Saturday, December 6, 2014

Toronto Christmas Market at the Distillery Historic District


A Look at the Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery Historic District  


Selected as one of the World's 10 Best Holiday Markets by Fodor's Travel and Jetlegs, the Toronto Christmas Market at the Distillery Historic District is the ideal place to rediscover the romance of a Dickensian-inspired Christmas Market.

Christmas Markets, known as Christkindlmarkts, have been a German tradition for 700 years. Christmas markets are an especially festive, anticipated event, bringing light and merriment to a cold, dark time of the year. Each town traditionally had a unique and distinctive street market to celebrate the season.

For a fourth year, the Toronto Christmas Market is showcasing all the romance and splendour of a traditional European Christmas market.

Local tradesmen sold their wares at these markets, giving each market an individual flavour and personality. The food and beverages being offer were traditionally regional, so each town's offerings were truly unique to the area.. Tradesmen would line the streets with handmade wares that featured distinctive regional characteristics.

Traditionally, villagers bought and sold homemade Christmas ornaments, decorations, and gifts. Traditional handicrafts at the markets included hand carved nutcrackers, wooden smokers, wooden figures, cuckoo clocks, straw ornaments and blown glass ornaments.
The Toronto Christmas Market takes place Friday November 28th to Sunday December 21st at the Distillery Historic District in Toronto. The Distillery District comprises more than 40 heritage buildings and 10 streets, it is the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture remaining in North America.

In addition to the Christmas Market vendors, the Distillery Historic District features more than 70 ground-floor cultural and retail establishments in the restored red brick, Victorian-era buildings of the former Gooderham & Worts whiskey distillery. The District also contains numerous specialty restaurants, cafes and culinary retailers within the buildings. The district was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988.

At night you can celebrate the magic of Christmas under a spider-web of 1940’s style lighting which is festooned throughout the main square of the  district. This year the centerpiece of the market is a stunning 52 foot white spruce Christmas tree decorated with over 18,000 lights. The market also features lots of festive décor, and musical performances from carolers and Bavarian brass bands. Santa's Lane features a  vintage merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel. And, of course Santa is also on hand with his elves. We also saw Father Christmas and Black Peter at the market.

You can sip delicious hot chocolate, hot apple cider or mulled wine. There are no shortage of vendors selling hot beverage. Bring your appetite and taste miniature cinnamon doughnuts, French Canadian poutine, artisan grilled cheese sandwiches, grilled sausages and tasty looking turkey drumsticks and Vienna style style veal schnitzel served in a warm pretzel bun with sauteed peppers. Chef Marc Thuet is back at the market, this time with Nutella and candy cane dusted pretzels and other take away items.

The market’s heated beer gardens and hospitality lounges are especially popular, as guests can warm when the weather gets cold. For an opportunity to taste great Ontario VQA wines from across the province and meet knowledgeable Wine Country Ontario brand ambassadors, join them at the experiential wine sampling lounge and the “Dare to Care” mobile truck on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

In order to recreate the traditional European atmosphere, wooden chalets are used as market stalls which are over-flowing with one-of-a- kind gifts. The decorative chalets are used to display merchandise and are illuminated internally. These festive wooden chalets line every cobblestone corridor in the Distillery District.    


Visitors can also browse through locally made and handcrafted merchandise from around the world. One of my favourite booths was the German Christmas ornament chalet near the Parliament Street entrance. Created in the tradition of generations of master glassblowers, designers and painters, Inge-Glas's Christmas heirloom ornaments are the result of 14 generations of glass blowing expertise and a cache of over 6000 antique and new molds too. These mouth blown and hand painted ornaments represent the skill, heart and effort of over 250 craftsmen. Inge-Glas ornaments are easily recognizable by their trademark 5-Point Star Crown symbol verifying an authentic Inge-Glas ornament.

Other festive merchandise included: wooden nativity puzzles, advent calendars, window pictures, stars, trees, moose, owls and more from the Black Forest and the Ore mountains.

Those with a competitive spirit can take part in the World Caroling Challenge, a group performance of some of the most well-known Christmas tunes. The streets and squares of the historic Distillery District are transformed into a bustling kingdom of lights and colours, festive sounds and seductive aromas during the holiday season. It is truly something special. 


Tuesday to Friday………………………12:00PM – 9:00PM

Saturday and Sunday……………………10:00AM – 9:00PM

Hospitality Lounges

 Tuesday and Wednesday………………..5:00PM – 9:00PM
Thursday and Friday……………………..5:00PM – 11:00PM
Saturday and Sunday……………….12:00PM – Close

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Brief Look at On The Move and The Root Cellar Organic Café, Bakery and Juice Bar

Community-focused, local, sustainable and responsible are the key words used to describe The Root Cellar, an organic café, bakery and juice bar in Old East Village. A culinary team led by chef Dani Murphy produces organic specialties from food grown and produced within a 45-minute radius of London.

The kitchen’s repertoire of “from-scratch” seasonal menu offerings and in-house artisan baked goods are made from locally sourced and organic grains. All offerings are organic (with minor exceptions), and 80% of the food is procured locally. If you are looking for a sustainable water buffalo burger or a tasty vegan Shepherd’s pie or some kale and potato samosas, you have come to the right place.  

From a design perspective the restaurant is perfection.  Everywhere your eyes travel you will notice interesting design elements, cohesive surfaces or something recycled, reclaimed or original. From bike frames fused to a counter at the traditional storefront window to the duo bicycle rims repurposed as practical and decorative cup hanging racks. Other design features include interesting wall sconces and the rebar that has been welded into light fixtures on the ceiling. The exquisite sheet metal flowers that are suspended above the bar area reflect the café's artisan sensibility. There are many comfortable seating options that add to the eclecticism of the space. For the politically minded, the “Radical Reading” bookshelf near the kitchen door is not to be missed.

The idea and concept for the restaurant grew out of a desire to bring the community together with local organic farmers and producers to build solidarity within the local food system.  The Root Cellar is a spinoff of On the Move Organics cooperative. The cooperative connects people to local certified organic food producers through its community supported agriculture home delivery service and its organic green grocer booth at the Western Fair Farmers' and Artisans' Market. On the 2nd floor of the market, On the Move Organics also features an organic juice bar and production facility. The worker-owned cooperative has four principles – Jeff Pastorius (founding partner of On the Move Organics), Aaron Lawrence, Joel Pastorius and Root Cellar manager Ellie Cook.

The business embraces the tenets of the slow food movement (a non-profit educational organization dedicated to supporting and celebrating regional culinary identities while embracing the purity of the organic movement, survival of endangered animal breeds, heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables, traditional artisanal products and to slowing the deterioration of the environment to name but a few of Slow Food’s mandates.) while consciously attempting to offer affordable and accessible healthy eating options to the larger community.

 We believe that food is political, that the choices we make about food--what we choose to eat and who we choose to support by doing so--resonate through our community, our economy, and our planet. At the foundation of this project is a commitment to invigorating our community, discovering the plentitude of our local foodshed, supporting sustainable agriculture, and working cooperatively,” states the On the Move Organic website.

Since its beginning in July of 2012 as a small 20 seat cafe, the Root Cellar Organic Café has evolved into a 70 seat café/pub, takeaway and anglophone Canada's first worked-owned cooperative nano-brewery, the London Brewing Co-operative.

Whether you're looking for a filling breakfast, a simple and healthy lunch, something vegan, or just proof that organic muffins really are tastier than conventional, the café has plenty of options. In addition to ethical coffee locally roasted by Patrick’s Beans, the Root Cellar also features a fresh juice and smoothie bar where customers can choose from a full menu of nutritious, energizing, detoxifying, or just plain refreshing signature drinks. Try the Jitterbug with beet juice, spinach, medjool date, banana, hemp hearts, coconut oil and house-made maple cashew milk.

Breakfast/brunch, lunch and dinner (Mon-Tues 8am -7pm, Wed-Sat  8am-11pm).

623 Dundas Street, 519-719-7675

Saturday, November 8, 2014

London's Old East Village: Stepping up to the Plate

Stepping up to the Plate in London’s Old East Village

By Bryan Lavery

It isn’t surprising that London's Old East Village (OEV) has been selected as the People's Choice for Great Neighbourhood in the 2014 Great Places in Canada contest. The contest is run annually by the Canadian Institute of Planners as a way to showcase the best of the best across the country. Winners of the contest were announced November 7th 2014, and London, Ontario’s OEV received the most votes in the Great Neighbourhood category in online voting by Canadians.

Old East Village is just a stone’s throw east of downtown London. It is bordered to the north by the CP rail yard at Central Ave, to the west by Adelaide Street, to the south by the CN rail lines at York Street, and to the east by Ashland Avenue and the CN/CP feeder lines at Kellogg’s on Dundas Street.

One of the oldest and most culturally-diverse neighbourhoods of London, OEV is known for its affordable homes and its “friendly front porch mentality,” with residents who embrace cultural diversity and not just give it lip-service. The Dundas Street corridor has a reputation for the avant-garde and as a haven for artists, artisans and musicians whose support has helped sustain important cultural venues such as the Aeolian Hall, the Palace Theatre, the Potter’s Guild and an indoor farmers’ and artisans’ market that attracts thousands of visitors on Saturdays. The area is also home to the Western Fair District.

Saying all that, I wonder how many Londoners’ are familiar with the great resource that is the OEV Hub? The mandate of the OEV Hub is to heighten awareness – and attract visitors to – the vibrant and rapidly emerging food and cultural district located in the OEV. The OEV Hub is an informative, virtual and all-in-one resource, with the purpose of promoting businesses, artists, artisans, food and culture.

“The OEV Hub considers culture to be a “lived” and living part of the local fabric here in the OEV. Culture is about the people, the art, the food, the creativity, the history and heritage of a particular location. Culture to us includes: arts, crafts, music, food, sustainability, gardens, restaurants, destination shopping and more.”

The corridor is also known for its high concentration of social agencies, second-hand shops and the St. Regis Tavern.  According to the OEV Hub, “The St. Regis Tavern is the second longest-operating hotel/tavern in London, Ontario, though the exact date “The Reeg”, in its current form, was built remains a mystery. However, the site has housed and operated as a hotel and tavern since 1883 and under the St. Regis banner since 1931. It is a verifiable neighbourhood cornerstone of the Old East Village and has long been a gathering place for the blue collar workers of the OEV. It isn’t too often that a stranger will enter “The Reeg” and not make a friend or two before leaving. Indeed, it has one of the more friendly atmospheres of all the bars in London, and no person is ever made to feel unwelcome. An interesting fact: This tight ship is owned and run solely by women, perhaps lending to its warm and welcoming atmosphere.”

The Old East Village Business Improvement Association (OEVBIA) is directed by manager Sarah Merritt. A grassroots-driven revitalization initiative, it works in partnership with the City of London and the OEVBIA. The OVEBIA has taken a “build it and they will come” stance that’s led to façade restoration and cultural initiatives supported by a range of financial incentive programs that apply to development or property improvements.

Identified as a “food desert” in 2008 by a study co-authored by Dr. Jason Gilliland of Western University, the OEV has since emerged as a burgeoning food and cultural district. In follow-up analysis, it was revealed that the formation of the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market (WFFAM) in December 2006, has significantly elevated the selection and lowered the cost of nutritional foods available in an area that had previously been without access to retailers of healthy, affordable food. Further research, however, confirmed that the OEV was no longer a food desert and attributed the market with improving both economic and physical access to food in the area.

It is in this context that the WFFAM started operating and although the area has characteristically been considered challenging for retailers, WFFAM has had no trouble attracting market-goers. In fact, the WFFAM, draws between 3,000 and 4,000 people Saturdays, and is respected as an informal incubator for culinary innovation and new businesses which can then expand by creating store-front locations in the community and across the city.

Farmers’ markets are ideal “incubators,” Merritt says, because they offer entrepreneurs both low startup costs and opportunities to get immediate feedback from shoppers sampling products. In recent times the area has seen a renaissance of food enthusiasts, innovators, restaurateurs and entrepreneurs.

Creative independent businesses like Unique Food Attitudes and The Root Cellar Organic Cafe with its nano-brewery add another level of sophistication and culinary innovation to the OEV. The Artisan Bakery, Hungary Butcher and All ’Bout Cheese have also contributed in a significant way to that mix and helped strengthen a blend of commercial activities along Dundas Street. The WFFAM itself has an unsurpassed mix of quality culinary artisans.

In the present stage of the revitalization initiative, the OEVBIA has reinforced its partnership with the Western Fair District (WFA) to create a local economic development plan for the Old East Village. With a representative on the OEVBIA Board of Directors, the WFA has been a partner in the revitalization initiative since its inception.

 The WFA receives its non-profit organization (NPO) status because of its agricultural relationship with the surrounding five counties. However, its principal attractions are mostly unrelated to agriculture: music, dining, gaming, trade shows, sports and ice rink facilities. The main agricultural links that the WFA seem to have are the WFFAM, Wine and Food Show and the annual Western Fair. A more prominent role in stabilizing and upgrading the infrastructure and amenities at WFFAM seems reasonable given the WFA’s commitment to agriculture, and would be a much welcomed capital investment in the community and sustainability of the WFFAM.

In the current phase, the OVEBIA, the WFA, and a range of local partners are expected to continue to explore opportunities to develop educational and awareness opportunities around food production and consumption, technological exchange and learning opportunities between farmers and the community, and closer interaction between agri-food producers and users, in order to foster innovation and business expansion activities in the OEV.

In closing, Merrit has stated, “We have undertaken longitudinal research that has established that neighbourhood food production, retail and services are key economic generators in the village. Based on the research and the support that we provide to food-related and other businesses, we continue to focus development efforts on strengthening the OEV food and culture district.”

Read my latest story in eatdrink magazine about revitalization in the OEV and a list of some interesting dining options.

Read more about the OEV Hub

Streetscape Photos : OEV Hub

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Look at The Canadian Artisan Tasting Fair at Wychwood Barns in Toronto

The Canadian Artisan Tasting Fair at Wychwood Barns in Toronto

Back for its second year on Sunday, November 30, the Canadian Artisan Tasting Fair at Wychwood Barns takes place from 11am to 4pm.
The conception and development of the tasting event is driven by the dedicated people at Toronto's Leslieville Cheese Market. Tickets are $40 at the door for an all-inclusive sampling experience and the opportunity to purchase and discover foods from the best artisanal cheese makers, bakers, charcuterie butchers, craft breweries and restaurants.

The organizers are assembling some seriously committed food lovers to represent Ontario’s artisanal food community again this year. Be sure to watch for the Organic Work’s Bakery, specializing in recipes made with organic, gluten-free, nut-free and vegan ingredients that tantalize the palate. Other bakeries on site are: Epi Breads, Dough Bakeshop and Glory Hole Doughnuts, creators of the fluffer nutter doughnut. Some notable artisanal cheese vendors include: Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese, Monforte Dairy, Back Forty and Fifth Town with their handcrafted cheeses using traditional old world methods.

A variety of the award-winning Seed to Sausage’s small scale hand-crafted charcuterie that is prepared by hand, one by one will be on offer for the public to sample. Sanagan's Meat Locker, an old fashioned butcher shop in the heart of Kensington Market, specializing in ethically-raised meats from small local farmers will be serving up all-local meats and pies. Another of the charcuteries vendors, Harrington Lane Farms is committed to actively maintaining and promoting biodynamic sustainable food systems and permaculture.
The tasting fair also features local craft beer and Sawdust City Brewing Co; Granite Brewery and Barnstormer Brewing will be among those craft breweries pouring their small batch brews.

Supporters of the fair are people who seek out and appreciate high-quality and artisan foods. They are food enthusiasts and proponents of buying and eating local. There will be the opportunities to engage with producers and artisans while you taste and shop.

 Due to last year’s success and large crowd the organizers have two different entry times for attendees, 11 AM and 1:30PM. Please check and make sure you select your correct preferred entry time, you will be welcome to stay as long as you like until the end of the event at 4PM.

601 Christie St. just south of St.Clair

Arrive at Christie subway station to meet your complimentary 5 minute shuttle to Wychwood. Service will be for the duration of the Fair.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Another Look at The One and Only, The Only on King

Another Look at The One and Only, Only on King


In its seventh year, The Only on King, with its fully realized farm-to-table philosophy, devoted acknowledgement of the local terroir and support of local farmers and producers, remains the personification and outstanding archetype of the virtuous up-to-the-minute Ontario restaurant. The restaurant’s kitchen, led by Paul Harding is a self-proclaimed “labour of love.” When Harding is not chained to the stove, he continues to find new ways to integrate the locavore ethic into all aspects of “The Only”.

Harding began preparing family meals in his youth and developed a passionate enthusiasm for cooking. After high school, Harding moved to Toronto to attend George Brown College. Harding worked in Toronto at Café Societa and Michelle's Brasserie, honing his skills and was later employed as the chef de partie at Auberge du Pommier and the much heralded JOV Bistro, an internationally acclaimed neighbourhood bistro in its heyday. 

The difficulties and disciplines of local food procurement and executing an ever-changing daily menu with a deep appreciation of the seasonal palate has been evidence of the kitchen’s continuing dedication. And it needs to be just that, to keep up with the demands and disciplines of an ever-changing daily menu.

This style of farm-to-table menu is unique by London standards and something that very few chefs/restaurateurs would be in a position to execute with the kind of success that Harding has achieved. The menu is distinctive, accessible and highlights the best local products and ingredients available. Believe me this is no easy feat – it is a very labour-intensive, hands-on approach given the traditionally slim profit margins in this style of restaurant.

The cooking repertoire emphasizes the traditions of classic French and Italian cuisine and the aesthetics of modern British cuisine.  Located in a historic building and former dairy on King Street in the London downtown dining district, the restaurant has a welcoming character with just that right amount of off-the-cuff insouciance that often comes with success. The conversational hum can be loud when the restaurant is hopping – which is most nights.

Incidentally, “The Only” was voted number 6 of “Canada’s Best New Restaurants in 2008” by enRoute magazine. It has lived up to its early accolades and the kitchen does not rest on its laurels. “The Only” is collaborative by nature and there have been many events where “The Only” has partnered with other culinary notables like: Victor Barry of Splendido, Vineland’s Tawse Winery and Nick and Nat 's Uptown 21", a gourmet hot spot in Waterloo.  A  collaboration with Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth of Edulus restaurant in Toronto (which was voted number 1 of “Canada’s Best New Restaurants in 2012” by enRoute magazine) was a much talked about sold-out success.

Dinner at “The Only” on King begins with a basket of warm, white-linen-wrapped house-made bread accompanied by long, crisp, melt-in-your-mouth breadsticks and a pot of salty, creamy butter. In keeping with their philosophy of local food procurement, flour, grains and legumes are sourced from Mike Mathews, owner of the historic Arva Flour Mills.

The list of local producers that “The Only” supports is extensive.  Farben Farms is Harding’s choice for Berkshire Pork raised in a natural environment with no additives, hormones or drugs. Another producer, Lo Maximo Meats is an outgrowth of Spence Farms, a 5th generation family farm located in Chatham- Kent. Paul and Sara Spence’s  Lo Maximo Meats offers traditionally raised beef, pork, chicken, goat, lamb and eggs with no hormones or steroids, aged and flash frozen by a local abattoir and sold at regional Farmers’ Markets but with a Latin American sensibility.

The Only on King’s classic Boudin (white sausage) of  chicken has become a delicious signature dish, on this occasion it was served with a fried egg, Swiss chard and garlic sauce.  Our charismatic waiter, Margeaux Levesque, gave me a binder with a dossier on candidates for my dinner entitled “From Our Family Farm To Your Fork” – “Meet Your Chicken!”  There was a dizzying array of potential contenders and all had lived a happy life on the Spence family farm where they “had the opportunity to roam in an open area with fresh air, sunshine, bugs, grass and weeds to feed on”.  The information provided included: date of birth, markings/distinguishing characteristics, likes, dislikes and other personal information that included questionable hobbies and diet.

In addition to Harding’s often ironic sense of humour he is proficient at butchering and making many house-made specialties: bacon, sausage, terrines, galantines, pates and confits. Charcuterie, once considered the dominion of bourgeois cooking, was practically a lost art until the emergence of the farm-to-table movement and the tattooed hipster chef. Butchering, poaching, braising, sautéing, and sauce-making are the fundamental skills the kitchen employs to attain their objective: superb taste. 

“The Only’s” kitchen has an aptitude for cooking lesser-known cuts of meat to great versatility. I have many memories of organic flat-iron steak, braised shin and grilled organic beef heart  cooked to perfection. Simple sauces at this restaurant accentuate flavour elevating a good piece of meat or fish to a superior one.  An appetizer that the kitchen turned into an entrée of golden-brown, FisherFolk-sourced tuna meatballs, were braised in tomato with olives, capers and pine nuts, accompanied by knock-out gnocchi.  

This kitchen crafts silky crème brûlées and a yummy pavlova-like dessert aptly named Eton mess with berries sourced from Heeman’s Berry Farms.

Guests are allowed to bring their own wine for a corkage fee. The wine list is interesting and varied featuring good quality VQA's. There are always several house made seasonal cocktails with a varied selection of bottled and draft beer. The restaurant is a supporter and proponent of Food Day Canada and is listed in Where to Eat in Canada.

Harding plays to all his strengths with a tight grasp on the tenets of terroir and sustainability. Chef’s culinary viewpoint and cooking repertoire continue to astound while drawing farm-to-table enthusiasts, to the intimate 40-seat dining room. If you are looking for your inner gastronome this is the ticket.


The Only on King

172 King St,


519- 936-2064