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.

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Your Wish for Summer Patio Dining is My Command…Fish Tacos and Rapini & Chickpeas at Wish Cafe!

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Daisies and flowers, candles, soft cushions, bright and crisp whites, pinks, and greens, and a feeling of total bliss and relaxation – nope, we’re not at the spa, we’re wining and dining on the patio at Wish Cafe and Restaurant!  Located on Charles St. just east of Yonge, Wish serves lunch and dinner from Tuesday-Saturday and a weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.  I first discovered Wish last year while I was walking around the Yorkville area and exploring Church Street a bit.  When I reached Charles St., I looked down the road and thought, “hmm, I’ve never been around here before, let’s see what’s around!” and that is when I found Wish and breathed a silent, “wow…” when I saw their patio.  And after browsing their menu online, it was then and there that I decided that I had to come back and enjoy a great meal in a beautiful setting. 

Wish is one of the prettiest spots I have ever dined at.  I know if you look at Wish from across the street it doesn’t look particularly gorgeouys, but it’s the patio and the cafe’s interior that really have the beauty and character.  There are flowers on every table, everything looks bright and fresh, there are beautiful wooden shutters for that comforting, rustic vibe, and there’s a tinkling fountain by the front entrance and that makes everything feel and sound extra soothing.  Ladies and gents, if you want to take a special someone out for a nice meal and/or date, this is PERFECT.  It’s fancy without being pretentious.  It’s pretty and sweet without being frou-frou.  And the prices?  Incredibly reasonable considering how nice it is and how it’s located within the Yorkville neighbourhood!

Although the prices might not suit those who are on a tight budget, you can definitely enjoy a fabulous, special meal for $10-$15, and most certainly for under $20.  There are a few items on their menu that are over $20, but let’s face it: if you enjoy dining in the city at establishments that are not fast food, coffee shops, and bakery cafes, you know you’re looking at a bill that will most likely total $20 when it’s all said and done but at Wish, you can feasibly have a wonderful meal for $10-$15.  Obviously, I’m not taking into account alcohol, but I’m the type of person that only orders water most of the time because I’d rather spend my moolah on food! 

Prices aside, Wish is top-notch.  The menu exudes freshness and simplicity while at the same time offering dishes that are unique and different with ingredients that aren’t necessarily conventional at other dining spots: blue crab cakes, warm salmon salad with bok choy and zucchini and orange balsamic, warm lentil salad with radicchio, root vegetables, and hazelnuts, fish and chips with beet root slaw and saffron tartar sauce, and shaved eggplant baguette sandwiches with tomato fondue just to name a bunch!  I wanted to try so many of these dishes at the same time, but I wanted to go with the most summery menu item so I chose their trio of fish tacos!

Let me preface the following by saying that what I imagined in my head was completely different from what I actually got – in the best way possible.  When my fish tacos ($12) were brought to my table, I gasped.  The presentation was beautiful, colourful, scrumptious, and absolutely screaming summer!  The soft flour tortillas were placed on a cute little dish on their own while the fish and toppings were presented on an adorable wooden cutting board so I could have a ball and assemble everything together myself.  SO DARLING! 

There were little metal cups holding my cabbage, pickled cabbage and onions, diced mango and tomato salsa, and creamy guacamole and my 6 pieces of halibut fish (which weren’t in chunks or slices but instead in chubby fingers like jumbo fish fries!), were breaded and crispy and so moist and soft on the inside.  I felt like I was dining at a summery seaside resto with this meal!  It was fun, relaxing, and oh-so-delicious.

Wish also offers a number of sides on their menu that complement their mains and as had my mum along with me for the ride, we shared and split an order of rapini and chickpeas ($5) and OH.MY.GOD was the dish ever amazing!  This dish could honestly pass for a meal all on its own!  The dish was BIG and so full of flavour.  The rapini and chickpeas were such a terrific complement to each other because the chickpeas toned down the inherent bitterness of the rapini and gave the whole dish the most mouthwatering, buttery texture and flavour! 

Oh my goodness, I just wanted to eat those chickpeas for the entire day because they were so good.  I’m almost positive the rapini and chickpeas were tossed with a buttery dressing and vinaigrette and it elevated the flavour over the moon.  The rapini was cooked just right, not too raw and bitter but also not soggy and overcooked.  This is a great dish to order to bump up the veggie intake and to take advantage of a bright and fresh dish.

I had so much fun eating here and I’m so happy I finally got the chance to try their food.  After this experience, Wish Cafe shot straight to my Top 5 favourite spots in the city and I’m really glad I took my mum along with me because she almost never gets to dine at fancier places that are still reasonably priced; heck, she doesn’t dine at fancier places at all!  Wish Cafe will do that to you.  It’ll draw you in, make you fall in love, and have you coming back for more.  It is an absolute gem in the city and if you get the opportunity to eat out on their patio, do it!  It’ll be one very special and delicious meal!   

*****

Wish Cafe and Restaurant is located at 3 Charles Street East at the corner of Charles and Yonge Street in downtown Toronto.  They offer lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch, and their patio is currently available for spring and summer wining and dining!  They are open from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays).  Hours of operation are 11am-11pm from Tuesday to Saturday, and 10am-4pm on Sundays.  View their official website and menus HERE.

A Chocolatey Kind of Morning – Hot Chocolate & A Chocolate Ganache Kiss at L’Espresso Bar Mercurio

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While almost everyone is continuing to ransack the grocery stores, drug stores, and candy shops for discounted chocolates and candies (you know who you are), the bombardment of red, pink, and heart printed paraphernalia has come and gone for yet another year.  What hasn’t saluted us goodbye though is our passion for chocolate and the frostiness of winter, which has managed to give us a few nasty surprises over the past two weekends!  How do we remedy the stubborness of winter sleet and snow then?  With chocolate, of course!  The heart-shaped boxes of bon-bons might be gone (or being plucked off the shelves by chocolate bargain hunters as we speak), but in its place now are chocolate bunnies and chocolate Easter eggs, so the presence of chocolate is going to remain at the forefront of our seasonal celebrations for quite some time still. 

I love my chocolate in the form of hot chocolate and chocolate cookies best and L’Espresso Bar Mercurio gave me what I like to call, my “chocolate morning”: a cup of frothy hot chocolate and a rich, fudgy, melt-in-your mouth chocolate ganache kiss!  After walking past this lovely cafe and espresso bar more times than I can remember (I admit, I am on Bloor Street A LOT), I finally came here for a sip and nibble one morning and now I can’t stop daydreaming about what I would eat my next time here!  I’ve wanted to come here for so long and I’ve always loved the air of sweetness and romance I’ve felt from it.  It’s a place that exudes fancy without actually being over the top fancy pants.  L’Espresso Bar Mercurio, located at 321 Bloor Street West, is a bright and fresh brunch and lunch cafe and espresso bar with enough coffee, loose leaf tea, lattes, and warm and cold drinks to quench the thirstiest of sippers. 

         

Sandwiched between the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) and the Bata Shoe Museum in the University of Toronto neighbourhood, Mercurio’s is the perfect place to have brunch with the girl friends, a light business meeting lunch, and/or a warm drink and dessert with a friend.  With it’s fresh colour palette of white, gray, and green, it’s a lovely coffee date destination that affords casualness with that extra bit of fancy thrown in.  The cafe and espresso bar has big windows, allowing for ample natural light to stream in (perfect for us budding food photographers!) and in the spring and summer, a pretty patio off to the side for that little bit of privacy and romance (let’s not forget from where the name of the cafe is derived!).

Mercurio has a number of different menus to suit all sorts of appetites and tastes: a weekday breakfast menu, a weekend brunch menu, an everyday lunch menu, a vegetarian and vegan menu, and a huge menu of loose leaf teas, coffee drinks, and more.  In addition, the dessert selection is out of this world!  Pies, tarts, tortes, cakes, shortbread, giant cookies, homemade doughnuts, biscotti, dessert croissants, and sweet gluten-free options.  The cafe is both takeout and dine-in, which is great for those who want to quickly hop in for a quick coffee and pastry to go, and for those who want to sit back and relax for a sit-down meal.  As an added bonus, all food items come with a 20% student discount (yes, that most certainly includes university and college students!) with valid student ID.  Given its proximity to the University of Toronto, it makes perfect sense.

Their menus are located right by the front door, allowing everyone the opportunity to ponder their food choices even before being seated.  Conversely, you can also walk in, grab an available table first, and then hem and haw.  The eatery is bar service only, which means that everything is ordered and paid for up at the cash.  Servers and staff bring your food and tea to your table, but there are no menus to flip through and order from when you’re seated.  All of that is done up at the front, which I quite like because it reduces the amount time it takes to flag down a server to order, for the bill, and so on.  

My chocolate morning was comprised of a small hot chocolate (120z, $3.20) and a sweet little chocolate ganache kiss dessert.  In a word, my hot chocolate was frothy.  The chocolate was placed at the bottom of the cup to warm up and melt while hot, frothy milk was poured on top.  The hot chocolate was light and milky without being watery and perfectly chocolatey without being overly sweet, artificial, or overpowering.  It was simple and delicious.

My hot chocolate was totally and completely enhanced by my chocolate ganache kiss.  A thick layer of rich, smooth, and creamy ganache was sandwiched between two soft chocolate cookies.  It was so incredibly good.  So fudgy and so soft; the texture was bang on.  The cookies weren’t hard or crispy and the ganache wasn’t runny, mushy, or overly thick.  Together with the hot chocolate, it was wonderful.  You would think it would end up being chocolate overload (I know, such a thing does exist!), but they balanced each other perfectly.  The chocolate ganache kiss lended a full-bodied richness to the hot chocolate while the hot chocolate lended an airiness.

I am so excited about trying their loose leaf teas and a number of their breakfast and lunch items.  Trust that I will get around to attacking their breakfast sandwiches, vegetarian and vegan items, and other desserts!  In the meantime, I will happily reminisce over my sweet chocolate morning. 

*****

L’Espresso Bar Mercurio is located at 321 Bloor Street West at the corner of St. George Street right across from St. George subway station.  It is sandwiched between the ROM and the Bata Shoe Museum (the shoe museum is literally just steps away) and it is an espresso bar, dessert cafe, and brunch and lunch spot all in one.  They are open 7 days a week from 7am-11pm from Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.  They also offer weekend brunch.    

The Hot Chocolate Series – Sipping a Silky Smooth Nutella Hot Chocolate on a Chilly Day at Le Gourmand Cafe

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Our annual Santa Claus Parade graced us with cute and colourful floats this weekend, Christmas music is playing on the radio stations, and my mum has already harassed asked my brother and I for a list of things we’d like this Christmas (does two things really constitute a list?).  Christmas is just a little over a month away and each passing day feels more and more like a winter wonderland, sans the snow – for now.  There’s a cold nip in the air, I’m decked out in my oh-so-fashionable scarf and mitten ensemble, and instead of visions sugar plums dancing in my head, I have soup and hot chocolate partying in my tummy. 

The hot chocolate series is here!  Like I mentioned on my first Bits & Bites post, the hot chocolate series is one of two holiday and winter series I’m starting on the blog and after talking to my fellow Le Dolci icing sugar queen, Miya, today, I might squeeze in some peppermint posts in between too since I know some of you are huge fans!  I’m so excited to share this post with you all today because it involves NUTELLA!  Yes, nutella!  In hot chocolate form!  The chillier weather sounds a little more appealing now, doesn’t it?  Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but at least us throngs of nutella fans have another nutella yummy to enjoy in the city!  I’ve made it my mission to track down the best nutella food and drink items in and around the city and I’m very pleased that this does double duty for both the hot chocolate series and the future “5 Best” nutella post I’m working on. 

Hot chocolate has really taken on life of its own, going in a gourmet drink direction with all the different culinary interpretations: white chocolate hot chocolate, Mexican hot chocolate, chili hot chocolate, the list goes on!  And let’s not forget the childhood favourite, hot chocolate with marshmallows.  All it took was a chalkboard sign sitting on the sidewalk outside a cafe to entice me get the hot chocolate series in motion, a sign that I saw while riding the streetcar no less!  I saw the words “hot chocolate” as I passed by on the streetcar, along with a list underneath.  More than one kind?!  SOLD.  This visit to Le Gourmand, located by Spadina and Richmond, has been a long time coming.  Much like Fusaro’s Kitchen, I’ve passed by Le Gourmand countless times and just never went in.  Seeing that chalkboard sign was definitely the sign that I needed to finally see what yummy surprises this cafe had inside, and c’mon, the name of the cafe is me in a nutshell!  No, not glutton!  Gourmand as in a person who takes great pleasure in food and eating.  And that would be me!

Le Gourmand is a grocery cafe (similar to Fusaro’s in cafe layout and concept) that sells packaged truffles, cookies, chocolates, pastas, canned beans and tomatoes, jams and preserves, olives, olive oils, and balsamics among other pantry staples and sweets.  They serve a full breakfast, weekend brunch, and lunch menu chock full of sandwiches, salads, egg breakfasts, breakfast burritos, and more.  I came here for the first time for the hot chocolate, but I’m telling you, I’m coming back for breakfast and lunch one of these days because their menu of sandwiches and salads made my mouth water and I’m a sucker for breakfast/brunch food.

They have a full-length display of flaky croissants, pastries, and breakfast croissant sandwiches (including bacon, egg, and cheddar) that you can order by the cash while everything else is made to order.  Their coffee menu includes espressos, macchiatos, americanos, cafe lattes, cappuccinos, cafe mochas, chai lattes, and regular roast coffee.  I’m not a coffee drinker, so aside from the occasional latte, I always go for the teas instead and Le Gourmand has these yummy sounding iced drinks that I can’t wait to try!  I saw a raspberry-lemongrass ice tea and a mojito peppermint ice tea, both of which are on my mental “to-try” list.

As much as I would loooove to get into the breakfast and lunch menu, I’m going to save the food talk for next time and just entice you all with the drinks and nutella hot chocolate.  The cafe serves 5, count ’em, FIVE different types of hot chocolate!  They have a Belgian white hot chocolate, a French 32% caramel chocolate, a Dominican 64% bittersweet chocolate, an African 85% Grand  Cru, and finally, the Italian nutella hot chocolate.  I didn’t get the prices for a large, but small hot chocolates (which are really more like mediums, in my opinions) are $2.99, tax inclusive.

The photos honestly don’t do the hot chocolate justice.  The nutella hot chocolate is DELICIOUS.  Now I know what some of you must be thinking.  You’re thinking, “if you enjoy nutella, then it’s a no-brainer that you would enjoy this hot chocolate!”  Not necessarily.  Let it be known that some places use the name and branding of nutella to sell particular products that are not actually made with nutella.  I’m not kidding.  Some will use it as a guise to make you think you’re eating nutella when in reality it’s just chocolate.  Us foodies are not dumb and it’s insulting and disheartening that some would even think to do such a thing.  Those of us who love nutella know nutella when we taste and smell it.  And this hot chocolate is nutella through and through.  

It’s silky smooth, light and airy, and just slightly frothy on top.  It’s not a heavy hot chocolate in the sense that it’ll make you feel gross afterward, but when you drink it, it feels like you’re drinking something so decadent.  The rich cocoa flavour is what hits you first when you drink it and the very distinctive aroma and taste of the hazelnut that makes nutella what it is sits on your tastebuds after and the hot chocolate is so good it makes you want to go back for more.  Which is fine because we have the whole winter ahead of us to enjoy it. 

*****

Le Gourmand is located at 438 Richmond Street West at Spadina Ave.

Deb’s New Morning Haunt – Coffee, Tea, and Beautiful Country Kitchen Gifts and Goodies at La Merceria

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Thanks to Lisa from Le Dolci, I am now aware of this beautiful gem of a coffee, tea, and giftwares shop!  I felt so silly the first time Lisa took me here because it’s located on a street I’ve been on a number of times and in a downtown neighbourhood I’m not entirely unfamiliar with.  Located near the intersection of Adelaide Street West and Portland Street (just east of Bathurst), La Merceria sits snuggly beside Sadie’s Diner and is wedged neatly between the Fashion Districts of King and Queen.  With a few mannequins standing in the storefront window draped with pretty scarves, I completely mistook the shop for being a hip clothing boutique and always strolled past, conveniently averting my eyes so as to not tempt myself with more pretty things.  I love accessories and clothes, yes, but we’re in the downtown core here; I want to come home with something in my wallet.  I often avoid independent boutiques like the plague not because I don’t want to own all the gorgeous garments they have to offer, but because window shopping in such shops just makes me heart whimper a little.

So when Lisa took me here, I was shocked out of my pants to find out that La Merceria was in fact not a clothing boutique but was instead a fusion of 1) a gift shop, 2) a kitchen housewares store, and 3) a coffee and tea cafe with drinks and food.  I could have died right there on the spot.  It walked in and it was like a halo of light floated around me.  This cafe and shop is beautiful.  So country chic, so bright and clean, and so wonderfully cozy.  Think wood floors, wood chairs, wood tea tables, cushiony seats and pillows, brilliant sunlight streaming through the front windows and door, and shelves and tables lined and stocked with some of the most adorable kitchen housewares, accesssories, stationery, and gifts imaginable. 

It’s perfect for the cafe lover, droolworthy for those in love with interior decorating, and just dangerous for the kitchen accessory fanatic.  Oh, this was bad.  This might have been even worse than a clothing boutique.  And all because I couldn’t stop ogling the lavender and powder blue tea cups, dishes, and tea towels.  Oh, and the tote bags in the back of the shop.  And the cute stationery.  And the rest of the shop.

As Lisa informed me, the owners of La Merceria hail from Argentina and many of the drinks, artwork, and interior design and decorating in the shop show off this cultural heritage.  I can’t wait to show you guys more of the food and coffee drinks they have here in future posts; I may not be a coffee drinker but I’m sure I can make an exception every once in awhile 😉  They have both hot and chilled coffee drinks (lattes, americanos, espressos, mochas, and more) and they also have lemonades and In terms of food, think more along the lines of light breakfast and lunch, snacks, and tea time with crunchy cream cheese toasted bagels, quiche pies, salads, sandwiches, small baguettes and biscuits, cookies and sweets, and vegan, dairy and nut-free desserts from Sweets From the Earth.  I am so excited to actually have some food here.  The quiches, biscuit cookies, and cute biscuit sandwiches were calling my name!

For the time being though, my favourite thing to do here (aside from staring at all the pretty things I want to buy) is to sit down at one of the lovely wooden tables by the front with the squishy cushions behind me with a hot cup of tea.  They serve a selection of yummy Tealish teas and thus far I’ve had their Sweetie Pie Rooibos and Tahitian Moon Vanilla Rooibos and between the two I’m definitely in love with the Sweetie Pie!  What I absolutely adore about La Merceria and their “tea”ness is how they serve it!  The tea is served in giant glass or ceramic mugs on a dish with a little spoon (to stir with or to add honey or sugar) and the cutest little shortbread cookie biscuit!  This biscuit with my tea just makes my morning.  I may not have been to every cafe in town, but I can assure you that no other place I’ve been to serves their tea like this.  It makes me so giddy and I love starting my morning this way.  It’s the kind of place you envision yourself having a sunny bite in or a great coffee or tea date.  It’s so peaceful, relaxing, and beautiful being here and I love it.  This, my lovelies, is my new morning haunt.

 

*****

La Merceria is located at 506 Adelaide Street West by the northwest corner of Adelaide and Portland Street, east of Bathurst.  La Merceria is located beside Sadie’s Diner and Juice Bar.  Visit their website and blog here for updates, info, promos, events, pictures, and contact information and visit their Facebook page here.   

Vegetarian Sandwich Series: Grilled Mushroom Goat Cheese Wrap & Curry Egg Salad at Hank’s

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Here’s a secret, and maybe even a tip for those who want some inspiration: even though I make a lot of my foodie discoveries all on my own just by walking around, I have a little help finding out about a lot of others.  When I feel like roaming around the interwebs for yummylicious places that might be up my alley, I actually look up Winterlicious and Summerlicious listings and menus and jot down notes! 

And I mean actual notes, as hastily scrawled as they are.  I have a page in my Muffymade notebook with scribbles of places I want to revisit, a page dedicated to places I want to nosh at in the near future, random photos of places to keep in mind when I’m in a hurry and can’t whip my notebook and pen out, and a word document saved on my computer specifically devoted to “places of interest” taken from past Winterlicious and Summerlicious listings.  I think to myself, if the menus during the price fixe events intrigued me so much that I was compelled to take notes, there has to be something of substance on the regular menu and these places are probably something pretty special.  And that’s how I felt about Hank’s.

Hank’s is a fresh and lovely breakfast and lunch diner, located on Church St. just south of Front St. East and sandwiched between Wine Bar and Great Burger Kitchen.  The restaurant is used to hold private functions and parties in the evenings, but it’s best to call them in advance to see what their hours are as I noticed a note on their chalkboard when I went about a change in evening dining hours.  Hank’s is crisp, clean, and kind of like a breath of fresh air with their open French doors, and white and gray decor with pops of red and shimmering chandeliers and lights.  The diner is spacious and roomy with more intimate booths and table further into the diner for intimate social gatherings, a few bar tables and stools for those having a drink, and two tables beside the open French doors with cushy seats and round tables for that perfect breezy lunch.  It’s exactly like being out on a nice patio with the fresh air without actually being outside.

I was so curious about Hanks’s from the Winterlicious and Summerliciuous appearances that I looked them up and browsed their regular menu online.  To my delight, there was a ton of food totally worth going for on a regular non-Winter/Summerlicious day including their weekday breakfast menu and large weekend brunch menu, as well as a host of lunchtime sandwiches and other diner eats.  Prices for lunch will probably run you an average of $6-$10 (before taxes), and brunch floats around the $7-$11 mark.  I can’t blog about this just yet, but for non-vegetarians and vegans (basically carnis) you absolutely MUST order the smoked chicken poutine.  It will change your life.  But, more about that another time!   I know, I’m a tease. 

I noticed several vegetarian sandwich items on the menu and thought, “sweet, an even better reason to give this place a go!  I’ll get to add to my blog series!”  Aside from their daily specials which could include vegetarian items (a daily soup, maybe an omelette or frittata, and a lunch main), Hank’s has three vegetarian sandwich lunch options on their day-to-day, regular menu:

  1. Mushroom and goat cheese wrap with roasted garlic and white bean, spinach, sweet red peppers, and pickled onions
  2. Sweet chili tofu pita with avocado, zucchini, eggplant, spinach, and sun dried tomatoes
  3. Deviled egg salad sandwich with green onions, curried mayo, paprika and lettuce

What’s really nice is that a number of their sandwich lunch items come in half portions at, obviously, a lesser price.  Granted, even though getting a whole portion would be more worth your money, it’s great for people like me and others who want to try more than one item but can’t eat two full portions or can’t afford paying for two at full price!  I was lucky because the two menu items I was contemplating on having had that option, so I chose the mushroom and goat cheese wrap and the deviled egg salad sandwich.  Win-win!  The tortilla wrap was awesomely grilled and it was stuffed with tons of juicy, fresh vegetables.  It was so full of crunchy spinach leaves (there was probably a very generous fistful in it), sweet red onions (not raw but pickled, so they were soft red onions that had less of that spicy bite), and soft juicy red peppers and plump mushrooms with creamy goat cheese.  I loved both of my lunch items but if I had to choose a favourite, the deviled egg salad sandwich knocked it out of the park.

This is not your ho-hum egg salad sandwich in your old kiddie lunch box.  This egg salad was SO flavourful and so delicious.  When I read the description, it sounded great but I had my reservations.  Not because I thought it wouldn’t taste good, but because I was unsure how the curry and paprika flavours would play out.  I was afraid that the flavours would be too subtle and that it would end up getting lost, thus reducing my egg salad sandwich to ho-hum status.  When something says curry, you expect that great punch of flavour.  This sandwich was so not ho-hum.  I could eat an entire mixing bowl of this egg salad because it’s that good.  The mix of spices is so perfect and when I bit into it each time, the flavours were reminiscent of the savoury curry sauces I loved so much from Indian and Chinese places.  The lettuce added a great dimension of crunch and the bread…oh the bread.  Delicious stuff.  Hank uses Fred’s Bread and for the egg salad sandwich, they used Fred’s whole grain variety.

The neighbourhood Hank’s is located in is super convenient because it’s just steps away from the St. Lawrence Market and the “greater” downtown core, and walking distance from Union Station making it easily accessible by public transit.  The atmosphere is great and I’m so glad my ridiculous note-taking paid off because I have found myself (and others, if you’re interested in trying them out!) yet another wonderful breakfast and lunch spot that I can’t wait to go back to.

 

*****

Hank’s is located at 9 1/2 Church St. (no, that’s not a typo, 9 1/2!), just south of Front St. East.  They are open for breakfast and lunch 7 days a week and offer a weekend brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays.  They are open from 7am-5pm on weekdays, and from 8am-4pm on weekends.  Call them if you’re interested in dining there for dinner as they have changed their hours for the evenings.  The diner is also available for private parties and corporate events.  Click here to view their website and menus.

Black-and-White Damask and a Melty, Crunchy Smoked Salmon, Guacamole Sandwich – Atelier Cafe, Part II

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Atelier Cafe, to me, is a fab place for a get-together with your girl friends.  Or just a group lunch in general.  The space is very open and it’s very conducive for small group gatherings.  The decor is beautiful with the black-and-white damask patterned walls, black plushy sofa seats, and floral patterned ottomans to sit on.  Very posh, very avant garde.  It’s the kind of place I envision when my girl friends and I say, “let’s do lunch” and want the feel of being fancy pants without actually being fancy pants.  Atelier serves both breakfast and lunch and their menu specialty lies with their sandwiches, as well as some salads.  I know Atelier is a cafe by day and a nightclub and lounge by night, but since I only plan on coming here for lunch and maybe trying a breakfast item or two, no goods on the nightclub scene here!

Looking at Atelier’s tomato focaccia sandwiches makes my mouth hang open.  The sandwiches are HUGE!  I refer to them as “brick” sandwiches because they honestly look as big as bricks!  I know I ordered a whole sandwich meal for myself but I have to tell you, it’s good enough to feed two people for lunch, especially considering you get a side salad along with it.  The tomato focaccia sandwich meals come in two “brick slabs”, which makes for easy sharing if you’re there with others.  If you’re on your own, I think it’s great for portion control.  Eat one sandwich “half” (which in my opinion functions as an entire sandwich) and take the other to-go.  Unless of course you’re a piggy like me and you attempt to eat the whole thing in one shot and then you moan and groan about how damn full you are afterward.  Whoops. 

Anyway!  The tomato focaccia bread that they use for a number of their sandwiches is fantastic.  They press and grill the sandwiches so that they come out beautifully crunchy and crispy and everything on the inside is melty and soft and gooey and YUMMY.  Oh!  And the side salad was delicious too.  Green spring mix salad topped with an amazing 7-grain salad mixed with a mustard vinaigrette.

You all know how much I love salmon, so I got myself the smoked salmon sandwich.  The sandwich didn’t come exactly as it stated on the menu, but quite frankly, I loved the way my sandwich came out and I’m glad it ended up the way that it did.  It was only a minor substitution and I loved it.  The salmon sandwich on the menu had cream cheese, guacamole, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, and capers and what I actually got was all of the above minus the alfalfa and with baby spinach instead.  Oh man, HEAVEN.  The sandwich press made the cream cheese and guacamole all melty and it was SO GOOD.  The guacamole was oozing out of the sandwich and onto the sides – can you say party in my mouth??  It was everything I could have hoped for in a great sandwich – great texture and flavour from the bread and all the filling meshed together.  Even though my boyfriend didn’t enjoy his pulled pork one as much as he would’ve hoped, I thoroughly enjoyed my smoked salmon one and I would definitely go back to try some of their other sandwiches.

All of their sandwich meals come in under $10 with the more expensive ones priced at $8.95.  Like I said before though, they’re great for sharing because of their size, so feasibly, you could the split the meal with another person and have yourself a $4.50 lunch.  Along with tomato focaccia, they also serve some of their sandwiches on dark rye, sourdough, pain au lait rolls (crispy on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside), and even on a pretzel!  They also provide the option of making your sandwich on gluten-free bread for an additional charge of $1.  Do they have a vegetarian sandwich?  Indeed they do.  They have a grilled veggie sandwich served on their tomato focaccia with bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, alfalfa, and goat cheese.  When I get around to trying this one, I will definitely add it to the Vegetarian Sandwich Series if it’s up to snuff.

They serve a number of meal-size salads including couscous, nicoise (tuna with potatoes, green beans, and hard boiled eggs and other vegetables), turkey (a Thanksgiving inspired type of salad with cranberry compote and vegetables), and a caprese salad with tomatoes and bocconcini cheese.  They also have plenty of drinks on their menu including coffee, espresso, lattes, and loose leaf brewed tea from Tealish, but if you’re not in the mood for any of that they have pitchers of ice water with cucumber by the cash that you can help yourself to. 

Annnd, they have cookie creamie sandwiches from Bunner’s Bake Shop here!  Squee!  If you’ll recall, back in April I made two very large blog posts about Bunner’s Bake Shop during Veggielicious and in a nutshell, Bunner’s Bake Shop is an amazing vegan, gluten-free bakery that also serves a number of nut-free and soy-free goodies at well.  So if you love Bunner’s and can’t always make the trek out west to The Junction or if you’ve never tried any of Bunner’s baked goods and want to but also can’t make the trip, you can grab one (or more) of their amazingly delicious cookie cream sandwiches!

If you’re looking for a pretty lunch cafe with a nice, open atmosphere and awesome sandwich portions, I’d totally recommend giving Atelier a whirl.  I really love their tomato focaccia bread and I’m looking forward to my next visit so I can try out something else.  And maybe next time I won’t walk out of there waddling on such a full stomach!

*****

Atelier Cafe Lounge is located at 510 King St. West, west of Spadina Ave.  They serve both breakfast and lunch during the day and turn into a lounge and nightclub at night.  Once I get their operating hours, I’ll come back and update!