The Kind of School You Want to Go to – A Holiday Hashbrown Poutine Brunch at School Restaurant!

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I think everyone will agree that one of the best things about the holidays is/was getting a break from school.  These two beautiful, glorious weeks are like pure gold (unless of course you happen to have homework to do in which case the pure gold becomes more like a lump of coal.  Seriously, that’s just mean, but for the sake of keeping this happy, we’ll go for the homework-free holiday).  So what if I told you that there was a type of school that you’d actually want to attend during the holiday break?  One where you could educate yourself about delicious food and be surrounded by stacks of mouthwatering pancakes and French toast dripping in syrup, hot plates of eggs, bacon, and homefries with all the fixins’, and waffles outfitted with sweet and savoury accessories?  I probably wouldn’t need to twist your arm to haul your tooshie out of bed then, would I?  Because the only ‘school’ worth waking up to attend over the holidays just happens to be one of the city’s favourite breakfast/brunch spots, School Restaurant, located in Liberty Village!

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School Restaurant lives up to its name with their fun chalkboard diagrams (I could totally ace a test based on the anatomy of an ice cream sundae), their wall of clocks with all hands pointing to 3:30pm (quittin’ time!), bills slipped into little report card envelopes, and clipboard menus featuring fun menu items such as “teachers pet” basket of baked goodies, “headmaster omelette”, and “apple-a-day waffle”.  So not your average cafeteria garb.  If you love themed stuff, School is right up your alley.  And if you don’t care for it, you’ll love the food anyway, especially if you’re a breakfast and brunch fanatic like me!  I got the chance to eat from their special, limited time, “12 Days of Christmas” menu (which was available from December 13 – 24) last week and while I know you won’t find the same menu or exact items in their restaurant anymore, at least this gives you an idea of what the style is like and the type of food you can expect off of their regular menu.  And lucky for you guys, my item is actually available on the regular one!

What I love most about brunch places is their mix of sweet and savoury dishes.  While I usually err on the side of savoury, the sweet ones make me salivate just as much and I only wish I had found out about the special menu earlier, that way there might have been a chance of me squeezing in an extra trip.  But no matter, I enjoyed my incredibly delicious breakfast choice and I can still look forward to eating off their regular menu which boasts just as many scrumptious options: black ‘n’ blue flapjacks, $15 (pancake stack with black and blueberry sauce with brown sugar butter), krispy krunchy French toast, $15 (crunchy French toast coated in rice cereal with marmalade), roasted apple-a-day waffle ($15), cheddar-chive biscuits with honey butter ($7), and smoked salmon breakfast salad ($15).

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Their “12 Days of Christmas” limited edition menu featured lots of holiday cocktails and drinks such as mulled wine, bourbon eggnog, and winter rum punch as well as festive candy cane pancakes, eggnog waffles, gingerbread krispy krunch French toast, omelettes, buttermilk chicken and waffles, cheesy bacon French toast, and my dish: the joyeux noel hashbrown poutine!

Like I mentioned above, this is one of the dishes that is actually available on the regular weekend brunch menu as well so if you like what you see, you can enjoy this awesome deliciousness on Saturdays and Sundays too!  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the main components that make up this dish: hashbrowns/homefry potatoes, cheese/cheese curds, and a gorgeous sunny-side up egg.  These three things alone make me a happy camper so have them all together in one dish sitting atop a generous ladle of rosemary gravy (have I told you I freakin’ love gravy nobody’s business?!  Well, if I haven’t, now you know), with tons of yummy leeks, and a side of tomato jam makes it ultra fabulous.

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The potatoes were perfectly diced (not mushy or dry or undercooked) which made forking mouthfuls of potatoes, gravy, and gooey cheese super easy, the cheese was perfectly melted and stringy and delightful (I love me my cheese curds but it takes the fun out of eating them if they’re cold lumps, you know?), the egg was beautiful and runny, and – wait for it – the leeks were awesome.  I know.  You wouldn’t think the leeks would play such a starring role but they did.  They were sliced thick enough so that you could taste them and see them in the dish with no trouble but not so thick that they were awkward to eat.  I’ve had dishes in the past where the leeks just weren’t prominent enough and I love that they were prominent here.  In all honesty, it was such a nice surprise that the leeks weren’t treated like an afterthought and I thoroughly enjoyed them.  I could do without the tomato jam (it didn’t taste bad, tomato jam just isn’t my thing) but I understand why it’s there (a little acidity is needed to break up the flavours) and can appreciate its presence even if it’s not my cup of tea.

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This was my first time coming here and I’m really glad I had the chance to enjoy my food during the holidays as it definitely made the experience fun and festive.  Going to “school” is definitely that much more bearable when the assignments are this yummy and when a perfect attendance record is this easy to achieve.

*****

School Restaurant is located at 70 Fraser Ave. in Liberty Village, east of Dufferin St. and just south of King Street West off the King streetcar.  They are open 7 days a week for breakfast/weekend brunch and lunch from 9am-3pm.  You can follow them on Twitter @schoolresto.

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!).

 

I’ve Never Met a Potato I Didn’t Love! Potato Pancakes & Sour Cream at Futures Bakery & Cafe – The Ate by Ate Daily, Vol. 008

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DSCN2323Sunshine, a street-side table by an open window, and potatoes and sour cream – nothing like a yummy breakfast at Futures Bakery & Cafe to start a day off!  It just made sense coming here for breakfast given the plans I had for the day: staying on the Bloor-Danforth subway line, picking up a few scones at Cobs Bread in the Annex and just being out and about early in the morning.  It was so nice coming back and bring reminded of all the fun times I had here during grad school just hanging out with friends while we planned our conference at school (and eating pierogies while doing so), having breakfast with my mum and brother in the summer, and having lunch with my boyfriend during those crazy, agonizing days of thesis-writing.

I had been meaning to try Futures’ potato pancake breakfast ($6.95) for a long time now so I finally hunkered down, went back (aside from getting a few cake slices to go during the winter, it’s been a long time since I actually sat down for a real meal here), and ordered myself a plate: 3 big potato pancakes made with grated potatoes, carrots and plenty of herbs served with lots of tangy sour cream on the side!  I looove sour cream so of course I had a field day dolloping it onto my pancakes but truthfully, they taste fabulous all on their own.  They’re moist, savoury, herby and a scrumptious vegetarian option.  Next up on my to-eat list: blueberry crepes, the chicken salad sandwich, the pesto, mozzarella and tomato sandwich, and the knackwurst and sauerkraut!

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*****

Futures Bakery and Cafe is located at 483 Bloor St. West, in between the main intersections and subway stations of Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St.  It sits right at the corner of Bloor St. and Brunswick Ave. on the south side of Bloor.  They are open from 7:30am to 2am 7 days a week.

California Dreamin’ – The California Classic Salad & A Day of All Things New at Fresh on Eglinton!

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DSCN0252It’s finally here: my post on veggie eats at Fresh on Eglinton!  Let it be known that when these photos were taken, there was still snow on the ground.  And ice.  And some slush.  In the dead of what became a ridiculously frightful winter.  But!  The yummies I have for you all today scream summer so at the very least it’s seasonally appropriate to be posting about this now (I think I ordered what I ordered at the time to make myself feel better about the wretched weather and to silently send winter “go away” vibes.  Because, you know, that totally helps.  NOT.) instead of say, a hot hearty stew that would probably make us break out into an uncomfortable sweat at this point.  So even though it’s been months since I made my first visit to their newest location and took these photos and even longer since this location officially opened, it’s now in the books for real!

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Fresh on Eglinton, located at 90 Eglinton Ave. East a few blocks east of Yonge Street at Dunfield Ave. is the latest addition to the Fresh empire and the foodie in me is so geeked that I have now eaten in all 4 of their locations: Queen & Spadina, Queen & Crawford, Spadina & Bloor, and now Yonge & Eglinton.  And while I LOVE Fresh and all their different locations in their own way, I have to say, the Eglinton one has captured my heart.  For starters, it’s in the Yonge & Eglinton neighbourhood.  Hello, Deb’s wheelhouse of foodie fun!  David’s Tea, The Cupcake Shoppe, Kale Eatery, tons of cafes, Italian, and weekend brunch spots, walking distance to the Yonge & Lawrence, Yonge & Davisville, and Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods and so much more.  There’s so much to love.

In addition, this one boasts the largest space of all Fresh locations.  It’s so pretty and spacious –  pops of pineapple yellow, lime and celery green and chargoal grey, wooden and mirror accents, plenty of spacious booths and suspended from the ceiling, Fresh’s signature sparkly chandeliers.  And did I mention the really nice, big patio?  Yeah, there’s a really nice, big summer-ready patio that’s just calling everyone to come over to eat till they’re silly.  Mark my words, I WILL have a patio meal there before the summer is over!

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To make this first visit to the new location feel even more ‘new’, I decided to try something, well, new!  To me anyway.  I went over in my head all the things I’ve eaten so far and realized that the only category I hadn’t yet eaten from was the salad one.  I’d had their rice and soba noodle bowls, a few of their appetizers, a few of their burgers and wraps on beds of salad greens, their weekend brunch, their juice, their soups, heck, I’ve even created my own custom brown rice and soba noodle bowls!  So I thought, “what better way to celebrate this lovely occasion than to knock out the last category in my ‘to-eat-at-Fresh’ list?”  Salad it was!

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Fresh’s salads are meal/entree size ranging from $10 to $13 with all sorts of delicious veggie combinations atop a big pillow of salad greens: marinated tofu cubes with grilled spinach and sunflower seeds; edamame with napa cabbage and sunflower sprouts; grilled tempeh bacon with jicama, avocado, tomatoes and kale; yellow beets with jicama, napa cabbage, peanuts and peanut lime dressing; quinoa, kale and goji berries; and a soup, salad and cornbread lunch combo.  I picked a salad that had Deb written all over it: the California Classic ($12), a giant salad comprised of pesto white beans, toasted pecans, avocado, grape tomatoes, and hearts of palm on spinach and mixed salad greens.  I ordered tahini dressing with it (a mouthwatering creamy dressing of sesame with garlic, lemon and parsley) along with a side of goat cheese because a cheese lover like myself would feel naked without it, and a side of their famous kale slaw.  And a fresh mango juice with coconut water to wash it all down.  YUM!

I could seriously just stuff my face with pesto white beans, pecans and avocado all the live long day.  The wonderful thing about salads is how full of flavour and texture they are when they are constructed well.  I mean, you can construct it based on the ‘kitchen sink’ philosophy where you kind of throw in some of this and some of that or some leftovers here and some things in the fridge you need to finish there, but it may or may not taste good depending on what you use.  But salads like these, bursting with colour and life, give you all sorts of different yummy sensations.  Crunchiness from the greens and pecans, creaminess from the avocado and dressing, juiciness from the tomatoes, starchy savouriness from the pesto white beans, and meatiness from the hearts of palm.

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And you know what?  Something else was new about this experience: my first time eating hearts of palm!  YES, I had never eaten hearts of palm before this meal and quite honestly, had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t know what they looked like, how they would taste.  For some odd reason, I went into it thinking hearts of palm were similar to endive!  Um, I was very wrong.  Hearts of palm are not green.  Or leafy.  If I had to describe the appearance, texture and taste, I’d have to say they’re like a cross between bamboo shoots in appearance, cooked mushrooms in texture and artichokes in taste.  They’re extremely mild but meaty and yet kind of cool and refreshing at the same time and its softness complimented the soft and creamy avocado.  They’re like blank canvases, able to absorb all sorts of different flavours that surround it so it was very cool tasting it for the first time.  How’s that for trying new things all in one day?!

Here’s to another handful of delicious, mouthwatering vegetarian meals at Fresh for the remainder of 2014!

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*****

Fresh currently serves 4 locations in Toronto:

  1. 326 Bloor St. West (right off the intersection of Spadina Ave. and Bloor St. West, just east of Spadina)
  2. 894 Queen St. West (at the intersection of Crawford St. and Queen St. West, near Trinity Bellwoods Park)
  3. 147 Spadina Ave. (near the intersection of Spadina Ave. and Queen St. West, a block south of Queen)
  4. 90 Eglinton Ave. East (at Dunfield Ave. on Eglinton east of Yonge St.)

A Taste of Spring, A Taste of Summer – Farmers’ Market Season & Ate by Ate Are Back!

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Happy first day of June everyone!  While the season of beaches, sand, and endless sunshine doesn’t officially start until June 21, I think it’s safe to say that June 1st is the unofficial kick-off to the summer season and all the amazing things to come in the coming months.  We got over the May long weekend hump (which, ironically enough, is almost always chilly by our standards!), we’ve been peppered with a few days of muggy weather over the last week or so and now we’re fully immersed in the farmers’ market season!  A number of markets have made their return in May (including Leslieville, Trinity Bellwoods, Fresh Wednesdays at Nathan Phillips Square, East York, Metro Hall at David Pecaut Square just to name a handful) and a long list of others will be joining the market family for the season in June.  Given how I’ve been away for the last little while, I’m obviously behind on my market lists but rest assured, they’ll be up this week with updates and the like for markets in the Toronto and York Region area.

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I am so happy to be back and to put some things behind me.  I needed that time to completely annex myself from the blogging community and from most of the online world with the exception of checking e-mail (unfortunately, there was no running away from that one).  So far, 2014 has been…trying, to say the least.  Looking for work, dealing with winter, and making some revelations about people in and outside of the blogging community has not been fun.  At all.  It’s one thing to know when folks are trying to take advantage of you and giving your best one-two punch in return to stand up for yourself, but it’s a whole other can of worms when it becomes blatantly obvious that many will stoop to the level of scum to get what they want and have no issue pulling the rug out from under you when you’re not expecting it.  And let me be clear that while some of this applies to me, some of it does not.  Some of it is seeing it happen to others.  And it has sickened me.  Stealing content and ideas.  Taking credit where credit isn’t due.  Not being up front and playing people as fools.  Using someone to pimp them for information.  All without shame.

It’s been one hiccup after another and there were times during those low moments when I would think, “what is the goddamn point to all of this?  I’ll just stick to my own craft and scrapbook and not share ANYTHING of mine with anyone because people are freakin’ tools and be done with all of this garbage!”  And then my mum would remind me, “but your blog is your baby.  You gave ‘birth’ to it and you would never give it up.”

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And as much as I hate to admit it when my mother is right, she was right.  I’ve devoted 20 years of my life to a love of art and food; in spite of all that “garbage”, it didn’t make any sense to let any of this go.  It was so important to remind myself why I love doing what I do and the things that make me happiest.  Tune out the numbers game that folks try to play, tune out the one-upping, tune out the negativity and just be strong and focus on the pure love and passion for the craft.

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So while I haven’t blogged, I haven’t stopped photographing, I haven’t stopped exploring (well, except when it was unbearably cold), and I most certainly have not stopped eating!  I started going to the markets again and actually went two weekends in a row at the crack of dawn recently (hopped on a bus at 6:30am!) and shopped and photographed my brains out.  Simply because it made me happy.  The market at Wychwood Barns moved outdoors earlier in May which made for some beautiful shots and I was able to pick up a ridiculous amount of fresh food: gorgeous baby kale, beautiful arugula (if my memory serves me right, I bought 4 bags), amazing local cheese, black bean vegan burgers and navy bean parsley pesto from Earth & City and so much more.  Aside from cupcakeries, tea shops and afternoon tea, markets are truly my happy place because you can tell your story through photos alone.

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Cassandra from Earth & City really tugged at my heartstrings during one of those weekend visits when she introduced me to one of their newer hires: “Deb blogs and she was there with us during our first months years ago and we were so excited because, ahhh, press!”  And there it was right there, why any of this is meaningful.  Because not only can we quietly make a positive impact on others through what we do but along the way we make friends, meet good people that make us believe that the good has a shot at outweighing the bad, and we become special notes and memories in each others’ life stories.

*****

For all of Ate by Ate’s Wychwood Barns farmers’ market posts, click HERE

For all of Ate by Ate’s farmers’ market posts over the years (84 and counting!), click HERE

For all of Ate by Ate’s posts on vegan food producer Earth & City (and plenty of mouthwateing food porn), click HERE

The Stop Community Food Centre Farmers’ Market at Artscape Wychwood Barns is held year-round on Saturdays from 8am-12pm.  The park and historic community centre complex is located at 76 Wychwood Ave. just off of St. Clair Ave. West, east of Christie St. and west of Bathurst St.  http://www.thestop.org/green-barn-market

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!

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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.

Stories, Comfort Food & Melty Havarti, Avocado & Arugula Macaroni & Cheese – The Heart & Soul of Cheesewerks

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I know Toronto is no Edmonton or Calgary or Winnipeg when it comes to the Canadian winter experience, but I have to be honest: this week was freakin’ cold.  Having to rapidly blink so my eyelashes don’t stick together cold.  Kenny on South Park cold.  I need to hug myself in my 5 layers of clothes all day long to stay warm cold.  You’d think I’d be immune to it or at the very least used to it having been born and raised here.  Sadly, that is not the case.  I am a squealing, teeth-chattering mess every winter and the only thing that saves me is sitting on my hands, wrapping myself up in a blanket burrito on the couch, and eating and drinking hot food and drink.  Comfort food and hugging my mug or bowl all the way.

It’s a little crazy to think that after 720 posts on Ate by Ate (yes, we’re getting closer to the 1000 mark!) comfort food isn’t everywhere on here.  I love the classics and I love my hot comfort food: hot soup with or without grilled cheese, classics like spaghetti and meatballs, beef stroganoff (SUCH a weakness of mine!), mashed potatoes and gravy with turkey or roast beef, and of course, MACARONI & CHEESE!  There needs to be so much more of that on here and I’m hoping to feature more posts on these mouthwatering types of dishes come the new year.  So, where does one go in Toronto for some good old fashioned mac ‘n cheese?  Cheesewerks!

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Located in the west end of the downtown core on Bathurst St. near Wellington, Cheesewerks is a delicious emporium of cheesy goodness featuring a plethora of grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, cheesy weekend brunch, sides and soups, local and artisinal foods, and lots of wine, craft beers and fun drinks.  We’re talking double smoked cheddar sandwiched between cracked peppercorn sourdough bread, asiago with BBQ pork on green onion potato bread (the Beijing), double-cream brie with caramelized onions and apricot chutney on walnut-raisin bread (the Charleston), swiss melted on roast pork and smoked ham with dill and lime mustard (the Miami), roasted tomato cream soup, and housemade lemonade, sweet tea and sodas just to name a handful!  The spacious diner is bathed in shades of yellow and orange and is the perfect place for both a get-together lunch with friends and a warm, comforting meal all by your lonesome.

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Honestly though, describing their food and menu alone does not do them justice.  Cheesewerks is my foodie soulmate.  Yes, you read right: my foodie soulmate.  Not a sushi bar.  Not a cupcake bakery.  A grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese diner.  Why?  Because of their love, passion, enthusiasm, creativity, heart and communal engagement.  I called it an emporium for a reason.  Cheesewerks is a family-run operation committed to engaging with the community not only through their delicious food but also through their food events, personal connections and stories.

Cheesewerks hosts foodie trivia nights every month, they’re at the centre of all the action at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival every year in Picton, Prince Edward County, Ontario, they have a ton of fun with National Grilled Cheese Month with specials and events every April, they host amazing Country Mouse, City Mouse food tours in and outside of Toronto to showcase the breadth and wealth of cheese making talent in our province’s farming, artisinal and organic food industry and they are constantly reinventing their menu with new additions and different ideas.

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And the personal connections and stories?  From the heart of head cheesehead Kevin Durkee.  Each and every single one of those menu items is named after a city that has played a significant role in his life whether it’s the city he was married in or a city he worked in at one point in his life.  When I found that out after talking to him during my first visit I was floored and my heart just expanded ten-fold.  Because it’s the same way I approach so many things in my life and how I approach this blog, through heart and stories and special moments.  It’s about being one with your passion and your craft and truly owning it.  And that’s how it should be.  While a business is a business and a restaurant exists to serve food and ultimately make money, having that personal connection and having that engagement with the community is irreplaceable and untouchable.

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During my first visit to Cheesewerks earlier in the year, I had such a hard time narrowing down my choices (what else is new!) but I knew I wanted a macaroni and cheese.  The awesome thing about the menu is that you can have all the fillings of a grilled cheese sandwich made into a mac ‘n cheese for pretty much just a dollar or two more (grilled cheese sandwich items range from $7 to $10 and mac ‘n cheese dishes $8 to $11).

I loooove my avocado and arugula so I chose the Los Angeles in macaroni and cheese form ($9.50) to enjoy.  Ooey gooey havarti cheese mixed with elbow macaroni, mashed avocado and arugula topped with crunchy baked bread crumbs.  It is comfort food heaven in a bowl.  And I washed it all down with a tall glass of their housemade lemonade.  Let me tell you, this stuff is filling.  I know, I know, it’s pasta, of course it’s filling.  But you always think macaroni is no big deal because the noodles are so cute and small.  Trust me, if you want hearty comfort food that will keep that tummy warm and chugging through a winter day, their mac ‘n cheese fits the bill.  If my memory serves my right I think I even had leftovers that I took back home!

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My mouth is watering just looking at these photos again and given how we’re clearly in the thick of cold weather season (technically winter doesn’t start until the 22nd so I’ll just call this cold weather season), I am hell bent on making a return visit over the holidays.  Whether it’s trying their weekend brunch, a grilled cheese, ordering their famous tomato soup or downing another bowl of delicious macaroni and cheese, it’ll be happy memories in the making and stories to tell.

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Cheesewerks is located at 56 Bathurst St. near Wellington St. and Niagara St.  You can check out their official website HERE for their menu, promotions and events and follow them on Twitter @CHEESEWERKS