Falling In Love With Coriander “Ping Gai” Chicken (and Lemon Coconut Cake!) at Queen Mother Cafe

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Chocolate is a wonderful thing for more reasons than one.  For starters, it makes a mean mousse.  And for another, it made me blog again (thanks, Hershey’s!).  I know that you all know that I’ve been away for nearly half a year.  6 months.  None of my breaks have ever lasted that long and truth be told, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to blog again until after the new year, if at all.  But here I am and it’s all thanks to chocolate for giving me the kick in the pants I really needed to come back.

I’ll write a little more about my being away closer to the end of the month, but for the time being I just want to enjoy this little window of Christmas magic that I’ve carved out for myself because really, these two weeks (this past week and the coming one) are arguably the best weeks in this entire year for me.  It’s been one of the very few glimpses of light in an otherwise dark and unhappy year, especially the latter half while I was away from here.  So I am soaking everything in even more than usual (I’m not kidding, I’ve been looking at all the photos I’ve taken multiple times a day to relive the happiness) and keeping these sweet memories close to me for as long as I can.

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So, onto some really yummy eats.  You know what I discovered about myself during my time away from blogging?  That I really don’t mind eating the same thing from the same place twice in a row.  Or even three times.  Or four.  Which is probably very surprising to many people because I’m always tooting my horn about how much I love working my way through a menu and trying new things and keeping things new and exciting.  Blah, blah, blah.  I changed my tune just a tiny bit in relation to certain places and foods.  You’ll understand EXACTLY what I mean when I get around to making my ginormous ramen noodle house post in the very near future (really, I think I’m going to shock the pants off some people with what I’ll be revealing) but for now, I thought I’d talk a little bit about one of my favourite restaurants in the city, Queen Mother Cafe on Queen Street West.

To refresh everyone’s memories, I wrote my foodie love letter about them almost a year ago here and have loved them ever since.  (Note: their menu does change every so often, so as a note, their quinoa meatloaf burger is no longer on it, unfortunately!  But their quinoa salad is still there.)  Their food, their cake, everything.  Especially their Ping Gai.  Their fan-freakin’-tastic Ping Gai.

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You need this in your life (so long as you are not vegetarian).  You have not tasted awesome chicken until you have tasted this dish.  It’s a big, beautiful piece of boneless chicken marinated in garlic, coriander, and peppercorns and grilled to absolute crispy perfection served with white rice and dressed mixed salad greens ($13.95).  And the lime and coriander dipping sauce that accompanies this luscious chicken?  Good enough to drink.

This dish is comfort, heartiness, freshness, and savouriness all in one.  It’s so filling but light at the same time in the sense that you don’t feel weighed down afterward.  It fills you from the inside out in that happy, warm and full feeling, and the flavours just have that pop that makes it different from anything else I’ve tried.  The chicken is tender and juicy and the grilled crispy skin with that great garlic spiced crust is just divine.  This dish is so good, so delicious, it makes you not want to eat anything else on the menu (except cake), not because the other menu items aren’t mouthwatering too, but because it’s just than damn good.  It is SO hard to resist.  I look at the menu and I feel like there is this ridiculous magnetic pull towards it, that I need to literally pull myself away from that choice to consciously make another one from the menu.

So in a nutshell, I am guilty of having this more than once.  And I can honestly say that I would die happy having only this from Queen Mother for the rest of my life.

Yup.

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Variety is the spice of life though, so I’ve also included in this post some photos of one of their daily specials (which obviously changes daily), their butternut squash agnolotti pasta, and photos of cake.  Because you can’t eat at Queen Mother without having cake.  It’s a sin if you don’t.  And you want to be good, right?

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Their butternut squash agnolotti pasta was a delicious dish of stuffed pasta (think ravioli but half moons instead of squares) bathed in a creamy tomato sauce with snow peas, arugula, and asparagus with a healthy sprinkling of yummy parmesan cheese on top.  And the cake in question was a heavenly slice of lemon coconut: layers of vanilla and lemon cake with cream cheese frosting and shredded coconut.  Hello, happiness.  I would have this cake again in a heartbeat because the consistency of the cream cheese frosting was perfect and the cake was soft and moist.  And it’s lemon coconut, duh!  Their cake selection changes all the time but rest assured that there is something for everyone: chocolate cake, fruit cake, nut cakes, cheesecakes, mousse cakes, layered cakes, pick a cake.

So, the next time you’re here, I hope you try the Ping Gai dish and enjoy it as much as I do.  With cake.  Because you know it’s a must.

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*****

Queen Mother Cafe is located at 208 Queen Street West in the downtown core just steps away from Osgoode subway station, situated between St. Patrick Street and Duncan Street.  They are opened 7 days a week, serving lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (11:30 am to 1 am) and weekend brunch and dinner on Sundays (11:30 am to midnight 12 am).  You can visit their official website HERE to view their info and menu.

All Hail the Breakfast Hash! Mushroom Gravy & Fried Eggs – Weekend Brunch at The Gladstone Hotel on Queen/”Queer” Street West

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I was going to save this post for early July but given how I just watched Michael Symon and Daphne Oz make mouthwatering breakfast hashes on The Chew earlier today and how I’m totally smitten with the street name change of Queen Street West to Queer Street West in honour of World Pride and Pride Week here in the city, I decided I would post these photos today instead.  So, to celebrate amazing breakfast hashes and “Queer” Street West (gosh, this is never going to get old), I present to you all weekend brunch at the Gladstone Hotel!  This is Ate by Ate’s 2nd post on weekend brunch at the Gladstone (check out the 1st one HERE) and I’m hoping that I’ll get to post many more in the future because I’ve enjoyed both my experiences here so much.

The Gladstone Hotel’s weekend brunch menu (served on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am-4pm in the Gladstone Cafe) changes every so often with new and different dishes which is why both of my posts are unique from each other.  It’s totally worth it to go back for repeat visits.  Even if the menu was the same, I would still come back (if I love a place, one visit is never enough) but for those of you who enjoy the spice of life and love new things and variety, this fits right into your wheelhouse.  The great thing about the weekend brunch menu is that while the dishes might be different from menu to menu, the selection and variety is just as great because you’ll always have those egg breakfasts, sweet dishes, and savoury plates to choose from.  The menus don’t necessarily favour one brunch category over another so you won’t ever feel like you’re stuck eating only one type of dish.

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The current weekend brunch menu features yummies like the Lumberjack (eggs, bacon, potato hash and a short stack of pancakes, $15), the Queen (and egg white and caramelized onion frittata with arugula, cheddar and multi-grain bread, $12),  the Sweetie (bread pudding French toast served with caramelized apples, maple caramel drizzle, and bacon, $10), the El Completo (fried or scrambled eggs with tomato, onion, lime and feta black beans with chorizo sausage and corn tortillas or toast, $12), and Jerk Chicken Tacos (3 spicy pulled jerk chicken tacos served with mango chutney and crunchy sweet rice and black eyed pea fritters, $13; my boyfriend ordered this one and I sampled some of those fritters with the mango chutney and oh my gosh they are to die for) among others.

I was hemming and hawing between the Sweetie and the Hash ($11), a dish featuring a red-skinned potato and onion hash smothered with vegetarian mushroom gravy and topped with a beautiful fried egg.  In other words, weekend brunch sexiness.  Two entirely different, contrasting dishes vying for my undying love and attention.  Ultimately my savoury craving won out because 1) I am a potato freak, 2) I am also a fried egg freak, and 3) I am a gravy freak.  I was drooling even before my plate came.  THAT is how you get my weekend brunch motor running and THAT is how we get our freak on!

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This dish is truly the epitome of comfort food, brunch style because the crispiness of the hash and the savouriness of the mushroom gravy just takes it to another level.  The hash, which was shaped into a giant potato patty-like pancake, was fantastic because it maintained its texture in spite of it being covered with gravy and the gravy itself was possibly the best gravy I have ever had in my life.  It was thick and so ridiculously flavourful and the actual mushrooms served with it kept the consistency from getting congealed or gummy with its juices and it kept the flavour coming in spades so everything just worked.  The egg and arugula brightened up the dish visually and offered the tastebuds something a little different to latch onto throughout the meal so that the savouriness of the hash and gravy wouldn’t get too heavy or overwhelming, with the egg being a blank canvas so to speak to absorb some of those flavours and the arugula contributing its signature peppery bitterness to break up the saltiness.

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What made this brunch even more fabulous was my drink: tea!  The Cafe offers a bunch of different loose leaf teas from Tealish including their Coconut Chai, Lemon Meringue, and Toasty Almond among other black, green and rooibos tea varieties.  For whatever reason, I didn’t order a tea during my first visit to the Gladstone nearly two years ago so I decided to order one this time.  I went with the Blueberry Lagoon since I hadn’t tried that one yet and oh my gosh, I almost jumped out of my seat when my tea came: a teapot accompanied by an adorable china tea cup!  Ohmygodohmygodohmygod.  I was not expecting that.  I was expecting just a regular cup with my loose leaf in a filter or something.  I was completely taken aback by the cuteness of it all and it made my tea-loving self so incredibly excited and happy!  And the Blueberry Lagoon tea was delicious to boot so that made me even more happy.  I was on cloud nine; a new Tealish favourite to add to my tea scrapbook!

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The Gladstone Hotel Cafe is such a nice and relaxing place to have weekend brunch (or any meal for that matter) and I love that each experience offers something new and exciting, at least for me.  I just might have to make another return visit before the end of the summer to try that Sweetie dish and to be delighted once again by another delicious meal.

*****

The Gladstone Hotel is located at 1214 Queen Street West (or Queer Street West during Pride Week!).

 

Let Us Eat Cake! Desserts and Sweet & Delicious Black and White Cake at Queen Mother Cafe!

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I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m always on the hunt for cafes that have an amazing selection of cake for dessert.  YES, CAKE.  And I don’t mean petit gateaux, I mean a honking delicious slice from a gorgeous giant round cake with layers and layers of moist cake and frosting and all the bells and whistles.  I love a fab dessert menu, but there’s nothing like the feeling of being able to walk into a place for a warm drink and a mouthwatering slice of cake without having that awkward, “um, yes, I’d like to order from the dessert menu…and um, nothing else.  Thank you!” feeling.  Off the top of my head Wanda’s Pie in the Sky (don’t let the name fool you, their cake is amazing!  Check out Ate by Ate’s posts on their famous rainbow cake and carrot cake!) in Kensington Market and Futures Bakery in the Annex are perfect places for an awesome slice of cake, especially Futures Bakery if you’re looking for selection!  Now we can add Queen Mother Cafe to the mix and I am so incredibly happy about this!

Choosing cake and dessert here is like choosing your favourite candy from the candy store: you walk right up to the counter (or in this case, the bar), look through the glass case(s) in delight, and point and say, “that one!”  At any given moment Queen Mother Cafe has about 10 different kinds of cake on hand ($5.99 a slice): cheesecakes, tortes and tarts and mile-high layer cakes are all up for grabs.  The cafe has several popular La Rocca cakes on hand alongside their beautiful and delicious housemade ones that rotate and change on a regular basis.

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During my very first visit back in late November, I ordered a slice of one of the most amazing cakes known to sweet tooth: their signature Lemon Escapade, a mountainous combination of lemon cream and frosting, vanilla cake, almonds, and the crunchiest of meringues.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen or tasted and I promise you guys I will get photos the next time; I didn’t have enough lighting where I was sitting and couldn’t take any!  But if you beat me to Queen Mother Cafe and if you see the Lemon Escapade, YOU MUST HAVE IT, I’M NOT KIDDING!

After that first time, I knew having cake at the cafe was an absolute MUST for each and every single visit thereafter and I was not disappointed the second time around.  I chose their beautiful black and white velvet layer cake, a 4-layer cake with 2 layers of vanilla and 2 layers of chocolate with sweet cream frosting all over and adorable little edible pearls on the backside (my apologies for the lack of photo on that one!  If I get around to having it again I’ll remember to take more!).  The cake was wonderfully moist and it is just the epitome of what vanilla and chocolate should be.  It seems so simplistic but to represent the classic timelessness of vanilla and chocolate in this fashion is no easy feat.  I’ve had chocolate cake that’s been too dry and vanilla cake that’s been too artificial and crumbly.  Queen Mother Cafe’s black and white cake nails it and it is truly cloud nine for your tastebuds.  Their menu delivers in both savoury and sweet departments and I am beyond excited to go back many more times to come.

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*****

Queen Mother Cafe is located at 208 Queen Street West in the downtown core just steps away from Osgoode subway station, situated between St. Patrick Street and Duncan Street.  They are opened 7 days a week, serving lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (11:30 am to 1 am) and weekend brunch and dinner on Sundays (11:30 am to midnight 12 am).  You can visit their official website HERE to view their info and menu.

Curried Chicken & Quinoa Meatloaf & Fluffy Quinoa Salad – Comfort Food from the Heart of Her Royal Highness, Queen Mother Cafe

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*Trumpets and horns tooting in the distance*  “Hear ye, hear ye!  We are gathered here today to mark the celebration of winter comfort food in the wake of the treacherous weather that has descended upon our fair land.  Winter comfort food shall not be taken lightly; it is of utmost importance that we, the masses, surround thyselves with warmth, flavour and heartiness over the coming months in efforts to warm and soothe thy soul and fill thy belly amidst snow, rain and freezing cold.  Thou shall read this post and proceed to drool over the plethora of scrumptious delights Her Royal Highness, Queen Mother Cafe, has to offer: the brightest and heartiest of salads, the most mouthwatering of sandwiches, the savouriest of pasta and noodle dishes, the most scrumptious of burgers, and the most decadent of desserts.  Take note my fellow foodies, for there is only one Royal Highness in the land.”

It’s time to cozy up to some really awesome comfort food in the downtown core on Queen Street West at Queen Mother Cafe!  After passing by this beautiful establishment (serving food in the city since 1978!) more times than I can remember over the years, I fianlly put my foot down and said, “I’m going, no more putting this off!” back at the end of November.  And after that first time, I mentally slotted Queen Mother Cafe into my top 10 favourites, just like that.  It drives me crazy (in a good way!) when I find or visit a place that I end up loving so much I want to go back over and over forever and ever.  It’s one thing to want to come back on your own, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to tell others that they MUST ALSO GO OR ELSE.

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And you all know me well enough to know that it’s rare for me to order the exact same thing from a place because 1) I like variety and 2) I can’t blog about the same dish twice so I purposely choose different things so that I’ll always have new content for Ate by Ate even though there might be one particular dish that I adore to pieces.  Well, I’m confessing that I broke my own rule because I actually went back in December and ordered the same thing because IT WAS THAT AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS.  I didn’t order a salad the first time though and I ordered a different dessert so at least I did that!

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There are so many things to love about Queen Mother Cafe.  For starters, it’s cozy and warm and intimate and homey with Victorian flair.  Second, it’s so close to Osgoode subway station and walkable from Eaton Centre.  Finally, and most importantly, their menu and food leaves me awestruck.  Multi-faceted doesn’t even begin to describe how fantastic it is.  There are meat dishes, vegetarian and vegan dishes, light fare, hearty fare, bar food, comfort food (which, to some, could be one in the same!) and so many different textures and ethnic flavours: Thai, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and French just to name a handful.  There is no shortage of variety on their menu as well, with choices ranging from Thai noodles to grilled sandwiches to grain salads to mouthwatering burgers, providing the perfect landscape for picky eaters and larger parties with different diets and preferences.  In addition to their regular menu, they offer daily specials and a weekend brunch menu on Sundays.

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What we have here is their fluffy quinoa salad and their to-die-for curried chicken and quinoa meatloaf burger (oh we’ll get to dessert in the next post!  And if you’re wondering, no, I did not eat all this by myself!  I shared.)  If you love quinoa, you need to have these dishes in your life because they are game-changers.  Their quinoa salad ($10.95) is a meal-sized salad consisting of quinoa, chickpeas, crumbled goat cheese, sundried tomatoes and red peppers, a little bit of diced red onion, lots of fresh flat-leaf parsley (I love parsley like nobody’s business so I happily inhaled it all) and baby salad greens, all tossed in a light and refreshing vinaigrette of lemon, herbs, garlic and olive oil.

The great thing about this salad is the lightness and all the different textures in it.  The goat cheese is very creamy, you have the crunch from the parsley and chickpeas, a little savoury flavour from the sundried tomatoes and peppers and the greens complement the quinoa giving it even more body and fullness.

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Okay.  The curried chicken and quinoa meatloaf burger ($13.95; all burgers and sandwiches are served with your choice of Yukon gold fries or salad).  I honestly didn’t know what to expect when they brought my plate to me.  I just knew I wanted it because it sounded so delicious from the description: “lean ground chicken and quinoa with onions, celery, bell peppers, lime leaf and curry, oven baked and nestled on a toasted bun with baby arugula and roasted tomatoes”.  Would the meatloaf be like a big meatball on a bun?  Would it be a round grain patty?  Would it more like a sloppy joe type of style?

When my plate was placed down, angels sang and harps started playing.  I could not believe how beautiful it looked.  A perfect 1-inch loaf slice of, hands down, one of the juiciest, most amazing things I have ever tasted in my life!  The curry flavour was bang on, the meatloaf was so moist and the ground chicken and quinoa complemented each other so well because the ground meat gave it depth and body while the quinoa kept it from being too stodgy or heavy.  The roasted tomatoes lent a little bit of juicy acidity to it and the arugula kept it bright and crunchy.  It was one of those dishes that struck the perfect balance.  It was hearty and made you full without making you feel uncomfortable in the end.  On the contrary, this will leave you feeling energized and so good afterward.

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And the bun!  I’ll be the first to admit that I shy away from sandwiches and burgers sometimes because I’m just not a fan of some of the buns people serve.  Sometimes they’re too dry, too hard, too doughy or too bland (or even a combination of all of them).  But on this burger?  Holy mother of pearl.  The toasted bun is so soft and light on the outside and crispy on the inside and more than capable of holding the entire meatloaf burger fillings together.

I can’t praise Queen Mother Cafe enough; it is a gem in this city.  In the next post, we’ll talk dessert!

*****

Queen Mother Cafe is located at 208 Queen Street West in the downtown core just steps away from Osgoode subway station, situated between St. Patrick Street and Duncan Street.  They are opened 7 days a week, serving lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (11:30 am to 1 am) and weekend brunch and dinner on Sundays (11:30 am to midnight 12 am).  You can visit their official website HERE to view their info and menu.

No Need to Chase Down the Truck – The Summer Mint Chocolate Chip “Ice Cream” Cupcake from Yummy Stuff!

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“Ice cream man, ice cream man!” *cracks front door open*  “Wait for me, I got money!” *pitter patter, pitter patter; picks up piggy bank and shakes vigorously* “Gimme back my money you PIG!”  Ah, little Michelle Tanner in the episode of Full House where she gets her very first piggy bank and then wrestles with it to get her monies out when the quintessential symbol of summer makes it trip down the street, singing its melodic, happy tune, offering the sweetest, tastiest and frosty, lickably yummy treats.

It’s summer and few things bring a smile to the masses like an ice cream truck!  Popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, sundaes, and mouthwatering soft-serve ice cream cones tantalize the tastebuds during these hot summer months.  I looove ice cream and it’s arguably one of my weaknesses.  Vanilla and chocolate swirl soft serve?  LOVE!  But when you combine ice cream inspiration with CUPCAKES?!  I am nine ways to Sunday ecstatic!  Yummy Stuff, located on Queen Street West in Parkdale just east of Roncesvalles, has done it again this summer with another knockout cupcake for the month of June.

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Last June we were treated to an ice cream inspired Neapolitan cupcake: a strawberry filled cupcake frosted with thick, creamy vanilla and chocolate frosting.  It was fun, it was pretty, and it was delicious.  I love Neapolitan ice cream and Neapolitan inspired things.  The colour combination just makes me happy.  This June?  MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP!  And not just ANY mint chocolate chip.  A chocolate fudge cupcake with a nice big “scoop” of mint chocolate chip frosting with actual chocolate chips in it, topped with an adorable, cute-as-a-button mini ice cream cone!  It literally looks like an upside-down ice cream cone on a chocolate cupcake!

The cupcake ($2.75) is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted and it is hands down, one of the cutest and most creative.  I adore Yummy Stuff’s cupcakes and sweets and I only wish their monthly flavours were available all year-round!  It’s so much fun anticipating what flavours Morag and her team will come up with but gosh is it ever a bummer when there’s only a month-long window of time to enjoy it.

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You guys have to make your way to the shop, it is an awesome cupcake and it is bang on in presentation and execution.  Their chocolate cupcakes are fabulous and this frosting is to die for.  The chocolate chips make it so fun and yummy and they totally give it some good texture and crunch.  And ME, the girl who used to hate mint chocolate and mint chocolate chip anything and everything devouring a mint chocolate chip cupcake.  It’s crazy!  I love it to pieces and I can honestly say it’s one of the best in the city.  I was “dipping” my mini ice cream cone into the frosting and inhaling the chocolate cake and it was so much fun to eat.

And speaking of making your way to the shop, folks in the east end are now lucky enough to have one in their neighbourhood!  YES, Yummy Stuff has JUST opened their 2nd location in the city and they opened their doors for business on the Danforth for the first time this past weekend!  Even though I made my visit to their Queen West location for this cupcake, I am most certainly planning a trip to the east end location some time this summer!  The 2nd location is smack dab on the Danforth at 1938 Danforth Ave., across the street from East Lynn Park and just a few blocks west of Woodbine Ave., so it’s totally walkable from the subway.  And if you want to make a fun foodie outing, head out to their new location on a Thursday when East Lynn has their farmers’ market from 3pm-7pm.

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Congratulations Yummy Stuff!  All the best at the new location and keep making delicious sweets because we love them!  And if I can, I am coming back for another mint chocolate chip cupcake!

*****

Yummy Stuff is located at 1660 Queen Street West in the west end Parkdale neighbourhood, east of Roncesvalles Ave.  They are open Tuesday-Sunday, from 10am-7pm from Tuesday-Friday, 9am-6pm on Saturdays, and 12pm noon-5pm on Sundays.  They are closed on Mondays.

Their *NEW!* 2nd location just opened up at 1938 Danforth Ave., across the street from East Lynn Park, just a few blocks west of Woodbine Ave.  Their hours at the Danforth location are 11am-7pm Tuesday-Friday, 9am-6pm Saturday and 12pm-5pm Sunday.  This location is also closed on Mondays.  Visit their official website here.

It’s Taco Time! Pulled Smoked Chicken Tacos in Root Beer BBQ Sauce at Peter Pan Bistro

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It’s June, it’s warm out (well, actually, it was a bit nippy today, but it sure was humid and gross over the weekend!) and that means it’s time for some tacos on Ate by Ate!   With so many weekend brunch posts making their way into the Weekend Brunch Series, I thought, “hmm, I should really do some more lunch posts”.  After all, on an every day basis lunch is the highlight of my day!  I cherish my lunch hour downtime at work.  And lunch is what got me by throughout all my years in university, keeping me sane, fueled and content.

Doing weekend brunch has been so much fun though and it’s so easy to get caught up in the allure of having different menu items that are only available to me when I’m available during the week and I know many people who work the grind during the week feel the same.  But I mean, it’s not I calculate these things!  I eat what I eat based on cravings and where I feel like going, and sometimes I truly do feel like going for weekend brunch 5 times or weeks in a row!  But a little planning and strategic munching go a long way, especially when you just need to give yourself a kick in the butt to go to a place you’ve meaning to go to for ages but just haven’t.

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And that is how this post was born.  I felt like going to Peter Pan Bistro on Queen West, I felt like having lunch as opposed to brunch and by golly I felt like tacos!  Summer just screams tacos to me and it’s anybody’s guess as to why I haven’t posted more yummy taco photos and posts on here.  Because I do love them, especially fish ones (like the fish tacos from Wish Cafe!).  But for whatever reason, I haven’t showed them off here as often as I have other things, so I think it’s high time we plump up the taco lovin’ on here!  Introducing the Southern Californian Pulled Smoked Chicken Tacos with Root Beer Sauce from Peter Pan Bistro on Queen Street West!

Peter Pan Bistro, located at 373 Queen Street West at the corner of Queen and Peter St., is lunch and dinner bistro cafe that has quite the history here in the city (you can read more about it HERE on their site).  It’s a peaceful, pretty space with a lot of history and character to it: pale yellow paint on the walls, stained glass in the windows, high ceilings, flowers in vases on the tables, a super long bar and seating booths that look like church pews to boot!  It has this charming, old-school (their daily menus are hand-written and photocopied) meets culinary luxe vibe to it (if you ever order or get a glimpse of their salmon lunch you’ll know what I mean!) and it just shows their culinary philosophy: be modern and grow with the times and trends, but don’t sacrifice heart or ingenuity to do it.  They serve pulled smoked meat and po’ boys but they sure haven’t transformed into a hipster dive to do so, that’s for sure.

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Their menu is chock full of daily specials (daily soup, omelette, pasta, pizza and quesadilla) and they have a scrumptious regular menu that reads like a sweet and simple storybook: salads and appetizers (PEI fresh water mussels with chipotle cream sauce and calamari with dill-caper aioli and Mediterranean salad?!  Sign me up!), sandwiches (panko crusted chicken, smoked white cheddar and brie grilled cheese, and their newest addition, a fish po’ boy, among others), pasta dishes (penne mac n’ cheese, basil pesto linguine and seafood fettuccine just to name a few) and mains and entrees which incorporates the daily omelette, pizza, and quesadilla within it.

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Before I stuffed my face with tacos, I enjoyed their potato and leek soup of the day ($5) with their special complimentary bread that was so nice and warm and herby and yummy!  I know there are two camps when it comes to bread served before the meal: those who love it to pieces and would probably eat a whole basket of it and those who couldn’t care less and stare off into space as they wait for their food to come.

Let’s just say Peter Pan’s bread will put you in the first camp.  You’ve been warned.

Then came my beloved tacos.  I was all over their pulled smoked chicken in root beer BBQ sauce tacos ($14) like mud on a pig!  The pulled meat was such a treat for me (I don’t eat pulled meat much and not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I simply don’t have it very often) and the pulled smoked chicken taco filling was smothered in guacamole and cheddar!  With a mountain of mixed green salad on the side!  In olive oil!  Did I mention the guacamole and cheddar?!  OH MY MOTHER OF PEARL.  I am not kidding when I say that I felt like a roly poly ball afterward when I left!  I was full and happy and full.  I know I said that twice but it was so good it deserved a second mention.

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Their pulled smoked chicken tacos were served in 2 big grilled flour tortillas with guac and shredded cheddar cheese melted inside and just dripping in savoury sauce.  Even their salad was fantastic and boy was there ever a lot of it!  It wonderful having half the plate in tacos and the other half in veg.  THAT’s the kind of meal that makes me wiggle.

Let me say though that I am not about to specifically write about the root beer BBQ sauce that smothered my chicken.  I don’t drink beer.  I don’t even drink root beer.  EVER.  So for me to yap about the complexity of root beer flavour or to discuss the flavour profile of BBQ sauce would be very silly, so I will just say that my tacos felt like heaven in my mouth because they were so soft, seasoned perfectly (it’s always a good thing when you don’t feel as though someone dumped a whole salt shaker into your food), didn’t fall apart or get mushy, were so far from skimpy (did I ever feel like I got my money’s worth!) and were perfectly melty and ooey and gooey on the inside.

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And let me say that after this great lunch and meal, that I will be back for those po’ boys and salmon dishes.  And calamari.  And penne mac n’ cheese.  Oh!  And their patio.  This ain’t Neverland; it’s honest-to-goodness delicious food land.

*****

Peter Pan Bistro is located at 373 Queen Street West at the corner of Peter Street and Queen.  They serve lunch and dinner daily from 12 noon to 10:3opm from Sunday to Wednesday and 12pm to 11:30pm from Thursday to Sunday.  They’re also a main fixture in both Winterlicious and Summerlicious!

Checking In For Weekend Brunch – Banana Bread French Toast, Mango, & Pecan Cream at The Gladstone Hotel!

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It’s Thursday today and we all know what that means: one day closer to the weekend!  I don’t know about everyone else, but I utilize my weekends and free time doing one of the following things: taking photos, attacking blog projects, going through recipes I want to try, planning the next scrapbook layout, and researching fabulous weekend brunch places in the city!  Oh, and going through and organizing my cargo ship of a lip gloss collection among other housekeeping.  But that’s a whole other story for another day! 

Today’s food delights take us to Parkdale on Queen Street West, specifically to the culturally and historically iconic Gladstone Hotel!  As the oldest operating hotel in Toronto, the Gladstone has gone through what any existing institution from the 1800s would go through: boom and bust, revival, reinvention, and resurgence.  Much like the Distillery District, the Gladstone was taken over and restored in the early 2000s, keeping its authentic, historial roots and essence intact, but modernizing the venue to appeal to a different demongraphic; namely, the artistically enriched Queen Street West district.  Much of Toronto’s history was rooted in the business of manufacturing and the Gladstone, being the oldest hotel in Toronto, catered to the working class during its historical heyday, housing railroad and manufacturing workers as well as those who came to Toronto to visit the CNE.           

Nowadays, the Gladstone is a hubbub of art and cultural activity, hosting galleries and events, great dining and music, and of course, hospitality.  The very first time I set foot in the Gladstone was over a year ago during Doors Open Toronto.  The museum and art lover in me was absolutely taken by the beautiful art and paintings as well as each uniquely designed, art and gallery inspired hotel room.  And don’t even get me started on how in awe I was over the manual operating elevator!  Beautiful art and history aside, I was totally smitten with the dining and the menus I pored over during that first visit.  Weekday breakfast, weekend brunch, daily lunch, dinner, and dessert, culinary tasting “tours”, a commitment to fair trade, and the love and support of a number of  local food producers – they do it all and weekend brunch was the first order of business on my list!  Gladstone loves food and it shows. 

Weekend brunch, held in the Gladstone Cafe, is served from 8am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays with one of the best brunch menus I’ve seen yet.  Their menu, in my opinion, is so fresh and creative.  To me, it breathes new life into brunch as a meal.  We’re all accustomed to the eggs and bacon and pancakes, and while we love those mainstay options at times, I know there are so many people who think, “I want to be wowed”.  You want to feel excited, you want to feel inspired – the worst thing is looking at a menu feeling lackluster over what’s before you and half-heartedly thinking, “hmmm…I guess I’ll have this”.  I love looking at a brunch menu knowing there are multiple wonderful options to choose from, things that will force me to come back a second time, and a third, and a fourth. 

On the menu: breakfast poutine with chicken gravy, cheese curds, and an egg on top (for the hearty lovers!); fig cream yogurt parfait; huevos Carlito (sunny side eggs with tomatillo salad, avocado aioli, and – this is for the pork lovers – pork belly!; kimchi reuben (I can see this being veeeery popular); salmon scramble, mushroom quiche, and a variety of others.  They have a huuuge list of wines and beers written up on the wall as well as a generous selection of Tealish teas to choose from.  And in comparison, brunch prices are very much in line with other weekend brunch sit-down spots, hovering between the $9-$14 for most dishes

My pick?  The banana bread French toast!  I was hemming and hawing over the French toast, the tofu quesadilla (OH YES), the salmon scramble, and a few others, but ultimately, the homemade banana bread French toast ($11) won this time, with the tofu quesadilla begging me to come back for it the next time.  No need to twist my arm!

The banana bread French toast came in nice, thick, sweet triangular wedges with blueberries and mango, pecan cream and pecans, butterscotch, and – to my surprise – two links of pork sausage!  I wanted to put that out there because the sausage isn’t listed on the menu under the description of the dish, so vegetarians, steer clear; carnivores, rejoice!  Oh how I loved this dish.  Here’s the thing though: I was never a fan of banana bread.  I KNOW.  How could I not love banana bread?  It smells divine, it screams homemade baking goodness, and it’s more interesting than plain pound cake.  But it never struck my fancy.  It was always either a little too dry, a little too oily, a little too crumbly, or just SOMETHING.  But the French toast sounded so lovely on the menu I threw caution to the wind and gave the dish a shot.  And I am SO happy I did! 

I have never had banana bread so moist in my life.  The insides were soft and so flavourful while the outsides had that beautiful French toast crust to it that prevented the butterscotch, light at air pecan cream, and fruit from sogging the banana bread up.  The flavours and textures in this dish worked so well together, and this is coming from a girl who typically doesn’t eat savoury with sweet on the same plate!  But somehow, it worked and it was absolutely delicious.  The savoury pork sausage was juicy and not the least bit dry or fatty, the blueberries weren’t too tart or sour, the mango amped up the freshness and lightened up the dish, and pecans provided the dish with toastiness and crunch.  The butterscotch with banana bread was perfect and I honestly couldn’t have been happier – I cleaned off my plate!

The Gladstone Cafe is a lovely spot for weekend brunch with a bright and airy atmosphere that’s great for both socializing with friends and sipping a morning cuppa with the paper on your own.  I have plenty of art photos from the rest of the hotel that I’d love to show you guys sometime so I’ll save them for the next post.  The tofu quesadilla is still calling my name so you can bet I’ll be back for a follow-up and then some! 

*****

The Gladstone Hotel is located at 1214 Queen Street West, just east of Dufferin Street in the Parkdale neighbourhood.  In addition to their breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner menu, the Gladstone hosts culinary “tours” whereby chef Michael G. Smith creates a different ethnic inspired menu taking guests on whirlwind tour of tastes, flavours, and food.  Visit their dining website HERE to find out more!  Events will be added to upcoming August Food Calendar and future food calendars from here on out.