All stories by Signe Langford

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Introducing: Hogtown Smoke, the slow-smoking food truck’s new barbecue joint in The Beach

Introducing: Hogtown Smoke, the barbecue truck’s new sit-down spot in The Beach

Name: Hogtown Smoke
Contact Info: 1959 Queen St. E., 416-691-9009
Neighbourhood: The Beach
Owners: Brothers Scott and Kevin Fraser, the duo behind the Hogtown Smoke food truck, and Noah Henderson
Chefs: Carey Valentine and Scott Fraser

The Food: Real Southern barbecue. Rather than stick to one regional tradition, the kitchen experiments with smoking, grilling and saucing styles from the Deep South to Kansas City. Everything is cooked low and slow, including tequila-spiked chicken (three hours), pork butt (seven hours) and Black Angus beef brisket (16 hours). Jumbo cornmeal muffins come with a side of bourbon-spiked butter.

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A new clubhouse on Queen East from the owners of Table 17

Hi-Lo Bar

(Images: Signe Langford)

Fans of The Avro, the beloved Leslieville dive that closed last spring, may have found a new watering hole. Hi-Lo, a new bar on Queen East, totally lives up to its name. The décor is a mishmash of trendy reclaimed wood and scrappy retro touches, like an old-school arcade table and a photo-collage of dead rockers from the 70s. The drinks range from $5 bottles of Labatt 50 to $12 concoctions spiked with herbal infusions and top-rail booze. Even the food fits the theme, with jars of house-made chicken liver mousse served alongside bowls of Superbowl-style chili. Owner Gavin Holmes sums up the vibe: “We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel here, we just want this to be a community hub where people can get drunk and listen to guitar-driven rock.” Fittingly, Zeppelin and The Stones are on heavy rotation. “If it’s got riffage, it’s on.”

Hi-Lo Bar, 753 Queen St. E., 416-551-3459

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Introducing: Aprilé Bambina Cucina, a new rustic Italian restaurant on Gerrard East

Introducing: Aprilé Bambina Cucina

(Image: Signe Langford)

Last month, restaurateurs Mary McGugan, Bryan Burke and Ted Koutsogiannopoulos, owners of Hank’s, Great Burger Kitchen, Wine Bar and the still new-ish McGugan’s, opened their third spot along Gerrard Street: Aprilé Bambina Cucina, named after McGugan and Koutsogiannopoulos’s daughter April. The cozy 40-seat restaurant serves rustic Italian food, which McGugan tells us is inspired by the Italian families she grew up around in Welland. “Everyone always ate in the basement kitchen on those chrome chairs and the food just blew you away with its simplicity and quality.”

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Where to find the best heritage breed turkeys in Toronto

(Image: John Cullen)

We’re a city obsessed with eating local, and when it comes to planning the biggest dinner of the year, we’re even more devoted. The ubiquitous Butterball, with its yellow and blue shrink wrap, used to provide a comforting barrier between us and the realization that our bird was once, in fact, a bird—with feathers, a beak and a snood (the floppy nose appendage of unknown use). Nowadays, that packaging evokes images of factory farm torture. So we’ll happily pay premium prices to know our turkey was raised in a pesticide-free pasture within a couple hundred kilometres of the city, where it munched organic feed and cavorted with other dignified turkeys. If it happens to descend from a 50-year-old Saskatchewan-born flock and come with certified ancestry papers, Yahtzee! We’ll pay even more. And it’s worth it. Heritage breeds like the Bourbon Red and the Bronze have darker meat (the Broad-Breasted Whites in grocery stores have been genetically modified for Dolly Parton–like proportions) and fuller flavour. All of which means when you’re lying on the couch in a tryptophan-induced torpor, the only thing you’ll feel guilty about is that second helping of stuffing.

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Introducing: Retsina, a new Greek restaurant down the street from Allan Gardens

(Images: Signe Langford)

Don’t let the name put you off. Retsina—a pine resin–flavoured wine from Greece—has a pretty bad rap, thanks no doubt to the cheap stuff, which can be more like alcoholic spruce beer than fine wine. The good stuff, however, is more subtle, and perfectly suited to the hallmark flavours of Greek cuisine: lemon, oregano and garlic. And it’s the good stuff that’s on offer at Retsina, a simple new 44-seat tavern serving traditional Greek food at Gerrard and Sherbourne.

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Introducing: Bonne Journée, a new French bakery on Queen East with a Tunisian twist

Introducing: Bonne JournéeFor those visiting Bonne Journée, Tunisian ex-pat Hitchem Charfi’s new French bakery on Queen Street East, it helps to know that from 1869 to 1956, Tunisia was a French protectorate. Hence the unique—in Toronto at least—combination of French baked goods with a short menu of sandwiches concealing North African spicing and flavours (think: ham and cheese croissants with harissa mayo). Charfi grew up in Sfax, on the Tunisian coast, and came to Toronto at the age of 18. After a less than happy stint as a credit analyst for Amex—“the day I left was one of the happiest days of my life”—he headed off to France to stage for his cousins who own bakeries in Paris and learn the trade.

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Introducing: Strada 241, a new rustic Italian restaurant and café from the Rubino brothers

Introducing: Strada 241

(Image: Signe Langford)

For Michael and Guy Rubino, Strada 241, their brand-new restaurant and espresso bar on Spadina, is a way for them to go back to their Italian roots (“strada” is Italian for “street” or “path”). The Rubinos have spent the past decade immersed in high-end East-meets-West fusion cuisine at Ame and Rain, which Guy refers to as “high-wire-act cooking in designer restaurants.” But it seems midlife has drawn the brothers to the traditional cuisine of their hometown, Salerno. Guy, the chef, tells us, “We’ve gotten older, we’ve become a bit nostalgic. Michael got married and had a couple of kids, and I formed a band—Curtain Call. We’re cutting a record now and we just did a tour. So we are ready for more balance in our lives.”

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Introducing: House of Moments, a new art gallery and fusion restaurant in Leslieville

Introducing: House of Moments

(Image: House of Moments)

In May 2011, when businessman Hamid Kouchak took over a massive, 12,000-square-foot space on Carlaw Avenue—formerly Dragon Heir Design—he was thinking art gallery, reality TV show and event space. The reality show didn’t pan out, and after five months it became clear that House of Moments needed to bring in more of an audience for Kouchak’s artists and a richer revenue stream for himself. The place needed a broader appeal, so he teamed up with restaurateur Henry Kim and chef Daniel Park (lately of Tomo in Richmond Hill), and introduced a menu of Eastern fusion. Not East-West fusion, but rather Far East-meets-Middle East fusion, i.e., Japan meets Kouchak’s native Iran, which he left in 1980.

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Introducing: Handlebar, The Avro’s new big sister bar in Kensington Market

Introducing: Handlebar

(Image: Signe Langford)

It took two years, but Rachel Conduit and Bruce Dawson’s vision has now outgrown the confines of their first watering hole, the tiny Avro on Queen Street East. While Leslieville’s much-loved and almost always packed local—known for its Caesars and strictly birthday cake menu—will keep doing what it does best (showcasing smaller, quieter acts), the pair are excited for the possibilities at The Handlebar, their much larger new bar in Kensington Market. At 109 seats inside and 19 on the front patio, Conduit tells us they’ll be able to “support more projects, bring in bigger, louder, acts and even be a North by Northeast venue.” Indeed the long, dark, narrow room—it has at various times been Teranga African Bar and Restaurant, Southern Po’ Boys, a food shop and vacant—boasts a stage at the back and a sort of arty dive bar vibe.

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Introducing: Glas Wine Bar, Leslieville’s latest spot for a drink and a local, seasonal bite

Introducing: Glas Wine Bar

(Image: Signe Langford)

After two and a half years, Leslieville’s Frankly Eatery, known for its Indo-Canadian fusion brunches, threw in the towel. Replacing it: Glas, an intimate, 20-seat wine bar headed up by a chef obsessed with freshness, elegance and detail. After eight years cooking in Italy, the UK and Montreal, including at several restaurants with Michelin stars, Danny Pantano returned home to hang out his own shingle. “Leslieville is the best place in the world and the people are so supportive and friendly,” he told us. His original plan was to open a chocolate shop, but when he saw the space he thought: wine bar.

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Introducing: Waffle Bar, serving Liège-style treats in the Upper Beach

Introducing: The Waffle Bar

(Image: Signe Langford)

First off, Jan Vandenbroeck would like to clear up any waffle confusion that may be out there: those big, round, fancy waffles ubiquitous at brunch are not the real thing. They may call them Belgian, but that’s a bit of a catchall for any big, round, fancy waffle that doesn’t pop out of a toaster. A hair stylist-cum-waffle master, Vandenbroeck is here to set Toronto straight at Waffle Bar, his cute new shop in the Upper Beach. “When I was a kid, growing up in Flemish Londerzeel,” he told us, “waffles were a snack we ate all the time. It was our popcorn when we went to the movies.” And it’s these crunchy, not too sweet, Liège-style sugar waffles that Vandenbroeck is serving today.

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Introducing: Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken, Leslieville’s new house of indulgence

Introducing: Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken

Owner Devin Connell with her doughnut slingers, decked out in ’50s garb (Image: Signe Langford)

Back in May we told you about the happy convergence of two of Toronto’s favourite fried things that was about to take place in Leslieville in the form of Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken. Well, the deed is done and Leslievillians are lining up. Maybe not quite Sunday-brunch-out-the-door-onto-the-sidewalk lining up, but a near-bewildered Devin Connell (Delica Kitchen) tells us she’s been running out of doughnuts by 3 p.m. and chicken by 6—and they’re open until 7 (they’re working on this). But since her chicken isn’t a freezer-to-fryer kind of thing (it goes through a 24-hour process of brining, battering and double frying), there can be a bit of a lag in replenishing exhausted stores. Connell is truly blown away by the response. “We’ve been selling out—doing almost 300 covers a day—from the moment we opened.”

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Chicken and doughnuts, together at last at Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken

Devin Connell (Delica Kitchen) was torn between two loves: a really good, artisanal doughnut and super-crunchy fried chicken. “I knew I wanted to open a place that focused on one thing, did one thing only, and did it really well, but I couldn’t decide,” she told us. “Then, one night I woke up and thought, ‘I don’t have to choose! Why not do both?’” And so, with Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken, Connell—of the Ace Bakery Connells—along with brother Luke and chef Graham Bower (Pangaea, Globe, Delica), is bringing her idea of a very happy meal to Leslieville. “We don’t shy away from what our food is: it’s not healthy food. It’s happy food. And it’s made with wholesome ingredients.”

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Food Network star Anthony Sedlak consulting on new hotel restaurant in Toronto

Sedlak at The American Cheesesteak Co. (Image: Sedlak)

Hidden away on Wynford Drive, at Eglinton and the DVP, the Toronto Don Valley Hotel and Suites is undergoing a $4-million transformation, which includes a food service overhaul courtesy of Food Network Canada star Anthony Sedlak, of The Main. Allied Hotel Properties, which bought the property in 1998, has joined forces with Atira Hotels of Chicago to re-brand the 353-room hotel as “the city’s first urban resort.”

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Introducing: The East Ender, Leslieville’s new spot for “stepped-up” comfort food

Chef and co-owner Greg Argent (still in his civies) readies the bar for a busy Friday night service (Image: Signe Langford)

The landlord of 1212 Queen Street East wasn’t the only one to lose out when the owners of Tomi-Kro packed up and left; the neighbourhood also felt the void. But with the arrival of The East Ender in the space, the healing has begun—after all, what can’t a pork belly slider make right? (That’s the hope, at least.) Chef and co-owner, Greg Argent (Rain, Cru, Forte Bistro), with co-owner Hieu Nguyen (Forte Bistro, Cru) have moved into the 55-seat space, and, says Argent, the team has “done a lot of cleaning, but didn’t change too much.”

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