Dining Al Fresco – Mushroom Quesadillas, Grilled Cheese, Pies, & Sweets at the Soft Choice Office Market!

2 Comments

After nearly two months satiating the appetites of office workers and hungry, dedicted foodies, I finally made it out to the Toronto Lunchtime Office Market at the Soft Choice building in Liberty Village!  Yesterday was one of the most glorious, beautiful days so far this year and after missing out on so many great Soft Choice lunchtime markets since its launch back in April, I wasn’t about to pass up the golden opportunity to catch some sunshine and mouthwatering eats.  I had such a fun time snapping photos of the gorgeous outdoor courtyard behind the building where the food market was being held, eating fantastic food, and enjoying a hidden gem of a space for the very first time.  

I couldn’t believe how amazing this outdoor courtyard was.  I was floored.  I felt like I was walking into some secret paradise, separated from the rest of the world and surrounded by food!  The courtyard is beautiful and I’ll be the first to admit that I was completely taken aback by it.  We’re talking about Liberty Village here, an up and coming neighbourhood that continues to grow and thrive as a community, but still very much industrial.  The courtyard is lovely and peaceful, perfect for an outdoor lunch and party and just as perfect for some quiet reading in the shade.  All I could think of was, “boy, this place would look like something out of a fairy tale with some lit up lanterns and tea lights at night!”  Beautiful brick walls surround the space, making it very private and cozy and while much of the space is “open concept”, there are pockets here and there that make the space fun to weave in and out of – it is so much more than just a slab of concrete!

In attendance at the food market: Sara’s Nice Buns (fresh baked bread, buns, and sweet baked goods), The Nut Bakery (gluten-free nut cookies and granola bars), Cookie Martinez (sweets and fruity thirst quenchers), Yorktown Pie Company, Cheesewerks grilled cheese and artisan food shop, and finally, in association with ChocoSol, Gabriela’s Maizal fresh corn tortillas and quesadillas! 

First, let’s do a rundown of some of the baked goods on site.  Sara had her famous herb and onion fougasse on hand as well as her tasty cacao sourdough, white loaf, herb focaccia, and giant apple cinnamon buns; The Nut Bakery with tons of gluten-free samples and cookie jars filled with pecan walnut chocolate macaroons, dark chocolate nut chunk, almond almond, and chocolate pecan macadamia brownie cookies, among others; Cookie Martinez with giant chocolate an dulche de leche brownies and refreshing blended fruit juice made with passionfruit and local Ontario strawberries; and Yorktown Pies with a truckload of sweet and savoury pies including their collard greens and mushroom, chili beef, chicken, apple sour cream, and plenty of turnovers and flaky tarts.

Cheesewerks was firing up their grill with their special Charleston (brie cheese, caramelized onions, and apricot chutney on walnut raisin) and Beijing (asiago cheese, BBQ pork, hoisin sauce, and slivered green onions) grilled cheese varieties hot, buttered, and gooey right off the grill with a selection of cheeses and condiments on hand to purchase and take home.  Finally, Gabriela’s tortilla project gone full-blown quesadilla cafe (her new cafe, Maizal, is now open for business at 133 Jefferson Ave. in Liberty Village!) was bursting with fresh ground corn quesadillas stuffed with mushrooms, spicy guacamole, mashed black beans, shredded, stringy, mouthwatering and to-die-for Oaxaca cheese, and more.             

After picking up a coconut butter tart from Yorktown Pies and inhaling savouring one of Gabriela’s best-in-the-city, fresh ground corn mushroom quesadillas for lunch (and I mean FRESH – her and her team ground the corn in the morning!), I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my lunch time.  I grabbed a copy of Maizal’s menu and I can’t wait to visit her quesadilla cafe and report back to you all with more goods.  It was so exciting for me to finally get to come to this office market (and of course, eat!) and soak in the atmosphere, great company, and beautiful space on such a picture-perfect day.

*****

The Office Markets currently serve 2 locations in Toronto: CSI Annex at 720 Bathurst Street (just south of Bloor Street) on Tuesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, and Soft Choice IT Soultions at 173 Dufferin Street (south of King Street) in Liberty Village on Wednesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm.  The outdoor local food market is held behind the Soft Choice office in the beautiful outdoor courtyard with patio tables, chairs, and umbrellas.  Perfect for enjoying that lunch in the warm sunshine (or shade) and fresh air!

Toronto Lunchtime Office Markets Are Heading West – The Yorktown Pie Company and Lunch in Liberty Village!

3 Comments

*BREAKING NEWS* everyone!  Or maybe not so breaking if you already know this.  But humour me if you do: the Toronto Lunchtime Office Markets are setting up shop out west in Liberty Village TOMORROW from 11:30am-1:30pm!  And it’ll be an outdoor courtyard market!  This is so exciting!  You know how there are people who track storms and tornadoes and are known as Storm Chasers?  I like to think of myself as a farmers’ market chaser, following amazing markets wherever they go around the city.  Sadly, I won’t be able to attend the Office Market’s first official market in Liberty Village tomorrow, but I wanted you all to know in case any of you work around the area or decide to head out in that direction tomorrow.  And if you end up seeing this too late, don’t fret: this market is going to be a permanent fixture on the farmers’ market circuit, so you can always make a visit on Wednesdays from here on out. 

It feels so surreal in a way because several weeks to a month ago, I was enjoying lunch, taking photos, and talking to Eric from Yorktown Pies at the ING Direct Cafe when a fellow lunch market goer approached me and told me he recognized me from Ate by Ate (can you say oh my lordy?!).  We chatted for a bit and I learned that he actually wasn’t dining on home turf so to speak, but was rather taking in the scene (and eating) because he wanted the market to head on over to his work area in Liberty Village.  And lo and behold, here we are!  I knew Aruna (head honcho of Alimentary Initiatives and the Toronto Office Market initiative) was planning on taking the markets to Liberty Village (I know, I know, I keep a good secret!), but I had no idea it would happen so soon!

This is wonderful because this market experience has become so important to those in the community who want and need these types of food options.  My boyfriend and I brought two friends to an ING Direct Cafe market one time for lunch, one who was vegan and who was a self-proclaimed carni.  There were fun, healthy options for my vegan friend, Sarah, courtesy of Earth & City and my meat-loving friend, Nav, enjoyed his meatless lunch (courtesy of ChocoSol) so much he wanted to come back for to the market for lunch another time. 

I was so, so happy they loved it.  And interestingly enough, my friend Nav made a very poignant statement as we were discussing how I found out about the markets and about food in general.  He said, “this makes me WANT to eat healthier.  This is awesome.  If these options are made available, people will come and people will take advantage and choose better food”.  And that, my dear lovelies, is food accessibility in action and in motion.  My friends enjoyed their experience and were introduced to something new and in turn, it made me feel hopeful that many of the food initiatives being spearheaded across the city by different organizations and local businesses are, in many ways, touching lives and creating and spurring change for the better.

Yorktown Pies will be at the market tomorrow, along with Cheesewerks (they’ve started vending at the Office Markets, how exciting!), The Bumper Crop (charcuterie and condiments), Hope Farms and Eggy Wegs with fresh farm eggs, and Cookie Martinez with Fair Trade and gluten-free cookies in the line-up among others.  It’s going to be a beautiful day tomorrow, so grab a yummy Yorktown Pie and enjoy the local food and market for me!    

*****

The Office Markets will now currently serve 3 locations in Toronto: CSI Annex at 720 Bathurst Street (just south of Bloor Street) on Tuesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, ING Direct Cafe at 221 Yonge Street (at the corner of Shuter Street by the Eaton Centre) on Thursdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, and now at Soft Choice IT Soultions at 173 Dufferin Street (south of King Street) in Liberty Village.

Nutty For Pesto, Sundried Tomato, & Burger Patties – A Photo Spotlight on Earth & City’s Raw, Vegan Nut Burgers!

2 Comments

Vegan nut burgers at the ING Direct Cafe...

No matter how healthy many of us eat, everyone has their junk food weakness whether it’s sweet or savoury.  Some feel weak in the knees in the face of pizza, some salivate at the mention of ice cream sundaes, and some will do anything to get their hands on a basket of fries.  I’ll be honest with you guys: I have a weakness for good old fashioned grilled cheeseburgers.  And turkey burgers.  With cheese, relish, pickles, mushrooms, peppers, and garlic mayo.  I don’t eat them often though.  The word “rarely” comes to mind, actually.  Twice a year, tops.  For me, as much as I enjoy it, these type of cravings are just cravings and they come and go. 

Aside from having a sweet tooth, I shy away from junk food as often as I can.  The last time I had a soda was over 10 years ago in high school (and I can’t remember the time before that), I despise fried chicken with a passion, and I try my best not to put myself in a situation where I have to resort to choosing something to eat from a fast food chain.  Like I said, I allow myself to have a cheeseburger type of day maybe twice a year but that’s about it.  I even carefully think about how to schedule my dessert and sweets eating throughout the day and/or week – what you see on the blog isn’t in real time most of the time!  This lack of burger eating on my part clearly explains why my Burger Book catgory has been 1) relatively devoid of burger bliss (if I may quote the latest A&W commercial), and 2) more focused on vegetarian and vegan burgers! 

Sundried tomato goodness at Wychwood Barns

Looking for a delicious raw, vegan lunch?

I am LOVING the versatility and deliciousness of vegetarian and vegan burgers in all its different forms: soy, grain, tofu, potato, you name it.  The veggie burgers I’ve had in the last year have all been delicious and they’ve all been so different.  There’s the juicy, breaded tofu burger from Kale and the potato-like mushroom onion burger from Fresh.  Another veggie burger to add to the mix?  Earth & City’s raw, vegan nut burgers!

I approach Earth & City’s food the same way I approach the menu at Fresh: try everything!  Or at the very least, something from every food category on the menu.  So far I’ve had the pleasure of having Earth & City’s spring roll wraps, vegan pizza, nori rolls, macaroons, tarts, raw and vegan brownies, and even a raw peanut butter date square.  I can now say with absolute conviction that their vegan nut burgers are my favourite of all favourites.  I cannot get over how much I love them!  My favourite foods from Earth & City then are as follows (in no particular order): nut burgers, nori rolls, and brownies. 

Their nut burgers ($6, tax inclusive) are amazing and to me, they’re more delicious than any meat burger could ever be!  The vegan nut burgers are giant round patties made of raw, almonds, sunflower seeds, honey dates, and flax seed that have been pulsed and pulverized, mixed with dried basil and oregano, organic olive oil and lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar and sea salt, and topped with either a sundried tomato or creamy pesto sauce, and sunflower sprouts with slices of local organic tomatoes at times.  The heavenly burgers sit on a giant collard green leaf  “lily pad bun” and are then munched on and inhaled by people like me.

I had one of their pesto nut burgers at a Lunchtime Office Market at the ING Direct Cafe and I could not stop thinking about it for days, even weeks, afterward.  I was most surprised by the texture – it was simaltaneously smooth and slightly crunchy!  The smoothness comes from how well the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated throughout the burger patty and the slight crunch comes from the ground up sunflower seeds and almonds.  It’s not crunchy like a potato chip.  It’s more like if you were to grab a handful of rolled oats and stuffed them in your mouth.  They’re smooth and flat so you’re not actually crunching on them persay, but you can feel that texture as you chew.  THAT’s what eating the nut burgers are like, only with a million times more flavour.  The ground almonds and sunflower seeds in the burger give it body and bite.  The burgers are SO incredibly soft and moist (the moistest burger I’ve ever had!) and the flavour is phenomenal.  It’s savoury without being salty, the pesto is creamy and heavenly, and the sunflower sprouts and collared green give it leafy crunch and a burst of garden freshness.

The vegan nut burger finally in my hands!

I love that my nut burger experience was so fantastic, but I’m in a really bad predicament now because all I want to do is go to every market that Earth & City are at so I can pick up another burger!  Just think, you’re getting a burger that’s rich in protein, calcium, and fibre, AND it’s delicious beyond comprehension.  I guess my obsession with these burgers isn’t the worst thing that could happen.  It leaves me naughty room in my diet and belly to gorge on their raw vegan brownies.

*****

Earth & City is a local raw and vegan food business operating at farmers’ markets across Toronto year-round.  They are currently at 3 markets, with more during the late spring and summer months.  You can find them at the Centre for Social Innovation (Bathurst location at 720 Bathurst Street south of Bloor) on Tuesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, the ING Direct Cafe (at Yonge & Shuter street just north of Queen Street) on Thursdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, and at The Stop market at Wychwood Barns (76 Wychwood Ave. near St. Clair Ave. West and Christie Street) on Saturdays from 8am-1pm.

Smoked Salmon & Wild Nova Scotia Tuna Sandwiches – Hooked Inc. at the Toronto Office Markets

Leave a comment

Local seafood lovers rejoice!  Hooked Inc. has won the hearts of Leslieville residents and farmers’ market goers alike since its storefront opening on Queen Street East in 2011.  Hooked Inc. is a fish store that attacks food and knowledge with a passion, providing Torontonians with fresh, sustainable, local fish, shellfish, and seafood products in addition to cooking classes, educational workshops, and farmers’ market vending around the city.  I’m beyond excited about their spring workshop schedule and their expanded farmers’ market schedule come spring and summer.  I was in conniptions when I browsed their website and realized that there would be a market at Edwards Garden later on this year for me to go to!  Farmers’ markets, flowers and gardens, and (sea)food – it’s a dream come true. 

Their enterprise really inspires me because even though I love seafood (much more than red meat and poultry, actually), it’s a food group that I know very little about in terms of location, regional specifics, and sustainability and Hooked makes this knowledge accessible.  Their classes and workshops incorporate hands-on cooking techniques (shucking oysters, and learning about poaching, braising, and stewing fish) as well as food knowledge such as teaching workshops on how to select fish, proper preparation methods and tools to use, and more. 

Kristin shucked 20 oysters for a couple last week!

There’s so much to learn and I want to learn all there is to know about different types of fish and the bodies of water and provinces they come from.  That’s the beauty of Hooked – they are so in tune and knowledgable about their products, the fishing industry, and what it takes to maintain a sustainable economy of food that you feel comfortable asking them anything and everything to do with fish.  As part of the Slow Food/Slow Fish movement, they’re committed to building awareness of local food options, maintaining close, transparent relationships with both producers and consumers, and making information as accessible as possible. 

Their weekly appearances at the Lunchtime Office Markets have taken me on a whirlwind seafood tour and it’s so exciting seeing what different foods Kristin and her crew bring to the table every week.  Their table always provides a mix of fresh fish and seafood lunches to enjoy right then and there as well as vacuum sealed fish, jars of soup, containers of seafood salad, and so much more.  Kristin and her team take the opportunity at the markets to show off the versatility of seafood by turning fish into fast and convenient $5 lunches on the go, often utilizing products from other farmers’ market vendors such as Earth & City and Monforte Dairy. 

They do buck-a-shuck oysters (you can learn to shuck at one of their classes!), fish samples, seafood salad bread bite samples, fish chowder (which I inhaled during this market visit), smoked salmon sandwiches with soft cheese on dark bread, and mouthwatering chunks of fresh Nova Scotia wild tuna salad sandwiches with greens on Earth & City’s flatbread.  So far I’ve only had their fish chowder but I’m telling you, it was SO HARD not having something of theirs at every single market I’ve been to. 

And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way!  At the last market I attended, a couple was so distraught over all the amazing lunch options that they agreed to share one of eveything so that they could try everything they wanted!  They tore a page straight out of my book because I’m often faced with the same dilemma every time I come to these markets.  I wouldn’t want it any other way though; this is what makes food exploration so much fun.  I’m so looking forward to making my first Hooked shop visit in the near future and learning more about their business and about the seafood they so lovingly provide to the markets and our city.

*****

Hooked Inc. is located at 888 Queen Street East at the corner of Booth Ave., east of Logan in the Leslieville neighbourhood.  They are currently vending at the Toronto Office Markets on Wednesdays at CSI Spadina and Thursdays at the ING Direct Cafe.  Keep up to date with news, new markets, workshops and more by visiting their website here and following them on Twitter @hookedinc

A Vegetable Garden Party on Sprouted Buckwheat Pizza – Photo Spotlight on Raw, Vegan Pizza by Earth & City!

5 Comments

Oh, pizza, how we love thee.  You’re the center of attention at sleepovers and childhood school lunch parties, you’re the one thing most people with differing tastes can agree on ordering, and you rank pretty high on the list of ultimate comfort foods.  However, as delicious as you are, you can pose quite a few food problems for some people!  Sure, vegetarians can be ready and willing to consume infinite slices of veggie pizza full of roasted, grilled, and sauteed vegetables with melted cheesy goodness, but where does that leave the lactose intolerant and vegans?  So where does that leave us?  Earth & City‘s cheeseless, raw vegan pizza to the rescue! 

After sadly passing on it during my first farmers’ visit to Wychwood Barns, I was lucky enough to snatch a jolly big slice at the newest Lunchtime Office Market at the ING Direct Cafe earlier this month.  Cassandra and Lisa of Earth & City don’t make the pizzas for every single market they do (it’s a rotating menu item as opposed to a permanent fixture), so my timing felt extra special this time around!  I was so excited I literally threw my coat and bag on the table by the window and scampered back to Earth & City’s spot to claim my lunch before it disappeared.  Their vegan pizzas are perfect for those who face food allergies and intolerances left and right because they’re gluten and wheat free, dairy-free, and nut-free.  If you have a soy allergy, I’d be cautious just because Earth & City lists wheat-free tamari on their list of ingredients, but I’d ask just to make sure as it really depends on the amount and levels.   

Earth & City’s raw vegan pizza changes throughout the year based on seasonal ingredients and whatever vegetables are fresh, but the one thing that is always constant is the pizza base.  Made with sprouted buckwheat, soaked flax seed, and dried herbs, the crusts are dehydrated overnight* and they firm up into thin, sturdy crusts.  My big slice was covered with sweet sundried tomato sauce (think tomato paste in consistency), raw mushrooms and grape tomatoes, and a generous helping of bright green sunflower sprouts.  I know soy cheese and Daiya cheese are also both viable options to use in vegan pizza-making, but this pizza truly gives new meaning to veggie pizza – it’s like having a garden on your pizza pie!          

The flavours and methods are totally and completely different because for one, it’s a raw pizza and second, the flavours are much more of a mix of sweet and savoury.  The sweetness from the honey dates in the flatbread crust, as well as from the tomato sauce, hits you full force and it gives the rest of the raw vegetables more complexity in flavour.  It envelopes and anchors everything while allowing the freshness of the vegetables to shine.  The pizza is incredibly hearty and so full of nutrients and healthy things for the body including dietary fiber and antioxidants straight from the soaked flax seed and honey dates. 

This was truly the healthiest pizza I had ever seen and eaten and the abundance of mushrooms and sunflower sprouts made me so happy.  Vegan pizza is hard to come by so I’m really happy Earth & City makes it on a regular basis, even if it’s not for every single market that they do.  If you want to know which markets will have it, just pop them a message on their Facebook page or on their Twitter @earthandcity, and ask to be included on their weekly newsletter. 

*****

* source = Earth & City’s official website. 

Earth & City is a local raw and vegan food business operating at farmers’ markets across Toronto year-round.  They are currently at 3 markets, with more during the late spring and summer months.  You can find them at the Centre for Social Innovation (Bathurst location at 720 Bathurst Street south of Bloor) on Tuesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, the ING Direct Cafe (at Yonge & Shuter street just north of Queen Street) on Thursdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, and at The Stop market at Wychwood Barns (76 Wychwood Ave. near St. Clair Ave. West and Christie Street) on Saturdays from 8am-1pm.

Beet Hummus, Cabbage Veggie Bowls, and Fish Chowder For Lunch at the ING Direct Cafe Office Market

4 Comments

I’ve talked about a lot of different food situations on the blog.  Situations and predicaments like food tunnel vision, constant cravings (cue K.D. Lang’s song here), and food snobbery among many others.  I have a new one to add to the hungry mix: food remorse, and not in the sense you’re probably thinking.  I’m talking about the feeling of remorse that washes over you when you pass up something delicious and it ends up haunting you in your dreams.  Well, maybe it’s not that extreme, but definitely enough remorse to have it occupy a good portion of your stomach and brain for days afterward.  It’s when you wish with all your heart that you had taken advantage of the opportunity right in front of you to eat whatever it was you wanted to eat but just didn’t.  I know we all go through those moments (who hasn’t walked by that bakery storefront or burger joint and wished they could stuff their face?), but it’s insult to injury when you mope about passing up something delicious, healthy, and affordable and reasonably priced.  This is the absolute worst and I know the feeling all too well.  

Thus, when I went to last week’s first Lunchtime Office Market at the ING Direct Cafe at Yonge & Shuter, I couldn’t help myself.  I grabbed an edible hummus and veggie bowl (after paying for it, of course!) and devoured it along with my other lunch time goodies.  After seeing these gorgeous, rainbow bright edible cabbage bowls made by Jesse of Luscious Dips at the CSI Lunchtime Market at Spadina my last time there, I couldn’t bear the thought of passing them up a second time.  So I didn’t. 

With a hungry tummy and a happy heart, I enjoyed a bright and fresh, hearty lunch at the ING Direct Cafe courtesy of Luscious Dips and local fish and seafood extraordinaire Hooked Inc.  There were plenty of food choices at the market and it was hard to narrow it down to just two things.  I knew I wanted something hearty to go along with my edible cabbage bowl ($4) and as soon as I saw the hot, steaming pot of fish chowder at Hooked’s station, I knew I had my lunch decided.  The fish chowder ($5) was a savoury, flavourful, spicy (but not too spicy) mix of celery, sweet potatoes, carrots, greens, and big, chunks of flaky fish and it was like winter cabin comfort food in a cup.  It was incredibly filling and satisfying and unlike anything I’d had before.  I really loved the broth and could totally see myself enjoying the chowder with some crusty bread or as filling in a fish taco.  I had been craving fish chowder for weeks prior to the market so it was like my food prayers were being answered!   

My lovely edible cabbage bowl full of bright veggies and vegan dip balanced out the heartiness of the soup and brightened up my palate.  My cabbage bowl was stuffed with cucumber slices, julienned red bell peppers, a big dollop of Luscious Dips’ vegan beet hummus dip, and a handful of delicious corn chips made by Mad Mexican, a business in the west end of Toronto specializing in wholesome, all-natural Mexican food products.  Jesse of Luscious Dips always has Mad Mexican’s fabulous corn chips on hand with her at the markets and depending on the market, you can pick up a bag of them at her table.  The edible cabbage hummus bowls are absolute genius.  It’s healthy and less wasteful save for a napkin that you may or may not end up using.  And it just looks beautiful.

Thanks to my lunch, I have become absolutely obsessed with Jesse’s dips!  They are amazing and I cannot stop thinking about grabbing containers of each and every single flavour she makes!  Knowing how much my mum loves beets, I purchased a container of the beet hummus ($5) to take home and embarrassingly enough, I’ve been chomping at the bit more than she has.  It is so delicious and so versatile.  You can use it as a dip for raw vegetables, for nachos, for tortillas, or as a sandwich spread.  This past weekend, I made myself a vegetarian sandwich using baby spinach, avocado, and mozzarella cheese and spread the beet hummus on my bread and oh my goodness it was absolute heaven.  So much so that I accidentally just typed the word “hummus” in place of heaven, realized my mistake and backspaced to fix it.  Oops.  I’m totally head over heels for the stuff and I am ecstatic to see what Jesse brings to the next market.  

I loved my lunch and I’m so excited to see what other menu items and fresh eats all the vendors will bring in the coming markets.  My sights are set on Earth & City’s nut burgers, more dips, Chocosol’s tortillas, and maybe a pie from Yorktown Pie Company.  The possibilities are looking delicious and endless.

*****

The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The markets are from 11:30am-1:30pm and the newest market is located at the ING Direct Cafe at 221 Yonge Street at the corner of Yonge & Shuter across the street from the Eaton Centre every Thursday.

Lunch Just Became A Whole Lot More Delicious Downtown – Lunchtime Office Markets at ING Direct Cafe!

6 Comments

The dining selections for lunch in the downtown core just became a whole lot more mouthwatering: a new lunchtime market has made its way into the heart of downtown Toronto and they’re serving up hot and fresh, local food that’s ready to eat!  The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives are expanding beyond their Centre for Social Innovation roots and settling into the hustle and bustle of one of Toronto’s busiest neighbourhoods.  With Yonge-Dundas Square to the north, Eaton Centre to the west, Ryerson University to the east, and the financial district to the south, the newest market location has taken residence at the corner of Yonge and Shuter Street, right inside the new ING Direct Cafe.  The ING Direct Cafe is a special, multi-purpose retail space that functions as an innovative financial and banking space, a community space, and a kitchen space all in one.   

In a nutshell, ING Direct is a Canadian banking and financial institution whose mandate is to provide its clients with financial services and products that are innovative, low-cost, convenient, and in tune with current technologies.  The ING Direct Cafe is one of its newest innovations and its goal is to bring community groups and local businesses together, and to present residents in the area with an open-concept banking space to make financial decisions, to learn more about financial alternatives, and to contribute to local charities and causes through partnerships and cafe sales.  In addition, all cafes have free wi-fi and mobile devices that allow anyone and everyone to test out new products, and do online and mobile banking on the go.

The partnership between ING Direct and the Lunchtime Office Markets makes so much sense because they possess many of the same values and goals.  The Lunchtime Office Markets are expanding to accomodate the growing need for healthy, affordable food options in and around working environments.  Let’s face it: not everyone brings a lunch to work.  Call it personal preference, call it a lack of resources in the work environment (a lack of refridgerator, microwave, or food storage); either way, many purchase their lunch in and around their place of work.  Often, workers are either faced with unhealthy options, unaffordable options, a combination of both, or no options at all.  Thus, the premise behind the Lunchtime Office Market is to fill a void and to provide choices for those who otherwise may not have any. 

How do the office markets base their decision on where to locate?  Let’s be clear about one thing: a worthy working environment is not defined by the number of high-rolling business executives that exist in the area.  The office markets were a pilot project that began in October 2011 at both Centre for Social Innovation locations to gauge the level of interest and response to this new food and farmers’ market model.  Since, the market has taken on a life of its own and has started expanding.  

However, the goal has remained the same: to provide neighbourhoods and institutions with good, wholesome food.  The office markets want to target high-traffic areas, schools, office buildings, and many others that have a dispropriate percentage of people who may lack the resources or the time to get their hands on good food.  The newest location at Yonge & Shuter targets college and university students who need affordable, healthy options, retail workers in and around the area who want a fresh change from the food court selection, and office workers who need something quick and convenient (trying to nab an elevator from the 25th floor during the busy lunch hour could take 10 minutes in and of itself!).

This past Thursday, the market rolled out its first big appearance at its new location at 11:30am and it did not disappoint!  We had Sara’s fresh baked bread from Nice Buns; Earth & City’s savoury raw, vegan delights; vegan dips and organic edible hummus bowls from Luscious Dips; savoury pies and pastries from Yorkton Pies; seafood, samples, and oysters from Hooked; tortillas and raw chocolate from Chocosol; market fruits and vegetables from Fresh City Farms; and Augie’s gourmet soups and stews. 

I was ready to roll for lunch and with camera in hand, I captured many of the delicious eats available for lunch that day.  Augie’s table had jars and jars of premade soup and stew to go (great for reheating at home!) along with a lunch menu of roast parsnip, beet, and green apple soup, and a hearty Ontario pork and beef winter stew over sticky rice.  Fresh City Farms brought bright colour with their crates of oranges, apples, pears, onions, potatoes, kale, tomatoes, shallots, carrots, cranberries, and cauliflower, and Hooked brought the sea with them with a fabulous assortment of packaged seafood, samples, shucked oysters (a buck a shuck!), and a steaming pot of fresh seafood chowder.

Sara’s table was overflowing with her mouthwatering cocoa sourdough buns, herb n’ onion fougasse, fluffy white bread buns, apple walnut cinnamon buns, carrot cake slices with chocolate chips, and gluten-free focaccia, while Jesse had a vibrant display of her edible veggie hummus bowls and vegan hummus dips.  Finally, Eric’s Yorktown Pie Company had trays of the most adorable golden mini pies and pastries, and Cassandra and Lisa’s Earth & City had a beautiful, colourful array of their famous spring roll wraps, nut n’ seed burgers, and flatbread sandwiches and bundles.

What did I end up enjoying for lunch?  You’ll just have to sit tight and wait for those goods tomorrow 😉

******

The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The markets are from 11:30am-1:30pm and the newest market is located at the ING Direct Cafe at 221 Yonge Street at the corner of Yonge & Shuter across the street from the Eaton Centre every Thursday.