When I read that Aragvi was ”the only authentic Georgian restaurant in Ontario,” I knew I had to give it a try. Now, I’ll admit that there was some minor concern about how adventurous some of the food might be for a group of my friends and family with different tastes. Let me tell you, this place delivers on a number of levels. Family owned & operated since 2010, they made us feel right at home with some delicious home cooking and Eastern European hospitality… which my wife later told me was very reminiscent of times she spent in Bulgaria. In fact, they were so friendly and accommodating with my 9-month-old daughter Molly, we’re already planning a return visit.
Not knowing exactly what to expect, we let the house make a couple of suggestions. Pkhali ($9) is an extremely flavourful, spreadable blend of Beets, Walnuts, Garlic and Wine Vinegar. Served cold, it comes garnished with fresh Cilantro and Pomegranate. The next time we visit we’re going to try the Izpanahi ($9). It’s prepared & served the same way as above; however, they substitute the Beets for Spinach. Mmmmmmmmm!
Hachapuri are a house specialty: homemade pastries that are served hot. They recommend trying the Imeretinskoe version, which comes in 2 sizes ($10 and $20). Think of fresh pizza-like dough stuffed with salty cheese and topped with a melty, milder cheese. We’re left wishing we ordered the larger size. This is a great way to mop-up all the Pkhali.
We had been smelling the BBQ since we walked through the door, so we had to try the Chicken Shish Kebob ($13). Grilled over charcoal, we opt for the dark meat variety which is served alongside a Georgian take on the Shopska Salad and Armenian-style Dill Potatoes. This is a great plate for sharing. We wash everything down with a pitcher of Tarhun ($7) which is a homemade, non-alcoholic Taragon Soda that’s not too sweet. It’s flourescent green which makes for a crazy contrast to the Pkhali. It’s another must try.
Named after a river that runs through the heart of the Caucasus, Aragvi is a little slice of Georgian life right here in the city. It’s one of our favourite dining experiences of the past year and has certainly set the bar very high for 2014. Next time you are heading to Yorkdale, I deplore you: skip the food court and drive the extra 5 minutes to check this place out. You will not be disappointed… or the next pint of Tarhun is on me.
Tenoch is an unpretentious tacqueria on the St. Clair West strip @ Oakwood. Void from the frills of the uber popular places downtown, the crowds will surely follow once word gets out. Until it does, enjoy over a dozen varieties tacos, accompanied by fresh accoutrements, well-priced at $8 for 3 or $11.50 for 5. We opt for Tacos 2 different ways (pictured below)… Chicken/Onion/Tomato and an order of Beef/Chorizo/Cheese.
There are a number of other Mexican classics on the menu including Tamales and Pozole. There’s also a full bar stocked with a variety of Mexican Beer and an assortment of Jarritos (Tamarind is my favourite flavour). Truth be told, most of the regulars are ordering the absolutely enormous Mexican Sandwiches. The 2 most popular seem to be the Tenoch Torta ($13) and the “lighter” Pambazo ($8). These things appear as mighty in stature as King Tenoch himself. Well, not really… but those are some seriously big 11-layer sandwiches. Anyways, check this place out if you love hot sauces more than you love hot spots.
I have had heard a lot of great things about Rose’s Vietnamese Sandwiches, so I decided to check it out for myself. Close to my office, I left wondering why it took me so long to visit. Drawn by the lore of an extremely cheap lunch, I also leave with a full stomach, a full wallet and new go-to.
I am welcomed by the owner, Rose Psam, who takes me into the back to show me how they prepare their Shredded Chicken. I’m told it’s a 5-hour process. Returning to the front, their sandwich bar is stocked with a number of Banh Mi options, ranging in price from $2 to a whopping $2.50. I opt for the aforementioned Shredded Chicken, and Rose fills a buttered crusty roll with Cilantro, Pickled Veggies and a lovely hot sauce that adds an extra complexity. Since I have this review in mind, I order a second Shredded Pork Banh Mi. It’s basically the same but is lathered in Pate rather than butter. I can’t believe how much I have to eat for $5 tax-in.
It was so cold out today that I ate inside. This really is a take-out joint, though, as there is no seating whatsoever. When I returned to the office, my colleagues asked me how it was. I must say that it’s a truly unique dining experience and really can’t be compared to the more popular Banh Mi places downtown for a number of reasons. I will be back; that’s for sure. Thanks, Rose. It was truly a pleasure.
Joe’s Wings + Burgers has recently opened in a gutsy/progressive spot on Danforth between Dawes and Victoria Park. This family-run joint is equipped for dining in, taking out or for delivery, and is just what this neighbourhood needed. I am pleased to say Joe’s is within walking distance of our place. It’s really nice to be able to get a decent burger in our hood, and if they keep doing what they’re doing, we’ll be frequenting this place for years to come.
As the name suggests, Wings and Burgers are the name of the game here. I love the fact that the wings are not breaded. Rather, flash fried and tossed in one of the many interesting flavours available. At $5 for a half dozen, they’re a great deal. Be sure to try them with a sidecar of Coconut Rice for a truly Filipino taste. It’s what Joe himself eats.
Joe’s Hamburgers are made fresh daily and are quite sizable for $4.50. The Fries are fried twice and are served with the most memorable of gravies. Wash everything down with some Filipino Sweet Tea and you’ve got yourself one heck of a combo.
Bring the kids… Joe’s Wings + Burgers is kid friendly in both food & atmosphere. Welcome to the neighbourhood, Joe + family. Thanks for the recco, Ryan Harris.
It being the holiday season, I have been on the lookout of a festive lunch for the past couple of weeks. Turns out, I had to look no further than my kid’s daycare to find one. Until very recently, I had no idea that The Estonian House on Broadview served food. Their café has completely won me over with Eastern-European cooking and hospitality reminiscent of my Grandmother’s kitchen.
The café is situated in the basement to the rear of the building, making it a little tricky to find at first. I literally followed my nose on this one, drawn to the smell of fresh-baked Pirekas (the house specialty ~ pastries filled with ground meat & cheese). When I finally find my way, I order a bowl of Village Soup. This mild-tasting soup is served with a whole loaf of rye bread and a dollop of sour cream. Think Chicken & Rice Soup with pieces of Pork Schnitzel.
It probably comes as no suprise that the special of the day consisted of Meat & Potatoes. Today’s plate was holiday themed and included Blood Sausage, Roast Pork, Rasher Bacon, Potatoes, Parsnips and Sauerkraut. Perhaps the best part of the whole thing was that when the server brought it to the table, she pointed out that the chef shaped the pickle on top of my sauerkraut like a heart just for me. When I went up to pay ($15 for everything), I asked her if she was the cook. She said, “yes.” Baltic hospitality at its best (IMO).
There is something to be said about finding a great place to eat that’s a bit off the beaten track. The Estonian House is such a place, serving up thoughtful, welcoming food & cheer to anyone who can find them. Häid pühi!
Ever taken a walk through the Upper Beach? The stretch of Kingston Road between Woodbine and Victoria Park (accessible via the 502 & 503 Streetcars) is home to a growing group of businesses who pride themselves on shopping and dining locally. Next time you’re taking a stroll in the Beach proper, walk north from Queen St. Once you reach the top of the massive hill, you’ll have inevitably worked-up quite an appetite (and thirst). Kingston Road has a number of pubs and restaurants that will hit the spot.
King’s Diner (906 Kingston Rd) is a family restaurant that’s been on the strip for ages. Their home cooking is stick-to-your-ribs kinda stuff, and it seems like their pricing is stuck in a time warp. Grab a Soup & Sandwich or a Burger combo for under $6. This place is quite busy on any given night and is extremely kid friendly.
Walking into The Feathers Pub (962 Kingston Rd), it feels more like you’re on Coronation Street than Kingston Road. And although Betty’s Hotpot is not on the menu, Feather’s still serves up some decent pub-grub. Wednesday is Rib/Wing night, with half-racks of ribs or pounds of wings are on offer for $8.95. They also have $1 off selected Pints each day of the week. Love their claim of having a “staggering selection of draft.”
No Bull Burgers has opened up their second location in the Upper Beaches (1019 Kingston Rd; co-lo @ 179 Parliament St), bringing the gourmet burger craze to the hood. Local, organic, Angus Beef with unlimited gourmet toppings, fresh-cut Fries and a price-point that is slightly lower than its competitors. Good stuff! A full review of what’s on offer can be found here: http://torontofoodblog.com/2012/04/29/no-bull-burgers/
The Americana Hot Dog Co. (1036 Kingston Rd) also recently-opened and is super kid-friendly. Their Smokin’ Hot Dog (jalapeños, lettuce, onions & hot sauce) is $6 very well spent (IMO). They proudly serve Nathan’s Hot Dogs.
There are also a number of specialty stores designed to eliminate one’s need to gravitate to a supermarket. Grab your meats at Close to the Bone (929 Kingston Rd) and your cheese at the Art of Cheese (925 Kingston Rd). Or you can order a fully-cooked meal to go at Courage Foods (946 Kingston Rd). So, if you’re interested in shopping locally and supporting local businesses, Kingston Road in the Upper Beach has got pretty much everything you need, with a Beer Store to boot.
Tucked away in an alley in Corktown, Jamie Kennedy’s Gilead Café has always created quite a buzz. Close to my office, I had an opportunity to have lunch here recently. And while the Toronto Food Blog rarely dwells on the negative, the result of our dining experience was only comme ci comme ça. I’ll preface this by saying that the food was incredible; the service… not so much.
The place is bustling when we walk in, and there’s a table available in the corner. Since we’re not greeted by anyone at the door or by the people behind the counter, we seat ourselves and start reading the in-store literature placed on the table. The lunch menu is written in chalk on the wall, and there are a number of delicious-looking options listed under today’s specials… most noticeably Pickerel served a few different ways. The waiter walks by a number of times with little recognition of us sitting there. After a few minutes more, I stop him on his next pass and ask if we order from him or up at the front. He tells us there’s no table service and abruptly walks away. I am glad I asked… as is the table of four sitting beside us who follow us up to the front.
In the mood for a soup & sandwich, I order the Pickerel & Dill Chowder to go alongside a Pate & Pickle Sandwich. I quickly see what all of the buzz is about. Both of these taste absolutely sublime. Possibly the best soup/sandwich I’ve ever had… as it should be for $21 + tax.
The Gilead Café is a place where portion size is superseded by richness, and we leave completely satisfied with the food. They will just need to work on their customer service in order for us to return (the staff failed to recognize us on our way out as well… despite thanking them).