REVIEW: Off The Hook

One of the things my daughter misses most about gluten-free dining is going out for battered fish & chips. We’re lucky enough to live close to Duckworths on the Danforth, where we’ve had many a delious hailbut or haddock meal together en famille.

So when I told her that I’d found a restaurant not too far away that offered her Holy Grail of fish, let’s just say she was wicked excited to check it out!

Off the Hook is a funky casual joint on Broadway, just south of Danforth, with purple & chalkboard walls, plus one side is fully mirrored to help widen the narrow space.

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Off the Hook
749 Broadview Ave, Toronto
(416) 465-4356

http://www.offthehookfishandchips.com

REVIEW: No Bull Burgers

No Bull Burgers on Kingston Rd & Bingham Ave, close to Victoria Park Ave.When craving a good burger recently, I opted to take the family out to try a local joint called No Bull Burgers out for a few reasons.

First, when looking up their menu ahead of time I noticed they offer gluten-free buns (for a $1.25 surcharge) — this meant our GF daughter could enjoy a burger along with the rest of us. Two, they use locally-sourced organic extra lean ground beef with no additives, preservatives or fillers, and I’m happy to pay a small premium for that as well. Third, they looked to be only a 5 minute drive away on Kingston Rd close to Victoria Park ave, an area we never seem to venture out to for some reason! Let’s give it a shot :)

The restaurant is a small but cheerful little space that seemed to do a brisk business of both the eat-in & pick up variety on a Monday evening. My son and I chose the standard quarter pound burgers and added bacon (your choice of peameal or strip) plus toppings of our choice.

Gluten-free buns available Oh yes, let’s talk toppings for a second before I forget. How nice to find such a bit of variety that move beyond the standard lettuce/tomato/ketchup/onion you usually see. Chiptotle mayo, tzatziki, cucumbers, salsa, pineapple (I won’t judge you), sautéed mushrooms or onions and more — the only additional costs were for either guacamole or an egg ($1) or grilled cheese buns (2.95).

Serena ordered the GF bun, and the counter staff was conscientious enough to check if it was okay to run the bun through the toaster. For those who are celiac and can’t risk cross-contamination with gluten, this can be a very big deal — I appreciated her asking!

Specialty burger, the Redneck

Brent always needs to go for something a little different, so he went for the Redneck signature burger: quarter pounder, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, beer battered peameal bacon rolled in chips topped with lettuce, tomato and whiskey BBQ sauce. Okay then!

Add a couple of soft drink, one side order of yukon gold fresh cut fries and a pulled pork poutine and we were in business. We were served about 5 minutes later and no one had the single complain about their food… unless it was to say they were too full to finish everything. The french fries were lightly salted, perfectly crisp and generously sized (could easily feed two).

The poutine was ridiculously delicious but honestly was almost too big for us, even when split 3 ways! The cheese curds were fresh and perfectly squeaky, gravy was rich and flavourful and the pulled pork topping was nicely tender without being overpowering.

Pulled Pork poutine A few additional remarks off the top of my head: they also offer a quinoa & veggie burger and vegetarian gravy for the fries/poutine, there’s free Wi-fi, Kawartha Dairy ice cream milk shakes, and they participate in the Vicinity rewards program. the counter staff were friendly and automatically adjusted my order to combine items into combos to help save me some money without my noticing it. Oh yes, and if you’re in downtown Toronto, they also have a location on Parliament St!

Next time (oh yes, there WILL be a next time) I’m excited to try the smoked beef brisket and their homemade potato chips available in cajun, parmesan and sea salt. Yum!  Until then….

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No Bull Burgers
1019 Kingston Road, Toronto, ON M4E 3T9
416-698-8131
www.nobullburgers.ca

REVIEW: Pho Metro Asian Cuisine

Shiny happy people hungryWhen we wandered down Lawrence Ave East just past Warden, we found ourselves stopping at an unassuming little Vietnamese restaurant tucked away in a nondescript Scarborough plaza. This was the perfect casual store-front joint to come in out from the cold, where a good smattering of families, couples and singles were already happily slurping up their phō soup and sharing noodle dishes.

Have a seat: your table has most everything you’ll need already set up for you! There’s a pen & order chit to mark down your food and beverage selections, chopsticks, napkins and soup spoons, plus of course Sriracha and a variety of condiments. Chicken pho with extrasBetween the three of us we ordered both small chicken and beef brisket phō bowls as well as an appetizer to split of rice paper rolls with pork, vermicelli and veggies. Green tea was brought almost immediately by our server without any additional cost.

The soups came out quickly and were just about perfect, a lovely marriage of clear broth, meat and rice noodles. They were accompanied by a generous side plate of bean spouts, lime wedges, long coriander and basil leaves to add to our soups as desired.

beef brisket phoI was grateful that the server who took our order recommended I not stick to the skirt flank I’d originally marked down; she opined I might find it “chewy” and to order the brisket instead. Glad to have followed her advice, because the beef was tender and flavourful. I’d read ahead of time that the soup servings ran large and that was indeed the case. I’m glad I didn’t go for medium or large, because those bowls were BIG! Then again, for the small price difference we could have just brought the leftovers home, so I’ll be smart and keep that in mind for the next time.

rice wrapsOur large size order of rice rolls came next, and they were very filling. Unlike deep fried spring rolls, these are cold and filled with juicy BBQd pork, vegetables and vermicelli noodles with a peanut dipping sauce. My gluten-sensitive daughter was thrilled to try something different and consequently claimed all the leftovers to bring to school for lunch the next day. If pork isn’t your thing, they’re also available with chicken, beef or a shrimp/pork combo.

Granted, we came here specifically for the phō that evening but you’ll find a large variety of dishes available on the menu, plenty of noodle and rice dishes, soups, stir fries, the ubiquitous Pad Thai that shows up in all oriental restaurants and even chow mein if that’s your thing.

For drinks, you’ll find the usual pop, tea, wine & beer but they also offer more interesting selections such as bubble teas, numerous smoothies such as jackfruit, red bean and avocado, and fruit juices like fresh passion fruit, lime and even Pennywort. I’m not sure if i should be scared or impressed! :)

FYI, if you live even further east than Scarborough, they also have a location in Ajax.

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Pho Metro Asian Cuisine
2057 Lawrence Ave E
416-750-8898 (dine-in and take-out available)
www.phometro.com

Lazy Daisy Café and Happy #15!

lazy

The Daisy Burrito and Ultimate Sandwich – please click on image to enlarge

There’s an adorable little café you’ll find at Coxwell and Gerrard St, one that so many of my fellow East-end buddies rave about.

The Lazy Daisy Café offers delicious goodies made from scratch, a commitment to using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, drug and hormone-free meats — the kind of ethos you like to have in your neighbourhood eateries.

For whatever reason, the first time we managed to head over was Halloween morning, and coincidentally our 15th wedding anniversary.  (Yes yes, we’re those freaks who married on Halloween and have never regretted it for an instance!)

We had decided on playing hooky for the day to enjoy it together, and opted to drive there for a quick breakfast sammie and good coffee before beginning our adventure.

It’s a lovely, bright and cheerful place, with friendly counter-staff and a nice mix of clients ranging from couples like us, singles with laptops and caffeine plus a few knots of moms & tots.

I enjoyed a latté with the Daisy’s Burrito ~ Scrambled free range egg, chorizo sausage, avocado, organic salsa & Monterey Jack cheese served warm in an authentic Mexican tortilla. Brent opted to pair his coffee with The Ultimate ~ Mennonite sausage, free range egg, cheddar & Wellesly farm apple butter layered on a St. John’s organic whole wheat english muffin.

We had a hard time deciding whose breakfast was best – that’s how yummy they both were. We also snagged some gluten-free pastries that we knew would appeal to Serena for later in the day. Her declaration of “Ohhhh myyyyy goooooddddd” after shoving in her mouth said goodies was all the recommendation I needed!

One of those treats was their Black Bean Brownie which I’d nibbled on surreptitiously, so I can honestly concur.

As an FYI to those who do follow a gluten-free diet, the Lazy Daisy is proud to serve a variety of GF options, including sandwiches, several desserts as well as their soup of the day is “often made with the gluten-conscious in mind as well!”

From what I understand, the café has all kind of events going on from comedy nights, spoken word open mics and even game nights.  For more info, be sure to check out their Upcoming Events page and their Lazy Nights page.  I admit to being quite impressed by their commitment to family-friendly events and a kid-friendly menu, and I know that if our monsters were younger it would be very much the kind of local establishment we’d want to build community in.

We might not have stayed long that morning but will definitely be back! And for fun, here’s a shot of us with the anniversary cake our family surprised us with later that weekend. Happy Anniversary to us indeed!

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Lazy Daisy Café
1515 Gerrard St. East
647 341 4070
http://www.lazydaisyscafe.ca/

Food Festivals/Events for Weekend of July 19

Skyline_of_Toronto_viewed_from_HarbourLooking for food fun this weekend in the city? Don’t worry, we have you covered!

Am I missing an event? Please let me know!

Moo Milk Bar

photo 3I don’t exactly remember how I first learned that there was a milk & cookies store down in the Beaches, but my initial reaction was along the lines of “That’s freaking brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?”

Moo Milk Bar is an adorable little itty bitty spot on Queen Street East that carries a delicious array of freshly baked cookies, bars, ice cream sandwiches, cakes and…flavoured milks!

My first two visits worth of cookies were a banana chocolate chip one and a Cowgirl cookie (espresso powder, pretzels, toffee bits, semi-sweet chocolate chunks and oats). Both were that perfect blend of crisp and soft, with the toothsome bite a homemade cookie ought to have.

Needing more, my third time at the store meant trying more varieties of cookies.  Their Snickerdoodle is a classic throwback to Mom’s baking with cinnamon sugar, while the Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate caters to a more grown-up palate. I get to be both 3 AND 43 all in the same visit – ta-da. Magic!

photo 5Their milk comes to them fresh from Hewitt’s Dairy Farm in Hagersville, and no need to stick to just chocolate when you’re here. You will have far more choices of milk flavours available to you than that — I spotted Cinnamon, Mint, a variety of Cappuccinos and many more on their website.  Dollars to donuts their Strawberry milk tastes nothing like the nasty Quik of my childhood!

To my delight, they even carry a few different flavoured almond milks that are perfect for those non-dairy peeps like myself. The first one I tried was a Banana Chocolate one that had me grinning ear-to-ear as I sipped it — there was something so perfect about this combination of flavours that made me feel like a great big kid. The second one was a Caramel almond milk that I liked so much, I rationed it out over a week by adding it to my Earl Grey tea every morning for added decadence. My third was a subtle yet delicious Vanilla Bean almond.

While I haven’t done it myself, I understand that they’ll even steam the milk for you if you prefer to go hot vs cold.  If you want to be able to make more milk at home, I spotted several different bottles of the natural flavours for purchase, as well as other giftable options.

Cookies galoreThe true standouts however are their homemade bars. Our first indication that we were in trouble was after trying the 7 layer bar. A simple name like that could not possibly describe the bliss we had biting into this chew concoction of graham crumble crust, milk, dark and white chocolate, toffee bits, coconut, and sweetened condensed milk.

Holy cow, our eyes were rolling in the back of our heads! We managed to hold off and freeze half of one, so we could see if it was just as good cold. I know, we’re freaks that way but dang, it was crazy good.

Next up was the Caramelita with oats, chocolate chunks, and their homemade salted caramel.  How do you expect us to choose a favourite amongst all the yummies offered?!  I haven’t yet had a chance to try the brownies, peanut butter bars or other flavours, but if my first two were any indication of quality and taste, I just can’t wait.

Bottom line? Hop, skip and jump your way to Moo Milk Bar and indulge your inner child with some milk and cookies. You know you want to!

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Moo Milk Bar
1918A Queen St. E  (MAP)
647-343-4272
http://moomilkbar.ca/

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE – ENJOY!


REVIEW: Joy Bistro

photo 11Earlier this week we took advantage of another great Summerlicious deal, this time at Joy Bistro in the Leslieville neighbourhood (Queen St E. at Booth Ave).

With perfect balmy evening weather, we opted to enjoy one of their two outdoor patios – one of which overlooks Jimmie Simpson Park.

I’ll open up with that which was great about this restaurant: the food. Being the couple that shares everything, contemplating what choices to choose from a menu is always a treat – double the fun!

I found myself extra happy to be able to share my husband’s meal because he lucked out on some spectacular choices this time around.

He has some positively outstanding pork tacos, with that perfect crunch to the shell that tells you how fresh it is. Gouda cheese, grilled onion and tomato salsa, tequila & lime sour cream translated into “Oooh la la!” and much moaning as we gobbled them down.

WINNER: Crisp Lake Huron Perch Fillets zucchini, leek, maple bacon, lemon thyme vinaigrette

I ordered the asparagus, pink grapefruit and corn salad, which was mostly a base of baby kale and romaine lettuce layered over white bean and lemon hummus. It had a perfectly balanced dill dressing with some feta crumbles on top, and I found it have a very refreshing combination of tastes and textures.

Again, he chose a real winner with his entrée of crisp Lake Huron perch fillets served with green & yellow zucchini, potatoes, leeks, maple bacon and a lemon thyme vinaigrette.

You know how often with cooked zucchini, you usually end up with it either way undercooked and raw, or else so slimy you can barely eat it? Not here…this was zucchini perfection (but I digress).

Smoked Leg of Ontario Lamb merguez sausage, sweet potato, summer peas, mint, cilantro, basil, green onion, yogurtI fared almost as well as he did when it came to my main course of leg of lamb with merguez sausage, mashed sweet potato, summer peas, mint, cilantro, basil, green onion and yogurt. I’ve never been able to perfect the art of cooking lamb at home, so I’m always interested in choosing it at restaurants when it’s an offering. This one was excellent with succulent meat and a generous helping.

Our desserts were also very good: a summer fruit & berry crumble with candied ginger and vanilla custard (his) and a flourless chocolate torte with Friuli whipped cream and chocolate caramel crunch (mine).

It’s unfortunate to have to knock a place down due to less than exemplary service, but the reality of dining out is that one comes to expect a certain level of care… and not unreasonably so. Our waitress rarely checked in on us, not once provided water refills, and while she wasn’t unpleasant, she simply wasn’t the least bit engaged. Service for all three courses ordered was very slow and we were often left sitting with empty plates lingering in front of us. “Perfunctory” is the best word to describe it, and it brought the entire tone of our celebratory dinner down a few notches.

I found this to be a true shame because while we greatly enjoyed the quality of the food and the location this restaurant offered, the lackluster service means we’re far less likely to return.

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Joy Bistro
884 Queen St E
416-465-8855 website
map

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE – ENJOY!

Food Events/Festivals for Weekend of July 12

Skyline_of_Toronto_viewed_from_Harbour

CC Image courtesy of John Vetterli on Flickr

Looking for food fun this weekend in the city? Don’t worry, we have you covered!

Am I missing an event?  Please let me know!

REVIEW: Bier Markt Don Mills

photo 5As I type up today’s notes about my Summerlicious lunch at Bier Markt Don Mills, I am happily slurping up what little was left of my dessert. Having been too stuffed to finish it off in situ, I just knew it would make the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up and of course, I was right!

We’ll just ignore the marshmallow-encrusted keyboard for now, okay? Okay.

If you’ve never been to one of the four Bier Markt restaurants in the GTA, I’d urge you to at least give the one at The Shops At Don Mills a try. The service was attentive and detail oriented, the food nicely seasoned and the ambience upscale pub chic. If you happen to be a beer aficionado, you’re likely to be impressed by their extensive selection from around the world which even offers some exclusive brews. If you’re a patio lover, they have a nice big one just for you!

They are currently offering a 3 course lunch for $20 (plus taxes and gratuity) as part of the 2013 Summerlicious program (see BM ‘Licious menu here) which was a fabulous steal as far as we were concerned.  If you aren’t familiar with this program which runs both in the summer and winter, you can enjoy delicious three-course menus from July 5 – 21, 2013 at almost 200 of the city’s top restaurants. Lunches are generally $15, $20 or $25, and dinners range from $25, $35 or $45.

For appetizers, Brent & I started with the M.A.R.K.T salad as well as the pork & fennel wurst, reserving the mushroom soup option for a different day.

Chicken Schnitzel

I’m always grateful to find a salad that isn’t swimming in dressing, so the light and crisp apple cider & thyme vinaigrette was dead on and a perfect compliment to the Mâche lettuce, artichoke, roquette, kale, and tomato backdrop.

Both Brent and I were quite enamoured of the Backerhaus bretzel which came with his sausage. Lucky for me he didn’t have the camera handy when I greedily stuffed the last bits of it in my mouth…all at once (oops). It was accompanied by a nice spicy grainy mustard, some Gouda cheese and mouth-puckering pickle.

I rather wisely chose the chicken schnitzel which turned out that perfect level of crispness that paired especially well with creamy Yukon mashed and tender sautéed beans. It was a generous portion, and I was quite happy adding lemon spritzs to my chicken before dredging it in the braised leeks and demi-glace.

If no one mentioned to me that I walked around with some of the Lingonberry jam stuck to my face the rest of the day, well, I’ll have to forgive them out of sheer happiness of my memories of eating every smidge!

Brent chose the Croque-monsieur sandwich, which was a combination of silky Gruyère & Emmental cheeses with ham and béchamel on toasted bread. He’s not typically a fan of the open-faced sandwich concept but if he had any complaints, no one heard it over the sounds of his single-minded dedication to polishing off his plate.

photo 8For dessert, I indulged (and continued to do so) in a milk chocolate ganache s’mores waffle, complete with marshmallow meringue and toasted graham crumbs. Please excuse me while I moan with bliss!

I made sure that the hubby ordered the strawberry shortcake, a near perfect combination on vanilla sponge cake, custard, strawberries and whipped cream topped by the perfect dark chocolate covered berry. Summer on a plate.

Half-way through our meal, the day manager Sal made a point of coming by to see how everything was.  In fact, every one of our hostess and server interactions left us feeling well-cared for — something that rarely happens at a mid-level restaurant these days.

People, good service is NEVER unwarranted! It’s always reassuring to come across a place that’s well-run in this manner, for sure.

All is all, we were extremely pleased with this new-to-us find, and actually plan on returning this coming Friday with our team for a staff anniversary celebration. Good food for all!
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Bier Markt Don Mills
7 O’Neill Road
Toronto, ON M3C 0H2
(416) 862-7075

WEBSITE
MAP

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE – ENJOY!

TO Food Fest

20130623-085632.jpgBack for a second year in a row, the TO Food Fest will be bringing foodies together in the pursuit to try fabulous and innovative dishes from new and aspiring chefs alike!

I’ll be tweeting today from the event (follow me @EYWTTCaroline) and writing up a comprehensive review afterwards with more photos.

DATE: Sunday June 23, 2013 – 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM
ADMISSION: free
LOCATION: Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto
5183 Sheppard Avenue East, Scarborough, Ontario
Canada M1B 5Z5

WEBSITE: http://tofoodfest.com/