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Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Toronto: A 2010 indieWIRE Insiders Guide

Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Toronto: A 2010 indieWIRE Insiders Guide

Tens of thousands of people are about to converge upon Canada’s largest city for one of the world’s largest film events, socializing and networking all over town. And while many of them may have probably been around the Toronto block quite a few times in the past, this year will feel very much like the first time around for everyone. Because TIFF’s moving south to its new home at the Bell Lightbox, and with it comes a whole new ballgame in terms of what there is to do besides see movies.

Keeping TIFF’s new digs in mind, 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 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 (at TIFF with the short “Turkey”), TIFF staffers Jennifer MacFarlane, Mike Rudolph and Kelly Thompson, Alliance Films’s Milda Yoo, Pandyamonium Artist Management’s Michael Gorman, artist, DJ and party hostess Margot Keith, local media artists Shannon Linde and Alexis Ronse, Frank Griggs, the man behind !! omg blog !!, Lisa Clapperton, of the Toronto-based post-production team for Showtime’s upcoming “The Borgias,” film and television producer Brad Horvath, and recent University of Toronto graduate Alex Knegt.

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.

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 big move, a lot of these places are much more geographically accessible.

Literally 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!”

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 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), La Brehandaise Creperie (942 Queen West), Mitzi’s on College (890 College Street) and Saving Grace (907 Dundas Street West), while Easy (1645 Queen Street West) got particular notice as its “themed after ‘Easy Rider’ and has the best Huevos Divorciados!”

Brunch at Starving Artist. Photo by Michael Gorman.

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.”

And if you’re feeling really adventurous, head north and west to the Junction Triangle area, for either Starving Artist (584 Lansdowne Avenue), where “everything is made with waffles!,” and Yasi’s Place (299 Wallace Avenue), where one insider said “a bit of a ways away but worth the trek out if not for the amazing brunch (try the grilled tempeh) but for the super nice staff.”

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”), 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).

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.

Just outside of the Market is Cinq 01 (501 College Street), where one insider noted “a fresh and creative house cocktails, a chic interior, and the always-fun “surprise” seasonal cocktail are highlights of this new restaurant/bar.”

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 bar crawl with nearby Unit (1198 Queen St. West), Reposado Bar & Lounge (136 Ossington Avenue) and Sweaty Betty’s (13 Ossington Ave.). 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.

And there’s still the Park Hyatt (Avenue and Bloor) rooftop patio, though TIFF’s move south 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.

As for that place to go when someone else (or their company) is paying, one insider suggested Canoe (66 Wellington Street). at the TD Centre in the financial district. The restaurant offers an astounding view at the top of one of Toronto’s tallest buildings, and “inspired Canadian cuisine” to boot. It’s also a 10 minute walk from the Lightbox.

The two restaurants that came up most often were Guu (398 Church Street) andParamour (94 Ossington Avenue). Guu is a new Japanese restaurant opened by Yoshinori Kitahara that has seen instant popularity since it opened late last year (“it’s wild and everyone yells at you when you walk through the door,” one insider said). They don’t take reservations and you can wait up to two hours for a table, but seemingly everyone that’s experienced the restaurant is yelling out recommendations from rooftops. Paramour, meanwhile, was noted for its “incredible food and great service.”

There’s also famed chef Susur Lee’s famed restaurants Madeleine’s (formerly Susur) and Lee, located side by side (601 and 603 King St. West). Lee’s the same chef that two years ago opened Shang located in the Thompson Hotel in the Lower East Side of New York City. Even closer to fest central is Origin (107 King Street East) which has “fusion that’s actually well-executed, plus fresh meat they’re so proud of, they leave it sitting on the counter,” one insider notes.

Other suggestions came in the form of Terroni (a Toronto staple with locations at both 106 Victoria Street and 720 Queen Street West that has some of the best pizza in town), Pizza Libretto (221 Ossington Avenue.. more pizza, and in many opinions even better pizza), La Palette (256 Augusta Avenue), a fantastic French restaurant in Kensington Market, Japanese restaurant Blowfish (668 King Street West.. “awesome sushi”), Oddfellows (936 Queen Street West) which features one long table in the middle of its narrow space and serves up a delicious array of meals (try the quail), and Cowbell (1564 Queen Street West), which was noted as having “great ambiance with naturally-raised, organic meat and produce, sourced from local farmers.” Support the Toronto-area agricultural commmunity on your company’s dime!

Toronto has many hot dog stands grilled to order and various weenie options. Photo by Eugene Hernandez

On the other end of the scale, there’s loads of options in and around and a bit of a hike from the Bell Lightbox:

The Beaconsfield (1154 Queen St. West) serves up a dinner special every weekday from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. $8 will get you a pint of Amsterdam and a “delicious – yet a little bit smaller than normal – meal”. Fresh (147 Spadina Avenue) is a bit pricer but it’s a block from festival central and has ultra healthy fare to even out with the hor d’oeuvres at festival parties. Sandwich Box (238 Queen Street West.), what one insider noted is “everything Montreal Bread Co. tried to be and half the price.” George’s Diner (129 George Street), with it’s “amazing mac n’ cheese.” El Trompo (277 Augusta Avenue) with its “really f’n good authentic tacos.” The Grindhouse (365 King Street West), a burger place close to TIFF Bell Lightbox that makes everything onsite even the ketchup (plus everything “can be made gluten free so Zooey Deschanel can eat there,” an insider jokes). Ravi Soups (322 Adelaide Street West… seconds from the Lightbox), “which has amazing soups and wraps.”

Toronto’s also recently attempted to take a cue from Quebec with a bunch of poutine-fueled restaurants. There’s many options, but Poutini’s House of Poutine (1112 Queen Street West) seems like the unanimous best bet. One insider went so far as to suggest not listing Smokes Poutine, as “that shit is totally unacceptable.”

And, of course, one can’t beat those ubiquitous hot dogs on the street. No soaking in gross water, lots of condiments and they’ll even grill the bun–just ask. And vegetarians, they have veggie dogs as well (as long as you don’t mind if it’s grilled near where the Polish sausage was minutes earlier). They’re the best in North America, if not the world.

Toronto also offers “A La Carte,” a pilot project of street vendors that just started last year (check out a list of vendors, their food and locations here).

As or coffee, Toronto’s a largely Starbucks-fueled city, or Canadian chains Second Cup (or “second choice,” as it’s personally referred… though Scott Pilgrim would beg to differ) and Tim Hortons. But there’s alternatives to chain-mania that many an insider has suggested. There’s I-Deal Coffee, which has three locations across the city (162 Ossington Avenue, 84 Nassau Street, 1560 Queen Street East), The Mascot (1267 Queen West) with “good coffee, yummy pastries and a very nice magazine collection,” Tequila Bookworm (512 Queen Street West), and a personal favorite, Dark Horse Espresso Bar (215 Spadina Avenue, just up from Queen). The majority of them have free wi-fi as well.

Toronto is often considered a city where getting food after 10 p.m. isn’t an easy proposition. But things have definitely seen major improvements in recent years. Other than those hot dogs, many cited Chinatown (Spadina between Queen Street and College Street) and its myriad of options, specifically the Vietnamese soup at Pho Hung (350 Spadina Avenue); the 24 hour diner at Thompson Hotel (550 Wellington Street West), which is sure to be immensely popular during the festival; The Lakeview (1132 Dundas Street West), which is hugely popular with late night crowds that almost every insider listed, though one wasn’t enthusiastic. “The food there sucks,” one warned, “but it’s 24 hours and has very nice booths.”

There’s also Reggie’s (571 King Street West), where “deep fried mac’n’cheese sticks with chipotle dipping sauce are magic”; Sneaky Dee’s (431 College Street), with “the best nachos in the city”; The Harbord Room (89 Harbord Street); Vesta Lunch (474 Dupont Street), one of the few, and probably last, truly 24 hour greasyspoon diners in the city, and a much more expensive option in The Black Hoof (938 Dundas St. W), which is a “meat lover’s dream” and open quite late.

The city has become a case of old vs. new, east vs. west with the traditional Church Street “gaybourhood” finding itself losing more youth-oriented queer patrons to a bunch of bars opening up on Queen (Queer) West. In fact, Church Street barely got a mention from any of our insiders. “The West bars are more hopping than Church Street,” one insider said, noting a bunch of weekly or monthly events like Big Primpin at Wrongbar (1279 Queen Street West), Mooseknuckle Disco at Sweaty Betty’s (13 Ossington Avenue), and Yes, Yes, Y’all at Wreckroom (794 Bathurst Street).

The Henhouse (1532 Dundas Street West) and noted The Beaver are the everyday staples for Queer West Toronto. The latter was mentioned by every insider and noted as “small and dirty but banging on the right night.”

Queen West will also host the first annual STIFF @ TIFF queer event at Wrongbar on Tuesday the 14th, which will run from 10pm to 4am and feature the DJ delights of Shane MacKinnon, Miss Margot, Colin D. and special guest DJ John Cameron Mitchell.

For the more traditional minded LGBTs (or LGBTTs, as it’s correctly regarded in Canada – adding an additional “T” for “Two-Spirited” to reflect its native community), there’s Church St. “You can get both cock and tails pretty much anywhere on Church Street,” joked one insider. Really, you can just wander up and down the street between Carlton and just north of Wellesley and you’ll find a wide selection of similarly old school gay bars. Try classics like mostly male Woody’s (467 Church St.), Straight (553 Church St.) and/or the just west Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St.), which hosts a popular (and straight girl friendly) Saturday dance night. And don’t forget male-strip club Remington’s (open only to men except Sunday night, which — during TIFF — typically attracts a large rabble-rousing crowd of industry of both sexes), located just north of Dundas St. on Yonge.

Perhaps the best advice for Toronto’s queer scene comes from the heterosexual brother of the compiler of this guide. “Wherever I’m taken,” he writes.

Insiders suggested Kensington Market (located just west of Spadina Ave between Dundas and College Streets), which is great to roam around through, particularly on weekends. Specifically noted was Last Temptation (12 Kensington Avenue). “Located at the very bottom of Kensington avenue, it is hidden away from Kensington’s exhaustingly cliquey hotspots,” the insider wrote. “And it has cheap everything and they always play great music (usually full albums start to finish).”

But the most recommended (though highly time-consuming) excursion is the Toronto Islands, a ferry ride from the Ferry Docks located at the bottom of Bay Street. With a small amusement park, bikes that you can rent, and a clothing-optional beach, heading to the Islands is “a great way to be in the city while feeling like you aren’t.” You can also grab a lovely dinner at The Rectory Cafe (rectorycafe.com), which has a gorgeous patio facing Lake Ontario.

Also noted was Trinity Bellwoods Park (between Queen and Dundas just west of Bathurst… “for a picnic or stroll’).

One insider refused to answer this question, joking: “Honestly do these people even have any spare time during the festival? And if they do then tell them to get the f**k out of my way!”

The Yorkville area located just north of Bloor Street between Avenue Road and Bay Street has many higher end shops and boutiques. It also has the city’s only Whole Foods. But since the festival’s moved south, it might not be quite as easy to find time to make it up there.

But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Much closer Queen West and surrounding areas offers a hipper alternative with a seemingly endless array of clothing, furniture and unique-product shops from Spadina Avenue westwards. One insider noted Sydney’s (682 Queen Street West), with its “well-edited selection of designer brands makes it the top menswear destination in the city. Jil Sander, Marni, Dries Van Noten, and Rick Owens round out the high end and Kin (designed by Sydney himself and all made in Canada) will become your wardrobe staples.”

Toronto also has the second North American Top Shop Well, kind of. The UK staple opened a section at the back of Jonathan & Olivia (49 Ossington Ave), a clothing store which in itself was recommended on numerous occasions. There’s also Carte Blanche (758 Queen Street West), Girl Friday (740 Queen Street West), Robber (863 Queen Street West), and Vintage ’69 (1100 Queen Street West), “one of the best second hand stores in the city. Everything is hand picked by the owner and doesn’t smell like your grandma’s closet.”

More eccentric options include The Drake General Store (three locations: 1144 Queen Street West, 1011 Yonge Street, 82A Bathurst St.) “It’s a great place to buy your third cousin twice removed a bar mitzvah gift or stock up on kitchy Canadiana souvenirs,” one insider joked.

Other major shopping areas include the Times Square-imitation that is Dundas and Yonge Street, centered around the giant Eaton Center, a mall that offers pretty much every chain you can consider, including an Apple Store. It’s only a 15 minute walk northeast of TIFF Bell Lightbox.

“Cabs are expensive (base price at $4!),” one insider complained, “but the public transit system is awful too, so good luck.”

That pessimism aside, the Toronto Transit Commission‘s weekly pass ($36 for adults.. up from $30 just a year ago) for a somewhat economical but definitely environmentally friendly way of cinema and party hopping during the festival. The passes are transferable so you can share with whomever you’d like.

There’s also a wide selection of museums and art galleries in the city. Besides the difficult-to-miss Royal Ontario Museum located at Avenue Road and Bloor Street, the under-construction Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street West) often brings unique collection and is one of Canada’s largest and most renowned galleries. And if one’s up for exercise after too many hours sitting in a movie theatre, one insider suggested “leap-frogging the lambs beside the CBC building on Wellington Street.” Only two blocks from the Bell Lightbox.

Check out this interactive map that displays the entire guide, and have a great TIFF 2010!

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