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Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Toronto: An Indiewire Insider's Guide

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 6, 2012 at 10:34AM

Tens of thousands of people are about to converge on Canada's largest city for one of the world's largest film events, socializing and networking all over town. And while many of them have probably been around the Toronto block a few times in the past, you never know what's new to discover in the area.
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Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Toronto: A 2011 indieWIRE Insiders Guide
Dusk in Toronto. Photo by Peter Knegt.

Tens of thousands of people are about to converge on Canada's largest city for one of the world's largest film events, socializing and networking all over town. And while many of them have probably been around the Toronto block a few times in the past, you never know what's new to discover in the area.

Indiewire surveyed a group of Toronto locals and insiders about their favorites places to eat, drink, shop and chill, including some of our own tips from Indiewire staffer (and former Torontonian) Peter Knegt. The results of our informal, subjective survey -- which keeps in mind the southern geographic shift of the festival -- follow.

Insider tips and suggestions were provided by local filmmaker Sara St. Onge, TIFF staffers Jennifer MacFarlane, Colin Druhan and Lynne Crocker, Alliance Films's Milda Yoo, Kerry Butt, co-owner of Queen West clothing staple The Future of Frances Watson,  local media artists Shannon Linde and Alexis Ronse, Art Gallery of Ontario photographer Ian Lefebvre, Frank Griggs, the man behind !! omg blog !!, Brad Horvath, Head of Acquisitions at Toronto-based Ouat Media and executive producer of TIFF 2012 film "Life Doesn't Frighten Me," and M30 Communications' Alex Knegt.

READ MORE: Indiewire's Interactive Map to Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Toronto

We invite readers and TIFF attendees alike to discuss, dispute and react to the suggestions offered. Comments and corrections are invited at the end of this article, so go for it. Also check out this interactive map that displays the entire guide for a better sense at how to get where.

BEST BREAKFAST/BRUNCH:

Just as it was in last year's survey, the area south-west of downtown finds across the board recommendations in most categories and particularly this one. And thanks to festival's recent move, a lot of these places are much more geographically accessible.

A five-minute walk from TIFF Bell Lightbox is brunch at Le Select Bistro (432 Wellington Street West). One insider's recommendation: "The croque monsieur and a mimosa are my favorites!"

Also super close is Sadie's Diner (504 Adelaide Street West) and the Lightbox's own Canteen (literally at the bottom of the Bell Lightbox, so it doesn't get any closer than that).

There's also the 24-hour diner at the new Thompson Hotel (550 Wellington Street West), which serves a mean breakfast... but more on that place a little bit later.

Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott St., near College and Bathurst) was on nearly every list, with one insider noting "hidden away from the main street, Aunties and Uncles has been a local favourite of many for a long time." She continues that "the summer/fall waiting list is usually quite long," but that "it's worth it though as the staff are friendly (even in the early morning!) and the food is not only delicious and fresh but it's also reasonably priced. The fresh squeezed juice (try the ginger lemonade!) is amazing." Another insider warns though: "Try to get there in between the early brunchers and the hungover crowd to avoid the line-up."

Another suggestion was Hoof Cafe (923 Dundas St W), where one insider exclaims that "the bone marrow donuts are worth fighting over, and you can't go wrong with anything else on their innovative menu." Another warns that Hoof is "not so veggie friendly but if you want to have pork 15 ways before noon, this is your spot."

There's also the "stereotypical Sneaky Dee's hangover breakfast" (431 College Street) which one insider says "still trumps all other options."

Even further west finds a bigger group of options. All of the following had at least two recommendations (if not three or four): Shanghai Cowgirl (538 Queen Street West), Squirly's (807 Queen Street West), Cowbell (1564 Queen West... "try the duck eggs benedict and the beermosa!"), Luna Cafe (181 Dovercourt Road), Swan (892 Queen Street West... a favorite brunch spot for Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel all summer), La Palette (492 Queen Street West... "the best egg benny I've ever had!"), Drake Cafe (1150 Queen Street West... "the patio is amazing, the service is just aloof enough to still be endearing -- and not obnoxious or plain bad -- and they serve fried chicken for breakfast), Keriwa (1690 Queen Street West... "kind of amazing for brunch or otherwise. Good cocktails too"), Mitzi's on College (890 College Street) and Saving Grace (907 Dundas Street West), while Easy (1645 Queen Street West) got particular notice as it's "themed after 'Easy Rider' and has the best Huevos Divorciados!"

Nearby all day Belgian brunch option Goed Eten (188 Ossington Avenue), meanwhile, has a "waffle benedict with apple slaw that is so light and decadent that I'm always tempted to order two," one insider said.

In the other direction, though also not so far from fest central either, there's Le Petit Dejeuner (191 King Street East), and as one insider notes the peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery (in St. Lawrence Market) is "perfect, made even better with a bit of hot sauce."

A bit north is Terroni Bar Centrale (1095 Yonge St.), an outpost of one of the city's staple restaurants. It has a real breakfast menu seven days a week. Highlights are "the Scandinavian fried donut balls and Torta Rustica."

And if you're feeling really adventurous, head north and west to the Bloorcourt,  Junction areas, for either Starving Artist (584 Lansdowne Avenue), where "everything is made with waffles!," 3 Speed (1163 Bloor Street West) and Cool Hand of a Girl (2804 Dundas Street West), to which one person noted: "For those willing to venture to what the New York Times called the Abbott Kinney Boulevard of Toronto -- The Junction -- Cool Hand of a Girl offers tasty free range, local and organic foods."

DRINKS/COCKTAILS:

There's a slew of options in around the Bell Lightbox (not to mention the new TIFF filmmaker's lounge for those with a badge). But specifically, our insiders offered The Black Bull (298 Queen St. West... "just for the amazing patio"), Finn's of Temple Bar (489 King Street West... try the bacon-infused vodka Caesar), The Village Idiot Pub (126 McCaul Street... "just don't try the food"), C Lounge (456 Wellington Street West), Wide Open (139A Spadina Avenue... which has, take note: 2 for 1 Mondays, $3 Amsterdam bottle Tuesdays, $4.50 pint Wednesdays, $2 everything Thursdays between 5-8pm, $2.50 rails on Saturday and $3 rail and beer Sundays), Grace O'Malley's (14 Duncan Street.. and with 17 beers on tap!) and, once again, The Thompson Hotel (550 Wellington Street West and the talk of the town). The recently opened Ritz Carlton (181 Wellington Street West) and its outdoor patio is also likely to be quite the festival staple from this year onwards.

Then of course there's Goodnight (the alley behind 431 Richmond), which requires you to phone in to make a reservation if you want to have a drink there. It's shockingly not as pretentious as such a requirement would suggest, and is just down the street from TIFF Central (call 647.963.5500 any time after 3pm).

Happy hour doesn't really exist in Toronto (due to archaic liquor laws). "I wish we had happy hour here," noted one local. But suitable stand-ins come a 10-minute walk from the Bell Lightbox in Toronto's famed Kensington Market area. The Embassy (223 Augusta Street) or Ronnie's (69 Nassau Street... "lots of dudes in bands drink too much here") -- both in the Market -- had numerous recommendations.

More west there's Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. West), "The Gladstone makes the most filling and delicious Caesar," said one insider. "Not only does it come with your standard celery stalk but it also boasts a dill pickle and a huge chunk of cucumber. Two of those and who needs breakfast?"

Also noted was The Gladstone's more famous down-the-street cousin, The Drake Hotel which has become a haven for industry folk during the festival. One insider raved about the patio but asserted to "avoid the lobby." There's also room for a crawl with endless awesome options in Toronto's west end: Unit (1198 Queen St. West), Reposado Bar & Lounge (136 Ossington Avenue), Unlovable (1415-B Dundas St West),  Get Well (1181 Dundas Street W),  3 Speed (1163 Bloor Street West), Parts & Labour (1566 Queen Street West), Sweaty Betty's (13 Ossington Ave), and The Yukon (1592 Queen Street West... noted for a special on Tuesdays for beer and a soft pretzel for $7).

Many insiders also noted Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington Avenue), specifically for "great music, has amazing fish tacos and other southern comforty foods - cheap." Though one warned, "you won't get a cell phone signal from within the bar."

Meanwhile, the Black Hoof Cocktail Bar (923 Dundas St. West) just opened across the street from The Black Hoof (where the cafe used to be). "Creative cockails and cheese plates," one insider notes. "And it's easy to miss -- the only signage is the initials BHCB etched in the corner of the window."

And there's still the Park Hyatt (Avenue and Bloor) rooftop patio, though TIFF's move south a few years back suggests that won't quite be the old standby it once was. The roof still received numerous recommendations, though, so perhaps it's up to fest goers whether it remains a Toronto Film Festival staple.

This article is related to: Features, Toronto International Film Festival







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