comfort food

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Trend We Love/Hate: Toronto’s inflated comfort food economy

Trend We Love/Hate: Pricey comfort food

We at Toronto Life are avid consumers of upgraded comfort food—but we’re beginning to notice that the prices are climbing in lockstep with our cholesterol levels. Below, four down-home dishes at premium prices.

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Openings

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Introducing: Aft Kitchen and Bar, a new barbecue joint in Riverside

Introducing: AFT

Name: Aft Kitchen and Bar
Neighborhood: Riverside
Contact info: 686 Queen St. East, 647-346-1541, aftbar.com, @aft_bar
Owner: Paul Campbell, formerly of House on Parliament
Chefs: Christian Butcher and sous chef Lawrence La Pianta

The food: American comfort food with an emphasis on southern barbecue, which La Pianta spent two years learning in Texas (everything is smoked on-site). 

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Restaurants

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Five new pubs that push British comfort food beyond pigs and puddings

Gastropubs: a new crop of pubs is pushing British comfort food beyond pigs and puddings
Toronto Gastropubs: The Grove

1. The Grove

Ben Heaton’s restaurant has upturned all our Brit pub expectations by putting modern spins on stodgy classics. His black pudding combines a crumble of blood sausage with freshly shucked peas, a duck egg yolk and lemon-butter foam. 1214 Dundas St. W., 416-588-2299.

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Random Stuff

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GALLERY: 10 of the world’s most over-the-top fast foods, in honour of the new Kentucky Chicken Rice

Gross Fast Food: Kentucky Chicken RiceKFC, the culinary innovator that launched the infamous Double Down in 2010, introduced the Kentucky Chicken Rice to Japan this week. Like the Double Down, it’s a sandwich of sorts, with two pieces of fried chicken taking the place of the bread, and a thick rice patty inside, along with ketchup, mayo and cheese. The concoction is yet more evidence that the gluttonous fast food item arms race rages on, propelled as much by the Internet’s love of a good gross-out as by the fad for comfort foods that kicked off with the Great Recession and never seemed to ebb. In honour of KFC’s new invention, we present 10 over-the-top fast food items, drawn from around the world, with a couple notable Toronto contributions.

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Restaurants

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Weekly Lunch Pick: Sabai Sabai’s rich and fragrant massaman curry

(Image: Andrew Brudz)

Nuit Regular is one of those chefs whose culinary groupies follow her from kitchen to kitchen. After her recent split with Khao San Road, the place to go for Regular’s distinctive northern Thai cuisine is Church Street’s new Sabai Sabai, where the lunch menu is full of comfort food perfect for the dead of winter.

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Openings

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Introducing: Rose and Sons, the new Annex diner from Anthony Rose

Introducing: Rose and Sons

(Image: Susan Keefe)

The hotly anticipated Rose and Sons opened earlier this month where the beloved neighbourhood institution People’s Foods once stood. Co-owned by Robert Wilder and The Drake Hotel’s former executive chef Anthony Rose, the 176 Dupont Street location is the first instalment in a promised trio of restaurants. Out of respect for the diner that Wilder visited for 30-plus years, he and Rose opted to leave the iconic “Hamburgers” sign untouched. Inside, Rose and Sons echoes the retro appeal of the fallen greasy spoon, with the individual tables swapped out for long wooden booths. The eatery has an undeniably buzzy energy, with a bustling bar operating beside a semi-enclosed kitchen, which turns out the kind of elevated comfort food that Rose has become known for.

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Food Events

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Weekly Eater: Toronto food events for November 19 to November 25

Joshna Maharaj hosts a screening of Tampopo at the Revue on Thursday

Monday November 19

  • Monday Night Dinners at Local Kitchen and Wine Bar: Every Monday night, Local Kitchen serves a $40 prix fixe menu of Italian fare with half-price wine bottles and no corkage fee. 1710 Queen St. W., 416-534-6700. Find out more »
  • 86’D with Ivy Knight: Warm up with a flight of boozy hot chocolates by resident bartenders Gord Hannah and Sandy De Almeida and a marshmallow sampler bar from The Sweet Escape. The Drake, 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042. Find out more »
  • Gourmet and Gluten-Free: Learn to prepare gluten-free meals with Marni Wasserman. The menu includes carrot-apple soup, brown-rice pesto pasta and saffron-laced quinoa. Marni’s Kitchen, 26 Lauderdale Dr., 647-477-8131. Find out more »
  • Turkish Delight: Join chef Jenelle Regnier-Davis for an exploration of western Asian cuisine, a mash-up of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours. Highlights include grilled pine nut and dried-currant beef kofta, tomato-bulgur pilaf with fresh coriander and Turkish coffee custard. Dish Cooking Studio, 390 Dupont St., 416-920-5559. Find out more »
  • Pasta Goodness: Paola Faiella leads a workshop on fresh pasta dishes, the ultimate cold-weather comfort food. The menu includes pappardelle with boar ragù and penne with asiago cheese and braised lamb shanks. Kingsway LCBO, 2946 Bloor St. W., 416-239-3065. Find out more »
  • The Dinner Party at the Great Hall: Alexandra Feswick hosts a dinner inspired by Judy Chicago’s legendary 1979 art installation, featuring an all-star lineup of female Toronto chefs making dishes dedicated to the women who inspire them. Serving the meal will be some of the city’s top male chefs. The Great Hall, 1087 Queen St. W., 647-381-3401. Find out more »
  • From Scratch Cooking Workshop Series—Jamming with Manning Canning: This week, learn to make caramel-apple jam. Eastminster United Church, 310 Danforth Ave. Find out more »

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The Dish

Food TV

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Recipe to Riches reviewed, episode 5: Butter Chicken Lasagna

RECIPE TO RICHES Season 2, Episode 5

Last week, we were treated to a Grade A quasi-villain in Jackie Koh, but on last night’s episode, Recipe to Riches cooled down and delivered just another fairly judged competition. It was almost as though the judges decided to actually critique the product on its merits rather than filtering their opinions through a mean or sweet or cool persona—and that’s just not what reality TV is about. Merit is supposed to be secondary in this game. Perhaps Jesse Palmer could start stirring the pot a little, asking each contestant, “What do you hate about your competitor?” Galen Weston, with his family billions, could surely play the role of rich tycoon and cut someone down à la Trump. Of course, this is a Canadian show, so we’re betting the good-natured, fair-minded vibe is here to stay (the just-announced Australian edition, on the other hand…).

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Restaurants

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Weekly Lunch Pick: homey Italian fare at the revamped Little Anthony’s

Little Anthony’s chicken parmigiano (Image: Renée Suen)

Earlier this year, the long-in-the-tooth downtown Italian spot Little Anthony’s underwent a three-month renovation and transformed into LA’s Italian + Bar, a casual osteria in the shadow of the Sheraton Centre (sister restaurant Mediterra made a similar transition last year, becoming the lauded Estiatorio Volos). Having shed its tired steakhouse attire, the modern, revamped dining room is filled at lunchtime with financial district office workers chowing down on Italian comfort food classics.

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Openings

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Introducing: Reds Wine Tavern, a revamp of the Bay Street power lunch destination

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

It wasn’t long ago that we watched as Ryan Gallagher brought his good-natured competitive streak to season two of Top Chef Canada, making it all the way to episode nine. In August, SIR Corp. announced that Gallagher would be leaving Ruby Watchco to find himself back in the Financial District (he worked as an insurance broker at Brookfield Place many years ago), as the executive chef at the relaunched Reds Wine Tavern. The two-storey restaurant, which opened back in 2000 as Reds Bistro and Wine Bar, shut down briefly in September for renovations. The result: a lively space full of—you guessed it—exposed brick, warm lighting and communal wooden tables that’s nevertheless still sophisticated enough for the district’s businesspeople.

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The Dish

Food Events

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Weekly Eater: Toronto food events for October 29 to November 4

Thomas Keller appears at the Isabel Bader Theatre on Tuesday to promote his new book Bouchon Bakery (Image: Toby Canham/Getty Images Entertainment)

Monday October 29

  • Monday Night Dinners at Local Kitchen and Wine Bar: Every Monday night, Local Kitchen serves a $40 prix fixe menu of Italian fare with half-price wine bottles and no corkage fee. 1710 Queen St. W., 416-534-6700. Find out more »
  • 86’D with Ivy Knight: Sample Muskoka Harvest Ale while you carve up a pumpkin for the jack-o-lantern contest. The Drake, 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042. Find out more »
  • Piola’s Monday Night Mixer: Piola’s weekly aperitivo Italiano, with cocktail and beer specials and complimentary snacks. 1165 Queen St. W., 416-477-4652. Find out more »
  • Burger Mondays: Enjoy $5 burgers and $5 pints on Mondays, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Gladstone Melody Bar. Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St. W., 416-531-4635. Find out more »
  • The “F” Word Revisited: Few chefs are more skilled at simple elegance and pure flavours than Gordon Ramsay. Explore some of his more approachable recipes with chef Angie MacRae. No yelling or throwing pots involved. Dish Cooking Studio, 390 Dupont St., 416-920-5559. Find out more »
  • Harvest Fermentation—Kraut and Kimchi Variations with Kate Lienweber: Start fermenting the way your grandmother did. Also learn the holistic health benefits of home fermentation that have been a part of food culture for generations. The Depanneur, 1033 College St., 416-828-1990. Find out more »

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Restaurants

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Weekly Lunch Pick: the just-greasy-enough fried chicken thigh sandwich at The County General

(Image: Renée Suen)

Greasy southern comfort food has been surging in popularity for a few years now, but it’s always difficult contemplating a return to the office after a helping of chili, say, or fried chicken. The County General, Splendido’s cooler younger sibling on Queen West, has a solution, in the form of its perfectly lunch-sized fried chicken thigh sandwich ($14). 

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Restaurants

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Weekly Lunch Pick: Chinese comfort food at Spadina’s sleek One Hour Cafeteria

(Image: Andrew Brudz)

Already popular with nearby U of T students, Han Shao’s simple, modern One Hour Cafeteria (he’s a U of T Architecture grad himself) is a stylish and welcome change from the many run-down, run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurants that populate Spadina. Most of the seating consists of low tables with hefty beanbag chairs (although there’s also more conventional chairs as well), and the décor has a refreshingly minimalist vibe. On the menu of Chinese comfort cuisine—handily divided into “small food” or “big food”—you’ll find appetizers like fried chicken wings, edamame and beef tendon, and mains including various meat and noodle combinations.

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Restaurants

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Weekly Lunch Pick: the refreshing soba lunch special at Baldwin’s Konnichiwa

(Image: Renée Suen)

During the summer, diners flock to Baldwin Street for lunch on the many swelling patios under the shade of a wide, leafy canopy of trees. One of the best bets there is Konnichiwa, a quaint Japanese-owned and run restaurant that specializes in comfort foods made of rice and noodles.

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The Dish

The Month That Was

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The Month That Was: the Toronto restaurants and bars that opened and closed in July

Hanif Harji and Charles Khabouth outside Weslodge, their new “modern saloon” (Image: Gizelle Lau)

Openings:

  • Pacific Junction Hotel—Come for the decidedly eclectic aesthetic, stay for the selection of rare tequilas and mezcals (but don’t plan to sleep the night—this is a bar, not a hotel). Read our Introducing post »
  • Riverside Public House—The Blue Moon Pub is out, and this upscale pub is in: expect comfort food from Top Chef Canada’s Dustin Gallagher, and a (soon-to-arrive) specialty drink menu from former Susur employee Matt Gregoris. Read our Introducing post »
  • Weslodge—Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji, the guys behind La Société and Nyood (respectively, among many other places), bring a little bit of country to the King West strip with their “modern saloon.” Look for the can’t-miss massive yellow front doors. Read our Introducing post »
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