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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Showers Bring Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Easter Sweets, and an Earth Day Farmers’ Market & Vegan Food Fair!

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Sweet Easter treats, National Grilled Cheese Month, a vegan food fair, and a month-long fundraising event in support of The Stop Community Food Centre – well, April is looking like one very foodielicious month!  While I was really hoping Veggielicious would be returning for a second round this spring, it doesn’t look as though it’ll be taking place until later on in the year (if at all) so I have my sights and stomach set on a number of other spring food events that I’m just as excited about! 

First off, April is National Grilled Cheese Month!  I didn’t even know such an occasion existed until I saw a special Cheesewerks ad promoting it in the current spring issue of CityBites magazine.  A whole month devoted to cheese and grilled cheese?!  OH.MY.GOD.  One of my favourite breakfast indulgences during university and grad school was to go to one of the best places on campus, Blueberry Hill, for an order of over easy eggs and toast and a foodgasmic cheddar grilled cheese.  It was all sorts of heaven in my mouth and belly.  I love grilled cheese but don’t eat it often enough to satiate my cravings, so this month is as good a time as any to go a little grilled cheese crazy. 

Cheesewerks, located at Bathurst and Wellington, is spearheading this month of toasty, ooey gooey cheesy goodness with an entire month of promotions, new menu items, and lunch specials which everyone can keep up with on their official website and on their Twitter @CHEESEWERKS.  For other delicious grilled cheeses, you can check out the Leslieville Cheese Market on Queen Street East (pictured above), Grilled Cheese in Kensington Market, and Cool Hand Luc on King Street West just to name a few!  The crunchy, melty grilled cheese and veggie sandwich you see up top is courtesy of T&T Bakery & Cafe on Main Street Markham, one of my favourite places in my neck of the woods.  I am so looking forward to going to Cheesewerks and the Leslieville Cheese Market sometime this month (hopefully!), and I would love to check out other sandwich spots to see what other grilled cheese gems I can find.  Feel free to share your favourite grilled cheese experiences and stories! 

April also marks The Stop Community Food Centre’s Stop For Food fundraising event and initiative taking place during the entire month of April at 20 different restaurants across the city.  Stop by any of the participating restaurants (the list can be viewed here), add $5 to the total of your dinner bill (or lunch bill at the Drake Hotel, pictured above), and know that the additional $5 will raise money for The Stop’s drop-in and hunger-fighting food programs. 

In addition, April wouldn’t be April without an Earth Day celebration!  Evergreen Brick Works will be holding a special Earth Day farmers’ market on Saturday, April 21st as well as a vegan food fair!  What you see below are vegan sweet potato doughnut holes tossed in maple sugar by Toronto’s LPK Culinary Groove from a previous market!  I am so excited about this market and food fair, especially considering how I haven’t been back to the Brick Works since last fall.  And it just so happens that Cafe Belong at EBW is a participating restaurant in The Stop’s Stop For Food event, so it’s a great tie-in and a great way for Cafe Belong to do what they always strive to do: showcase some of Ontario’s tastiest, local seasonal ingredients that are at the peak of their freshness.  Earth Day and fundraising all rolled into one!

Here on Ate by Ate, I’ll be promoting the *NEW* Oreo Anniversary Series throughout the month and beyond, as well as the new Sushi Lunch Special series!  There’s so much to look forward to in the coming weeks including more supper clubs and food events at The Depanneur, more farmers’ markets waiting in the wings (the Lunchtime Office Markets just might be making their into Liberty Village!  Fingers crossed), and LOTS of Easter fun including Easter brunches and a sweet Easter dessert tour around Kensington Market!  For a full listing of April’s food events, check out the Food Calendar up on the main menu bar.