Bring On the Chinese Street Food and Diners – Curry Fish Ball Spaghetti!

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Break out the Chinese street meat because it’s curry fish ball time!  Curry fish balls and I have a long history and we’ve made some wonderful foodie memories together over the years.  In a nutshell, curry fish balls are a popular snack in Chinese street food culture and they are often served on a stick in sets of five or any other number the vendor happens to be selling them at.  They are covered in spicy curry sauce that is absolutely delicious, and depending on the consistency of the sauce, you’ll usually get a little container to hold them while you eat them off the skewer so the sauce doesn’t drip all over the place.  And by that, I mean all over your hands and clothes! 

In addition to fish balls, there are beef, pork, crab, and lobster balls and they’re all available to buy in Chinese supermarkets.  I’ve enjoyed them in their traditional Chinese street meat form on a skewer (and we all know how gaga many of us are over food served on a stick!), I’ve ordered these on a whim in Chinese malls as my afternoon snack (and loved every minute of it), and have even witnessed some high school friends selling homemade ones at school for a business project!

Even though I’ve never experienced Chinese street food culture in Hong Kong or China firsthand, I have had the pleasure of enjoying many of the foods in the comfort of my own home since I was a little girl.  I would eat them whenever my family and I would do Chinese hotpot, and my mum would go grocery shopping at some of the Chinese supermarkets and pick up fresh fish paste and fish balls.  She would either make them into crispy fish cakes or put them in soup broth to hang out with my soup noodles.  One of my favourite Chinese comfort foods growing up was a warm bowl of ramen noodles in soup with green onions, and dumplings, wontons, or fish, beef, or pork balls with a little red vinegar drizzled over top.  This meals still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy till this day.    

Even though I’m no stranger to the Chinese fish paste and fish ball market, I don’t eat curry fish balls very often and I almost always take advantage of the opportunity to have them when I can.  Enter my beloved Chinese and HK style diners, specifically the one my family and I have grown to be quite fond of over the past couple of months: Ho Garden Chinese Restaurant located in the plaza at Woodbine and 16th Ave. in Markham.  From the outside, Ho Garden looks completely unassuming.  I can say for a fact that unless you went right up to the front window and saw the large poster advertising some of their HK style dishes, you wouldn’t know what was inside.  Often times, diners will have big front windows so that those from the outside can easily see how busy it is inside with customers eating, dishes of food on the tables, tall glasses of drinks, the whole bit.    Ho Garden is a little different because their front window is much higher up which doesn’t allow you to see customers inside enjoying their food, and for another, the restaurant signage up in thr front isn’t flashy and could easily be missed.

Hainanese Chicken Rice (Ho Nam Gai Fan)

Baked Seafood Spaghetti

Ho Garden is often very busy though and one of the draws is its location.  Being a part of the large plaza with a number of dining options, at a busy intersection (it’s literally seconds away from the highway exit), and surrounded by a huuuge residential neighbourhood, has attracted a local neighbourhood which just continues to grow.  You would think that the other dining establishments would pose some stiff competition but the beauty of it is that the plaza’s offerings are so different and multi-faceted that they really don’t step on each other’s toes.  You have a Greek restaurant, an AYCE sushi restaurant, a wings and ribs sports bar, an ice cream shop, a pizza shop, a Chinese congee, rice, and noodle restaurant, and a coffee shop, literally all inhabiting the same space.  Which works perfectly for me because this foodie paradise isn’t too far from home! 

Another one of the enticing draws is the price range of food.  Now, Chinese and HK style diners aren’t all that expensive to begin with (ordering a dinner meal and a drink that comes up to less than or around $10 is awesomesauce in my book), but Ho Garden does one better by offering plenty of meals for $4-$6 and combo meal sets that come with a main, a drink, and a soup for around $7-$8.  Granted, of course there are more expensive menu items, but those cater to the large family crowd with dishes such as multiple course dinners, whole steamed fish, and several others.

I saw curry fish ball rice/spaghetti on the menu and for the first time in goodness knows how long, I didn’t need to pull my hair out over deciding what I wanted to order.  Done and done.  Finally I wasn’t the last one to decide what she wanted to eat!  I love spaghetti to pieces and this meal didn’t disappoint at all.  It was so delicious and satisfying and I am so happy I had it.

The curry sauce was savoury and spicy (not tears-streaming-down-my-face spicy, but definitely “Ooo, my tastebuds just got punched and my cheeks feel a bit warm now” spicy), the fish balls were super soft and moist with great flavour (they can have a tendency to taste rubbery), and the chunks of potato mingling with the fish balls were fantastic.  Many Chinese curry dishes include potatoes (such as my classic favourite Chinese Portuguese chicken dish, and my dad’s classic favourite, curry beef brisket) and I absolutely LOVE it when they use nice starchy potatoes because they hold up really well in sauce.  They were yummy and they absorbed and sopped up the curry sauce real good!

Even though Phoenix will always hold the number 1 spot in my foodie heart, the food at Ho Garden is great and I have yet to be disappointed with anything that I’ve eaten here.  The portions and prices are terrific, there’s a good selection of HK style and Cantonese dishes, and it’s a great local place to have a wholesome good meal.

*****

Ho Garden Chinese restaurant is located at 9255 Woodbine Ave. at the corner of Woodbine and 16th Ave. in Markham.  They serve and are open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea time, and dinner.

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The Fall Harvest Series – Sweet Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes and Chai Lattes on Main Street Unionville

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Hands cupped around a warm mug.  The smell of baked goods and comfort food wafting through the air, with the tastes enveloping your tastebuds in happy delight.  The sight of reds, oranges, yellows, and golds just bursting before your eyes.  The feeling of coolness and crispness in the air as you listen to the crunch of fallen leaves under your feet.  When I think of fall, I envision sights, smells, and tastes that tickle my inspiration; fall is a beautiful season that ignites the senses.  It makes me think of my first trip to the apple orchard as a kid, all the times I skipped through leaves at the park, the family trips I went on to see the changing colours, the pumpkins I carved with my aunt and uncle, and of course, the food!  I’ll never forget the amazing Thanksgiving feast my aunt put out when I was 10, the apple cider and warm drinks I had in the company of friends, and my memories of eating pumpkin pie for the first time.  In a nutshell, fall for me is comfort and nostalgia at its finest. 

One of my favourite neighbourhoods to enjoy the fall season in is Main Street Unionville in Markham, where I live.  Having lived in Markham for 13 years, I have memories of doing fun things here from every season and I will never grow tired of strolling through the old-town, Victorianesque streets, visiting the library, and ambling through the parks and pond.  When I think about taking photos of colourful leaves in the area, it gets me all excited because it’s just that beautiful.  I am so lucky to have such a scenic neighbourhood nearby to enjoy both the green (or rather red, orange, and yellow this time of year!) space and the yummies!  Photographing pretty trees, curling up with a hot drink, and having a sweet treat – now that’s the kind of fall day I love!

After going bananas during my first visit to Old Firehall Confectionery back in August, I was dying to see whether or not there were seasonal treats.  I know, I know, it’s a mecca of sugar and spice and everything nice so of course they would have seasonal desserts!  But I had to be sure.  So I went.  And internally squealed.  Fall desserts!  Pumpkin pie tarts, maple pecan tarts, maple cupcakes, and apple cinnamon cupcakes!  YES!  Where you find new flavours of cupcakes, you will find Deb.  That’s just how it works.  The devil on my shoulder wanted one of everything, but the angel on the other shoulder rolled her eyes and said no because dinner was coming in another two and a half hours.  I picked out one apple cinnamon cupcake ($2.89).  So the angel won.  This time.  The cupcake needed a friend though, so I paired it up with a nice warm drink from Timothy’s World Coffee down the street.  I plan these things out.  I’m nothing if not resourceful.

Even though I consider myself a wuss in the presence of a hot drink (I’m the one who sits there and gingerly pokes at the mug or cup to see if my fingertip gets hot before taking a tiny cautious sip), there’s nothing like the feeling of holding a warm drink in your hands with the sun shining at you through a window.  A drink that smells so good it makes you forget how afraid you are of hot liquids.  Enter the apple chai latte!  Timothy’s has two new fall drinks on their fall seasonal menu, including the apple chai latte and the chocolate pumpkin spice lattebene (I KNOW, holy schmoly.  You can bet I’ll be coming back for that one).  Back in August, I made it a mission to try as many fall-related drink out there once all the seasonal stuff hit, so there I was happily sprinkling ground cinnamon and nutmeg into my mug and taking careful sips (or maybe slurps) as I admired my apple cinnamon cupcake. 

Delicious drink with an even more delicious cupcake!  After all these years, I’ve never actually taken advantage of seasonal drinks much, so I was really happy that this one was so yummy.  The chai flavour came out crystal clear with a zing and it smelled divine with the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg.  If you’re looking for a flavour comparision between apple cider and the apple chai latte, the chai latte is a lot less tart and the apple flavour is more blended and nuanced in it.  It’s wonderful.

And the cupcake!  The lemon cupcake I had during my first visit was yummy, but jeebus, the apple cinnamon one blew that experience out of the water.  This cupcake was SO creamy and moist and I almost shoved the whole thing in my mouth.  I like to savour my food and make my food last by taking small bites, but all resolve was lost on this sweet morsel of goodness.  The frosting was amazing.  It was thick (not thick as in paste-like, but thick as in not whippd cream-like), rich, and creamy with the perfect amount of cinnamon spice and apple flavour.  The cinnamon flavour wasn’t overkill and there were some apple crisp and nut crumbles on the frosting that give the cupcake a scrumptious bite of crunch. 

It’s a season that I relish in, not just for its natural beauty, but also for the happy nostalgia it brings.  Looking back makes me that much more excited to look forward to even more awesome things to come.

*****

Old Firehall Confectionery is located at 170 Main Street in the historic Main Street Unionville neighbourhood between Carlton Rd. and Hwy 7.  The dessert haven is located between Carlton Rd. and Fred Varley Drive.  Main Street is located just east of Kennedy Rd.  Timothy’s World Coffee is located just a few shops down the street from Old Firehall Confectionery.

Beauty and the Bubble Tea – Red Bean Mocha and Green Tea Noodles at Ten Ren’s Tea Time, Part II

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When you come to Ten Ren’s, you realize right off the bat that they take their tea seriously.  Their selection is mind-boggling with everything from fruity bubble teas with tapioca pearls, green, black, and oolong teas with fresh fruit, milk and ice, fruit ices, fruit slushes, coconut milk teas, horoscope drinks, and a plethora of hot teas including ginseng, chysanthemum, blooming flower blossoms and herbal combinations in charming tea pots. 

Think mango, peach, strawberry, mocha, coconut, taro, red bean, banana, grape, lychee, passionfruit, peppermint, kiwi, lemon, green apple, honey, grapefruit, almond, papaya, watermelon…and everything in between.  You wouldn’t expect anything less from a sit down tea house.  What you might not know is that they also do FOOD very well.  Each time I come to Ten Ren’s, I’m reminded all over again why I love it so much.  I am head over heels for their desserts (especially their cute little cakes) and their warm bowls of steamed rice and noodles are a warm, familiar comfort.

Ten Ren’s and I go way back and I love this place to pieces.  For one thing, it’s a gorgeous place to be in.  It’s open and spacious with high ceilings, bamboo and wooden accents, large windows, traditional Chinese scrolls and ink drawings on both the walls and glass, soothing neutral colours, and trinkling water fountains.  It’s so wonderfully relaxing having a meal here.  Ten Ren’s has this peaceful, soothing tranquility to it much like King’s Cafe in Kensington Market; it’s like being in a food spa and the atmosphere adds so much to the dining experience here because you don’t feel rushed, or confined, or caught up in the hustle and bustle.  You relax and you enjoy.  And if you order a teapot of blooming flower blossom tea, you sit back and quietly watch your blossom and tea do its thing as it gingerly opens up.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Ten Ren’s food is a fusion of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese with many items infused with tea.  They have steamed rice and noodles with both meat (fish, chicken, beef, and pork) and vegetarian options.  Meat items are things like curry beef, spare ribs, breaded fish fillets, seafood dumplings, black pepper chicken, crispy chicken, pork and chicken cutlets, and bbq meat (siu lap).  Vegetarian items include lots of steamed Chinese vegetables (gai lan, for example), pickled vegetables, tofu, cabbage, winter melon, Chinese style boiled eggs (cha yeep daan and soy sauce eggs), and others.

It’s one of those perfect places for a bubble tea date, a drinks and dessert date, and a lunch or dinner date.  Basically, for any part of the day except breakfast!  This is one of their strengths though because when you come here, you’re not obligated or relegated to having an actual hearty meal.  You can come in here with a friend or group of friends and just have a drink, or just order a soup or dessert.  You don’t feel that pressure to order whatever you don’t want to order because their menu is flexible.  This also means that you decide on how much you want to spend.  Granted, you obviously decide how much you want to spend any time you dine out, but you get what I mean.  When you go to certain places you KNOW that you’ll be putting down $20, for example. 

At Ten Ren’s your meal could be anywhere from $4-$20.  Drinks can be be anywhere from $3-$8 (don’t forget, this price range includes pots of tea as well), desserts come in at $4-$6, and food will run you an average of $3-$15.  Lesser expensive items include soups, steamed rice, dumpling dishes, and small mains.  Mid-range food items ($6-$10) are dishes like bowls of soup noodles, larger rice dishes, and things like sharing plates.  At the highest end of the price range are the $13.99 and $14.99 meal sets (combos) that include a main, a drink, and a dessert from a list of choices.  In a nutshell, I’d say an actual “food” meal would come to around $10-$12 because you could honestly mix and match menu items till the sun comes up.

The last time I was here, my longtime friend Katrina from The Demure Muse and I had ourselves a summer bubble tea and lunch date.  I love this girl.  I have known her for nearly 7 years now and she’s one of the few people in my life that I can yak about everything with, from clothes to food to crafting to relationships.  Throughout those 7 years, we were all over the place with both work and school and I feel so lucky to have her as my friend because we never once lost touch and we always had each other’s backs and I can say with certainty that we always will.  We both ordered bubble teas and food and it was actually a first for the both of us but for different reasons.  It was Kat’s first time ordering “food” food at Ten Ren’s and it was my first time ordering noodles.  And I am happy to report back and say that I loved my noodles and enjoyed a bubble tea I wasn’t sure I would enjoy!

Remember how I said I’ve never been the biggest fan of red bean?  And remember how I said that I’ve recently changed my tune and have been purposely eating red bean things so that I would increasingly warm up to it more and more?  Well, that’s what I did this time too!  It took me forever and a half to decide on a drink, but I finally settled on a red bean mocha drink with green tea matcha powder sprinkled on top.  I really enjoyed it!  Granted, I wish there was more green tea matcha, but for the most part, it was a delicious drink and I adored my giant red straw and lime green skinny spoon!  You know how I feel about colourful utensils 😀  There was a very generous amount of red bean and the mocha had a yummy coffee-mixed-with-chocolate flavour that wasn’t bitter from the coffee part of it. 

And to eat, I had myself a hot (and I mean hot as I had to take my glasses off while I ate because they were fogging up!) bowl of green tea noodles with shrimp wonton dumplings.  The green tea noodles were pale green in colour and although the herbal flavour was very subtle, they were super smooth and soft and they were scrumptious.  My shrimp dumplings were juicy and savoury and I loved the shredded seaweed and adorably shaped carrot slices.  To finish off the bowl, bean sprouts (which I actually don’t care for but ate anyway) and some lettuce and napa cabbage.  It was my first time trying their noodles and I’m looking forward to trying some others, but probably sans the bean sprouts, ha.

Ten Ren’s has given such sweet memories over the years with all the tea and lunch dates I’ve had with close friends and in many ways, I feel like this is still just the beginning.  Even after all the visits, the menu is dizzying to me all the same, so I guess that just means I’ll have to remedy that by going again.  And again.  And eating cake and drinking awesome drinks.

*****

Ten Ren’s Tea Time is located at 111 Times Ave. in Richmond Hill, Markham.  Ten Ren’s sits at the corner of Hwy 7. East and Times Ave/Valleymede Drive (Times Ave is the southern portion of the street and Valleymede is to the north of Hwy. 7).  They are open for lunch at 11am 7 days a week and they stay open into the wee hours of the morning (1am-3am).  For more info, click here.

A Mountain of Bubble Tea, Noodles, and Sweet Cakes & Desserts – It’s Tea Time at Ten Ren’s! Part I

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I love the way bubble tea gets everyone animated, excited, and talking.  There’s the ubiquitous “with or without tapioca?” question (or debate depending on how passionate you feel about this issue) and hundreds of different flavours and combinations to consider and try if you’re ambitious.  Everyone has a bubble tea story whether it’s a story about their first time trying it (and developing that love or hate relationship early on), going out with friends on countless bubble tea dates, or nearly choking on a tapioca or boba pearl from slurping too fast.  Whatever the story is, bubble tea has played a part in many of our social lives for at least the past ten years.  During high school my friends and I would even use bubble tea straws and lid domes for art projects!  I can’t pinpoint the exact moment the bubble tea explosion happened but what I can tell you is that I’ve been slurping up a storm for years now at beautiful tea houses like Ten Ren’s.

And have I ever enjoyed myself thoroughly here!  Over the years I’ve had rice and noodles, crispy fish fillets, a beautiful tea pot of blooming chrysanthemum tea, giant glasses of slushes and fruity bubble teas, and many dishes of dessert!  I am especially gaga for their little mousse cakes and freeze cakes and I’ll even be so bold to say that these are my favourite items at Ten Ren’s.  I’ve had 3 flavours of their little dishes of cakes and I am always wanting more.  They’re so cute and they’re yummy to boot with different layers of texture and flavour to them.  I’ve had their mocha freeze, mango mousse, and their strawberry green tea mousse cakes and I’ve loved all 3 of them.  Their freeze cakes are similar to ice cream cake and their mousse cakes are exactly that, cubes of whipped creamy mousse that are airy, super soft, and that are almost like meringue in taste and texture at times.  Even if I don’t end up ordering any during my visit, I always look forward to the prospect of having these in my mouth and tummy. 

Ten Ren’s Tea Time is one of my favourite places in Markham and I feel so incredibly lucky that the only dine-in, sit-down tea house location is in Markham.  Ten Ren’s has a number of locations around Markham and Toronto, but most of them are shops that either just make and serve bubble tea to go, or shops that have both bubble tea booths and a retail section of tea sets, accessories, and take-home tea.  I’ve been going to Ten Ren’s for years and I feel almost spoiled because of its accessibility.  I’ve literally hopped on the bus to and from school to meet up with friends for a tea and lunch date because the bus literally drops me off right outside their doorstep.  

Ten Ren’s is a staple in my foodie book.  The tea house is gorgeous, the menu is so extensive it makes me dizzy with indecisiveness, and I am just in love with the atmosphere and desserts.  I have a nice big, pretty post for you all tomorrow, so enjoy the teaser photos in the meantime!          

*****

Ten Ren’s Tea Time is located at 111 Times Ave. in Richmond Hill, Markham.  Ten Ren’s sits at the corner of Hwy 7. East and Times Ave/Valleymede Drive (Times Ave is the southern portion of the street and Valleymede is to the north of Hwy. 7).  They are open for lunch at 11am 7 days a week and they stay open into the wee hours of the morning (1am-3am).  For more info, click here.

Amazing Chinese Breakfasts, Rice, and Ramen Noodles – Pulling Into Our Next Stop at Station Asia!

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It really wasn’t that long ago since my first visit to Station Asia at Market Village, but looking back, it feels like a lifetime ago.  I had just started grad school, I had a short haircut that would get shorter over the months ahead, and a whole new chapter of my life had started with new friends, new people in my life, and a new outlook on what I wanted out of life.  I remember coming here for the first time during my second month of grad school in October 2008 with my best friend and I remember the chill in the air, how beautiful the fall season was, and how DELICIOUS my lunch was!  

What I really like about Station Asia is how they touch on and incorporate so many different kinds of Asian and Chinese cuisine.  It’s a Chinese style diner with a lot of ethnic diversity and variety, and sometimes these differences in cuisine are so subtle you’d only know it if you had the knowledge about the different countries and regions and if you ate enough of the differerent cuisines to know.  I know I can’t speak for all Canadian-born Asians, but growing up, I went through the trials and tribulations of being born into and raised in a Western and Asian culture simaltaneously.  Sometimes one overshadowed the other and other times one or the other felt completely foreign.  I grew up eating the EXACT same food you’d find in Station Asia, especially when I lived with my grandparents when I was first born.  My great-grandmother would make me “baby congees”, Chinese bakery buns and cakes were staples in our home, dim sum was lovingly ingrained in my tastebuds and in my heart, and I would make homemade wontons and dumplings with my grandma in her kitchen.

Food isn’t just food; it’s a part of our upbringing, our ethnic identity, and so many other facets of life.  It sounds weird, but when I eat at Station Asia, it comforts me and makes me feel like I’m outside of the box at the same time.  In other words, I can eat here and be completely familiar with much of what I eat and see, but I am also reminded of how much there is for me to know and keep learning.  I want to know more about the subtle differences in regional cuisine and I want to know more about the food I grew up on but was too young at the time to appreciate.

Station Asia is great if you want a bit of everything.  If you feel like the HK style diner dishes, they have baked rice dishes, baked fish fillets with sauce, black pepper chicken steak with rice, and a host of cold drinks including ices, slushes, and bubble teas.  They touch on Korean style bibimbap, Chinese Portuguese curry, the incredibly popular Chinese and Singaporean Hainan chicken and rice (hoi nam guy fan), spicy Malaysian style noodles, and plenty of tradtional Cantonese food including congee (or as I like to call it, rice porridge), vermicelli, stir-fried noodles, and steamed rice with lots of fish, mushrooms, preserved vegetables, chicken, beef, oysters, pork, dried scallops, black bean, and many others.  They serve breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner, and they have different menus during different mealtimes over the course of the day.

The lunch and dinner meals will run you an average of $5-$11 and they offer many of their menu items as a part of a combo which includes a soup (ba wong fa soup!), an appetizer (which could be pickled vegetables, sliced chicken, salad, or a number of other things), and a hot or cold HK style drink of your choice with an additional charge for the fancier slushes or ices.  Breakfast at Station Asia is their strong suit.  Not only do I love the menu, but I love the prices even more!  Their breakfast, if you can believe it, is around $3.50-$5!  They have a whole menu full of breakfast items for $3.80, $4.50, and $4.99 and they are fantastic because the portions are BIG for a lot of them.  Think noodles and rice and sandwiches! 

Ordering food here is also a bit different from other places because everything is written down on an order form on a piece of paper where you specify the menu item number, the quantity you want (for example, if two or three people want the same dish or drink), and specific notes such as your choice between rice, ramen, noodles, that kind of thing.  There’s a section for food and a section for drink, so all you really have to do is just note the item number because the dish and drink you want.  Easy peasy!

I’ve been to Station Asia a handful of times and my favourites have to be their baked rice dishes, their rice with seafood and sauce, their breakfasts, and their ramen noodles!  I absolutely LOVED the first dish I ever had here which was a hot stone pot of rice and seafood (prawns, scallops) with snap peas and Thousand Island dressing.  It was delicious and I would order it again in a heartbeat.  Which reminds me that I should really take note the next time I’m there and make sure they still have this item! 

 

I am also a huge fan of their ramen noodles and their different kinds.  Yes, they have different flavours of ramen noodles!  I’ve had their regular, the spinach, and the tomato and hands down, my favourite is the tomato one.  The regular is delicious too and although I enjoyed the spinach, the spinach flavour was a little lost on me and I much preferred the tomato one for its flavour.  But I have to say, ordering the spinach ramen is really fun because you get to eat green noodles, ha!  I’ve had their ramen noodle breakfast with their breaded crispy fried fish fillet and their shrimp and scrambled egg sauce.  If I was to translate that it would be “wat daan ha yun mein”.  I know, I know, my spelling is probably completely off but it’s the best I can do!

I always look forward to coming here (Pacific Mall, Market Village, Splendid China Tower, I love them all), especially for the breakfast and the tea time menus, and it’s a comfort to me knowing there’s always something new to try and old favourites to come back to.

*****

Station Asia has two locations.  One is located inside Market Village closest to the north entrace (4394 Steeles Ave. East by Kennedy Rd.) and the other is located inside Splendid China Tower, closest to the north entrance (4675 Steeles Ave. East just east of Pacific Mall and Market Village on the north side of Steeles Ave.).  They serve breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner.   

If Pudding & Custard Had a Love Child – The Lemon Square Cupcake & Its Friends at Old Firehall Confectionery, Part III

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It’s the last long weekend of summer, it’s scorching out, and I’m happily spending my weekend indoors scrapbooking, reading my apple cookbook, organizing photos and my lip gloss collection, and planning my fall activities.  If the weather didn’t threaten to melt me I’d probably be out and about, but I’m hiding and having indoor fun instead 😀  It’s been fun writing up these dessert posts the past few days and I hope you’ve all liked them.  Today marks the 3rd and last post in the 3-part series showcasing all the sweet goodies at the popular Main Street Unionville hangout, Old Firehall Confectionery.   

Ahh, Old Firehall, home of macarons, truffles, bricks of fudge, different flavours of soft-serve ice cream, and their signature square cupcakes.  Wait…what?  SQUARE cupcakes?!  Yes, cute square cupcakes with beautiful, thick creamy frosting, fillings, and toppings!  These cupcakes are beautiful with their domes of perfectly swirled frosting ribbons and because of their shape, quite unique!  I don’t know if there are other cupcakeries around the city that make square cupcakes, but it’s the first time I’ve seen square ones and I’m very delighted. 

The cupcakes here come in two sizes: small ($2.89) and large ($3.99).  If you plan on having this as a dessert after a meal or an afternoon snack, stick with the small ones because the small sizes are actually the size of a regular at other cupcakeries.  A large is not for the faint of heart.  When I looked at the large ones, I thought, “good lord, that thing eats like a meal!  But it would be good for sharing…hmm”.  There are, however, differences between the small and large and it has to do with the special surprise inside the cupcake.  The large cupcakes have creamy ganache fillings inside whereas the small ones don’t.  I’m uncertain about seasonal flavours, but Old Firehall has 8 flavours of cupcakes on their everyday menu.  These include Choko Chocolate, Lemonicious, Heavenly Vanilla, Peanut Butter, Red Velvet, Cookies & Cream, Sweet Strawberry, and Pina Colada.  Broken down, this is what you can expect from each cupcake:

  • The Choko Chocolate is a chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream and a white and dark chocolate striped topper with chocolate filling in the large. 
  • The Heavenly Vanilla is a vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream, a chocolate topper, and rainbow sprinkles with vanilla cream filling in the large
  • The Peanut Butter one is a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter cream and peanut butter chips with peanut butter filling in the large 
  • The Red Velvet cupcake has red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, a red heart chocolate topper, red velvet cake crumbles, and a cream cheese filling in the large
  • The Cookies & Cream cupcake is a chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream, crushed Oreo cookie pieces, and a vanilla filling in the large
  • The Sweet Strawberry one is a vanilla cupcake with strawberry buttercream, a white chocolate topper, and a strawberry filling in the large
  • The Pina Colada cupcake has vanilla cake with pineapple buttercream, toasted coconut flakes, and a coconut cream filling in the large

Now, did you notice a flavour missing in that list?  Lemonicious!  The lovely sweet citrus dessert is a vanilla cupcake with lemon buttercream and a sweet and sour lemon gummy candy topper.  I chose a small one to go along with the peanut butter and jelly macaron I picked out and you can bet I had a hard time choosing which one I wanted.  I am looking forward to all future visits to Old Firehall, but I am telling you, my indecisive mind is going to be stymied and absolutely fried after all those dessert runs.  It was hard enough deciding on a macaron and a cupcake.  I then had to go through the excruciating task of choosing which macaron and cupcake I wanted.  The sprinkles from the vanilla cupcake was giving me looks and the pina colada was right beside it, silently calling out.  Maybe next time I’ll get them both and call it a day.  Woe is me.

My lemon cupcake was wonderful.  Was it the best of the best of every lemon cupcake I’ve ever eaten?  Well, no, but I enjoyed it very much nevertheless.  The vanilla cake is very standard; soft enough that it isn’t crumbly, but not so soft that it could hold a contest with some of the other pillow soft ones I’ve tried elsewhere.  In a nutshell, tasty with a great vanilla flavour, but not something to write home about because it tastes like what it should taste like and nothing more. 

However, the buttercream on the cupcakes here is really different and for me, this is what makes this cupcake.  It’s incredible how many different styles of frosting and buttercream I’ve come across, and the lemon cupcake I nom nomed on had a buttercream that was noticeably different from the first bite.  It’s light, whippy, creamy, and soft and if custard and pudding had a love child, this would be it.  I have never had a buttercream or frosting that tasted like this.  The texture is just different and it’s like amazing lemon pudding but creamier and thicker.  The lemon flavour is bang on and it has that juicy, zesty lemon flavour that’s indicative of citrusy summer goodness.  Oh, and the lemon candy.  PERFECT touch.  The buttercream and gummy candy complement one another and the candy goes so far as even enhancing the juicy lemon flavour in the buttercream.  Lemon yum-yumness 😀 

When my best friend told me that I would love Old Firehall, she wasn’t lying.  I still feel a bit put off that I didn’t know about this shop earlier, but my feelings have been soothed since.  You know, by the sweet treats.  Really though, I can’t believe what a powerhouse they are when it comes to offering desserts in almost every form you can think of.  It’s just perfect for so many different occasions.  Candies for goody bags, truffles and chocolates for a bit of luxury and indulgence (and also for fancy gifts!), and ice cream for dates, romantic or otherwise.  There’s truly something for everyone here, and in my case, multiple somethings.

*****

Old Firehall Confectionery is located at 170 Main Street in the historic Main Street Unionville neighbourhood between Carlton Rd. and Hwy 7.  The dessert haven is located between Carlton Rd. and Fred Varley Drive.  Main Street is located just east of Kennedy Rd.

Dainty, Colourful, and All Sorts of Yummy – The Macarons at Old Firehall Confectionery, Part II

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I feel so blessed having access to so many delicious eats.  I spend a lot of time in the city, but really, I’ve spent most of my life growing up in the suburbs and bouncing back and forth has sometimes made me temporarily forget about the treasures that surround me closest to home.  As you explore you learn that, yes, Toronto has some amazing stuff that you can’t get in the suburbs (case in point: in Markham, the AYCE sushi greatly outnumbers the simple sushi lunch sit-down spots with the regular menu.  AYCE is great for families and gatherings, but not so much for a single person who want to have a quick and inexpensive lunch), but you also learn that there are gems right under your nose that are simply irreplaceable.  For instance, Markham has waaaay more HK style diners and nobody holds a candle to my turkey sandwiches at the Raymerville Deli & Bakery.  Which is way I feel incredibly lucky.  I was born in the east end of Toronto, spent most of my childhood in Scarborough, and have grown up into adulthood in Markham, all the while spending as much of my free time as I could -and can- in the city. 

The Old Firehall Confectionery is located in a neighbourhood very near and dear to my heart: Main Street Unionville.  I love the feeling I get when I spend time here, especially during the fall.  When there’s that awesome nip in the air, everything is just more beautiful, more peaceful.  It’s a beautiful neighbourhood and I don’t think I spend enough time here.  I have SO many wonderful memories of being around this area.  I rememeber doing science projects at Toogood Pond with friends in the 10th grade, spending countless hours at Unionville Library (I wore out their Nancy collection), having lunch at Jake’s Pub & Grille (their halibut melt is amazing), enjoying a little retail therapy at Blossom (quite possibly my most favourite place to blow treat money in Markham), taking pictures of the beautiful fountain behind the library, and strolling through Toogood Pond and park.  And this summer, I found one more reason to love Main Street Unionville even more: the dessert utopia known as Old Firehall Confectionery.

Today’s sweet treat focus: macarons!!  My eyes just lit up when I saw these delicate morsels of yumminess.  So colourful and perfect and gorgeous.  And not over the top expensive either.  At $1.99 a piece, the prices are pretty average and expected in comparison to other patisseries.  Old Firehall has a bounty of different flavours that they rotate through on daily basis.  Their menu is split into two categories: classic and specialty flavours.  Their classic menu includes chocolate, raspberry, green tea, lavender, cassis (black currant), praline, orange, and chocolate mint.  Their specialty flavours are super special, with flavour combos I’ve never seen at other places.  These include strawberry balsamic, lemon thyme, pina colada, mango passion, white sesame, salted caramel, and peanut butter and jelly. 

I tip my hat to all bakers who make macarons because it couldn’t have been easy with the level of humidity we’ve had this summer.  Macarons are supposed to have light, airy, and crispy meringue shells and with the summer we’ve been having, I’m sure there were many a batch that either turned out soggy or just plain collapsed with the dense humidity.

Knowing how indecisive I am, you can imagine how difficult it was to choose just one.  And you can also imagine how excruciating it was to choose which desserts I wanted to eat at Old Firehall.  I mean, holy mother of pearl, there was ice cream, truffles, fudge, cupcakes, cookies drizzled with fudge, and oodles of other things.  I convinced myself to only try two things and then I further convinced myself that those two things would be one macaron and one cupcake.  I exercised a lot of self-restrain; be proud.  I lovingly chose a peanut butter and jelly macaron.  Peanut butter and jelly makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  At the age of 3, 4, and 5, I loved coming home from kindergarten to a little peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut into quarters and the combo still earns happy fists from me till this day.

For this macaron, the top and bottom shell mimicked a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a pale cocoa brown top and a fuschia purple-y pink bottom and the filling…oh the filling.  The meringue shells were great, but the filling totally made this macaron with its two layers of sweetness.  One layer was a thick, creamy caramel peanut butter and the other was a sweet, fruity strawberry jam that was absolutely delightful.  The combination of sweet fruitiness with that subtle salty, savouriness from the peanut butter hits you when you bite into and the let flavours hang out on your tastebuds.  I know some people have a tendency to eat fast and gulp stuff down, but with this one, you have to let it melt in your mouth and zing around your tongue to get the full effect and trust me, it is so worth it because it’s SO good.  I was so happy eating this because it tasted EXACTLY like a PBJ sandwich, only much more decadent.

It was so cute getting my little desserts to take away.  My little macaron was put into a little cello baggy and closed with an Old Firehall Confectionery sticker and I was a given a special Old Firehall paper shopping bag for both my cupcake and macaron.  In case you’re wondering, I kept the bag, ha.  I’m so looking forward to trying more flavours (especially the orange, chocolate mint, and a host of the specialty flavours like lemon thyme, pina colada, and mango passion!) and you can look forward to another sweet post tomorrow to end off this 3-part series: cupcakes!

******

Old Firehall Confectionery is located at 170 Main Street in the historic Main Street Unionville neighbourhood between Carlton Rd. and Hwy 7.  The dessert haven is located between Carlton Rd. and Fred Varley Drive.  Main Street is located just east of Kennedy Rd.