Kale Pesto & Artichoke Linguine, and Summer Strawberries, Rhubarb & Lettuces – Summerlicious at Trios Bistro!

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summerlicious collage 1 trios bistroWhen was the last time you had a makes-me-wiggle-with-happiness meal?  Mine was last Saturday.  Okay maybe it was yesterday when I excitedly ordered a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal and got my adorable Despicable Me toy (shhh, that’s between us).  But if we’re talking fine dining, it was Saturday.  It was a beautiful day.  A little on the hot and gross side, but a picture-perfect day nevertheless.  The seats were cushy, the place was gorgeous, and the food?  Fantastic.  One by one the dishes came: fresh and crunchy bibb lettuce, savoury artichokes bear-hugged by pesto and pasta and juicy berries in a flaky pastry surrounded by vanilla and whipped mascarpone.  I sat back, relaxed, and breathed a sigh of relief as I savoured the first Summerlicious meal of the season and the first Summerlicious meal in two years!

It’s about damn time Ate by Ate got back on the Summerlicious/Winterlicious wagon and believe me, this was no easy feat.  You’d think that a girl who loves food as much as I do would be pirouetting around the city during an annual culinary event like Summerlicious, right?  So wrong.  Summerlicious should be the highlight of the summer season for me.  Over 100 restaurants with special price fixe menus, many of them bursting with seasonal yummies?  You’d think that it was tailormade.  But alas, it is not.  And instead of looking forward to it, I almost dread it.  I know, I’m talking crazy.  I love Summerlicious in theory, in essence.  In actuality?  It drives me nuts.  It’s any wonder I made it out for a meal this year because I was thisclose to bailing again.

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I gotta tell you, not only do I have a hard time choosing between menus and places (which really isn’t even the hardest thing about the event anymore; I’ve accepted the fact that I’m just a horribly indecisive person who hems and haws for eternity), but I have a really difficult time finding a place that serves Summerlicious lunch with a menu I can’t refuse during the weekend!  I would love to do dinner, I really would.  But when the bus service in your area ends ridiculously early for a Saturday night and your close-to-Union-Station options are, hence, more limited, you’re looking at Summerlicious lunch during the day as your best bet.  So during my search, I kept clicking menu after menu after menu, double-checking with the actual restaurant sites to no avail.  So many of the spots I wanted to try only served dinner on the weekend and it became so frustrating I wanted to throw in the towel and give up.

Then along came Trios Bistro at the Marriott.  The beautiful Trios Bistro at the Marriott hotel by the Eaton Centre.  It saved me.  It saved me from banging my head against the wall and going 3 years without a Summerlicious adventure.  Maybe it was meant to be.

summerlicious collage 2 trios bistro

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Trios Bistro at the Marriott is a beautiful space.  I’d even say a little on the majestic side with its high ceiling and windows overlooking Trinity Square, lush booth seating and carpeting, and pretty chandeliers.  And it’s peaceful and relaxing.  There’s no rushing; just delicious food in a lovely environment and atmosphere.  During normal, non Summerlicious and Winterlicious days, Trios serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open to the public and not just to hotel guests (SCORE!).  Its proximity to the Eaton Centre and to the downtown core in general was perfect for me and it awesome being able to take advantage of a spot I’d never been to.  Their Summerlicious price fixe lunch menu ($20) was perfect for both my boyfriend and I (anything with chocolate, chicken, and fish will satisfy the sweetie.  Just, you know, not together.  Oh and anything without tomatoes and onions as a option is a gold star bonus because he hates the stuff) and we both left happy and full with scrumptious food in our bellies.

Here’s the Summerlicious menu lowdown: I chose their bibb lettuce and heirloom tomato salad as my appetizer (sliced radishes, shaved carrot, and lemon greek yogurt dressing), the linguine vert as my main (oodles of linguine noodles drenched in hazelnut kale pesto, artichokes, baby leeks, a mountain of peas and a smattering of grated grano padano cheese), and for dessert, a local strawberry and rhubarb strudel pastry with berries and glaze, whipped mascarpone and vanilla cream.

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Everything was so simple but so HUGE on flavour.  This was such a fantastic meal and I feel like I got my money’s worth and than some.  I was so happy with the portions (the doggy-bagger in me was absolutely thrilled that I ate everything and didn’t need to take anything away in the sweltering heat!  I am not a fan of wasting food on my plate) and as soon as I took the first bite of my food, I KNEW I had made the right choice to come here for Summerlicious.  The last thing anyone wants is to blow that amount of money on a crappy meal!

There were so many highlights: even with the dressing the bibb lettuce was so crisp and fresh, the tomatoes were ridiculously juicy and the dressing.  OH.MY.GOD.  It tasted divine.  It tasted like this crazy marriage between yogurt dressing and rich buttermilk!  It was so fragrant and the aroma of it literally beckoned me to the salad bowl.  I mean, I was uber hungry to begin with but this just tipped the scales.

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The pasta was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of pesto and olive oil sauce and the artichoke chunks were ginormous and delicious!  It was perfect for me because I love pasta like nobody’s business and it incorporated both things I love and eat regularly (peas and pesto!) with things I don’t eat regularly like leeks and artichokes.  This dish was a gift that just kept on giving with all its flavour and texture.  You had that little bit of starchiness from the peas, the juicy, savouriness from the artichokes, the freshness and nuttiness from the pesto and the smooth, velvetyness of the linguine noodles.

And then the finale: the strawberry-rhubarb strudel!  I was so happy that I could actually savoury the rhubarb.  I know this sounds stupid, but let’s be frank: some places would probably err on the side of strawberry with just a hint of rhubarb.  Not at Trios.  Every mouthful was crispy paper-thin layers of pastry sprinkled with sugar (it wasn’t soggy and it wasn’t stodgy) with juicy berries and sweet whipped mascarpone and vanilla sauce.  It was great because even though it was a strudel there was plenty of surface area to soak up the vanilla and cream and there was a great balance between sweetness and summer berry tartness.

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I am so relieved this Summerlicious meal worked out and while it wasn’t anything necessarily out of my comfort zone, I still got to enjoy many foods that I don’t eat often and for that, it was well worth it on its own.  Because Summerlicious isn’t just about taking risks and trying foods completely out of your element at a discounted rate; it’s about finding that perfect food match that makes a meal memorable from top to bottom.  And I’m so happy Trios Bistro could make that happen for me this time around.

*****

Trios Bistros is located at 525 Bay Street at the Toronto Eaton Centre Marriott Hotel in downtown Toronto just south of Dundas Street West.  You can follow them on Twitter @TriosBistro and you can check out their Summerlicious menus and their regular menus HERE.

Sweet AND Savoury? Walnut, Pear & Bufala Mozzarella French Toast Weekend Brunch at Origin!

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French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.  Take risks.  Do things you never thought you would do.  And for me, on that sunny, beautiful Saturday morning at Origin on King St. East, I did just that: I ordered something sweet and savoury.  No, no, I don’t mean I ordered a sweet dish and a savoury dish.  Oh no, I ordered myself a dish that was both sweet AND savoury.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Um, yeah, SO?!  It’s not like you ordered wild boar or rabbit!”  You’re right, sweet and savoury dishes are run-of-the-mill and no big deal in the culinary world.  But here’s something I’ve never revealed on Ate by Ate: I HATE SWEET AND SAVOURY THINGS!  HATE!  WITH A PASSION!  *cue pounding fists*

You all know I’m kooky-crazy for my sweets and desserts.  You also know I’m heads over heels for savoury things like eggs benny and spicy sushi.  But you didn’t know that I’ve always hated things like teriyaki, maple bacon, and maple sausage.  Some people break out in hives when their eggs aren’t served with ketchup.  Some people take a temper tantrum when the food on their plate touches each other.  I hate my meat sweet.  And any other sweet and savoury combo aside from peanut butter and jelly (what can I say, it’s a childhood thing that’s never left my heart).  Always have, most likely always will.  Don’t even try to sell me on strawberries and balsamic because I will just scoff and turn the other cheek.

Origin Restaurant Toronto dining room

Origin Restaurant Toronto dining room

Origin Restaurant Toronto dining room

So what in blue blazing hell possessed me to order something sweet and savoury for weekend brunch at Origin then?  The menu.  I couldn’t help it.  Against my better judgment, I took a chance on their French toast with bufala mozzarella, poached pears, and warm walnut brittle ($16) and ended up absolutely loving it to itty bitty pieces.  I love bufala mozzarella, I felt like French toast that morning, and the thought of having pears I could actually eat (remember my ridiculous raw fruit allergy that makes me swell up like blowfish?) made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Let me tell you though, this was no easy thing to overcome.  I took a deep breath.  “You can do this, Debra.  You can order something you know you may not like”.  There were so many things on Origin’s weekend brunch menu I wanted to try but I dug my heels in and stuck with it and lucky for me, it totally worked out!  I love it when a scrumptious, delicious dish proves my taste buds wrong and totally blows me away.  I never thought this could happen.  I never thought I could enjoy something that was both sweet and savoury.  But I did and I enjoyed it in a beautiful dining space in a restaurant I’ve wanted to visit for ages.

tea at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

Origin Restaurant menu Toronto

Origin, located at 107 King Street East at King and Church (with 2 other locations in the city), always felt like an eatery that was out of my league and out of reach.  I first learned about Origin several years ago when I saw a photo of their adorable pink, frothy froo-froo ice cream float in an issue of Toronto Life.  I had this misconception that it was much too upscale for me but after a co-worker raved about her dinner there, I knew I had to finally buckle down and go one weekend.  And given how Origin serves up a kick-ass weekend brunch menu (I looked it up online, hemmed and hawwed over some of the options, and gulped down my saliva – what else is new?), that was the perfect match for me.  So I suited up for busy day out (market, cupcakes, brunch, and more) and made my way over to the beautiful restaurant and bar.

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French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

And I do mean beautiful.  Brick walls, funky light fixtures, big windows, chic black, gray and white accents and a killer patio that I cannot wait to pounce on in the summer!  One of my favourite things about Origin is their kitchen.  It’s right in the middle of the dining area and you can literally see and hear all the action.  You hear the chefs calling out orders to each other, you hear the sizzles and skizzles, you can see the food being plated and so much more.  I love it when the cooking staff are integrated into the restaurant; it’s make things much more transparent and more communal.

Aside from 3 different kinds of French toast, $13-$17 (one even has duck confit!), they have burgers and sandwiches (a breakfast burrito $15, a peameal sandwich $11,a killer grilled cheese $7, and an Origin burger with chipotle aioli and arugula $17), an egg white frittata with fior de latte, tomato and pesto $13 (you can bet I’ll be coming back for this one!), smoked pork belly and fried eggs $16, a daily quiche $12, and number of sides to outfit your meal such as Spanish fries, beet and goat cheese salad, and deviled eggs.

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

My beloved French garnished with several sprigs of fresh basil and served with bufala mozzarella, poached pears, and warm walnut brittle, was all sorts of rich, sweet, savoury, decadent, warm, buttery, soft, crunchy, juicy, and YUMMY.  One of the reasons why I think I enjoyed it so much was the savoury and sweet were clearly identifiable but completely in harmony and balance with each other.  I love sweet brunches and breakfast dishes but at times, it’s almost too sweet and a bit much.  But because of the bufala mozzarella and basil (which, oh my god, was delicious), that savoury saltiness cut right through the sweetness of the walnut syrupy sauce and pears.  And it worked the other way as well.  The sweet juiciness of the pears and warm sauce and the inherent milkiness of the bread kept it from being too salty and the type of dish that makes you want to guzzle water down.  The whole thing just worked.

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

AND!  The bread!  Oh my gosh, the bread deserves a standing ovation.  It’s not your typical challah.  Origin does their French toast using fresh-as-a-daisy French brioche!  BRIOCHE!  It is so soft, buttery and milky and even though brioche was not listed on their menu, it was unmistakeable the second I bit into it.  And our sweet server confirmed when I asked her.  Origin made me feel so welcome and relaxed, they gave me great food, and they completely knocked down my disdain for sweet and savoury dishes down a notch (I loved my brunch, but don’t expect me to nosh on teriyaki anytime soon!) as well as proving my preconceived notions about them being out of my league wrong.  Bring on the brunches and patio!

Origin Restaurant & Bar in downtown Toronto on King Street East

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Origin is located at 107 King Street East at Church Street in downtown Toronto.  They serve 2 other locations in Toronto (Liberty Village and soon-to-be Bayview Village in North York!).

A Marshmallow Cream Dream – The Marshmallow-Caramel Coppetta Dessert in a Jar at Trattoria Mercatto, Part III!

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I’m totally, completely obsessed with restaurant dessert menus.  Everywhere I go now, I ask for one, even if I’m not entirely sure I want a dessert (I need to carefully consider my options; a dessert means no cupcake later on in the day!).  Let it be known though that I never used to be.  I mean, I’ve always loved the idea and existence of dessert menus (goodness knows how many I’ve drooled over throughout the years), I’ve just never enjoyed the treasures from them.  But now, I have a growing collection of fabulous desserts I’ve photographed and written about and it’s become one of the funnest things to do on the blog! 

We have the Austrian apricot jam crepes from Old Country Inn, the spicy Mexican chocolate mousse from Milagro, the sweet and adorable strawberry custard trifle at Simple Bistro, the bright and juicy citrus tart with candied orange and cream from Sen5es, and the green tea cheesecake from Sushi Time.  I loved them all and it’s a head scratcher, even for me, as to why I haven’t taken advantage of more dessert menu items.  You all know how deeply I adore dessert.  In my world, dessert is a meal in and of itself!

So, why the sudden change of heart and course of action in relation to restaurant desserts?  Before, I never used to order dessert because 1) I was always too full after dinner to eat another bite, no matter how sweet, delicious and decadent, 2) some places just didn’t have dessert menus and 3) admittedy, I didn’t feel like spending extra money.  It’s not like I’m suddenly rolling in dough now (I wish!) but because of the blog, I’m much more selective and strategic about where I go, what things I want to blog about, and the yummies I think will resonate with everyone.  And dessert just happens to be one such yummy!  Fruit desserts, chocolate desserts, cakes, pastries, ice creams, mousses, you name it, I’ll find it. 

This Part III wrap-up post on Trattoria Mercatto features their decadent dessert menu in all its glory with a spotlight on their amazing, fantastical, magical marshmallow and caramel dessert!  Mercatto’s dessert (dolci) menu is all about the sweet and creamy in all different types of desserts in all different forms.  We have the 3-scoop Mad Italian gelato bowl, tiramisu with mascarpone crema, the torta di formaggio ricotta cheesecake with dulce de leche and caramelized bananas, the budino vanilla pudding with biscotti and amarena cherries, and my pick, the coppetta ($6.95) with caramel gelato from Mad Italian, salted peanuts, and marshmallow!  I really wasn’t feeling the peanuts that day so I opted for a nut-free dessert with just the caramel and marshmallow and good lord was this dessert ever DELICIOUS!  Hands down, the most delightful marshmallow dessert I have ever had.  The most delightful caramel dessert I have ever had!

My sweet and creamy dessert came in a jar (lovin’ the jars, guys!) with layers of marshmallow cream, caramel gelato, and sweet caramel sauce.  The top portion was like a heavenly, fluffy marshmallow, whipped cream cloud with ooey, gooey marshmallow cream directly underneath.  Digging a little further down unearthed the rich, creamy caramel gelato and down at the bottom was the sweet sauce.  And this jar wasn’t small!  This was a fabulous size, comparable to the circumference of a decent-sized mug.  And I loved how the textures complemented and played off one another.  The creaminess was woven in with the fun gooeyness of the marshmallows so that you had bites of airiness from the marshmallow portion and bites of cold gelato and warm sauce melting in your mouth.  So decadent, SO GOOD!   Just as a side note though, dig deeper and haul the caramel sauce from the bottom to the top.  You don’t want to do what I did and eat the layers in order.  I loved the caramel sauce but I was left with too much of it at the bottom on and no more marshmallow cream to go with it!  Silly me.  So learn from my snafu and fold the layers in.

I honestly couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed eating at Trattoria Mercatto.  I had a feeling I would like it, but I never anticipated loving it as much as I do now.  The food, the sweets, the atmosphere, the nice people – it’s all there and I can’t wait to go back again and again.

*****

Trattoria Mercatto is located at 220 Yonge Street inside The Eaton Centre on the 3rd floor on the northern, Dundas Street end of the shopping centre.  They serve 3 other locations in Toronto under the Mercatto name (Bay & Adelaide, Toronto Street, and the Mars Discovery District on College Street).  They are open for both lunch and dinner 7 days a week (Monday-Saturday 11:30am-11pm, Sunday 12pm-9pm at the Eaton Centre location).  Click HERE to view their website with menus, upcoming events, catering, news, and more!

Grilled Zucchini, Fresh Arugula, & Amazing Pizza Crust – Eaton Centre’s Trattoria Mercatto, Part II!

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Calling all pizza lovers: Trattoria Mercatto, Toronto Eaton Centre’s resident Italian eatery and wine bar, is THE place to be!  I know we all have our favourite pizza takeout place.  The one we fall back on when we want to cozy up on the couch with the remote in front of the tv munching on pizza in our jammies or sweats.  But let me tell you, when you feel like dining out for the wood-fired oven goodness with some wine, a few good appetizers, and a sweet dessert to end the meal, you want the super good stuff and I am over the moon that I can say that Trattoria Mercatto has the stuff pizza dreams are made of.

You might be thinking, “wow, that’s quite the proclamation!”  After all, there are many places in the city that serve pizza.  I haven’t tried them all (and I don’t think I ever will!), but I have tried my fair share and I can tell when I’ve come across something average, something good, and something fan-freakin’-tastic.  I mean serious business.  When I eat food that is tripping over the line of amazing, it deserves several good hooplas and cartwheels and in this case, a very happy blog post!

This even takes me by surprise.  I’ve always been wary of restaurants in malls.  When I was in high school and university, my friends and I would go to them more so out of convenience than anything else.  And while I’ve never had anything awful, I’ve also never had anything memorable.  Mall restaurants conjure up feelings of bland, ho-hum, and ordinary.  There’s no excitement, no real creativity in it for me.  But I wanted to give Trattoria Mercatto a chance.  For starters, it’s located inside my favourite mall.  Second, it’s pretty, fresh, and airy on the inside with a nice outdoor patio overlooking the park by Dundas and Bay.  Third, my best friend had gone before me and reported back saying she enjoyed it so I knew it had to be good because I trust her judgment and between the two of us, she’s definitely more critical.  And finally, it’s Italian and I never say no to Italian.  Trattoria Mercatto hasn’t been a long-time fixture in the Eaton Centre, but it’s been there long enough to impress, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I caved and went.  And oh my god was this first visit one of the most terrific lunches ever.

Their regular daily menu is comprised of antipasti and salads (ricotta and Italian speck crostini, Sicilian fried cauliflower, beet and arugula salad with Italian burrata cheese), Italian panini sandwiches, (mortadella, prosciutto, artichoke pesto, fior di latte cheese), Italian cheese boards, lots of Italian pasta dishes (orecchiette, bucatini, ravioli, pappardelle, and more with sausages, cheeses, and vegetables), meat and fish, and the star of the show for me, pizzas!  Prices are around $14-$20 for entrees and pizzas, and $7-$11 for appetizers and salads.

I do love the regular menu but what I really love the most is how they have special weekly menu features and seasonal spotlights on different ingredients!  Each and every single week, Mercatto will make a post on their website indicating that week’s features and special menus and/or menu items.  Their site keeps everyone up-to-date on seasonal produce and ingredients, new dishes, and news and announcements.  I absolutely love checking up on their site once a week, just to see what types of dishes they’ve used special seasonal ingredients for and the approach they’re taking to menu creation.  There’s often a special entree and appetizer and sometimes a dessert and there’s always a seasonal focus.  For example, one of their weekly specials shined a spotlight on their buffalo meat, used in a pasta bolognese with bufala cheese milked from the same local farm animals.

Trattoria Mercatto at the Eaton Cente is also lovely to dine in.  There are bar tables closer to the front entrance and more intimate tables further in, surrounded by barrels and displays of wine and bottles and giant windows overlooking the park and patio.  It’s a serene setting that’s perfect for a weekend lunch out, fun group gathering, or a romantic dinner on the town.  I love it.  And I love their pizza.

Their pizza menu features 10 different kinds with lots of differents meats, cheese, and vegetables adorning each one: artichokes, black olives, spicy soppressata (Italian dry salami), cured Italian ham, basil, rapini, eggplant, goat cheese, mushrooms, pancetta, fennel sausage, and so much more.  I was debating between one of their paninis and the zucchini pizza ($15.50) and my craving for “dining out” pizza won over so zucchini it was!  The pizzas are the perfect size for a great-size meal for a single person (I am not ashamed to say that I polished my pizza off feeling awsome while my best friend, who can pack it in even better than I can, was full to bursting after hers!) and if I had to describe the size, I’d say the circumference is comparable to that of a floppy brimmed hat.

My zucchini pizza was bejeweled with grilled zucchini slices, caramelized red onion, smoked ricotta di bufala, tomato, and a huuuuge helping of fresh arugula.  I thought I had died and gone to pizza heaven.  OH.MY.GOD.  This pizza was so unbelivably scrumptious, delicious, and foodgasmic.  I kept murmuring, “this is so good!” between bites.  I couldn’t believe how amazing it was.  This is “I just want to inhale the whole thing because it’s so delicious” good.  Or “I don’t ever want to finish this pizza because I wan’t to savour every bite” good.  It wasn’t laden with grease and the ingredients weren’t sparsely sprinkled.  It was covered inch to inch and bursting with colour and flavour.  The cheese was warm and creamy, the onions and zucchini were so sweet in flavour, and the arugula?  I wish I had a whole extra bowl of it to sprinkle on.

What really pushed this pizza over the top for me though was the crust.  Let it be known that while I love pizza, I don’t give two cents about the crust.  Most of the time, I couldn’t care less about it.  I consider it as something that is just part of the pizza and, well, there.  It’s never captured my heart because often times it’s too chewy, too tough, too dry, too bland.  Their crust?  I inhaled it.  I didn’t even have second thoughts.  No, “hmm, maybe I’ll just leave this part on the side of my plate” or, “hmm, it’s a little tough, meh”.  I munched on every morsel of pizza, crust and body, like it was my last time eating awesome pizza.  The crust was so crispy, so airy and so darn good.  None of those negative aspects I mentioned above even entered this realm.  THAT is the true testament of a fab pizza: delicious from top to bottom.  And judging how much this experience made and makes me gush, I wouldn’t be surprised if their whole menu was wonderful from top to bottom as well.

*****

Trattoria Mercatto is located at 220 Yonge Street inside The Eaton Centre on the 3rd floor on the northern, Dundas Street end of the shopping centre.  They serve 3 other locations in Toronto under the Mercatto name (Bay & Adelaide, Toronto Street, and the Mars Discovery District on College Street).  They are open for both lunch and dinner 7 days a week (Monday-Saturday 11:30am-11pm, Sunday 12pm-9pm at the Eaton Centre location).  Click HERE to view their website with menus, upcoming events, catering, news, and more!  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s dessert post!

Wine Barrels, Pizza, & Marshmallow-Caramel Desserts – A Photo Spotlight on Eaton Centre’s Trattoria Mercatto, Part I!

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*****

Trattoria Mercatto is located at 220 Yonge Street inside The Eaton Centre on the 3rd floor on the northern, Dundas Street end of the shopping centre.  Specializing in Italian fare and seasonal ingredients, their menu features pasta, antipasti, panini, pizza, Italian desserts, and special weekly menus that shine a spotlight on seasonal, local ingredients.  They serve 3 other locations in Toronto under the Mercatto name (Bay & Adelaide, Toronto Street, and the Mars Discovery District on College Street).  They are open for both lunch and dinner 7 days a week (Monday-Saturday 11:30am-11pm, Sunday 12pm-9pm at the Eaton Centre location).  Click HERE to view their website with menus, upcoming events, catering, news, and more!

Bringing Great Brunch to the Masses – Baby Arugula & Mango Salsa, Stuffed Croissants, and More at The Commissary

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I didn’t waste any time, did I?  Last week I wrote the 2nd edition of Confessions of a Brunch Obsessed Foodie listing several weekend brunch picks from Leslieville, the land of good food, and *BAM!*, here I am reporting back with a mouthwatering account of The Commissary, one of the three spots I featured in that post.  What can I say?  I had eating to do errands to run in the east end and The Commissary, with its corner location and big windows facing the street, becknoned me like a little floating magical fairy holding a cupcake.  I have to say, I have never pounced on a new discovery so fast.  Normally when I find out about a place I’ve never been to, I take a quick photo of it from the outside, “tuck it away” in my mind (or on my computer; these days they might as well be one and the same) and then figure out a good time to make a real visit which often takes me weeks or even months.  This time?  Within 2 weeks.  The menu looked too good to pass up, I wanted to give you all a first-hand look at one of the newer eateries in this part of town, and it just fit into my schedule and my flow of errands.  Done and done.

The Commissary, located at Queen Street East and Logan Ave., has only been in business for about half a year but judging from the great crowds, you’d never know it.  The place was packed the first time I walked by its front window and door and if you can believe it, I was 2nd in line even before they officially opened their doors for weekend brunch at 10am.  It takes a long time for a food business to get its feet wet, especially in a city as food crazy and critical as ours.  Trust Torontonians to get into a debate online about cupcakes and it cultural significance!  But it truly seems to be thriving in Leslieville because it’s attracting different types of people.  You have young-ins, you have girlfriends, you have families with babies, you have the whole kit and caboodle – and everyone is having a great time in a bright, fresh, airy atmosphere. 

Now, everyone who writes about The Commissary will discuss the significance of its name – heck, even The Commissary themselves provide definitions of what a commissary is on their website.  It’s worth noting though because it really plays into the atmosphere and the feel of the bistro.  A commissary can refer to either “a store that sells food and supplies to the personnel or workers in a military post, mining camp, lumber camp, or the like” or “a dining room or cafeteria, especially one in a motion-picture studio”.  

In order for the name to make sense, we’re not supposed to take these definitions literally but rather use them to make sense of the surroundings around us and the feelings we have while we’re here.  Case in point: the reference to the working class in the first definition speaks to the unpretetnious way food is made here.  Read: it’s not fuss and frills.  It’s just damn good food and tap water in glass bottles (you have to read what the bottle says, it’ll make you laugh).  Even the menu items that scream fancier pants (like my arugula salad with mango salsa and goat cheese crumbles, $5 side) are so simple and fresh and down-to-earth.  And the giant side of breakfast potatoes for $3?  Soft, starchy, cute, insanely scrumptious, and something straight out of a local greasy spoon diner only not greasy. 

Finally, while we foodies aren’t surrounded by red carpets, lights, cameras, and action, you definitely feel like a star dining at a hip and happening hot spot.  And it also helps that everyone who passes by will undoubtedly be curious and glance through the windows to take a peek at the hustle and bustle and, you know, your food.  Because I sure did!  As well, if you take a look at their website, it exudes that old-time Hollywood glamour (I’m looking at you, Fred and Ginger), with black and white photos of old town Toronto and what I’m assuming is old town Leslieville.

The Commissary’s weekend brunch menu is full to bursting with egg breakfasts, breakfast sandwiches, salads, meat mains, vegetarian delights, and plenty of cheesy goodness!  The menu is a jack-of-all-trades.  Prices range from $7-$12, with breakfast sides coming in at $3-$5.50.  Their refreshing salads are available as mains or sides (curried shrimp and melon, caprese, watercress with jicama and Granny Smith apple just to name a few), there are 5 different types of eggs benny including peameal, grilled tomatoes, and applewood smoked bacon and smoked gouda *cue my mouth watering here*, stuffed croissants such as apple compote and brie (OH.MY.GOD) and PB & J, hearty meat dishes (roast beef steak and eggs, lobster and mango salsa, and roast beef and sauteed shrimp surf n’ turf), vegetarian dishes (ratatouille and beans and salsa rancheros), and cheese present in about 3/4 of the dishes.  I LOVE IT.  I ordered a ridiculous amount of food because I couldn’t walk away knowing I didn’t try a little bit of everything my heart desired and it paid off because it was delicious and I didn’t even feel bogged down afterward.

I was in the mood for some veggies and cheese so I went all out and had their vegetarian pepper and cheese stuffed grilled croissant ($9) with roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, and warm, creamy goat cheese, which was served with fruit and a side green salad.  You don’t see stuffed croissant breakfast sandwiches much on brunch menus!  And then I added a side baby arugula and mango salsa salad with goat cheese crumbles, grilled red onion, and sunflower seeds.  And then for good measure I ordered a side of breakfast potatoes for my boyfriend and I to share.  I barely had enough room for my camera!  It was fabulous vegetarian brunch feast.  The grilled croissant was buttery and crispy and savoury with my roasted and sauteed veggies, the goat cheese was abundant, and I would have that baby arugula and mango salsa salad over and over again in a heartbeat, only as a main the next time! 

I love how crisp all the flavours were for everything and how bright, casual, and relaxing the whole place was.  The space may not be the biggest, but it’s a sweet place with great food and a happy atmosphere; you can’t ask for more.

*****

The Commissary is located at 889 Queen Street East at the southeast corner of Queen and Logan Ave. in Leslieville.

Sundays Just Got a Whole Lot Sweeter – The $2 Cupcake, Tart, Square, & Cookie Bonanza at Desmond & Beatrice!

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You might think of Sundays as quiet, peaceful, lazy days.  Many shop owners choose Sunday to have their day off, traffic on the road is a little lighter save for the long weekends, and places aren’t open as late as they are during the rest of the week.  At Desmond & Beatrice on Queen Street East in Riverside though, Sundays might as well be the new Friday!  *NEWS BULLENTIN*  Sundays at D&B are $2 bonanza days!  $2 cupcakes, $2 tarts and squares, $2 EVERYTHING!  Everything on their edible display counter anyway; no way are we getting away with cute $2 aprons!  I have no idea how long D&B has had this promotion (*note to self: ask next time!), but boy does it get people extra kooky-crazy for their delectable, delightful desserts!  It sure did that to me.  I passed by their bake shop before they had opened, glanced at the front window, and almost got whiplash when I whipped around to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.  $2 Sundays?!  No speciality cupcakery with the exception of Dessert Lady in Yorkville, who sells their vanilla and chocolate ones for $2, sells their wares for that price. 

And apparently, I was a little late to the party because when I came back when they were open later on in the day, they had been wiped clean!  The only thing that greeted me was a dish of peanut butter and banana cupcakes.  I should have known better.  Sundays might be a little on the quieter side (although you’d never know it taking the bus; it is crowded and packed early in the morning!  And by “early”, I mean 9am by bus schedule standards), but so many people are out and about in the city, whether it’s for a festival, a sporting event, a concert, or just good old fashioned weekend brunch.  Anyway, lucky for me, D&B had enough sense and hindsight to keep their delicious cupcakes coming and before I knew it, full, fresh, beautiful batches of red velvet, vanilla, and double chocolate were before me, waiting to be chosen like the crown jewel in a treasure chest.  And my precious cupcake of choice this time?  Double chocolate!

If you can believe it, chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting are something I don’t have very often.  If you were to go through my eleventy billion cupcake posts on the blog, you’d find less than 5 devoted to chocolate on chocolate.  And it’s not because I don’t like chocolate – I love chocolate!  It’s simply because I want to paint a more diversified portrait of the cupcake flavours available in the city and now that I have a steady foundation of posts (I believe this post here will be Cupcake Chronicles’ 90th!), I can feature more classic flavours here and there to round things out.  This double chocolate cupcake post is inspired and dedicated in part to both my boyfriend and my brother, two chocolate lovers whom I hold very dear to me, and given how my brother can take or leave cupcakes, I’m determined to find him the best of the best to really wow him.  And this one right here from Desmond & Beatrice has to belong on everyone’s Top 3 Most Amazing Chocolate Cupcakes because it is out of this world and RIDONKULOUS.  Yes, that’s right, ridonkulous.

Chocolate cupcakes are either really great or really bad.  Some can fall in the so-so category, but more often than not, they’re love it or hate it.  Some are way too dry, too powdery (a little too much of that cocoa powder taste), or too dense to the point where it just tastes like thick, goopy chocolate muck.  D&B’s amazing double chocolate delight is what EVERY chocolate cupcake should aspire to be like.  I was shocked out of my skirt because I couldn’t believe how damn delicious this was!  It is a fudgy, creamy embodiment of a brownie in cupake form.  It tastes like chocolate brownie fudge with fluffy cake.  It is so moist, so creamy and so decadent.  The frosing is as smooth as it gets and eating it with a fork makes you feel like you’re digging into a special chocolate birthday cake with, quite possibly, some of the best chocolate frosting in the world.  If you’re head over heels over brownies, this cupcake is the answer to your prayers, in addition to D&B’s crazy $2 Sunday sale!  I don’t think anybody needs an incentive to go to D&B, but this promotion sure is a mighty sweet deal so take advantage of it if you’re in the area! 

*****

Desmond & Beatrice Bake Shop and Cupcakery is located at 750 Queen Street East, just one block east of Broadview Ave. in the Riverside District.  They are open from Tuesday-Sunday (closed Mondays), from 12pm-6pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 11am-7pm on Thursdays and Fridays, 10am-5pm on Saturdays, and 11am-5pm on Sundays.