As part of Matador’s partnership with Canada, where journalists show how to explore Canada like a local, MatadorU alumna and writer Jules Torti picks out some of her favorite eats in Toronto.
Alligator Pear Cafe

Photo credit: Author

A simple sandwich board advertising “PB & Jelly Lattes — $4!” originally lured me into the Alligator Pear Cafe, tucked inside the edgy furniture shop Design Republic, at 639 Queen West.

The extended “Weird Lattes” menu promised the likes of cookie dough, apple pie, banana split, French toast, marshmallow, and shortbread — hot or iced. Cafe owner and Red Seal standard of excellence certificate holder Laura Thippahawong marries Kicking Horse espresso shots with her custom peanut-butterscotch and Italian Torani fruit syrups. This is high-grade fuel for your cruise along the sneaker and tattoo shops of Queen.

House of Jaffle

Despite the burger renaissance of late, beef patty pandemonium is being overtaken by All Things Bacon: We’re talking bacon-stuffed waffles, bacon marmalade, maple bacon donuts, and candied bacon. The House of Jaffle (707 Dundas West at Bathurst) Crepe Dog ($4) gives wieners an upgrade by wrapping them in bacon and — because layering is important — a crepe. Their Berry Gooey Bacon crepe is the motherlode: bacon, dried cranberries, and brie. Yes, oh my.

Trinity Bellwoods and Market 707

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Actually, this piggy went to two markets. The Tuesday night market (3-7pm) at Trinity Bellwoods on Queen West is a convenient and ambient place to graze, given that you can easily find seating arrangements en plein air. Vendors dole out generous crumbs of lavender, cocoa nib, and rosehip and cardamom shortbread ($7). Forbes Wild Foods will seduce you with sticky samples of buckwheat honey, dark maple syrup, roasted sweet chestnuts, dried morels, and sea asparagus. Stratford, Ontario’s Monforte cheeses guarantee “sheer sensual deliciousness” and, when paired with Stasis Local Foods preserves like black walnut honey or pear and roasted garlic chutney, it’s like a Romance 101 crash course in the park.

Market 707, a relatively new community venture at Scadding Court east of Bathurst at Dundas, offers a snapshot of world street foods within 50 paces. From Filipino mainstays to North Indian street food to South American and Korean fare, global foods are served from the repurposed shipping containers that are rented out for $350/month to entrepreneurs like Magic Oven’s amiable owner Tony Sabherwal.

He easily lured me in with his broad smile and passionate verbal deconstruction of the “Sloppy Bunjo” (also the name of his stall). In his hometown of Lucknow, India, the bunjo remains a popular take-away. It’s heavy on the sloppy part as a soft hot dog bun serves as the vehicle for the gentle fire of curried yellow masala peas, pickled black radish, tamarind, and scallions. Buried beneath the curry, a split samosa adds hidden crunch and texture to the one-two punch of spicy bunjo.

416 Snack Bar

Pulling up a bar stool on a moody Monday at the 416 Snack Bar I’m impressed to see wines from Karlo Estates (Prince Edward County), jumbo beers like Tusker (go Kenya!), and a Russian brand I don’t recognize.

I go Russian and have a Baltika 7 with Istanbul-inspired stuffed mussels: Midya Dolma Istanbula. My server is informed and engaged, and he describes how the raw mussel is shucked and split. The meat sticks to both sides of the shell, allowing the chef to stuff the mussel with the mix of rice, cinnamon, cloves, chopped pine nuts, and golden raisins. Move over sushi!

Other cheap and smart bar snacks like mini Big Mac’s, oysters, Korean fried chicken, steamed buns, and Scotch eggs (all $5-7) are advertised on a tiny clipboard menu printed on mini foolscap. Candlelit, unpretentious, and cutlery-free (the online menu recommends “Lady-and-the-Tramp-like maneuvers”), the 416 delivers.

Hawker Bar

Son-in-law eggs? Now this I had to try. A new Singaporean snacketeria at 164 Ossington, Hawker Bar, is hawking them ($6). According to Google, Thai mothers-in-law cook these fried eggs for sons-in-law as a stern warning that if they believe their daughters are being treated unkindly, the precious family jewels might receive this treatment: The eggs are soft-boiled, shelled and deep fried, and plated with a sweet smear of chili jam, shallots, and keffir lime leaf.

Intended to be eaten in one gulp, they are silken, sweet, warm, and reminiscent of fried tofu. They keep smooth company with the Blanche De Chambly witbier on tap ($7/pint). Reclaimed tree stumps double as seats and the bar’s playlist is doesn’t overwhelm. Smile: The menu is hand-printed on the back of Steam Whistle pilsner cases.

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