Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Patio Season: Al Fresco Hot Spots in London, Ontario Summer 2015

Dining Al Fresco in London, Ontario Summer 2015

There is nothing like dining al fresco when the weather heats up, and London has great outdoor dining options. There’s a very strong café culture in this city, with outdoor culinary experiences for everyone. During patio season, you can enjoy dining at a sidewalk café, in a private garden or secluded courtyard setting, under a pergola, on a roof-top patio, or on a charming side-street terrace. Sometimes windows that open to the street, like the ones at Abruzzi and The Works on King Street, make the indoor-to-outdoor experience feel seamless. Here are just a few recommendations for al fresco living in London:

Gregg and Justin Wolfe’s red-hot Early Bird diner, with casual farm-to-table cooking, has a quirky charm and a hotchpotch menu of updated retro diner classics and new generation comfort foods. Signature dishes include the king-sized “turducken club” sandwich. You can’t get much more hip-but-earthy than The Early Bird diner. “Rock Au Taco,” next door to the Early Bird Diner, is serving up delicious and authentic tacos and Mexican cuisine, ice cold cervezas, and smooth tequila. 355 Talbot Street, 519-439-6483 www.theearlybird.ca

Chef Andrew Wolwowicz and co-owners Tim and Laura Owen’s, The Springs, is one of London’s premier culinary hot spots. A beautifully appointed patio seats 40. Chef is a culinary gymnast who cooks with skill and dedication, using locally grown ingredients from farms specializing in sustainable agriculture, organic growing practices, and ethically raised livestock. 310 Springbank Drive, 519-657-1100 www.thespringsrestaurant.com

The Idlewyld Inn & Spa is nestled in London’s quiet Old South neighborhood, in a grand Victorian mansion built in 1878. After an extensive renovation last spring the property has been restored to its former glory and the Inn’s guest rooms, reception areas and dining rooms have also been newly updated, keeping the character and charm of the original property. The new owners have added many elegant touches to the property including a stunning outdoor fountain. This is true gourmet dining in a secluded courtyard setting. Chef Trevor Stephen’s passion for food translates into innovative cuisine that showcases local, seasonal and exceptional ingredients. The beautifully manicured grounds and elegant ambiance of the Garden Courtyard create a welcome retreat for diners. Whether you choose to sit under the pergola or at the umbrella tables, twinkling lights and table lanterns add to the ambiance in the evenings. The Idlewyld Inn’s elegant Garden Courtyard, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as Sunday brunch. 36 Grand Avenue, 519-432.5554   www.idlewyldinn.com

In the warm weather months, Black Trumpet Restaurant is another prestige spot for al fresco dining in its beautifully appointed, private Dutch colonial Indonesian-style garden. The courtyard garden, replete with two koi ponds and a Zen-like concrete water fountain, with just a splash of turquoise blue mosaic, is shaded by a magnificent Japanese maple. At the back of the garden along the fence line, an existing ash tree has been preserved at some expense. This secluded oasis seats 60, with comfortable cast-iron chairs and tables are situated on several levels amidst the wild plantings and exotic foliage. Chefs cook contemporary classics with Mediterranean and Asian flavours. 523 Richmond Street, 519-850-1500 www.blacktrumpet.ca

Owners Pete and Vanessa Willis’s Church Key Bistro-Pub resides in a prominent heritage building across from the Grand Theatre and beside St. Paul’s Cathedral on Richmond Row. The pub features an intimate outdoor courtyard with a sophisticated mix of comfortable tables and chairs. Chef Michael Anglestad follows in the British tradition of the gastropub by specializing in traditional food prepared with gourmet flair and finesse. The bistro-pub has a great patio for casual cocktails or dinner pre-and post-theatre, and they also serve a fabulous Sunday Brunch. 476 Richmond Street, 519-936-0960 www.thechurchkey.ca

Jerry Pribil’s Marienbad Restaurant and Chaucer’s Pub exudes old-world charm. The brother businesses feature a welcoming sidewalk patio with a black iron fence, flower boxes, and comfortable tables with umbrellas that recall the gentility of the European-style outdoor café. The restaurant features European with Austro-Germanic specialties. The kitchen’s forte is schnitzel. The perfect schnitzel has a dry crust that rises like a soufflé and shatters with the touch of a fork, revealing the tender meat within. The menu offers a variety of classic schnitzels including crispy Jäger schnitzel (hunter schnitzel) with mushroom sauce; Franz Josef schnitzel stuffed with ham and cheese and lightly seasoned with mustard; and the classic Wiener schnitzel. There is a superior beer selection. 122 Carling Street, 519-679-9940 www.marienbad.ca

Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium is London’s premier craft beer destination, owned and operated by publican Milos Kral. Chef Matt Reijnen prepares menus that reflect their farm-to-table commitment and passion for everything local. Kral offers 23 micros on tap with excellent style variation. Craft beer enthusiasts have made this local landmark part of Ontario’s rich craft beer culture. Twin seasonal patios. 420 Talbot Street, 519-601-4447 www.pubmilos.com

At Mykonos on Adelaide, Heidi and Bill Vamvalis have been serving the London community and the Old East Village neighbourhood Greek food and traditional English Fish and Chips for over thirty years. In that time, we expect the gracious and irrepressible Heidi has hugged the entire city. Mykonos has an extensive menu selection of casual Greek fare and a large outdoor patio at the back of the restaurant, which is heated during the cooler weather. 572 Adelaide Street, 519-434-6736
The Morrissey House, in the hotel district on Dundas, is a welcoming, warm and cozy local, serving interesting and innovative pub fare to clients of a very wide demographic. Situated in London’s downtown hotel district, The Morrissey House is hospitable, intimate and friendly. The 60-seat patio, set back from the street, has become an industry and neighbourhood hot spot, attracting its fair share of foot traffic. The house made nachos rock. 359–361 Dundas Street, 519-204-9220

Bertoldi’s Trattoria, from Dino and Bob Difruschia of McGinnis Landing fame, has a well-appointed rooftop patio that gives patrons a great view of the denizens on Richmond Row. The patio, with seating for100, resembles an Italian garden, with hanging baskets and colourful umbrellas. On cooler evenings, an infrared heating system lends the patio a warm glow. On sunny days, a misting system helps cool things down without getting patrons wet. There is a full menu of Italian-inspired choices for diners. 650 Richmond Street, 519-438-4343

Fellini Koolini’s Italian Cuisini, and its sibling restaurant, The Runt Club, operate twin patios on a charming side street just off Richmond Row. Fellini Koolini’s is über-restaurateur Mike Smith’s tongue-in-cheek homage to the surreal Italian director. Railings are intertwined with grape vines, and the terracotta pots filled with bread sticks lend a touch of Italian kitsch. Menu favourites pastas, thin-crust pizza, steamed mussels, calamari, steaks, etc. Next door is a larger patio at The Runt Club, a typical pub, but offering Fellini’s menu. The terrace has sleek contemporary stainless chairs and tables and plenty of shade from mature trees. 155 Albert Street, 519-642-2300 www.fellinikoolini.com

At the Covent Garden Market, Olive R Twists Food and Beverage House has a spacious outdoor patio/bar with awning wraps around the restaurant and overlooks London’s King Street restaurant row and the Market Square. In warmer weather, the 158-square-metre patio is outfitted with couches, a dining area and an outdoor bar and barbecue. As a well-liked seasonal destination for al fresco dining or cocktails, this smartly appointed patio, with its classic wrought iron fence, is landscaped with seasonal foliage, flowering planters and, at street-level, over-sized flower pots. This a relaxing place to lounge and one of the best vantage points for people watching in the city. 30 King Street (Covent Garden Market) 519-204-9184 www.olivertwists.ca

Toboggan Brewing Company is the brainchild of long-time London restaurateur Mike Smith, owner of the venerable Joe Kool’s and Fellini Koolini’s. Smith has installed a state of the art brewery in the basement of his former Jim Bob Ray’s bar, enlisted the help of experienced brewing masters, and launched a line of craft beers to serve the local market. The in-house 519 Kitchen emphasizes local ingredients and Neapolitan pizzas cooked in the large stone wood oven, brought over from Smith’s former P Za Pie restaurant. Elevated patio with tables and chairs and raised bench seating.585 Richmond Street, 519-663-5665, www.tobogganbrewingcompany.com

Waldo’s on King’s kitchen brigade offer definitive bistro-style selections. There’s a comforting trajectory with this kind of reliable fare, dependably good appetizers to a fresh spin on classic entrée favourites. This is where you will find the best “organic” burger in town. The close proximity to Budweiser Gardens makes this patio a desirable choice on event nights. 130 King Street, 519-433-6161

Monday, June 29, 2015

Rethinking The Sandwich at Wich is Wich


Elaine Sawyer and her son, chef Josh Sawyer, take comfort food to new heights at their “proper sandwich shop,” Wich is Wich. The shop is essentially homage to the diversity of the sandwich. With global flavours, exotic ingredients and textural contrasts they become edible works of art. Like the artisanal grilled-cheese shops, the gourmet sandwich shop has become a culinary subgenre that is booming in urban centres.

Elaine Sawyer is familiar to Londoners as a former morning radio co-host, who was successfully paired with Rich Greven on Q97.5, for many years. Elaine’s road to the on-air booth was circuitous. She worked in radio and television marketing, eventually ending up at CKSL, where she and Greven became good friends. After a format change, Greven moved to Q, and the station embarked on a search for a co-host. That is when Elaine got the call. For years the high-profile duo could be found at local community functions from charity fundraisers to cook-offs.

Josh was employed for many years as a chef in upmarket West Coast restaurants, and aboard the Attessa IV, while working for billionaire industrialist and philanthropist Dennis Washington. Josh cooked for Washington and a roster of celebrity guests which included Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Leonardo DiCaprio and Quincy Jones. If someone wanted to eat late night, Josh was on call 24/7. — They often wanted one of his sandwiches.

Executive Chef Thomas Waite, (proprietor of the boutique catering company, In Home Chef), and sous chef Andrew West are also on hand in the kitchen. The team is known for its take on classic comfort food, specifically updated riffs on gourmet versions with global ingredients and an eye to health consciousness.

Last July Elaine leased the former Cakewalkers space across from the Covent Garden Market. At the time the space was a bare-bones shell, which needed to be developed and adapted for restaurant operations. Several organizations provided help to Elaine to expedite the development of the premises, in particular Ethan Ling in the Business Liaison office, Jason Silcox in the Building Division, Cory Tung at Middlesex London Health Unit, along with the Fire Department
Elaine also gives credit to her neighbour, Downtown London. The organization helps downtown businesses take advantage of all available incentives, promotes downtown businesses and handles a variety of other functions that support their members.

A smart urban exterior features a large window, which gives Wich is Wich a close-up view of the Covent Garden Market. It’s pretty much a sit-down restaurant, with plenty of seating and friendly hospitable servers, but with a casual ambiance and a curated soundtrack of predominantly laid back rhythm and blues. There is a bit of an urban-industrial aesthetic with modern touches, reclaimed brick walls, a playful mix of retro chairs, window seating and a communal table designed by Chris at McKaskell Haindl Design Build.   
The prepping and assembling takes place in full view of customers, (behind a glass partition), showcasing the creative ways ingredients are being paired by the chefs and facilitating interaction with the customers.

Impeccably proportioned sandwiches made with fresh baguettes include such classics as chicken w’anh m, (their take on the Vietnamese classic bánh mì), which is given a twist when prepared with marinated chicken thigh, pickled crunchy vegetables, cucumber, cilantro, sweet chili condiment; Moroccan-inspired Marrakech chicken prepared with certified Halal thigh, ras el hanout, tzatziki, Shiraz salad, lemon tahini, lettuce and pickles; The Italian-inspired Bella is prepared with sopresetta, porchetta, green olive aioli, crunchy marinated vegetables, lettuce, tomato and provolone cheese; The South American influenced Carnitas are made with pork shoulder, tomatillo jus, pineapple salsa fresco, salad greens and ww’acamole (Wich is Wich’s take on guacamole).

               The melt-in-your-mouth porchetta is savoury, fatty and moist and prepared from locally-sourced pork shoulder, with crackling, herby mustard seed vinaigrette and arugula, and served on a bianco roll. There is a charcuterie board for sharing, the Wich Board, with quality butchery meats, pickles, artisan cheeses,`Lito’s beer mustard and other accoutrements.

The kale and wheat berry salad is decadent with its marinated raisins, red pepper, carrot, beet, sunflower seeds, and a knock-out honey-ginger dressing. Also on offer are homemade soups, a kids’ menu (Nutella and Banana sandwich), cane sugar sodas, Ontario craft beers (Black Swan, Forked River, Mill Street and Wellington) and red and white wine by the glass. The Bananas Foster is so over-the-top good it could become a calling card for the sandwich shop.

The stylish 40–45 seat shop offers dinein, grab & go, and catering services. Customers are able to email their orders for pick up. The shop features curb-side takeout as an option.

Wich is Wich
125 King Street (across from Covent Garden Market)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Culinary Road Trip: Stratford, Ontario

The Red Rabbit has progressed since this photo was taken, but we think it's a great photo of Jesse Larsen.

Stratford, Ontario, is not only a cultural haven for world-class theatre, but also for a world-class creative community which includes actors, artists, playwrights, writers, musicians, and many uniquely talented professionals, all of whom contribute to the vitality of the city. Stratford has a deserved reputation for being a hotbed of culinary talent, including farmers, growers, bakers, chefs, culinary instructors and restaurateurs.

Stratford is known internationally for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival which runs from April to October. The Festival’s primary mandate is to present repertory productions of William Shakespeare’s plays, but it also produces a diverse variety of theatre, from classic Greek tragedies to more contemporary works. The Festival and the renowned Stratford Chef School have contributed to the formation of a distinctively vibrant dining culture and restaurant community.

One of the standout features of Stratford's successful gastro scene is its relaxed but more intellectually driven, approach to food. Gastronomes, foodies and restaurant enthusiasts have long disputed whether The Prune, Rundles and more recently The Bruce, is the premier fine dining restaurant in Stratford. The Church (soon to be the Revival House) in its hey-day was also a bench mark for fine dining. There are of course many other notable farm-to-table restaurants which include: Bijou, Mercer Hall, Monforte on Wellington, Wawa Grub, Pazzo Taverna & Pizzera. We are anticipating the re-opening of Down the Street and new contenders: The Red Rabbit and Revival House. Here are a few photos of a recent culinary trip to Stratford.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Fresh Look at Seasonal Farmers’ Markets

A Fresh Look at Seasonal Farmers’ Markets



Every year I look forward to the start of the outdoor farmers’ market season. In warmer weather, I generally frequent farmers’ markets and farmgates which help to sustain economic activity on a local level. The new economic reality is that farmers’ markets have become a source of competitive advantage and the preferred food-retailing operation for many consumers. Studies reveal that most market shoppers are inspired to eat seasonally, which leads to altered buying and cooking patterns. It is important to keep in mind that farmers’ markets achieve an imperative part in local economic development by providing a location for local and small business incubation, generating an economic multiplier effect to neighboring businesses, and redistributing customer dollars within the community.

The “eat and buy local” movements have taken Ontario by storm, and there are hundreds of farmers’ markets dotted across the province to prove it. It is a great way to savour the terroir and talents of a community.  Here are some of this area’s best-loved seasonal farmers’ markets:

The Soho Street Market

The Soho Street Market (located in front of the Goodwill Centre at Horton and Wellington) is the new kid on the block and has quickly become a community hub. The night market offers an open-air market experience. It’s operated by the Soho Community Association for the purpose of providing local produce, farm fresh fruits, and artisanal handcrafts to visitors and residents. Since its inception it has been a smash hit. Edgar and Joe’s Café stays open late too.  Every Friday night from 4-9 pm. www.sohomarket.ca

Covent Garden Market Farmers’ Market
They grow it, raise, bake it, or make it! That's the mantra of the Covent Garden Farmers' Market a 100 per cent producer-based market. Every Thursday and Saturday from May until December, you can expect super fresh produce, meat, cheese, baked goods, local wine, samplings by local chefs, live music and children's programming. For current news, recipes and seasonal information about the farmers' market please go to their blog. www.coventgardenfarmersmarket.com
Thursdays and Saturdays 8 am to 1 pm. May to Christmas, weather permitting. 

Hyde Park Outdoor Market

Hyde Park Outdoor Market opens May 9th. There is an     interesting complement of year round indoor vendors, and additional vendors at the seasonal outdoor market. There is a large patio with landscaped gardens to sit and relax while enjoying the market experience in London`s north west. Hyde Park Market is located at 1331 Hyde Park Road, south of Gainsborough. There are additional parking spaces at The Crossings just under the railway overpass. Open Saturday 8 am–5 pm and Sundays 9 am–3 pm. www.hydeparkmarket.ca

Masonville Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market

Masonville Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market features over 40 farmers, artisans and food producers. It is organized by the Western Fair Farmers & Artisans’ Market. There is free parking at the Masonville Place parking lot. Fridays 8 am–2 pm, weather permitting. www.londonsfarmersmarket.ca

Slow Food Perth County's Sunday Market

Since its inception, Slow Food Perth County's Sunday Market has been a hit and a go-to food destination. Market-goers appreciate the good, clean, fair principles of Slow Food as well as the exceptional and produce and artisanal products offered by local vendors who have a passion for their offerings. In season, Stratford Market Square, then the market returns to The Falstaff Family Centre. The market remains outdoors right through the planting, growing, and harvest seasons, until mid-October. Sundays 10 am to 2 pm. 

St. Thomas Horton Farmers’ Market

Horton Farmers’ Market is a best-in-class market destination that promotes civic pride, shapes local culture and supports the regional economy by providing access to high quality food producers, craftspeople and artisans. If you are looking for farm fresh produce and meats, homemade preserves and baking, as well as handmade crafts and artwork, the Horton Farmers' Market is the place to be! They strive to have only local producers and craftspeople represented, giving you a taste and experience unique to St. Thomas. Manitoba Street, ½ block north of Talbot Street. St. Thomas, Open Mother's Day Weekend to October 31, Saturdays 8 a.m. to 12 noon. www.hortonfarmersmarket.ca

 The Goderich Farmers’ Market

The Goderich Farmers’ Market on the Courthouse Square is sponsored by the Goderich BIA. The outdoor farmers market is operated by the Goderich BIA. On the Courthouse Square vendors offer fruits and vegetables, honey, maple syrup, plants and flowers, pork products and fish, baked goods, preserves and handmade locally produced crafts. The popular farmers’ market operates every weekend from spring to fall.  Saturdays, 8 am to 1 pm., Victoria Day to Thanksgiving.

The St. Marys Farmers’ Market

An exclusively producer –based market, the St. Marys Farmers' Market continues its proud tradition of offering a wide range of fresh, locally produced foods, arts and crafts from around the county. Special events such as their monthly pancake breakfasts, as well as the finest meats, produce and baked goods brought to you by local farmers and other members of the community. The vendors at the market are all local farmers, home bakers and local craftspeople. Saturdays, 8 am to 12 Noon, May 16th to October 31st. www.stmarysfarmersmarket.ca

Strathroy Farmers’ Market 

Strathroy Farmers’ Market is one of the area’s oldest open air farmers’ markets and has operated since 1861. The market takes on Market Square behind the town hall in Strathroy on Saturdays from June to October. The market (open 8am–12 noon) is a member of Farmers’ Market Ontario.

Downtown Woodstock Farmers’ Market

Downtown Woodstock Farmers’ Market is a vibrant outdoor local market in the heart of downtown Woodstock on Museum/Market Square. The market features fresh, seasonal produce, eggs, meat, dairy, baked goods, flowers, plants, artisans, crafts and more. Museum Square and Dundas St., Woodstock, May to October, Thursdays 12 noon to 5 pm (sometimes later).  www.downtownwoodstock.ca 

Grand Bend Farmers’ Market

Nestled on the West Coast of Ontario, the Grand Bend Farmers’ Market welcomes you to a season of fresh, locally-grown produce. The offerings of the 25-plus producer-based vendor group ranges from organic vegetables, beef and pork producers to flowers, bakers, artisans and more. If the vendors don’t grow it, produce it, make it or bake it, it can’t be found at the market. They try to offer a varied selection of products from all areas as we draw from the three counties of Huron, Middlesex and Lambton. 1 Main St., Grand Bend (Colonial Hotel Parking Lot - enter off Hwy 21.) Opens the first Wednesday after Victoria Day and closes the last Wednesday before Thanksgiving. 8 am to 1 pm. www.grandbendfarmersmarket.ca

Point Edward Moonlight Farmer's Market

Point Edward Moonlight Farmer's Market to launch on June 25th. Local food will be back in a big way this summer, right under the Bluewater Bridge in Point Edward. Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation is the lead in the new farmers' market featuring an enticing assortment of local products every Thursday evening from 4 to 8 pm, beginning June 25th.

 Farmers’ markets have become a favourite pastime. Petrolia also has an open-air market on Saturdays from the end of May to Thanksgiving. The Forest Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market features local producers and artisans showing home-grown local produce and products on Fridays from 8 am to 1 pm. May to October

London's Local Flavour Culinary Guide 2015

London's Local Flavour Culinary Guide 2015
 In London, Ontario there are many culinary professionals who are actively embracing new and original versions of the farm-to-table experience. They represent the vanguard of the modern Ontario culinary scene and have a reputation for ingenuity and creativity. They possess exceptional, compelling culinary philosophies and are committed to fostering a cutting-edge culinary repertoire by sharing their knowledge with fellow professionals and patrons.

We have cooks, restaurateurs, farmers’ markets, publicans, retailers and food-lovers who are not just advocating “eating and drinking local” and “eating seasonal,” they are enthusiastically and creatively promoting and developing new region-specific cuisines. They have a reputation for referencing both the local terroir and the heart of Ontario country tradition for inspiration. As for their cuisine, it’s made from scratch and it’s ground-breaking. They are implementing time-honoured traditions and trusted techniques yet delivering ingredients in fresh ways while focusing on the local sourcing of ingredients, nutrition and environmental sustainability.

Many of these trailblazers are profiled in the London’s Local Flavour 2015 Culinary Guide. While we celebrate local farmers, our true food stars are innovating in kitchens throughout the city, offering up some of Ontario’s finest food and pairing them with a rich variety of craft beer and VQA wine tasting experiences. 
The increase in London’s range and choices in culinary offerings reflects both our growing ethnic diversity and an increased demand driven by sophisticated consumers who are seeking bolder, more exotic and authentic tastes from a variety of cultures. Our various restaurants, new and old, distinguish themselves with both tradition and up-to-the-minute adaptations of our region’s characteristic flavours and ingredients. 

Culinary tourism and the local food movement are not trends, but a change in the collective mindset of communities across Canada. When it comes to food what’s local is usually what is best. Nowhere is the love of all things culinary more evident than in the popularity of culinary tourism in Ontario. London is a natural hub for this and, in fact, culinary tourism is booming in our city and all around us. Authentic culinary tourism is the experiential ‘taste’ of a place rooted in its terroir. It starts with agriculture and the people who grow our food.

 The Local Flavour can be picked up at the airport (and with the limo drivers there), the train station, tourist information centres and the farmers’ markets. Lots of copies are distributed through the restaurants and other participants, and the libraries.

Tourism London of course sends out copies with enquiries and pitches to groups, as does Downtown London, and the Convention Centre, where copies are also circulated.
Whether you’re interested in one-stop shopping at one of our specialty food shops, or at our many farmers’ markets for a diversity of local products, or just want to explore the unique destination restaurants throughout our city, we know you’ll enjoy the vast choice of dining and drinking options London has offering a taste of our "Local Flavour."


True Taco in Old East Village Continues to Wow Diehard Taco-Lovers


True Taco Continues to Wow Diehard Taco-Lovers

True Taco Authentic Comedor Latino continues to wow diehard taco-lovers by providing superior Mexican and El Salvadorian cuisine in newer and much larger premises on Dundas Street in London’s Old East Village. The latest news is that they have applied for a liquor license. There is nothing quite like like ice cold cervezas or a shot of tequila to accompany a Latin-American meal.  
Owning a restaurant was a long-time dream for Luis Rivas who conceived the popular True Taco restaurant as an unpretentious Latino oasis, after perfecting his signature taco and salsa offerings, and building a loyal clientele at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. The satellite operation is reminiscent of the hole-in-the-wall taquerias and street stand taquerias in Latin America.

As far as trends go in restaurants, few dishes loom as large as the taco, a generally inexpensive restaurant bite that has created a cult of aficionados. The restaurant industry has been in a state of gourmet taco consciousness for some time. Much like the slider craze, tacos continue to be the new canvas of the gourmet world.  Delicious fillings like swordfish, scallops, foie gras, don’t come cheap in higher end restaurants, of course. But it’s worth paying for a great taco prepared with high quality ingredients and extra attention.

Rivas opened a restaurant in Old East in 2009, just a year after starting out in the market. Last year he expanded to a bigger location across the street from the original. Rivas estimates that 40% of True Taco’s clientele originated from what has become his satellite operation at the Saturday WFFAM. There is a tremendous amount of repeat business. Rivas credits the clientele of the Aeolian Hall and the emerging culinary scene in Old East Village as part of the restaurant’s continuing success and higher profile.

True Taco quickly made its name and built a reputation for quality, authentic Mexican and El Salvadorian food. It all started with just a modest offering of 4 really delicious tacos and a limited menu of other specialities. “The big favourite being the taco al pastor made with juicy pork loin, pineapple, onion and cilantro that just melt into the meat." says Rivas. The other taco signature specialties are prepared with a choice of chorizo, beef barbacoa, or beef tongue, and a selection of homemade sauces. At the restaurant there are 16 fresh salsas to choose from. The nacho chips are house made, artisan corn tortillas and produced nearby in Alymer. True Taco offers a spectacular all-day breakfast of huevos rancheros, sunny side up eggs with homemade sauce served with beans (locally sourced) and tortillas at both locations.

Favourites include the delicious pupusas served with curtido (traditional cabbage relish) and homemade sauce. El Salvador’s signature dish is the pupusa, this thick handmade corn or rice flour tortilla that is typically stuffed “de queso” (cheese) or chicharron (cooked pork ground to a paste consistency,) served with refried beans and loroco (a vine flower bud indigenous to Central America) and curtido. Other traditional Central America offerings include: burritos, taquitos, quesadillas, enchiladas and corn-husk wrapped pork and corn meal tamales. The guacamole is always fresh, bright green and outstanding.

One of the most delicious things I have eaten was a hot-off-the-grill golden brown gordita served with refried beans, at True Taco at the WFFAM. The Mexican gordita is quite similar to the Salvadoran pupusa. Gorditas normally have an opening at the center of the tortilla and generally have more filling than pupusas (hence the name gordita—"little fat one or little fatty"). Another standout is the chicken Milanesa.

 789 Dundas St;
 519 433 0909

Western Fair Farmers and Artisans’ Market (Saturdays 8 to 3pm)



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rock Au Taco in Downtown London

Rock Au Taco

The 28 seat boulevard patio at the Early Bird Diner and Rock Au Taco is open for the season. Gregg and Justin Wolfe opened “Rock Au Taco” next door to the Early Bird Diner, downtown London’s red-hot, retro diner last year. (The diner’s popularity inspired a great segment from “You Gotta Eat Here!” from the Food Network.) The small takeout taco bar at Rock Au Taco with limited seats, also serves the Early Bird patrons if they want anything from the taco list.

Trying to give London something it didn't already have, the Wolfe brother’s brought authentic southern Mexican street food to downtown London, with their food truck style tacos: cheap, quick and tasty. Rock Au Taco features signature tacos with fillings such as beef cheek and beef tongue, pork belly, fish, potato and re-fried bean. They’re topped with freshly made salsas, pickled onions and other garnishes. There is also a proper whisky/tequila and cocktail list, ice-cold cervezas, and the Mexican beer/cocktail hybrid michelada. The michelada, one of the most popular drinks in Mexico, is a beer-based cocktail made with lime, hot sauce, Worcestershire, and often tomato (or Clamato) juice, all served over ice in a glass with a salted rim.

This is classic gourmet grub to go and a great take on Latin-American inspired street food.

Rock Au Taco and The Early Bird

355 Talbot St., London