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City mouse, country mouse

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Hi Chowhounds,
We're a thirty-ish city mouse couple from Ottawa and we'll be meeting our country mouse friends in Toronto, March 18-21 for a weekend of stellar food and beer consumption. We're staying around King and John but we are well versed in TTC use (we lived in Toronto in the early nineties) so we can move around the city a bit, but I'd rather avoid the suburbs. We're beer freaks so we're definitely hitting biermarkt, beer bistro and volo. Can't wait for that!

I'd like advice on a great brunch spot, and a couple of cheap and fun lunch spots. I'd also love suggestions for a cool ethnic dinner experience. We have a pretty adventurous palate, but our friends are less ... experienced. I want it to be special and unique for them but not intimidating or formal. We'll want to steer clear of places that attract the Paris Hilton set, and we're not interested in night clubs or singles hang-outs. We'd like to dress casually for the whole weekend, so places with a dress code will be inappropriate. Thoughts on a few great coffee places and ice cream shops would also be appreciated.
Thanks in advance,
Kelly

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  1. For beer, what about Smokeless Joe's? You'll be very close by as it's on John, a few steps north of Adelaide. It's a bit pricey, but the selection is great. It's also a lot more chill than Biermarkt, Beer Bistro and Volo (though I've not been to the latter).

    My favourite gelato place is still Hollywood Gelato, especially since Solferino is closed. Others might also suggest Kensington Organic off of Queen W, but I have had mixed experiences there.

    Lately, my favourite brunch spots are Cool Hand of A Girl in the Junction and Saving Grace. Expect a wait if you go to the latter. It's tiny.

    As for ethnic food, you'll have to be a bit more specific. Are there a couple kinds of food you're interested in?

    9 Replies
    1. re: foxymoron

      Thanks for the tips foxymoron.
      Yes, you're right I should have been more specific regarding ehtnic. I'm open to suggestions but perhaps moroccan (is the Sultan's Tent worth the price tag?) or ethiopia. One of our country mouse friend is spice intolerant though, so there would have to be some timid options available for her. And, not exactly ethnic, but I bet some good southern BBQ would be a big hit.

      1. re: caseykckc1

        There's a relatively new Moroccan joint on the Danforth called Walima Cafe. I haven't been but it has been well reviewed by people I know, as well as, on here.

        93 Harbord is another good recommendation in a similar vein. They serve more of a melange/fusion of Maghrebi/Levantine cuisine that is well executed.

        I'd also recommend Tabule which is more standard Levantine fare.

        1. re: radiopolitic

          I agree with 93 Harbord.

          Sutan's Tent is NOT worth it. I've never had anything remarkable there.

          1. re: pinkprimp

            Walima's is def a possibility, and thanks for the feedback on Sultan's Tent. Good to know.

      2. re: foxymoron

        I love Volo - very great beer selction, really great vibe, nice and cosy but big tables for groups, decent snacks (olives), KILLER ontario wine selection, knowledgeable servers. Biermarkt is definitely bordering on Paris Hilton, beerbistro too, but bistro is a bit more earnest and their foods are creative and tasty.

        Il gelatiere is the spot for Gelato, but it's out of the downtown core.

        -----
        Il Gelatiere
        647 Mt Pleasant Rd, Toronto, ON M4S, CA

        Volo
        587 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4Y, CA

        1. re: LemonLauren

          Il Gelatiere is still closed for the season. I don't think it reopens until April.

          1. re: sloweater

            Huh? I don't think that Il Gelatiere is ever closed. Are you thinking of the right spot? Il Gelatiere is on Mt. Pleasant at Hillsdale.

            1. re: Yongeman

              My bad... I just called to check and they were only closed over the Christmas holidays. I assumed they had shut for winter. Duh...

          2. re: LemonLauren

            I may reconsider going to bier markt based on feedback from this post. I find it sooo frustrating to get excited about a beer only to be told that it's not in stock. Grr.

        2. Well, near King and John you'll be near Le Gourmand for coffee (Richmond and Spadina) The old Prague Deli on Queen West has renovated but the food is still great (www.theprague.ca) same with hole-in the wall, La Hacienda next door for nachos. Still love Swatow on Spadina for Chinese or maybe Dim Sum at the Bright Pearl. You should consider grabbing brunch at the Gladstone Hotel to see what they've done with the place. Coffee and food are pretty good too. You'll want to see what they've done with Parkdale since you left. Wow!

          www.gladstonehotel.com
          www.theprague.ca
          www.legourmand.com
          http://www.blogto.com/restaurants/swatow

          enjoy!

          1 Reply
          1. re: currycue

            Wow, thanks! The Gladstone looks very intriguing. Looks like my kinda joint. Thanks for all the ideas. Really helpful.

          2. I would definately go to the Mill Street brew pub in the distillery district. Casual surroundings, beers that aren't sold in the LCBO, and decent food. Good place for a walk, and a look around as well. I think taking the King street car east will get you near the area.

            4 Replies
            1. re: alsiem

              mill st brewpub is run by one of those conglom organizations that have a dozen or so "pubs" under their belt. the food at the start was actually good but they've spiralled down into pub mediocrity since then. i think they're run by the same people as biermarkt. it is only worth it to go try some beer that they don't selll\ to regular consumers but otherwise i'd be grabbing a sandwich at brick street bakery.

              speaking of biermarkt... this is a big fat no no for me. i'm not sure if things have improved since their second location opened but their list of 100's of beers don't matter if they don't have any of them available! before i swore off them for good i've sat at a table listing off at least 6 different beers that aren't even that difficult to source (ie. usually lcbo available or at least vintages) and.... NOTHING. it's a pity when you're really craving a trappist.

              my suggestions for beer would put volo at the top with beer bistro, smokeless joes and rhino trailing behind for various reasons. i find the atmosphere at beer bistro to be too noisy sometimes (it's the decor that makes it so bad), smokeless joes to be expensive, and rhino a bit iffy on availability but incredibly well priced compared to all the other places. local brews have become very popular recently in restaurants but it tends to still limit you to denisons, wellington and steamwhistle most of the time.

              oh wait! another place i would consider is allen's. they're a little stuffier than the rest (waiters in black ties and black aprons) but it's still a down homey pub in all essence. i'd be wary of the menu (except for the awesome awesome burger cooked rare) but the beer list is pretty good. i noticed that they had a few of the more interesting unibroues available in bottles a couple days ago and would highly suggest a trip there. the don de dieu is beautiful... just beautiful. also great if you're a scotch drinker though it could add up very very quick.

              for ethiopian the hub is around ossington station and the most reputable place is lalibela though my personal fave is nazareth. nazareth might be a bit much for your ethnic weary friends though as it is very hole in the wall-esque. maybe to its benefit (or detriment depending on your tastes) recently seems to be brimming over with hipsters and fewer ethiopians. nazareth is pretty much dirt cheap at $8 for a platter for two and only serves a vegetarian or meat platter where you pretty much just get what's coming out of the kitchen that day.

              edit to add: i also don't typically find ethiopian food spicy. for the most part it is spiced but not spicy. when i get one of those mixed platters to share usually 1 out of 3 or 4 meat items has a little heat while with veg is 1 out of 4 but barely spicy.

              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                amen on biermarkt. Never any beers in stock
                Get thee to Volo instead for beer! or smokeless joe's even though they are insanely expensive (and NOT to be confused with SHOELESS joe's which is a chain).

                Mill street brewpub is also not recommended for dining although i do like their Tankhouse ale. You can try it at the brewery if you're there or just grab a six-pack from any lcbo.

                1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                  just wanted to add that tankhouse is one of the ont microbrews that i actually see regularly available on tap. i think the last time i had it i was at clinton's but there should be a multitude of bars/restos with it.

              2. re: alsiem

                I think we'll hit Mill St. just because we want to walk around the distillery distict anyway and it'll be a good place to stop for a pint or two. I'm excited to try their cobblestone stout on tap! I wonder if it's on a nitro tap? Anyone know?

              3. My list would include:
                93 Harbord - interesting flavours and unusual, though not 'crazy' or hot. Atmosphere is fun, somewhat noisy when busy, laid back. Not at all intimidating.
                Gilead Cafe for brunch - recently went and was both charmed and well-fed!
                Ravisoups for weekday lunch - busy but SO worth it. Steps from where you're staying on Adelaide.
                Julie's Cuban - laid back, interesting neighbourhood.

                -----
                93 Harbord
                93 Harbord St, Toronto, ON M5S1G4, CA

                Julie's Cuban
                202 Dovercourt Rd, Toronto, ON M6J3C8, CA

                Gilead - duplicate
                4 Gilead Pl, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                Ravisoups
                322 Adelaide St W, Toronto, ON M5V, CA

                1 Reply
                1. re: Julie McCoy

                  MMmmm ravi looks well worht a stop for lunch, and Cuban sounds very intriguing. Thanks

                2. Maybe the Rebel House? Abbott on the Hill? Both have good beer lists, I like the grub at Rebel house, Abbott not so much. what do others think?

                  1. I noticed above that for ethnic you mentioned that Ethiopian may not be a bad idea.
                    We went for Ethiopian for the first time last month and I gotta tell ya, it was phenominal.
                    There's a place called Lalibela at Ossington and Bloor (so right near a subway stop) and it's pretty laid back.
                    http://www.lalibelaethiopianrestauran...

                    DT

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Davwud

                      definitely go to nazareth a block or 2 west of lalibela. the veggie platter is amazing, stands out against all other ethiopian places i've been too. not too spicy but she does scatter finely chopped hot peppers on top - so you could ask there be none.

                      if you end up in the distillery, go to balzacs coffee. great coffee and atmosphere.

                      1. re: jayseeca

                        Havn't been to Lalibela but went to Nazareth for the first time last week. It's amazing. Plus with the platters your friends can feel adventurous and try all of the different foods then stick to the milder ones. The woman who runs it is wonderful! (I have a gluten/wheat intollerance and she was able to tell me exactly what I could and couldn't eat) Are you aware that Ethiopian food involves eating Injera (a pita like bread) with your hands? Would your less brave country friends be ok with this? It is super close to the Ossington subway stop especially if you exit at the Delaware. Enjoy!

                    2. What about Alberts at Bathurst and St. Clair for some Jerk Chicken. And if you are going to Mill St. at the distillery there is a brunch buffet across the path. Won't knock your socks off but pretty good. There's always Japanese (plenty to choose from across the price and quality spectrum), Korea town (Soon Tofu or Pork Bone Soup) for dinner maybe, Middle Eastern in the Lawrence ave corridor between Kennedy and Victoria Park, St. Lawrence Market of course. Hot pot and Korean BBQ if you want a little more interaction with your food might satisfy the fun requirements.

                      1. For casual and relatively reasonable lunches, try Il Trompo on Augusta in Kensington Market. Very good Mexican food, beers and margaritas. Tacos are very good, they make their own chorizo, and the atmosphere is very low-key.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Snarf

                          This could work well, my timid country mouse friend is very fond of Mexican and it might be fun to show her what GOOD Mexican food can be like.

                        2. Try Greg's Ice Cream (famous flavour here is Roasted Marshmallow) and Dolce Gelato.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: morefoodplz

                            No - not Dolce - possibly the worst gelato in Toronto. I've only ever thrown 2 away - that was one of them (the other Kensington Organic). Artificial stabilizers (I assume) give it a 'gummy' texture that is totally alien to proper gelato. And at Greg's the ONLY flavour to choose is Roasted Marshmallow (which is superb) - all other flavours are ho-hum.

                            1. re: estufarian

                              I thought it was fine, if not quite what Solferino was. I also thought the place at the bottom of Toronto Life Square was fine -- Vici Gelateria.

                            2. re: morefoodplz

                              Looks like Greg's will be the ice cream stop of choice. Everyone I've talked to has great things to say about it.

                              1. re: caseykckc1

                                I noticed you mention above that you'll be going to the Distillery- definitely try the gelato at Soma while you're there (and their chocolate, if you like chocolate). Some of the best gelato in TO.

                                1. re: phoenikia

                                  Thanks for the tip. Will do. We plan to hit Greg's as well, but hey, 2 ice cream/gelato stops in one weekend sounds perfectly reasonable to me!