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Looking for general food and beer advice for Toronto

Mr. Arkham and I are taking an end-of-summer road trip from Washington DC to Toronto the first week of August. We're staying at the Residence Inn downtown and hope to park the car when we get there and not use it again until we leave, but anything on a transit line is fair game.

Food: I know about poutine, but what else does Toronto have that's unique or better than other places? We're especially interested in seafood/sushi, European-style pastry, and dim sum.

Beer: What not-available-in-the-US brands should we keep an eye out for and where are the best places to sample them? Mr. Arkham is a fan of dark stouts, and I like red lagers and fruit lambics. Local is good. Weird is good. Ideally we could find a place with tastings or flights of beer. I know there's a beer festival that weekend, but I'm not really a fan of huge outdoor things like that unless it's really something we shouldn't miss.

Also, extra-super-bonus points for any roadfood recommendations between here and there. Thanks!

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  1. There are others, but 2 of the best beer destinations are Duggan's and Bar Volo. The former has its own products while the latter has a wide variety of local craft beer on draft (as well as foreign bottles, esp. Belgian).

    587 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4Y, CA

    Duggan's Brewery
    75 Victoria St, Toronto, ON M5C, CA

    1. Beer: Personally, I'm not that crazy about Duggan's (I like the #9 IPA, but I've found the rest disappointing, the food expensive and ordinary, and the space unpleasantly loud), but I definitely second the recommendation for Volo.

      I would also recommend:

      - The Victory Café
      - C'est What
      - Ceili Cottage
      - The Beer Bistro
      - Dora Keogh's (Especially if it's an Irish session night, and you're into Irish music)

      Some local brewers I'd recommend in these places are: Dennison's, County Durham, Wellington, Scotch Irish Brewing Co., and Granite Brewery.

      Food: Well, poutine is always contentious here. Personally, I'd say it's pretty missable, and if you want to have it, get it in Québec some other time. But, opinions vary.

      Some local food ideas, though are:

      - Peameal bacon (Carousel at St. Lawrence Market being the classic choice)
      - Butter Tarts (many places to get them - check out recent threads)

      Coming from another angle, Toronto is home to unusually large and vibrant communities from many other parts of the world - if you're looking for dim sum, you won't have a hard time finding it, especially along Spadina in Chinatown.

      Beer Bistro
      18 King St. E, Toronto, ON M5C 1C4, CA

      Victory Cafe
      581 Markham St, Toronto, ON M6G2L7, CA

      St. Lawrence Market
      92 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E, CA

      Dora Keogh
      141 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K, CA

      C'est What
      67 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E1B5, CA

      Granite Brewery
      245 Eglinton Ave E, Toronto, ON M4P, CA

      Ceili Cottage
      1301 Queen St E, Toronto, ON M4L, CA

      Beer Bistro
      , Toronto, ON M5G, CA

      7 Replies
      1. re: trombasteve

        Had an early dinner and watched the end of the World Cup at Beer Bistro yesterday. Wasn't drinking, but did read the lengthy beer menu (16 offerings from Dogfish!) while waiting for the food. Food was above average, but not special, and decently priced.

        Beer Bistro
        18 King St. E, Toronto, ON M5C 1C4, CA

        1. re: L2k

          Check out Bier Markt on the Esplanade, I think they have something like over 100 brands of beer from 24 countries to choose from, you will surely find a bunch of interesting Beers to try.

          As for food, one thing Id recommend is heading to the Danforth and having some great Greek food. Id recommend the Tiropita(Cheese Pie) at Athens Pastries near Danforth and Logan, and the Authentic Greek Gyros at Messini's are delicious as well. There is plenty to choose from, just head over to Pape Station if you use transit and walk South to the Danforth, just walk along the street and enjoy the atmosphere. \

          Its also a great place to find a nice patio for a nice beer as the suns going down!

          445 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K1P1, CA

          Athens Pastries
          509 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K, CA

          1. re: jmarcroyal

            I disagree that they'd, "surely find a bunch of interesting Beers to try" at Bier Markt. It mostly serves many varieties of standard macro Euro lagers and such. I can't think of anything they would have here that they wouldn't have at several places in Washington. The offerings are nothing compared the other places mentioned (Volo, Beer Bistro, C'est What, Duggan's, Victory, etc) where you can actually get beers that aren't available in DC.

            For specific beers to try, this thread from last year would be a good place to look:

            Beer Bistro
            18 King St. E, Toronto, ON M5C 1C4, CA

            C'est What
            67 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E1B5, CA

        2. re: trombasteve

          Thanks! Butter tarts are new to me, but they sound wonderful. I've never had poutine before, and I'm actually not a huge fan of french fries (weird, I know!) so maybe I'll skip that and save the calories for other things.

          1. re: JoanArkham

            Roncesvalles Village hosts Toronto's 'Little Poland" where you can find a number of polish bakeries for your European pastry fix. You can also try a couple of polish beers.

            As a previous poster had mentioned we have a number of little neighbor hoods (and some bigger ones).

            greektown, little italy (2 of them), chinatown, little tibet, little india, portugal, korea and so many more...all with their own food and drink

            1. re: ingloriouseater

              Oh wow, Polish food is one thing we really don't have here. Any specific recommendations?

              1. re: JoanArkham

                the best pastries/bakery is granowskas, for hot food i prefer cafe polonez ( not chopin). great deals for food-not very expensive at all

                here is a good blog link with pic


        3. BeerBistro has quite a selection of exclusive Belgian lambics in their cellar. And the place is good with beer/food pairings and dishes. Check out the beer cellar menu here -

          I second Volo for a good selection of local brews and artisanal cheeses with knowledgeable staff

          1. Lots of good recs here. I would second the rec to avoid Bier Markt, however.

            For something local and different, drop in on Mill St. Brewery (which is in the Distillery District, a lovely area worth a wander during the day -- not so much at night, when most shops are closed) and try their coffee porter. I wouldn't particularly recommend the food there, but they have a tasting room with a few of their beers available to try for free (if you eat in the restaurant, they offer flights of all of their other beers). For a good nosh in the area, go to Brick St. Bakery and grab a sandwich or a savoury pastry. Then head over to Soma for the best chocolates in the city (the fleur de sel caramels are my favourite), as well as some pretty fair gelato (try the lemon sour cream, if they have it), and a wicked, wicked Mayan hot chocolate shot.

            For European-style pastries, do you have a preference as to which country? One of our many Portuguese bakeries would be a great stop to try natas -- Portuguese custard tarts. Or head up to the Mt. Pleasant/Eglinton and Bayview/Eglinton area for a great concentration of excellent French pastry shops (Rahier, Jules, Celestin, Thobor, Patisserie la Cigogne, La Bamboche), as well as a very homey bakery called Flaky Tart, which has the best butter tarts in the city (IMO, of course).

            For dim sum, your best choice downtown without a car is Lai Wah Heen. Or, if you go up to the bakery zone, its sister restaurant Lai Toh Heen has dim sum as well. Both are quite upscale and pricey for dim sum. For passable, and much cheaper dim sum in Chinatown, Rol San is probably your best bet (though opinions seem to change regularly here).

            In terms of what Toronto does better than many other places are our cheap and cheerful to upscale "ethnic" restaurants. Ethiopian, Chinese, Portuguese, Middle Eastern, Polish, etc. etc. Chiado is a wonderful high-end Portuguese restaurant, something not found in many other cities.

            Avoid: Thai, Mexican and Greek. For some reason, we don't do these very well.

            Have a great trip!

            Lai Wah Heen
            108 Chestnut St, Toronto, ON M5G 1R3, CA

            623 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto, ON M4S 2M9, CA

            Distillery District
            55 Mill St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

            Rol San
            323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

            864 College Street West, Toronto, ON M6H 1A3, CA

            Lai Toh Heen
            692 Mt Pleasant Rd, Toronto, ON M4S, CA

            1626 Bayview Ave, Toronto, ON M4G, CA

            La Bamboche
            4 Manor Rd E, Toronto, ON M4S, CA

            Flaky Tart
            711 Mt Pleasant Rd, Toronto, ON M4S, CA

            627 Mt Pleasant Rd, Toronto, ON M4S, CA

            Bier Markt
            , Mississauga, ON L5B, CA

            1. As a Montrealer who believes that authentic poutine is not done well here, I would have "Toronto poutine" - which I define as upscale, with some kind of reduced jus as the gravy, some locally sourced cheese, and often with some kind of meat incorporated like duck confit, pulled pork, braised beef, etc. I'd recommend trying Jamie Kennedy's version of the day at Gilead - he started the trend here.

              1. Regarding beer:

                Volo and Beer Bistro are the highlights for beer in the city. For local beer, Volo has the edge as they focus more on draught beer. Beer Bistro probably has a deeper bottle menu, but it will be nearly all selections that are available in the US.

                Unfortunately, none of the styles you've mentioned are particularly popular with brewers here. (Generally, the brewers in Ontario are less adventurous stylistically than many US craft brewers.)

                You might like to try:

                - Mill Street Coffee Porter (widely available)
                - Grand River Russian Gun Imperial Stout (winter seasonal, hard to find)
                - Black Oak Nutcracker (winter seasonal, hard to find)
                - Wellington Imperial Russian Stout (tough to find)
                - Dieu du Ciel Peche Mortel (from Quebec, very good)
                - St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout (from Quebec)

                Fruit lambics: Nobody in Ontario brews lambic styles. There are a number of local fruit beers (raspberry lagers, etc.) but they're generally not anything special. If you see any of the Unibroue Ephemere line (from Quebec), they're worth trying.

                Red lager: What's a red lager?

                - Anything from Denisons, the Weissbier (widely available on draught) is one of the best in the world and the Dunkel is very good as well (harder to find in the summer).
                - Skip the beer festival. While many of the micros attend, its mainly frat boys and macro lagers.
                - The Victory Cafe (near Bloor & Bathurst) is a nice pub with a good beer list (draught) and a nice patio.

                Finally, if you want more detailed beer info, try posting on the forums at The Bar Towel http://www.bartowel.com/board/

                Beer Bistro
                18 King St. E, Toronto, ON M5C 1C4, CA

                1 Reply
                1. re: detritus

                  Thanks for the excellent info! Especially on the beer fest...that's pretty much the scene I want to avoid.

                2. As someone who was raised in the DC area, I say welcome! And as a fellow red lager lover, I say just enjoy those when you get home. :)

                  Closer to your hotel than some of the above options, Smokeless Joe's is another small spot with a gigantic beer list full of interesting things - similar to Volo, but the menu is more beer-friendly if you want to eat while you drink. Might be worthwhile if you want to stay within walking distance. Also nearby (near the CN Tower) is Steam Whistle - all they make is a pilsner, and it definitely has its detractors on the board, but it IS very local, and worth stopping for a free sample if you find yourself partaking of touristy activities around the tower, Rogers Centre, ACC, Harbourfront, etc. Continuing the local theme, I agree that Duggan's has some fun beers, and Mill St. is worth a stop for samples or flights (but ask when you sit down if the flights are available - the last time I was there they couldn't provide two of the three flights, and the one they DID offer contained only the basic line that you can try for free in the tasting room). And I second the rec to try some Unibroue Ephemere if you run into it (I last spotted it at Volo, but that was quite some time ago), although I've actually had better luck finding a lot of their other products in DC than in Ontario.

                  Smokeless Joe
                  Toronto, ON, Toronto, ON , CA

                  Rogers Centre
                  , Toronto, ON M5G, CA

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Wahooty

                    And just as a note: There's no Ephemère at Beer Bistro either. They've had trouble getting it. :( I miss it on tap.

                    And I was down in Chicago recently and their Binny's had a huuuuuuge selection of Québec beers! Way more than we'd ever see in Ontario, sadly.

                    Beer Bistro
                    18 King St. E, Toronto, ON M5C 1C4, CA

                    1. re: jlunar

                      Yep, I was actually at a Binny's in Chicago in May and they had more Unibroue and DDC products than we get in Ontario by a wide margin. They had the same selection of St Ambroise that we have. I think I even saw several Charlevoix products, none of which we can buy in Ontario.

                      As I was buying beer, I was talking to the guy that worked there and he was saying how lucky I was to be close to Quebec. I then started pointing to all the Quebec beers on their shelf that we can't buy in Ontario and his jaw dropped.

                      My guess is that someone from DC would have better access to more Quebec beers than we do in Ontario. Yay for government controlled alcohol sales!

                      1. re: kwjd

                        Huh, I was under the impression that since Canadian beer was stronger the versions imported to the US weren't the same. But after some Googling, it looks like I was totally wrong!

                        1. re: JoanArkham

                          That's a common misconception here as well - Canada measures alcohol content in beer by volume whereas the US measures by weight. Alcohol only weighs about 80% as much as water, so a beer that is 5% alcohol by volume will be about 4% alcohol by weight.

                          In actual fact, most of the mainstream beers here are just about exactly the same strength as their American counterparts, but the 5% ABV vs. 4% ABW confusion has given rise to the idea that Canadian beer is significantly stronger.

                  2. I may be too late, but just in case, a quick thought: Bar Volo is the best in the city for local beer, IMO, but closer to your hotel and also with a decent selection of locals is C'est What on Front Street.

                    C'est What
                    67 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E1B5, CA

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: markdsgraham

                      Hah, not too late...we're here now and had just decided on C'est What for this evening. Spooky!

                      C'est What
                      67 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E1B5, CA

                      1. re: JoanArkham

                        Awesome - hope you're enjoying your visit!

                    2. Just wanted to follow up and say thanks for all the advice. There was so much to see (and eat and drink) we didn't get to it all, and we're already thinking of a return visit next year.

                      C'est What was very good for beer, just ok for food. The menu seemed sort of heavy for August, but maybe that's a regional thing? After tasting some local beers we picked up some at the LCBO to take home, an apricot wheat and a blueberry lager.

                      We had some baked goods and roasted corn at St. Lawrence market, and I tried the peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel. I was debating having one (as a second breakfast) and a woman next to me insisted that I do...glad I listened.

                      Following a rec from a different site, I had dinner at Sidecar and was able to have drinks at Toronto Temperance Society as a guest afterward. Both were wonderful experiences, the patio at Sidecar was lovely and TTS was one-of-a-kind. If I lived in the area I'd have bought a membership on the spot. I'd never had real Cuban rum before!

                      Other than that we just grazed our way through the city...having nibbles in every neighborhood we wandered through. Which is pretty much the perfect vacation. Thanks again for all your help and hope I can return the favor if you're ever in DC!

                      C'est What
                      67 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E1B5, CA

                      Toronto Temperance Society
                      577 College St, Toronto, ON M6G, CA