15.5.15

Pan Chancho Bakery & Cafe

www.panchancho.com

I visited this restaurant by myself a while ago and very much wanted to bring Cheri here when back in Kingston, to share the experience.

APPEARANCE
Pan Chancho’s facade is painted in a milky green and yellow, with the restaurant name written in white, sans-serif letters which, I think, are quite conservative for this diverse, social company. We were happy to see the two benches on the sides of the entrance. Even better was to find these being utilized by a few elderly people chatting away. The big windows, beside showing the busy interior, was letting a lot of light in.
Upon entering, don’t let yourself get too confused by the wide variety of breads, pastries, cakes, even a fridge of cheeses. As you will make your way to the back of the open space and slightly up on the ramp, you will find the actual restaurant

NOSE
We had no reservation so our only option was to sit on their patio. Despite it being slightly chilly (hence the empty patio), it turned out to be a great option when sun cleared. We sat at one of their many circular, perforated green tables in this surprisingly generous space. With large umbrellas folded to the side, we soaked up the sun overlooking the back part of the building - a beautiful, old, but well maintained brick building. The patio floor was finished in matching interlocking stone, adding a feeling of visiting someone's backyard. We normally greatly enjoy greenery and trees on patios and Pan Chancho actually had a very large poplar. A beautiful mature, tall and narrow tree, but we found the choice strange as their cotton-like bloom gets overwhelming causing allergies.

SWIRL
As we were there prior to 11am, the brunch menu was not served yet. We chatted with our waitress a bit to find out that their most popular dishes were French Toast with Apple Butter Yogurt, The Weekender and Breakfast WrappedUp. We decided to go for all three. We should note they also had a “red eye poutine” as part of their breakfast options - a unique choice, and a personal favourite of our waitress. Drink-wise, it was too early for us to take advantage of their summer cocktails and plenty of beers on tap. They also offered freshly squeezed orange juice, plenty of teas and some coffee lattes.
We both thought their bight clothing napkins with old floral patterns were a charming idea. There was quite a few patterns, almost seeming random. This was a cheerful element that reminded us of childhood.

PALATE
Their french toast with apple butter yogurt was truly a unique dish. It consisted of four triangular bread slices crusty and dark, but soft on the inside. These breads circled around a generous portion of “apple butter yogurt” - a special butter-free sauce made in house. To prepare, apples cider is boiled until it thickens and drained. Yogurt is added to it right after. This milky orange coloured sauce was thick, with small chunks of apple to remind you of its origins. We found a side of maple syrup. While an interesting variation on French Toast, we would say it was an acquired taste. With every bite, the slight tartness of the apple butter kept on surprising me. Perhaps they used Greek Yogurt variety in the process. I tried it with and without maple syrup. In the end, the dish was not the best choice for my tastebuds that day.
The weekender consisted of two eggs (over easy) on a croissant with bacon chives and two year old cheddar. A very safe option, in fact we both thought it was rather uninspiring. It was greesy with the croissant and bacon working together. The much promised chives were hardly traceable, which would have enhanced this dish. In addition, it came with a side of sweet salsa with smell of smoked peppers - a great idea to add some interest to the dish.
Last, but not least, the Breakfast Wrapped-Up was our favorite. It came wrapped in whole wheat tortilla with sour cream right on top. The plate was shared by a mountain of refried beans paste, a corn salad and a mini-dish of a green sauce. The wrap consisted of Ranchero scrambled eggs and Monterrey Jack, We underestimated the Ranchero part as we were both fooled that there was a meat in there. It was the diced tomatoes and spices that added so much. The side of roasted corn salad had coriander, peppers and onion. This was a great addition to the wrap, giving it a slight degree of spiciness. We decided to try the mystery green sauce. It was spicy and fragrant. We were saved by the side of dry, salty refried black beans, sour cream and leaves of coriander.Overall, well thought out levels of spiciness and a great balance. Breakfast Wrapped was a very enjoyable experience for those interested in mild experimentation.

FINISH
We were surprised not to see any of their lovely baked pastries as an option for a quick dessert. Also, we thought there was an opportunity of having a more diverse choice of breads - to emphasize all the great varieties sold in the bakery.
We really enjoyed this spot and will definitely be back for their lunch menu and local beers.

Pan Chancho Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

14.5.15

Avenue Open Kitchen

A colleague who has been in the area for over 10 years mentioned that this place really saw the development of Spadina. We were curious to find out what is behind the success of this place.

APPEARANCE
The tiny storefront did not look promising on passing. A constant flow of people in and out made us more and more tempted to go and check out this lost gem.
Very unpretentious on the outside which is part of Avenue Open Kitchen's undeniable charm. Hand written boards detailing what's on special, cash only sign, vintage furnishings - a throwback in time.

NOSE
We got a proper seat, but noticed that a lot of folks came for takeout or just sat at the low bar area around the open kitchen. There was a lengthy list of options to choose from and the prices were quite reasonable too. We narrowed our list down on a Montreal Meat Sandwich combo with a Daily Soup plus a Chicken Souvlaki on a Greek Salad. We had to confirm if there is any alcohol was available, but it turned out there are no plans for that due to the lack of space.

SWIRL
We sat waiting for our sandwich and souvlaki while marvelling at the portraits-lined walls. We found out from our waiter (owner's son) that Avenue Open Kitchen has been around for 34 years and counting. We saw portraits of his parents on the wall through time and then saw both of them working the kitchen and cash register. The soup arrived first and was instantly welcomed for its home-made feel. It was definitely not from a can, we felt like our grandmother cooked it. Thick linguini and generous chunks of chicken made a almost perfect match accompanied by diced carrot and celery. The only negative side to it was a bit too salty for our tastes.

PALATE
Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich came loaded with thinly sliced meat. We noticed a slight herbaceous flavour adding to the overall very enjoyable meal. It was between two thin slices of rye bread. What made the dish for us was a side of home made pickle on the side. When we asked for a second one, it was fished out straight from a vintage metal container in front of our eyes and forked into our plate. Our waiter was no snobby professional, a very down to earth man, we found charm in that. The Chicken Souvlaki came on top of a generous portion of Greek Salad with feta cheese and olives. The grilled chicken, cooked tender and crispy, was thrown other the pile of neatly organized vegetables, as promised, with tzatziki sauce on the side. We have to note that while we appreciated the generous portion, we did find it hard to eat as the plate was not large enough to accommodate for mixing the greens. To top off the experience, we ordered their Rice Pudding. What a delight! Milky, tender, smooth - it was served with a container of cinnamon on the side (for those of us picky about what is the ideal amount). It was just perfect in all ways.

FINISH
When we were getting ready to pay, we overheard a small conversation that our waiter had with a couple of ladies, leaving. They forgot to take out cash and he simply asked them to sign their names on the bill and come back later. That just happened on Camden, next to Spadina and Richmond. We could not believe our ears about the level of trust expressed here. This kind of approach makes a restaurant experience for us.
To summarize, Avenue Open Kitchen is a clean vintage diner, but calling it just that does not do it justice. It has all the staples: open kitchen with fryers, ancient fridges, furnishings stitched with history, casual chatter instead of music. It also has soul given to it by a Macedonian family from Greece who opened it thirty four years ago. Thank you!

12.5.15

Loaded Pierogi

www.loadedpierogi.com

SHORT & SWEET
Loaded Pierogi is tucked away along Church street, right across from Timmies and not obviously noticeable at first sight. I stopped by for a quick workweek bite and was pleasantly surprised to find a well designed and not crowded eatery with friendly staff. As a matter of fact it was a bit on the empty side, so the wooden, chalkboards interior with incandescent lights got the attention it deserves, however the lonely occupied table was a tad sad. I was surprised, considering the food was quite good.

I ordered onion pierogis with cheese. There was an option of having them boiled, steamed or fried, based on how much one wants to indulge. They were on special, and if I was to add a pint - only $10 in total. Without the beer it was closer to $8, still a decent deal for a nicely made hearty meal. My steamed potato pierogis came loaded with caramelized onions, melted cheddar and some green onions on top. I skipped the sour cream, which I never really feel like. This slow cooked, dish was meant to be enjoyed slowly as well, it was heavy and hot to chug it like a sandwich. The quietness and dim lights of Loaded Pierogi made it perfect for a casual lunch and a catch up with a friend. The slow pace of eating contributed to the experience in a positive way, especially in the busy downtown core.

FINISH
They are open until 10pm daily, so the next step for us is to visit it for dinner or a late night snack - try out different varieties, maybe with the advertised vodka flight - Eastern Europe galore!

7.5.15

The Pie Commission

www.piecommission.com

Not too often we make our way out to Etobicoke. The area around Islington and Queensway has seen its share of redevelopment however we have found it a hit and miss in terms of the new food options popping up. The new additions were mostly chain restaurants with an almost suburban feel. The Pie Commission was an interesting discovery for us. We almost randomly ran into it while biking in the area, but had no regrets having our Thursday dinner there.

APPEARANCE
Not that easy to find, The Pie Commission occupies a semi-basement space underneath a spa. Although the address is technically on Queensway, we found it only by following the signs to Queen Elizabeth Boulevard. A loud "Bloody Good Pies" sign welcomed us along with a plenty of black and white signage and an illustration of a moustached gentleman with a bowl hat. The few red barbecue benches added some life to the bold signage and cleanly landscaped exterior. There was also an outside area with stand-up tables. Overall, not many seats outside (and none inside as we soon discovered), but dining-in did not appear to be the focal point for Pie Commission. A large gravel parking area, with clients stopping by every few minutes was the lifeline of this restaurant.

NOSE
We entered a tiny square room - not great, if a line develops. The same menu board was right before the entrance and on one of the walls inside - for those making a last min decision. There was also a small fridge with pop in the corner, away from the tiny window. This space seemed temporary and it missed the well-branded feel, which was so well set from the outside. Their friendly cashier greeted us with a smile and delivered sad news that they only had two pies left as it was the end of the day. Luckily we wanted to try these exact two pies, so no mood ruined there. Beef'n'Beer and Veg-ilicious were our choices. We were shocked to find out that there was no beer to choose from - no alcohol in this fine establishment (well, perhaps just a tad used in our beef'n'beer pie). Could have been a perfect match with these all-butter biscuit pies.
We also picked one of their sweet pies. They were all on display in a refrigerated area. There seemed to be more options when it came to them.

SWIRL
There were also seasonal pies on the menu which we neglected for this visit (not that they had any towards the end of the day anyway), but a good idea. All the pies were made from scratch and in-house using only natural ingredients with a delicious all-butter crust. A way to get around the evening shortage of supply was to order ahead or to simply take some frozen pies home which just need a bit of baking before enjoying fresh at the comfort of your own place.

PALATE
Our Beef'n'Beer pie was heavy, meaty and a bit on the dry side. We saw the chunks of onion through the homogeneous content of the filling. We preferred the meat option due to a more flavorful taste, the veggie one could have used a bit more of a flavour spike. The Veggie-licious was packed with kale, millet, broccoli, tomato, and carrots. The content of this one was quite chunky and a bit tricky to eat, if one wants to take a break. There was supposed to be a goat cheese, but neither of us felt it. Both pies made excellent comfort food though. The flaky crust with sweet smell of butter will make your hands greasy, but their unique packaging was designed in a way that allowed to keep you clean even if eating with one hand. Nonetheless, we enjoyed both pies on their sunny patio. We both agreed that some more greenery outside could be great for those of us who would like to enjoy the pies right by their birthplace.
All dessert pies were sold cold including the Strawberry, Rhubarb Apple Crumble we bought. It came sprinkled with oats and crumbs - so be careful not to let them get away. We liked the pie for it was not being too sweet, having just enough acidity and a well-balanced combination of flavours. We would have preferred to enjoy it warm, even-though it was quite refreshing for the warm day.

FINISH
There will be doubling of mustached-man-in-bowler-hat-inspired places in the city sometime soon as cashier told us - The Pie Commission was looking to expand. We were glad to hear that. After a year and a half at their current location, they appeared to have won the hearts of locals and achieved considerable success overall.

ps. We learned that the most popular savory pie option was the Beef Rib pie (unfortunately sold out) but we both through we should come back and take some to go - so we can enjoy them properly, with beer.

The Pie Commission on Urbanspoon

18.4.15

Starving Artist

www.starvingartistbar.com

We did not go for brunch for sometime so this visit was somewhat special - first brunch after a long winter of 2015. Starving Artist was a recommendation from a co-worker, but the idea of a waffle-oriented breakfast sounded very appealing to both of us.

APPEARANCE
Taking up a corner unit, the Starving Artist had somewhat subdued outdoor signage. Black and white stripes with simple spaced out letters and black window frames, there was't much to grab our attention. Large, opening windows poured a lot of light into the front part of the restaurant, but we proceeded all the way to the back. We walked through the long room with an open kitchen on one side, which created a unique ambiance with the huffing and puffing waffle machines (five of them in total, waffles non-stop!). We noticed a not-so-well maintained yellow aquarium with large fish. Despite all the light coming in, the dark interior made everything somewhat dim the deeper we went in. Our table was in small and darkish room - two tables right next to the exit to their backyard patio. There was some cheerful, naive art outside the glass door which made us regret not sitting outside - not that it was an option, on this less-than-warm April in Toronto, +5C outside.

NOSE
A large water bottle landed on our table within seconds of settling at the table. We asked for Chamomile tea and their coffee. One thing we always pay attention to is the finish and quality of the restaurant's menus. It is a business card in a way. Unfortunately, we did find the menu disorienting with a lot of categories and options. In retrospect, we should have probably bugged our waitress more so some blame could be placed on us for not being too proactive. Second thing we noticed was the menu finish - simple black and white, laminated and with a poor crease fold. However, our waitress' enthusiasm made up for the dark setting and our grumbles about the menu. One interesting option was Sub Your Waffles section: bacon could be changed by avocados or tomatoes, for example (which we tried).

SWIRL
We went for their Smoked Salmon Waffle with Dill and a Waffle Benny as our mains. They both came with our choice of a side: salad, fruits or maple beans. After finishing the order, we glanced around. There was some art on the walls, vintage board games on the shelves and two artists occupying a table next to us. Unwittingly we learned about New York state grants for galleries and Brooklyn zoning restrictions from their excited chatter. Maybe Starving Artist should put some upbeat artists like that on the payroll to be part of the setting? Their energy level did go down though, as they plunged into their own dishes a few minutes later. Starving artists themselves were more entertaining prior to eating so we concluded the name made some sense.

PALATE
The waffles machines churned two different sizes and shapes: smaller round and larger square ones. There was also a choice for getting your waffles gluten-free. Waffle Benny came in a shape of two round mini waffles with caramelized bacon (avocado in our edition) and plenty of Hollandaise sauce. We noticed a hint of vanilla sweetness from the waffle. It was fresh and soft besides that and appeared to have a touch of smokiness to it. A side of maple beans was also in interesting choice. An unexpected sweetness from an otherwise regular bowl of brown beans helped accent the Hollandaise sauce in the Benny, but salty bacon undoubtedly would've been a better option to balance the light vanilla sweetness of the waffle. The Smoked Salmon Waffle had a generous amount cream cheese, some salmon, giant capers, and tomatos, all stuffed between two very fluffy waffles with fresh dill in the batter. Somehow, the combination turned out to be a bit on the dry side - hard to swallow with all the cream cheese and waffle. It appeared to be messy to eat at first glance, but the soft waffles actually made it easily squish-able into a more accommodating shape. We were not sold on using waffles for the salmon / cream cheese combination, but it was still quite enjoyable to eat. Benny turned out better, in our opinion. We also ordered their Caramel Pecan dessert waffle. The waffle itself had caramel chips in the batter which created a thin melted crust of caramel in the cooking process. It was a great dessert, not overly sweet, topped with whipped cream and whole pecans. Another popular option was Banana'n'Strawberry which and chocolate chips in the batter, but will try it next time.

FINISH
Currently, the Junction is one of the most actively developed areas of Toronto. On every corner there is either a massive renovation, old house demolition or straight out construction. At the same time, the change is in the air. We hope some of the older buildings will be preserved. Starving Artist is one of these places with lots of distinct charm left in it. We want to be back here in the midst of the summer to check out their patio along Lansdowne. Starving Artist is a definite must if you love waffles with everything. Even if you do not, try out the desserts at least - worth it!

ps A side note, we expected more creativity with the batter of the waffles. Perhaps ones with chia seeds and bran? We visited a place in Vancouver once, which had all the ingredients chopped finely in the batter, instead of using waffles like bread.