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Food Shops

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Love popcorn? Try 100 flavours at Kensington’s new kernel shop

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Everyone’s favourite movie snack is the main attraction at Toronto Popcorn Company, a new shop that recently opened on the edge of Kensington Market. Husband-and-wife team Joseph and Caramhel Villegas produce an astounding 100 flavours of popcorn, 35 of which are available for sampling on any given day. Traditionalists will veer toward familiar options like salt-and-vinegar, cheddar, caramel and ketchup, while sweet tooths may appreciate the cornucopia of fruit flavours (banana, black cherry, strawberry and watermelon, to name a few). Some of the flavour profiles are surprisingly realistic—like the pizza popcorn, which is convincingly cheesy and has a great oregano bite. Mixing and matching is strongly encouraged. (We recommend blending Buffalo corn with caramel—it’s basically Chicago Mix on steroids.)

147 Baldwin St., torontopopcorncompany.com

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How-To

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How Real Sports feeds thousands of ravenous fans a day

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

It’s 4:15 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Real Sports Bar, the stadium-sized beer hall and restaurant next door to the Air Canada Centre. Fans in blue-and-white Leafs jerseys are clinking pint glasses and glancing up at the bar’s 200 jumbo screens, where curling, soccer and commercials are playing—nothing interesting, yet. In just three hours, though, the Leafs will square off against the Red Wings at the ACC. Hundreds of supporters will start pouring into the bar over three separate rushes—before, during and after the game. Back in the kitchen, the unionized staff is preparing for its own athletic trial. “Today we’ll probably serve 2000 fans,” says executive chef Matthew Sullivan. (On its busiest days of the week, Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington does about 400.) Feeding such a huge number of people requires relentless prep work, coordination and stamina. Here’s how they do it.

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Food Events

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Sample to your heart’s delight at the Canadian Artisan Tasting Fair

(Image: Mauricio Alvarez)

(Image: Mauricio Alvarez)

Every Toronto food event seems to ply the same formula: drop $10 on admission, spend hours browsing, and down a few expensive plates in a fit of foodie FOMO. The Canadian Artisan Tasting Fair offers something different. A $40 ticket to the locavore haven, back for a second year at Artscape Wychwood Barns, buys unlimited samples from more than 40 sustainable and small-scale provisioners. So there’s no need to choose between ethical meat makers Seeds to Sausage, Riverdale’s Dough Bakeshop and the prolific Leslieville Cheese Market (see a full list of vendors here). The menu is still under wraps, but if the fest is anything like last year’s, expect treats like crostini, handmade chocolate and a dairy’s worth of stinky, spectacular cheeses. Also included with admission: a tote, tea towel and $10 coupon toward any of the vendors’ goods—the perfect way to start your holiday shopping.

Nov. 30. $40. Artscape Wychwood Barns. 601 Christie St., 416-465-7143, tastingfair.ca.

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Restaurants

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Snack on cones of crispy Belgian frites at Kensington’s new fry shop

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

At Moo Frites, Kensington’s new Belgian fry shop, snackers can dip perfectly crisp, thick-cut frites into a remarkable number of sauces—18, to be exact. The dipping options include traditional Dutch dressings, like the curry-based joppie, as well as some pretty out-there flavours, like pumpkin spice, peanut sauce and tandoori. Owner Ambrose Lee was on a solo trek across Europe when he fell in love with Belgian frites. When he returned to Toronto, he left his marketing job to open up this eight-seat eatery. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of research I read about frying potatoes,” says Lee, whose five-step frites are fried, frozen (to break down the water molecules) and then fried again before hitting the paper cone. For an extra dollar, you can opt to have your fries fried in beef tallow—hence the restaurant’s name. And Lee isn’t done experimenting. He’s currently developing a line of specialty dishes, like the “Japo Frites”: a cone of fries topped with wasabi mayo, seaweed and seasame seeds. $4–8

178 Baldwin St., facebook.com

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New Reviews

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Review: Mr. Flamingo has tons of cool cred (and pretty great food)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

SEE ALL NEW REVIEWS
Mr. Flamingo 2 star
1265 Dundas St. W., 647-351-1100
Mr. Flamingo 2 star
1265 Dundas St. W., 647-351-1100

The staff at the new 34-seat restaurant on the corner of Dundas West is a dream team of food-world hipsters. The place is owned by Mikey Apples, who also owns the dive club Bambi’s downstairs, and Fan Zhang, the former chef at 416 Snack Bar. Cool cred combined, they run an archetypal west-end hang filled with obscure dance beats and the sound of cocktails shaking, 20-somethings in a uniform of top-knots, slouchy Ts and Converse high tops, and salvage shop furnishings. The food is mostly very good—not quite special-occasion fare, but definitely date-night-level.

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Free Stuff

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Score free tequila (and portable caesar salads) at Fonda Lola’s piñata party

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Mexican restaurant Fonda Lola is turning one this week, and it’s celebrating the occasion with a rowdy, tequila-fueled piñata smash-a-thon. Starting at noon on Friday, November 28, and happening every hour on the hour until midnight, the restaurant will be hanging up papier-mâché containers full of treats and letting people pummel them with sticks. They’re also giving away some free stuff, like tequila samples at 4 p.m. and “hand-held caesar salads” at noon and, provided you’ve bought a margarita, 5 p.m. (Picture a creamy bacon lettuce wrap—they’re highly recommended.) Oh, and there’s a chili pepper–eating contest, too, scheduled for 2 p.m.—because there’s no better time to excoriate the lining of your mouth than right in the middle of a regular workday.

Fri. Nov. 28, 12 a.m.-12 p.m., 942 Queen St. W., 647-706-9105 (text for reservations), fondalola.ca

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Drinks

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Winter Beers: the top 10 craft beers hitting LCBO shelves this season

Winter Beers: the top 10 bottles hitting LCBO shelves this season

Winter beers are generally bigger, bolder and sweeter than their warm-weather counterparts. The LCBO’s seasonal release, which will be trickling out in stores over the next few months, is one of the most impressive we’ve seen in years. (There are tons of amazing Belgian bottles, several of which are listed below.) Here, the top 10 brews of the season.

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Openings

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Introducing: NAO, a new Asian steakhouse on Avenue Road from Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: NAO (an acronym for “New and Old”)
Neighbourhood: Yorkville
Contact Info: 90 Avenue Rd., 416-367-4141, naosteakhouse.com
Owners: Charles Khabouth, Hanif Harji, Stuart Cameron and Tim Foley
Chefs: Stuart Cameron (also the exec chef at Patria, Weslodge and Byblos) and chef de cuisine Andrew Bradford.

The Food: The Asian-American fusion trend finds full expression in this plush new steakhouse from restaurant impresarios Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji. NAO offers some caveman-sized cuts of beef—including a 64-ounce rib steak that’s carved tableside—but it’s not just a boys’ club. “We wanted NAO to be female-friendly,” says Kabbouth. Lighter options (salads, tartare) are punched up with predominantly Japanese flavourings, like miso, yuzu, ponzu and “Bull-Dog” sauce, a sweet and savoury Japanese condiment. (NAO makes its own version in-house.) Cameron spent months researching and sourcing the very best of everything, including fresh wasabi from B.C., Wagyu beef from Japan and bamboo barrel–aged finishing salt from South Korea.

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Restaurants

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Dooney’s café is making (another) comeback

(Image: Kim B./Yelp)

(Image: Kim B./Yelp)

Dooney’s was an Annex institution back in the days when non-mega-millionaires could still afford to own property in the Annex. Now, according to the CBC, it’s making a comeback—only not in the Annex.

The café, which opened in 1982, was owned and operated for over two decades by Graziano Marchese (brother to former MPP Rosario Marchese) before being sold to new owners in 2008 and soon after rebranded. A few years later, Marchese tried to revive the café’s legacy at his new neighbourhood hangout, Annex Live; however, the identity shift didn’t really stick.

This time, he’s going for a new neighbourhood. The CBC reports that Dooney’s 3.0 will be opening in the next month or so at 866 Bloor West, just east of Ossington—an area that probably looks and feels something like the Annex, circa 1984ish. And from the sounds of it, former Dooney’s regulars will find themselves right at home in the new space, which, according to Marchese, will be a spitting image of the original, right down to the cool neon sign.

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Openings

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Introducing: Buna’s Kitchen, a homey new lunch counter in the Entertainment District

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Buna’s Kitchen
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Contact Info: 388 Richmond St. W., Unit 5B, 647-342-5506, facebook.com
Previously: Sido Shwarma
Chefs/Owners: George Brown alums Grace An and Taylor Heon met in culinary school and opened a catering company together, Food Parade, before going the brick-and-mortar route with Buna’s.

The Food: Owners An and Heon are determined to bring old-fashioned home cooking to the downtown core. (Buna is Hungarian for “grandma”). The short menu includes sandwiches (pulled pork, duck confit), poutines and salads, plus a daily changing pasta special. On one visit, it’s bolognese; on the next, it’s fettuccine in a simple marinara sauce.

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Restaurants

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Chris McDonald on leaving Cava: “I feel like my job is done with Spanish”

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

McDonald’s squid with romesco sauce. (Image: Dave Gillespie)

Before there was Patria, Carmen or Bar Isabel, there was Cava, the Yonge Street restaurant responsible for acquainting Torontonians with boquerones, papas fritas and the simple joys of grilled seafood with citrus. Now, longtime owner and chef Chris McDonald is moving on. “When I opened Cava, I knew the city didn’t need another Italian restaurant,” he says. “So I thought Spanish. I never expected it would turn into this big trend.” Eight and a half years later, with tapas joints edging out taco shops in some Toronto neighbourhoods, McDonald realized it was time to switch things up. “I feel like my job is done with Spanish,” he says.

McDonald is leaving Cava in the hands of his former partner, Doug Penfold, who helped launch the restaurant back in 2006. (Before he signs off for good, he’ll be hosting a huge—and 100 per cent sold-out—send-off dinner to celebrate his nearly decade-long run.) After that, he’ll enjoy some well-deserved downtime, and maybe travel a bit. But after that, it’s entirely likely that Toronto will find itself with a new Chris McDonald joint on the map.

The details are still a little hazy, but McDonald will say this: “I like restaurants that change the landscape. And I like transporting people…that’s the theatre of running a restaurant.” In terms of cuisine, he’s pretty sure his next place won’t be Spanish or Italian. “I’m hoping to do something based on a European cuisine, but somewhere with a climate that’s similar to ours.” (When pressed, he offers up Eastern Europe as a possibility.) Despite the lack of concrete whens and wheres, we’re fairly confident Toronto won’t have too long to wait. “I can’t imagine spending all my time doing anything else,” says McDonald. “Restaurants are my blood.”

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Restaurants

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Pop-Up Pick: chef Aleem Syed previews the menu for his new halal food truck

aleem

(Images: @chefaleem/Facebook, @chefaleem/Instagram)

Aleem Syed’s story is an inspiring one. The Toronto chef, whose resume includes stints at Canoe and Origin North, sustained a spinal cord injury back in 2008 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The setback might have brought his career to a halt were it not for Pascal Ribreau, the paraplegic chef then running midtown bistro Celestin, who encouraged Syed to keep pursuing his passion for food. Now, after several years catering events, Syed is bringing his particular brand of halal cooking to West Queen West. (For those who don’t know, “halal” is a word used to describe foods that are permissible for Muslims to eat and drink under Islamic Shari’ah law.) From November 22 to January 5, he’ll be hosting a pop-up at Queen West bar The Midpoint. There, he’ll be previewing dishes from his new halal food truck, The Holy Grill, which is set to hit the road in February 2015. The debut menu will include casual fusion snacks (Indian-spiced shrimp tacos, butter-chicken poutine) and a few more refined plates, with everything priced under $10. For reservations, email chefaleemreservations@gmail.com or call 416-704-4633.

Nov. 22–Jan.5, The Midpoint, 1180 Queen St. W., facebook.com

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Openings

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Introducing: Baju, Zane Caplansky’s laid-back barbecue joint at The Monarch Tavern

baju-intro

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Baju BBQ
Contact Info: 12 Clinton St., 416-531-5833
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Owners: Zane Caplansky (best known for his eponymous deli and food truck) and The Monarch Tavern’s Michael Dorbyk
Chefs: Dan Green and Kyle Wyatt, the duo behind pop-up culinary collective Mise En Place

The Food: Baju ascribes to the “Meat and Three” philosophy, which holds that barbecue is best enjoyed along with a trio of equally filling side dishes. At Baju, pulled pork, sliced brisket, spicy Texas sausages and dry-rubbed ribs can be combined with heaping servings of beans, collard greens, cornbread or deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese nuggets. It’s a simple, soul-infused menu that doesn’t try to rewrite the classics. Explains Caplansky, “This is driving down a country road in Kentucky and finding a great shack that makes ribs, where that’s all they do. We’re keeping it simple.”

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Openings

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Introducing: Ovest, a polished Italian restaurant on King West from ex-Terroni chef Luca Stracquadanio

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Ovest
Contact Info: 788 King St. W., 416-214-6161, ovest-to.com, @Ovest_TO
Neightbourhood: King West
Owner: Marco Celio, the former general manager at both Buca and Buonanotte
Chef: Sicilian-born chef Luca Stracquadanio, previously the executive chef at Terroni LA and La Bettola di Terroni in Toronto

The Food: In addition to thin-crust pizzas and truffle-strewn pastas, the debut menu at Ovest includes some interesting departures from typical trattoria fare. A nontraditional caprese salad, for example, combines tuna tartare with whipped Buffalo mozzarella and salsa verde. The swordfish carpaccio—chef Stracquadanio’s signature dish—brings thin slices of smoked fish sprinkled with slivered fennel, orange segments and white anchovies. (“I want to surprise my customers with juxtaposing elements,” says the chef.) Desserts, like the chocolate nest pictured above, are almost too pretty to eat.

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Restaurants

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Masterchef Canada judge Alvin Leung and winner Eric Chong are opening a restaurant on Spadina

(Image: Bell Media)

(Image: Bell Media)

Back in April, when Masterchef Canada contestant Eric Chong hoisted that shimmering Lucite trophy above his head, we wonder if he sensed that his culinary future would be tied to the blue-haired eccentric standing next to him. According to the Star, Chong has partnered up with Masterchef Canada judge and Hong Kong–based chef Alvin Leung to open a modern Chinese restaurant somewhere on Spadina Avenue, “close to Toronto’s Chinatown.” (We wonder whether it might be the huge space at 241 Spadina, just south of Grange Avenue, that was left empty when Strada 241 closed its doors back in July.) The Leung-Chong collaboration will be called R&D, which, Leung told the Star, is short for “Rebel and Demon.” (For those who don’t know, Leung goes by the nickname “Demon Chef” and characterizes his particular brand of Asian cooking as “X-Treme Chinese.” When you run a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, which Leung does, you’re allowed to self-mythologize a little.) R&D is scheduled to open in early 2015.