Toronto: Part 2

We weren’t up early on Saturday morning. No, all that beer made us a bit…sluggish…the next morning. So, we got a late start on our trek to the eastern parts of Toronto.

We took the Queen streetcar and got off in Leslieville for brunch and the continuation of our yarn crawl.

Welcome to Leslieville sign.I don’t recall this as a neighborhood when I lived here *cough* 20 *cough* years ago. [Damn, it’s hard to admit I was older than a wee child that many years ago!] It seems to be coming along, though, as there were several newish looking shops there.

After breakfast, we wandered along Queen Street East until we got to The Purple Purl. And here we paused for quite a while.

When we walked in, we were happy to see a good-sized seating area with cushy chairs, a case full of goodies (including truffles and pastries), and an espresso machine. But before we gave in to the urge to lounge, we walked around and fondled the yarn.

The Purl has a great selection of “Canadian content,” as they say. There were yarns such as Indigo Moon and other special items such as hand-carved buttons. I fell hard for the buttons (tagua nut, antler, and maple) and a single skein of Canadian Quiviut. Then we settled in for a nice cup of tea and a chat with some friendly knitters and one of the shop owners, Jennifer. We could have stayed far into the afternoon, but realized that we were sitting inside on an incredibly lovely day. So, we managed to lever ourselves out of there and hop back on the Queen streetcar.

We exited at Kew Gardens Park and continued down Queen on foot in search of healthy carry out for lunch. We also made one more stop at The Naked Sheep to complete our yarn crawl. A sweet shop with a good selection of basics and luxury yarns, we nonetheless didn’t linger too long as we were itching to hit the boardwalk along The Beaches.

With some Thai carry out in hand, we parked ourselves on a comfy bench where we ate, knit, and watched all the people and dogs walking by.

At The Beaches in Toronto

The sun was out most of the time, but we did feel a bit chilly when it was briefly covered by a cloud. However, it was a fabulous, relaxing way to spend an hour. There were cormorants fishing in Lake Ontario, kite-fliers, swimmers (!!), and many happy people enjoying the weather on their bikes, rollerblades, and their own two feet.

Eventually, we had to head back to the room and plan out what to do for dinner. After two nights of less than stellar food (no complaints, but pub food and airport food aren’t exactly memorable in a really good way) we wanted to splurge. After a little bit of web browsing, we found a great place: Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar.

The “foodies” on Chowhound may have some issues with Jamie Kennedy’s menus, but Rachael and I had a fabulous dinner. The menu is tapas-style, which allowed us to try several different different dishes of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. I enjoyed all my selections immensely: celery root soup; smoked pickerel with fennel salad; and duck confit with soft polenta and dried fruit compote.

With each plate, I enjoyed a different wine pairing of just 3 oz each, so I didn’t repeat my over-indulgence of the night before. Although, when we ended our meal by splitting the plate of artisanal cheeses, I went for the larger pour of port. We stopped for some gelato as we walked back to our hotel and then turned in for a decent night’s sleep.

The next morning was our last, and we were desperate to enjoy a decent breakfast. The previous two mornings we had eaten mediocre breakfasts, where the only thing that really stood out was the peameal bacon. The night before, we had found out about Jamie Kennedy’s newest venture, Gilead Cafe, and since we had such a fine dinner the night before we decided to try it. Since we had to check out at noon, we got up for an early start to Corktown (another newish neighborhood). We didn’t realize the subways didn’t open until 9 AM on Sundays, so we ended up taking a cab instead.

When the cab dropped us off on King at Gilead Court, we were a bit perplexed. It looked like an alley and we didn’t see any large signage from King Street. A few steps later, though, and we were reassured to see some folks inside setting up for the day.

Breakfast at Gilead Cafe.

This was a divine breakfast: fresh-baked croissant, fresh coffee, and a bowl of yogurt with granola and hazel nuts. The yogurt was the best I’ve *ever* had: handmade on the premises from whole, raw milk then blended with homemade blueberry jam. The texture was thick and creamy, and the taste was tangy and rich. The server said they “hang” the yogurt a bit to let more liquid drain off, resulting in a thicker yogurt. All I know is I’d eat this every day quite gladly!

We still wanted to do a bit of exploring before heading back to the hotel, so we walked the few blocks to the Distillery District to look around and take in the offerings. Here we had our second fabulous cup of coffee at Balzac’s Coffee Roastery.

Balzac's Coffee Roastery in Toronto's Distillery District.

This gem of a place served up outstanding coffee in a beautiful setting. Even the latte was beautiful.

Beatiful latte from Balzac's.

We also stopped at a yummy bakery in the Distillery where I picked up a fresh scone, but I missed the name of the place because as I was paying for my scone, I got a call from United Airlines that my flight had been cancelled. Thus ended our time in the Distillery, as we caught another cab back to the hotel to plot out how I was going to get home and then check out.

The flight cancellation was actually not something I was too worried about. After all, I still had half the day left to get onto another flight and, if it was really necessary for me to stay an extra day, I had my laptop for work. So, I made the best of this bonus time.

Rachael had planned to take in a movie after I left at midday for the airport. She wanted to stick to her plan and I wanted to take in more of Toronto, so we parted ways and I was once again wandering on my own. I headed to Chinatown to take in the sites and enjoy the cheap lunch I had missed a couple days earlier.

Chinatown barbeque.

I found that the barbeque pork over rice is still the best deal in Chinatown. When I lived here, we used to stop in Chinatown for this steal of a meal where we could both eat for a total of $5. The price has gone up, but not by much. I paid $3.25 for the bowl of rice and barbeque pork, which also included a hot pot of tea. I actually splurged a bit and ordered a plate of gai-lon (Chinese broccoli) for an extra $4 since this is one of my favorite veggies.

Wandering up Spadina towards College, I stopped at a Chinese bakery where I picked up a couple sweet red bean pastries for snacking on the way to the airport, and then caught the streetcar back to the hotel where I picked up my bag. Then it was off to the airport for a long wait to get on a short, but highly unpleasant flight home.

All in all, I had a great time and it felt good to get back to a town for which I have so many fond memories. I don’t know why, but the people in Toronto just seem so much more happy and secure and the vibe is reassuring. The transit was superb and the size of the city is very manageable compared to Chicago or New York. I started off my trip with a streak of nostalgia and ended up ready to return again and again. As long as it doesn’t involve flying United Airlines, that is.

Toronto: Part 1

It was easy to be a bit nostalgic about Toronto. But, as Rachael astutely asked, “Are you nostaligic about the city or about being 20?” I’d have to say: both. Definitely both.

As I predicted, Rachael’s 6:30 PM flight out of O’Hare was delayed, so I felt entirely comfortable taking a little trip on my own to SSK (Sit, Sip and Knit) Night at In the Loop Cafe Thursday night. I had a blast generally unwinding and getting oriented to the local knitter scene.

I think I inspired Tracy to make the Neckdown Wrap Cardigan, and Drea told me that the very next evening the monthly Drunken Knitter’s Night was taking place. And in addition to the yummy *real* scone I purchased, we had some delicious butterscotch cake homemade by Alessandra to celebrate Draya’s birthday.

Although In the Loop was supposed to close at 9 PM, I didn’t leave until closer to 9:30 PM to catch the bus back to St. Clair West station. Rachael finally arrived at the hotel at about 11 PM. By then, I was quite tired, but she needed to get some food so we walked to a nearby 24-hour Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up some snacks (cheese, crackers, and yogurt) and make a plan for the next day.

Friday morning we were up early and headed out for a day of exploring. We walked up Yonge to Bloor, then over to a restaurant across from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) for breakfast. We were astounded by the fact that the ROM was being consumed by a crystalline alien ship from outer space.

Royal Ontario Museum

But this wasn’t our final destination. Sad to say, I continued my tradition of being in Toronto and NOT visiting the ROM. Instead, we went to the Bata Shoe Museum, which was just a block or two west on Bloor Street. Who would have thought shoes could be so interesting? I took way too many photos of them.

From the Shoe Museum, we walked west on Bloor to Spadina where we purchased some TTC day passes and hopped a streetcar south. Like me, Rachael loves the streetcars. They are a quiet and pleasant form of surface transportation, and rarely encountered in cities anymore. We were headed to the first stop on our mini-yarn crawl through Toronto: Romni Wools. But before we got to Romni, we had to resist the myriad temptations on Queen Street West.

Around Spadina and for several blocks west, Queen Street is the “Fashion District.” We saw many fabric stores, button and trimming stores, and unique clothing stores. Peach Berserk beckoned, and Rachael barely made it out. She was sorely tempted to buy a custom made jacket, but took some time to walk out to think about it. After about 15 minutes inside Romni Wools, she felt better about passing on the opportunity.

Romni was completely overwhelming. It was packed, packed, packed with yarn. I know they don’t have *everything* there, (no Lorna’s Laces, for example) but it was a close thing. Since we were trying to stick to unique, preferably Canadian yarns and products, we were able to narrow things down a bit. Romni now has their own label of yarns, and we both picked up some Romni brand yarn.

As it was now getting well past lunch time, we needed sustenance. I had hoped to get some cheap eats in Chinatown, but we were several blocks away and needed food soon. So, we stopped at the Jerk Spot and instead had a treat I’ve only had in Toronto: roti. Specifically, we had curried goat roti. As a lunch special with a soda, the grand total was just over $5. Quite a deal, and quite good.

One of the reasons we didn’t want to roam far for lunch was because Rachael wanted to stop at the BakkaPhoenix science fiction bookstore for some browsing. While I do like science fiction, I wasn’t wanting to do any book shopping so I just hung out as she enthusiastically browsed the shelves and picked up a few good books.

We headed back to Spadina on the Queen streetcar, then continued north to Nassau Street and Kensington Market. We were headed to Lettuce Knit but enjoyed the atmosphere of Kensington Market in general.

Chocolate shop in Kensington Market, Toronto

It was just down the block from Lettuce Knit that we got the first amazing cup of coffee we’d had in a long time at Ideal Coffee. I was too mellowed by the excellent latte and the engrossing eavesdropping to take photos, but this site has some photos that capture the ecelectic vibe of the place. And Rachael also said the coffee here was even better than the coffee she had in Italy. I’ve never been to Italy, so I can’t make this distinction. But the latte was amazingly great.

We returned to the hotel (via another streetcar along College; hooray for streetcars!) for a short lay-down before joining the knitter crowd at the Spotted Dick. The Spotted Dick is a pub, so the food isn’t complicated in any way. We chowed down on fish and chips, washed down with beer. In my case, it was lots and lots of beer. I can’t remember when I last drank 4 pints of beer, and I barely made it through the night.

We had a grand time, though.

Drunken Knitter's Night at the Spotted Dick in Toronto

On the right is Rachael, of course. On the left is Jeff. Jeff was working on a Baby Surprise jacket, and generally holding up a lively conversation on a number of topics. On one of them, I’ll stay mum for now. The other, though, was about his deep desire to raise a pig for slaughter. Inside his city condo. Which is technically a studio, or a small one-bedroom. And I’m considered a bit “out there” for keeping a few hens in my backyard???

More to come. Much, more more to come. I’m just too tired after returning from such a wonderful weekend to finish this narrative. And I know this is getting quite long by now. I’ll just close out with one last photo from Kensington Market. ‘Nuff said.

A colorful shop in Kensington Market