Frittata Sandwiches, Edamame with Avocado & Arugula Salads – Fresh Flavours & Fall Comfort at Yorkville Espresso Bar

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This fall is shaping up to be an amazing season so far.  I’ve done some baking, I’ve got my blogging back on, and I can’t even begin to describe how freakin’ excited I am for Thanksgiving this year!  The quintessential “day of turkey” is one week away and I’ve spent most of the weekend sticky-noting recipes and planning the menu for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, not to mention packing as much foodie goodness as I can into the holiday weekend with my boyfriend, family and friends.

While I do have pumpkins and apples (cooked and baked because of my raw fruit allergy!) and squash on the brain, part of me knows it’s still waaaay too early to be in full comfort food mode.  We have plenty of time for that in the dreaded “w” word in the coming months!  Fall food is so inviting because it incorporates both cozy comfort with bright and fresh flavours: fruit and veg soups, bean and vegetable salads with comforting herbs, fruity vinaigrettes and dressings, and tender meats with root vegetables and juicy cooked fruit.  I love how the weather is cool but still pleasantly balmy on days and how I can still enjoy the lighter fare without sweating to death and hiding from the fierce sun like I do during the summer!

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Which brings me to a teeny confession I have to make: this post and these photos were supposed to be on Ate by Ate over a month ago.  Possibly even 2 months ago.  But life happened and this post just never did.  Long story short, Yorkville Espresso Bar owners Rita and Tony invited me to the cafe for return visit to share a meal, to watch chef John Vetere cook and work his magic on the cafe’s many delicious menu items in the kitchen studio, to try some of the cafe’s various gluten-free bakery items from coffee and baking master Drew Randall and to basically talk food, blogging and community.  It was such a fun day and it was such a cool experience seeing the cafe menu items that make us drool come to life right before my eyes.  These photos were taken at Yorkville Espresso Bar during the summer and part of me worried that I wouldn’t be able to make them relevant for fall.  Thankfully for me, their food is just as perfect for fall as it is for summer and I’m just happy I finally get to share with you guys!

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Yorkville Espresso Bar has introduced a number of different breakfast and lunch foods to their ever-expanding menu: frittata sandwiches oozing with eggs, herbs, veggies and cheese (oh and ham!), scrumptious wraps with creamy cheese and fresh vegetables, and a plethora of hearty but bright salads.  Aside from how yummy everything is, what makes the food so enticing to me is the price point.  Being located in Yorkville doesn’t exactly give you the reputation of being inexpensive.  Let’s face it, Yorkville isn’t known as Mink Mile for nothing; its poshness extends to the dining scene too.  But Yorkville Espresso Bar has made their dishes and food so accessible by making it healthy, fresh and affordable.  You have the frittata sandwiches and salads coming in at $4 and $4.50 respectively (under $5!) and their ginourmous wraps and artisan bread sandwiches coming in under $10 at $8.

Their food menu is a reflection of what folks in and around the community have asked for; Rita and Tony and their staff have taken so much of everyone’s feedback to heart and have put an enormous amount of thought and care into their menu, offering healthy food that isn’t run of the mill (nobody needs a limp lettuce and tomato salad that was packaged the day before thank you very much), made the morning of, and perfect for both dine-in and grab-and-go for the work crowd.  Their food menu includes herb roasted chicken wraps with crunchy celery and sunflower seeds, Thai tuna with basmati rice, and shaved carrots dressed in chili sauce, Italian meatball and mozzarella and rapini on toasted artisan bread and even Trinidadian doubles among other savouries alongside the mountain of baked goods and gluten-free items such as biscotti, muffins, pastries, tarts, scones, brownies, loaf cakes, macarons and more.

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What we have here are toasted and grilled English muffin frittata sandwiches stuffed with eggs, mozzarella, provolone and basil along with ham and cheese sandwiches, grilled sun-dried tomato wraps stuffed with creamy goat cheese, roasted red peppers, zucchini, eggplant, greens and mushrooms and two amazing, fantastic salads: white beans infused with fresh sprigs of rosemary with edamame, avocado and red onion vinaigrette and an artichoke salad with grape tomatoes, olives, arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finished with a red wine vinaigrette.  I love English muffin sandwiches like nobody’s business.  At home, I toast English muffins and eat them with cream cheese and nothing else at times.  Yorkville Espresso Bar does a special daily frittata sandwich each morning and on this day my tastebuds were treated to two of my favourite things enveloped in eggs: cheese and basil.  It makes my stomach growl just thinking about it.

Next, we have the sun-dried tomato wrap.  This thing is HUGE.  I was watching chef John make it while I was taking photos in the Kitchen Studio and I was all bug-eyed when I saw the size of tortilla he was using!  For those who loooove grilled wraps and vegetarian sandwiches, you need this in your life.  The goat cheese and eggplant totally do it for me and it’s just gorgeous to look at.  It is a thing of beauty and so soft and flavourful with a hint of smokiness from the grilled vegetables and grilled tortilla wrap.

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Finally, the salads.  The scrumptious, mouthwatering salads.  They are perfect as an accompaniment to the sandwiches but also just as perfect on their own.  They are truly top-notch and for $4.50…you really can’t ask for more.  I watched as Chef John cooked the soaked white beans, infusing them with warm rosemary flavour in a giant pot of boiling water with onions and brightening them at the same time with crunchy edamame and soft, creamy avocado in the finished product.  It’s a beautiful fusion of warmth and comfort with lightness and it’s definitely a winning combination you don’t find at other places.  To finish off: the arugula and artichoke salad.  I love arugula so much and the red wine vinaigrette that the salad was tossed in was delicious.  The tomatoes in the salad balance out the briny flavour of the olives and artichokes and peppery bite of the arugula, and parm just elevates the savouriness to another level.  These are the types of salads I always wish for because their hearty with substance but still light and fresh in flavour.

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The menu and the people here make the espresso bar such an inviting place for coffee, tea and lunch and I feel so lucky to have been able to enjoy the food and learn about it at the same time, watching Chef John make the food from start to finish and getting to know the people and the cafe from the inside out.  Rita and Tony made me feel just like family.  It’s almost the first anniversary of my first visit (October 21!) and I think it’s high time I went back again to try even more of their delicious menu.

*****

Yorkville Espresso Bar is located at 3 Yorkville Ave., just west of Yonge Street and north of Cumberland St.  They are open 7 days a week from 7:30am-7pm Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm Saturday, and 9am-5pm Sunday.

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Good Food & Brunch Are Knocking at Your Door – Chicken Salad, Watercress, & Asparagus at Hammersmith’s, Part I

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All hail the brunch and lunch in the east end!  Riverdale and Leslieville round up some of the best brunch cafes in the city with the likes of Le Papillon on the the Park, Bonjour Brioche, Table 17, Lady Marmalade, and my latest brunch favourite, Hammersmith’s!  Located smack dab on the corner of Gerrard Street East and Logan Ave. and humbly referred to as Riverdale’s friendly neighbourhood corner brunch spot, Hammersmith’s boasts seasonal, farmhouse style food that is simaltaneously wholesome and simple, yet unique and deliciously complex. 

You’re probably wondering how I found out about Hammersmith’s in the first place.  I know many of you are accustomed to hearing me (or rather, reading me) say that my food discoveries were made during random walks around town or by random sightings on a streetcar.  Not this time.  Let it be known that even the most die-hard of foodies rely on some holy grail food bibles every once in awhile.

 

I found out about Hammersmith’s in one of my issues of Where magazine Toronto!  Yes, that’s right, a free tourist magazine made available at hotels, the Eaton Centre, and in Union Station.  I will always and forever see myself as a tourist in my own city because there is always something new to explore and learn about and food is at the top of this list.  Where magazine Toronto has been one of the best things in my life for over 2 years now and I digilently pick up my free monthly copy at the Eaton Centre at the beginning of every month to flip through throughout the month.  And once I read about Hammersmith’s within the magazine’s sea of restaurant listings, I knew it was only a matter of time before I made my way here.

One of the things I love about Hammersmith’s is their menu focus.  They have one blackboard menu for the season as oppsoed to pages upon pages of items that may or may not garner any interest on a regular basis.  It’s about quality here, not quantity and they keep it simple, fresh, and mouthwateringly delicious with their mix of meat and vegetarian dishes.  What you might find on the menu on any given day?  A duck plate (hello duck confit hash!), a smoked bacon omelette, a mushroom omelette, a braised beef and goat cheese sandwich, a smokey bacon sandwich with tomato and arugula, chicken sandwiches with different fixin’s and fillings, an asparagus plate, and plenty of fresh sides to go along with these mains including a scone plate, bacon hash, a watercress and green bean salad, and asparagus with miso and scallions.   

Their menu changes based on what’s in season and they build a menu that flows from one item to the next, in the sense that they utilize their ingredients in more than capacity and in more than one dish.  Nothing goes to waste and they find scrumptious ways of using “leftovers”, so to speak, and you’ll see what I mean later on in the post.

Open from Wednesday to Sunday (10am-3:30pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, an Fridays, and 9:30am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays), Hammersmith serves brunch and lunch all 5 days, with a new special $35 price fixe dinner promotion currently in place from 6pm-9pm on Thursdays and Fridays.  Prices for brunch mains range from $9-$13, with sides coming in at $5 each.  In addition to their farmhouse stye food, Hammersmith’s also serves up a mean, decadent selection of baked goods and sweets along with an entire blackboard menu full of drinks!  This Part I post is specifically focused on the food, but if you have a hankering for sweets and drinks, don’t fret because Part II and III will soothe those cravings with strawberry lemonade and cupcakes!

Back to the food though.  I knew right off the bat that I wanted to try both a main and a side and since I’m a huuuge lover of watercress and asparagus (can you tell by all the asparagus photos I post in the blog’s Facebook  farmers’ market photo gallery?), I went with the chicken salad and watercress sammy ($10) and the asparagus with miso and scallions ($5) will a cool glass of strawberry lemonade, which I’ll rave about tomorrow. 

Their sandwiches are served on a crusty baguette with an amazing side salad of mixed bitter greens and arugula and razor thin slices of radish, tossed in a mouthwatering olive oil dressing.  Their chicken salad is so moist and so fresh, and deliciously creamy without being soggy or laden with mayo.  The chicken breast was shredded and piled onto the baguette and topped with watercress and it’s moments like these where you just know you’re eating some of the best chicken out there.  Much like my experience at Delux with their achiote and lime chicken sandwich, I thought the chicken salad was pure fantastic.  Combined with the salad, I cleaned off my plate till it was shiny.

And the asparagus!  Oh my goodness.  Spears of crisp asparagus were bathed in miso butter and special hot sauce and it was unlike anything that I had ever had before.  The miso butter was savoury and toned down the slight bitterness of the asparagus while the special hot sauce gave every bite that amazing bit of kick.  And to really kick things up a notch, I was given a special little “extra” to go with my meal.  Rememeber how I said Hammersmith’s doesn’t waste anything and utilizes all their food and ingredients in different ways?  Well, when you make chicken salad without the skin, it has to go somewhere.  And that somewhere was on little plate.  That’s right, folks – crispy chicken skin partnered with dollops of hot sauce and spicy grainy mustard!  A little like peking duck only with crispy chicken skin.  Now THIS was different – and delightfully delicious!

I love it here so much and now that I’ve come here once, I’m determined to come back and eat my way through their blackboard menu, season after season.  Part II and III, we go sweet and fruity fresh with Hammersmith’s cupcakes and drinks!

*****

Hammersmith’s is located at 807 Gerrard St. East in Riverdale, at the corner of Gerrard and Logan Ave.  They are a brunch and lunch cafe open from Wednesday to Sunday (10am-3:30pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and 9:30am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays), with a price fixe dinner currently available on Thursdays and Fridays for $35.  Currently, for the summer, they are also now open on Mondays from 10am-3pm!  They accept cash and debit only.

Portobellos, Creminis, Arugula, Scamorza Cheese & More – The Funghi Pizza & Pizza Price Fixe at Il Fornello!

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Pizza has made its way to Ate by Ate!  After 400+ posts, the great big pizza pie is finally getting some serious love and attention!  I love pizza (I only know of 2 or 3 people who actually don’t – the horror!) but you know how it is: ordering pizza from your local pizzeria takeout joint and having your hot and fresh pizza out of the cardboard box doesn’t really make for the most stellar photography.  Unless you’re out to wine and dine, pizza is generally consumed in the comforts of your school cafeteria, elementary school day pizza day lunches, at home in your PJs in front of the tv, or among friends at a movie and games night pizza party.  

Pizza is one of those foods that I just don’t order when I’m dining out and it’s not because I don’t want to.  I definitely do, but I have to be honest, the prices are a deterrent.  I know the ingredients and toppings are and can be stellar, but when a pie meant for an individual person costs $16, I cringe.  There are many pizzas around the city I’d love to try, and maybe I will someday, but for now I’d much rather either make my own (making pizza dough and my own pizza creation is something I’ve always wanted to try!), or else it’s something I have to think long and hard about if it isn’t the variety delivered in a cardboard box.     

Enter Il Fornello.  This Italian eatery serves up a menu of linguine, spaghettini, ricotta ravioli, gnocchi, antipasti, appetizers, and salads (insalata) with fresh mozzarella and ricotta di bufala, veal fettucine, chicken parmigiana, and a host of wood-fired, thin crust pizzas.  The menu is comprised of so many foods I love.  Pasta?  Check.  Fresh mozzarella?  Check.  Pizza?  Check, check, and check!  And yet it has taken me so long to sit down to a meal here!  It’s not the type of place my family would necessarily go to (remember, my dad does not feel the love for pasta) and for whatever reason, the opportunity to enjoy a meal here has evaded me all this time. 

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