Story by Mike Hector | Photography by Heidi Csernak
After an unforgettable series of experiences and stories throughout South Eastern Ontario, Heidi and I are very excited to take the next step and embark on a whole new chapter of our own, right here on Organic Road Map!
For our first summer escape of 2019, we decided to venture beyond the Great Waterway and dip our toes into the storied urban sea of Toronto, Ontario. T-Dot has always been on our radar for a number of reasons. From nostalgic rediscovery to scouting out entirely new experiences, there are plenty of fantastic gems tucked within Toronto’s legendary labyrinth.
Our modus operandi is to sip, snack and sightsee our way throughout Canada and one day, the world. what better way to kick everything off than with a fun, foodie fueled foray into #YYZ’s diverse culinary cornucopia? Well, safe to say that this was likely the first of many explorations of Toronto as we continue to embark on new adventures!
All aboard the tasty train!
We boarded the train in Kingston, bright and early. The weather was tad overcast, but there were several breaks in the clouds which provided some encouraging glimpses of the wild blue skies beyond.
Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved taking the train. It’s a relaxed and worry-free method of travel that allows you to just sit back, enjoy the ride - and arrive in less time than it would take to drive there.
We had banked up enough Air Miles to cover two round trips from Kingston to Toronto, and used VIA Rail Canada’s “Escape” pricing. As a result, we got some great rates on our train fare.
The trip took just a little under two hours, and before long we were staring at skyscrapers as our train arrived at Toronto’s historic Union Station.
Toronto’s brilliant architecture
Arriving in Toronto by train is a great way to get reintroduced to the city. Stepping out of the immense main hall of Union Station you are instantly thrust into the bustle and energy that Toronto is known for.
The fusion of designs both new and old are striking.
Immediately, you are faced with the captivating facade of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel which emanates an unmistakable gravitas that speaks to its near-century long reputation of luxury and impeccable service.
As we made our way toward our first stop, we also passed by the legendary Hockey Hall of Fame, and the equally fabled Gooderham Building - which is one of Toronto’s most iconic sights.
Snacking our way through The St. Lawrence Market
We intentionally ate a very light breakfast that day in preparation for our visit to the market. By the time we arrived, our stomachs were practically snarling - so it was time to commence with the munching post-haste.
The St. Lawrence Market is an elemental part of Toronto’s history. It has been an active farmers market for over two hundred years, and today is home to over one hundred vendors selling fantastic local food, produce and more.
From fresh seafood to decadent antipasto, serious sandwiches, delicious cured or fresh meats and beyond, this is the bustling epicentre of Toronto’s vibrant local food scene.
There’s an unmistakable sense of community throughout the market’s various stalls which span the huge two-story building. Even as an out of towner I could sense it. Laid back conversations always seem to spring up among shoppers while standing in line, or in passing.
I even sang “You are my sunshine,” with a street performer after dropping some change into his guitar case. “You, have to sing,” he said to me as the coins hit the case. “When you sing, it releases endorphins and reduces stress.”
He was absolutely right.
After my impromptu duette, we made our way to Buster’s Sea Cove - a popular seafood vendor famous for their tasty grilled Po’ Boy sandwiches and lobster rolls to name but a few.
Heidi and I each had a lobster roll, which was worth every penny. It was packed to the brim with delicious lobster salad, and they do not skimp on the lobster. Heidi’s had an entire lobster claw sticking out of it, as though it was throwing us a thumbs up.
Next, we took a stroll around the entire market space and found our way downstairs. It was there that we discovered Yianni’s Kitchen. Yianni’s is a traditional Greek cuisine vendor, with several local and creative fusions on their huge menu.
I am a sucker for a good piece of Baklava. Until this moment, I couldn’t remember the last time I had a piece of real baklava. Yianni’s version of this ancient delicacy (it dates back to the Ottoman Empire) is the real McCoy.
It uses actual honey which makes all the difference between real baklava and the corn syrup filled imposters that are so commonplace these days.
Seriously, Yianni’s baklava is a sweet, crispy and divine treat, fit for the halls of Olympus. Heidi and I will need to spend more time exploring their mythical menu in the future.
A sunny coffee break at Balzac’s Market Street
I originally intended to save my baklava to enjoy alongside a cup of coffee, but that didn’t happen. I sat down at the first picnic table I saw and devoured it. Yes, I’m still going on about that baklava.
Regardless, as Heidi and I sat on the patio at Balzac’s Market Street, it was a good opportunity to sip an americano and reflect on our experience and talk about all the foods we were going to eat on our next visit to the St. Lawrence Market.
A scenic stroll along the Harbourfront
After our coffee break, we made our way to the waterfront, walking along Queen’s Quay East and toward the Harbourfront Centre.
During our leisurely stroll, we noticed how easily traversable Toronto is. Entire roadways dedicated to bicycles, streetcars, buses, and of course subways.
As far as lakefront walks go, Toronto’s Harbourfront is a great public area to take a stroll, pop into a patio, scarf a Beavertail, and bask in the beauty of the city's waterfront.
Checking-in at the Radisson Admiral Harbourfront Hotel
Heidi is an exceptional travel planner, so naturally, our accommodations were situated right in the heart of the Harbourfront area.
The Radisson Admiral Harbourfront Hotel is in a great spot, within easy walking distance to the SkyDome, Scotiabank Place, and downtown Toronto’s seemingly endless playground of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.
Burgers & Craft Beer: Amsterdam Brewhouse
A mere thirty-second saunter from the hotel found us at the doors of Amsterdam Brewing Company - located in a huge waterfront warehouse turned lively brewhouse.
We found our way to the bar and quickly set to work sampling flights of cold, crisp craft beer, and testing out an appetizer or two.
You know, highly important field research.
After tasting a host of Amsterdam’s wonderful core beers and seasonals I kept going back to their 3 Speed Lager which was strikingly flavourful for a light beer. Usually 4.5% lagers are severely lacking in the taste department, but this is not the case with 3 Speed. It could easily become my new go-to beer for stocking my mini-fridge.
With a good introduction to Amsterdam’s impressive roster of brews, Heidi suggested we get a main course - and pointed out the Smokehouse Burger which the menu describes as a “classic cheese burger, smoked cheddar, bacon, with a buttermilk marinated spent grain onion ring.”
Oh, Hell yes!
Once we had finished our meals, and a few more pints for good measure we found ourselves thankful once again that our hotel was within crawling distance of the brewhouse.
With a day of walking and eating behind us, we slept like a pair of stuffed babies that night as our first day came to a most pleasant end.
CN Tower, Night and Day
Of course, no visit to Toronto is complete without taking some time to appreciate the city’s architectural showstopper: The CN Tower. This 553 metre tall spire stands over the city with a commanding presence that isn’t easily ignored.
There is an infinite series of creative ways to snap photos of the tower from several angles throughout the city, making it one of the most popular subjects for shutterbugs from all over the world.
While we didn’t ascend the tower during this visit it’s definitely on the list for future visits. Before heading back to the hotel that night, we chilled around the waterfront to appreciate the beauty of the tower while it’s all lit up.
Once we were awake for day two, the tower was shrouded in a series of low lying clouds that the neighbouring skyscrapers also seemed to vanish into.
Petit Dejeuner at The We Brew Cafe
Not far from the hotel was a quaint little coffee shop called The We Brew Cafe, which had a lovely outdoor patio.
We sat there enjoying a light breakfast and watched as the clouds dissipated, revealing more of the surrounding skyline. We were also joined by a few sparrows who boldly landed on the table next to my croissant. They looked right up at me with their beady little eyes, and I couldn't resist indulging the feathery little con-artists with a few crumbs.
Onward to The Distillery District!
The restoration of this massive Victorian-era industrial space was the brainchild of several developers who looked at the abandoned distillery over 20 years ago and saw it’s raw potential.
I found the appeal of the Distillery to be more touristy than I tend to enjoy. Still, it was clearly a popular destination and we had a lot of fun wandering about this lovingly restored marvel of Canadian industrial heritage.
Mill Street Brewery & Restaurant
By mid-afternoon, we both started to get yet another hankering for something tasty so we stopped by the Mill Street Brewery for some more important field research.
In addition to a few pints of Mill Street’s popular Organic and 100th Meridian beers, we enjoyed a nice spread of pub grub.
We started out with a pair of zesty pulled pork carnitas for a starter, followed by an impressive bacon cheeseburger for Heidi - and one hell of a Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich for myself.
Food and beer goals: Crushed.
Back to Union Station
Time indeed flies when you’re having fun. Before we knew it, it was time to make our way back to Union Station to catch our train home to Kingston.
As we relaxed on the train we were already busy planning our next trip to sip, snack and sightsee our way through The 6ix.
Oh, Toronto, it’s been far too long. Let’s not be strangers anymore.