I am a little jealous. Yes, I am. Last winter, my daughter moved into the cutest little room in a century home in Toronto, in Baldwin Village, a stone's throw from Chinatown and Kensington Market. To step out the front door is to step into the shadow of the iconic CN Tower, and into a sea of multicultural passersby all heading to funky little coffee shops, ethnic markets and indie mercantiles. The world is here. Chinese traders, hippies of all ages, art students, musicians, pot heads, baristas, and cyclists, Rich, poor, gay, straight, vegan, carnivore, young and old. These neighbourhoods are alive!
So I took the bus to Toronto last weekend - city driver I am not! My girl met me at Union Station and she set me up with a TTC rider pass, which I certainly needed as she whisked me all over the downtown area, both above ground and below, by bus, streetcar, subway and on foot, until my usually excellent sense of direction was mush.
After dropping my bags off at her place, she asked me what I would like to do next. Well, eat of course! We had encountered so many tantalizing smells of cooking on our way to her home, scents of garlic and ginger, the multilayered spices of Chinese and Indian cuisine, hints of citrus from open air markets and freshly ground fair trade coffees. I wanted in on that, but where do we start?
Don't ask me how we got there, but our first stop was actually a chain restaurant that did not seem like a chain restaurant. Before looking it up later, we assumed it was a one-off eatery, as it appeared very natural in its surroundings, sort of rustic in decor and so fitting to the style of the neighbourhood that it must have evolved here. We had stumbled upon Bare Burger at 111 Dundas St. W, and we were glad we did!
Likely you have tried a couple of the local burger places in Barrie where you choose your patty, bread, toppings, sauces and sides from the menu and the kitchen creates a unique burger for you. Or you can pick a pre-curated hamburger already designed to please. It took us a while to decide. Part of my dilemma, as a nearly full time vegetarian, was the surprising amount of choices I had. Normally, there is a veggie burger on the menu. Bare Burger has three! In the end, both of us opted for the Farmstead Burger, which is a sweet potato and kale patty served with the most dreamy (and messy) green hummus, tomatoes, baby kale and a avocado basil dressing. Yum-eee! Four thumbs up.
Next, she zoomed me over to Roncesvalles Avenue where we perused some kitschy little shops before stopping in at Extra Butter for the best chai latte she had found in town yet. Small, unassuming and sparely decorated, my daughter and I sat sipping our fragrant lattes while wondering at the seemingly hand printed faux wallpaper. Is this silver paint and a Sharpie? Someone with a steady hand and a lot of patience must work here, and she was right - this is the best chai ever!
Many stores later, we rested our shop-weary bones in a comfy booth at the Black Bull Tavern at 298 Queen St. W. at Soho St. We enjoyed a couple of tall, cool ciders in this friendly 180 year old pub before strolling on home for the night.
On Sunday morning, more magical mystery touring on the TTC, and this time we found ourselves sitting in a window-side booth in Golden Griddle looking across at the famed Maple Leaf Gardens. We fortified ourselves with the breakfast buffet before heading out to explore more of Toronto's heart, starting with a look inside the beautifully laid-out Loblaws store in the old hockey venue. Be sure to check out their amazing cake and pastry display, if you get a chance to drop in.
She has been dying to show me a certain little bohemian tea room, so we headed to a street car stop to catch a ride. We could hear some faint techno music in the distance. Was it coming from a shop or an approaching car? As it got closer, and louder, we finally saw a customized bicycle jacked up twice the normal height with what looked like a home stereo, amp and a generator strapped to the sides, pumping out a steady dance beat while Groucho Marx's double peddled steadily along. I have to say - I love Toronto!
The last stop on Margaret's must-show-mom tour was Bampot on Harbord St. Warm, cozy and cavernous, steps go up only to go down again, couch enclosures, pillow-strewn window booths, curtains, eclectic art and a massive wall of board games and tea. Lots of tea. I wanted to sit on a pile of cushions at a low table but my back and legs asked me not to, so I had to comply. Instead, we picked a nice (normal) table near the front door and picked out a game to play.
The tea menu is like nothing I have ever seen before - so many types and sub-types, detailed flavour descriptions and healing properties on a menu that seems more like a tea reference book. Margaret chose a milky honey spice tea, while I was immediately hooked by the name Crabby Rab's Hot Toddy, described as "Inspired by a Scottish granda as crotchety as he was kind, this is the closest you will get to an alcoholic beverage in an unlicensed tea room.'' The menu called it smoky and peaty, words more often used to characterize a whisky, and they were very accurate. Even the aroma, with my eyes closed, brought me back to the small Highland villages of my early childhood and the smell of the cottage fireplaces. Amazing that a tea can do that.
So yes, I am fairly envious of my daughter's adopted city and all the fun little shops, one-of-a-kind eateries, human oddities and the kaleidoscopic mix of architecture, ethnicity and lifestyle. Toronto, you and I have been neighbours for years now and I feel like I hardly know you. Let's work on that, okay?