Alyssa Writes

His Favourite Things: Toronto Edition

I’ve never decided whether I like it or not…it just IS

Last summer, my partner came from London to visit me in ‘Canadialand’ before we jetted off to Martinique together. Since I know how much he loves being featured in my blog, I thought I’d dedicate another post to his fancies.

For weeks in advance, I planned nine fun-filled – and I mean filled – days so that we could make the most of the time we had. Between meeting my friends, mountain biking and going to Niagara Falls, I also spent quite a bit of time showing him all of the things my hometown of Toronto has to offer. I basically thought of what I liked to do in the city and then just had him accompany me.

I’ve organized this ‘guide’ by the neighbourhoods we visited and concluded each section with what he said was his favourite part was and why.  Enjoy!

The Annex – Bloor Street West

The Annex

Bloor Street’s amalgam where university students, left-wing intellectuals, Birkenstocks, desirable real estate and quirky bars, restaurants and coffee shops co-exist. It was sunny but chilly as we approached the Hot Docs Theatre on Bloor Street West where we would be watching Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, a documentary being presented at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Since we were early for the showing, I took him to Smoke’s Poutinery, a successful food truck turned franchise restaurant. After a “stodgy” Philly Cheesesteak poutine, we made our way to the cinema. I love that theatre because it has a vintage vibe: a bar instead of pop machines, cushiony red velvet chairs and tiered seating; here, the vestiges of classic cinema are still apparent.

Inside Guu, Bloor and Bathurst
Photo by tehranto

Afterwards, we met a friend for dinner literally across the street at Guu, a Japanese izakaya restaurant with a unique atmosphere and beautiful bathrooms. A weird thing to point out, but they really are nice… Anyway, you don’t come here for the toilets. The Bloor and Bathurst location opened in 2011 – much to the pleasure of Toronto foodies – after the success of the city’s flagship Church and Wellesley location.

Irashaimasse!” the kitchen and wait staff yelled, welcoming us to the restaurant  and giving a preview of the exciting meal to come. We started with edamame and gomaae – blanched spinach with black sesame sauce and progressed to noodles, ribs and chicken salads.

The izakaya is traditionally and primarily a drinking establishment where food happens to be served, so the portions aren’t always that large. I would recommended ordering a number of dishes and sharing amongst groups. While you’re there, order the multi-coloured sake and deep-fried Brie with mango/blueberry sauce – I won’t judge you if you don’t share that.

His Favourite: “Guu. The food was good and I got to take my shoes off.”

The old Gooderham and Worts distillery
Photo by Amesis

The Distillery District

I took my lovely British lover to his first baseball game – a Blue Jays’ game to be precise. The encouraging part about staying to the end of  a Jays’ games is that the Steam Whistle Brewery across the street gives out free beer after all the games. We followed the mob to the Roundhouse and explored the grounds a little bit. After a cup of cold pilsner, we walked towards the CN Tower and debated climbing it.

“I’m not really that fussed about it,” he said, looking up. Good. I’m afraid of heights and more than one friend informed me that it was overrated.

Not overrated? Gelato, sorbetto and chocolate from Soma Chocolatemaker in the Distillery District. An artisan chocolate bar, factory, and boutique, they use an 80 year old mélangeur to make their own chocolate on-site from cocoa beans they purchase themselves. They source fresh and seasonal fruits for their ice creams and gelato. Truffles, speciality bars, and hot chocolate, we perused the chocolate offerings and ordered a Salted Caramel and a Blueberry Basil ice cream. Sitting outside Balzac’s Coffee, we soaked up the sun and took in the abstract art around the patio.

Balzac’s
Photo by Amesis

Shopping in the Distillery District is a lot of fun. Personally, I can’t afford it but I love perusing the unique home décor items and the fascinating accessories that a lot of the shops carry. One of the coolest pieces I saw recently were necklaces with pendants made from silver and round gems, fashioned into the shapes of molecules like nicotine, chocolate (theobromine), and water.

His Favourite: “Distillery District in general. It has unusual and different architecture, which is reflected in the shops and the people.”

Graffiti in Kensington – Welcome!

Kensington Market

After a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum on Bloor Street, we made our way to Kensington Market. Founded in the early 1900s, Kensington Market is one of the city’s most multicultural and organic neighbourhoods in the city. It’s a great place to shop for unique pieces, from boho to army surplus styles. Walking past the dozens of produce, cheese, and ethnic food shops, bohemian shops, cannabis cafés, surplus stores, and vintage clothing shops, we started feeling peckish.

We checked out Le Ti Colibri, a new French Caribbean restaurant owned by a Guadeloupean woman and a Martinican man, and its unique in Toronto offerings such as bokits and cassava fries. Certain we would be eating these things in a week’s time upon our return to Martinique, we stopped at Big Fat Burrito since we wouldn’t be having decent Mexican food for at least seven months.

In Martinique’s defense, he informed me that “You can get Mexican food here [in Martinique] – it’s just crap.”

Wanda’s Pie in the Sky and Le Ti Colibri

After a burrito, we took a coffee break at The Dark Horse, a non-pretentious independent café and home to my favourite latté (before my aversion to dairy, that is). I love relaxing here, reading the paper and working. Different crowds – corporate, hipster, model – congregate here for sandwiches, vegan cookies, and of course, good coffee. Definitely pack a fully charged laptop battery though – they’ve removed all their plugs!

After the Art Gallery of Ontario, which is free on Wednesday evenings, we walked across the street to Sin and Redemption – a dark bar with open garage doors that is, not-so-ironically, across from a Catholic church. Looking out the window of Redeemer’s Lounge, the sun began to set as I sipped my Somersby Cider. A refreshing reward after a busy day!

Technically, this bar was his favourite but when I asked why he answered, “I got to drink Czech beer.” Pilsner Urquell, to be precise.

His Favourite: “Kensington Market in general. It felt homely and comfortable. It was an atmosphere I was familiar with in a place that I wasn’t. It was interesting to walk around and look at, while being unassuming. A little bit too hipster-y and cool in some places, but not gravement.”

PBR and fixed-gear bikes
Photo by Suesthegrl

Queen Street West

Cheaper and squeakier than Bixis, we made a return to Kensington Market to rent fixed gear bikes from Mike the Bike any hipster would be proud of. At $10 for a 24 hour rental, you couldn’t expect much more.

We made a side trip to a commercial gym for my weekly hatha yoga class, calming my nerves about the pile of scrap metal waiting to collapse under my pedalling, and earning ourselves a treat. Heading over to Prairie Girl, a cupcake shop on Victoria Street, we ordered two cupcakes: classic Red Velvet and Chocolate Peanut Butter. Delicious!

We went for a romantic stroll down the Lakeshore and even though it was raining, we still managed a great time. On the ride back, we stopped off at Nadège Patisserie. This French café on Queen Street West is perfectly placed across the street from Trinity-Bellwoods park, where I personally enjoy people watching and ironic people-watching-hipsters watching.

Nadege Patisserie
Photo by KnotPR

We returned our bikes early and started walking to Yuk Yuk’s on Richmond Street. I’ve taken many a boy I’ve dated (and some I haven’t, to be fair) here – typically the third date, I pay 😉 Gotta make sure the guy has a sense of humour, am I right, ladies?! Ha…

I thought it would be a very Canadian thing to do watching comedians with almost-recognizable-from-Canadian-television faces heckle the audience and “take the piss” out of my partner’s north London accent (which they did, with verve).

A long walk back to where I had parked the car through Little Italy and we found ourselves on Bloor Street at the Fox and the Fiddle. In university, I had spent many an afternoon studying or preparing for meetings (and drinking) and many an evening singing karaoke (and drinking) with my friends. We ate fajitas, and for some reason he had never had them before so he really enjoyed those.

His Favourite: “I’m struggling to pick a favourite, nothing was uniquely ‘Toronto’. Any day with you is my favourite.” Aww!

Lived and learned!

Obviously, we stayed in my family home, but one of the most convenient and affordable places to stay is HI-Hostel in downtown Toronto. I would also recommend Air BnB!

I definitely wasn’t paid for any of these links, just FYI. I just wanted to share the love!