted challah was no doubt the start of the plate, however. Mack equally enjoyed his breakfast burger, with a homemade beef patty topped with brie, bacon and (his favourite), a fried egg. It was served on the same challah.
Service was better during the first half of our meal – our coffee refills dropped off after that. Even still, I’d recommend Aunties and Uncles for brunch in Toronto– those lines don’t lie!
Besides Alley Kat’s Charlie Flint, the only other beer consistently in our fridge is Steamwhistle. Made in Toronto, we didn’t have the time last year to visit the brewery, so we made sure to include it on our itinerary on this trip.
Located in a former locomotive roundhouse, the area surrounding the facility is beautiful, a swath of green in amongst high rises and skyscrapers. There was even a small playground behind the building, situated just beneath one of the country’s busiest roadways. We eventually learned that the City at one point had wanted to demolish the historic building to make way for a convention centre parkade. But Council had the foresight to prevent this, and compromised– the parkade was constructed underground, and the building reconstructed brick by brick over top.
We managed to get tickets for the day’s final tour. At $10 a pop, the ticket included not one, but two beers, plus a souvenir glass or bottle opener. While waiting for the tour, we explored the event space, which is used often for concerts, weddings, and food truck events. I loved its raw, industrial edge, and while I haven’t been inside the Mercer Tavern yet, I am hoping it has a similar vibe.
In the tasting room
I enjoyed hearing about the history of the brewery, including its origins. Steamwhistle was started by three fired guys from the Upper Canada Brewery after it was purchased by Molson (etched on the bottom of each bottle is “3FG”as a reminder of its beginnings).
Steamwhistle brews all of its beers in this building, with a volume of approximately 81,000 bottles per day (interestingly enough, our tour guide wasn’t able to compare this with the volume produced by a multi-national company).
We also learned that they had an actual working steamwhistle, which two lucky tour-goers got to pull. The beer’s namesake relates to the steamwhistle sound they wanted to echo through the streets of downtown Toronto to trumpet quittin’ time.
It’s always interesting to see how a product gets on the shelves, and it gives us a bit more appreciation for our fridge staple.
Mack and Amanda will tell you that it was a not-so-pleasant wakeup call the day we intended to check out the Toronto Islands. Because Mack had to be back downtown for his early afternoon conference start time, we knew our window of opportunity was short, and hence, planned to catch the first ferry out. Our walk from our hotel to the ferry stop was a frantic one, dodging commuters on busy streets and narrow sidewalks. But, our tale ends well and we reached the dock in time to catch our ferry.
On the ferry
The Toronto Islands, with its limited real estate, vehicle ban, and need for ferry access makes it a bit of an idyllic, if isolated, community. Though we didn’t make it to the residential side of the islands, the number of bike-toting individuals that poured off the first ferry was astonishing. Here we were, in Canada’s largest city, with a sort-of hippie commune within arm’s reach!
Loved this sign!
The blessing of that first ferry was that we were among a very small group. As a result, once on the other side, it felt like we had the island to ourselves.
Mack also particularly enjoyed the city’s skyline as viewed from the Toronto Islands
The downside of visiting in May instead of June through September, however, is that many of the attractions, including the amusement park, were closed. Still, wandering the serene and lush, dew-sprinkled grounds were an attraction enough.
We did wander over to the beach on the other side, but still early, the mist and fog wouldn’t have made it an ideal time to spend on the sand or in the water.
We were also amazed at the amount of “wildlife” present all around Centre Island, from aggressive sparrows to fearless ducks, graceful swans and innumerable geese. And let’s not forget Amanda’s favourite – snakes!
Even the inanimate animals were fun, the highlight found in Franklin’s Garden.
Mack confronts Franklin
Amanda found a better pet
Toting a picnic basket and swim gear, visiting Centre Island could easily take up an entire day – children in tow or not. The few hours we spent were good enough for us though, especially since our wait for the return ferry saw at least a hundred people pile off – and we weren’t in an island sharing mood.
Guu came to us recommended by a random Toronto blog I came across. Edmonton is bereft of izakayas, and friends of mine who have lived in Japan constantly bemoan this fact. And while I don’t eat sushi, cooked Japanese tapas are right up my alley, so I was curious to see what a Japanese pub was all about.
That said, I wasn’t expecting the raucous welcome that we received. Anytime a guest entered, all staff turned to the door with a loud greeting of welcome. Similarly, anytime a guest was leaving the establishment, hollers of goodbye and thank you travelled with them. It took us a while to get used to the noise, but there is no doubt it creates a very spirited, joyful atmosphere. Mack commented that it really drew attention to how many parties come and go in a given night.
Mack and Amanda at Guu
The interior was made up of low wooden tables and stools, warmed by Edison bulbs and a bustling open kitchen (flames were seen on more than one occasion).
The sharing menu is perfect for large groups, and was great for first timers like us, as it gave us the chance to sample numerous dishes. Our server recommended seven dishes for a three top. The standouts included the sweet and spicy fried calamari and pan-fried pork cheek.
Sweet and spicy fried calamari
Pan-fried pork cheek
I expected the okonomiyaki to be crispier and less wobbly, and the agedashi tofu to have had a firmer exterior, though the dashi broth was great.
Service was brisk, but matched the pace of the restaurant. I could definitely see myself returning on future visits, though it is the sort of place I would love to see in Edmonton. With the runaway success of Three Boars, other true small plates-focused eateries should be in the works. I think Edmonton is ready.