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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All I Need Is Cheese – Red Bean Ice Drinks With Whipped Cream and Cheesy Pasta Hong Style Dishes at The Phoenix

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Okay, so that statement isn’t entirely true.  I need more than cheese to complete my life.  But I do love cheese a whole lot!  And what better way to spread my love for cheese than to show you all some insanely delicious cheesy pasta HK style dishes from Phoenix restaurant!  Phoenix is my favourite Chinese diner to eat at and I’m really lucky that all of their locations are in and around Markham – one of the locations is actually just a 10 minute drive/bus ride away!  I can’t believe it’s already been so long since my first post on Phoenix way back during Ate by Ate’s first week on the internet.  That was the first week of December and here I am enjoying my last month to month and a half of summer and so much has changed since I started the blog.  For one thing, I graduated from grad school with my MA and am no longer a student and for another, I’ve never felt like I’ve learned as much as I have this past year and I have so much to take away with me.  And to think it’s all because I love food as much as I do!

I have always loved pasta, cheese, and numerous kinds of seafood and it’s one of the things I enjoy the most when I eat at HK style diners.  Of course I enjoy my rice dishes, but more often than not, I gravitate toward the spaghetti, the macaroni, the rotini, and any other type of pasta that happens to be on the menu.  Aside from the drinks, it’s one of the things I look forward to the most when I know I’m coming here!  I’ll probably sound like such a simpleton when I say this, but I get SO excited at the thought of spaghetti 😀  And because HK style diners like Phoenix have so many different spaghetti and pasta combinations, I get to pick and choose to my heart’s content!  They have everything from pasta with sausage, pineapple, mushrooms, sauteed veggies, and fish cutlets to dishes with sauces like tomato, black pepper, white cream, garlic, and mushroom.

It just so happens that these two delicious dishes I’m showing you today both have seafood and cheese: 1) a spaghetti dish with baby clams, cream sauce, a little bit of baked, melted cheese on top, and a giant puff pastry to go along with it! and 2) a HK style macaroni and cheese meal with incredibly soft macaroni covered in ooey gooey pull-apart cheese, served with crab meat, squid, and shrimp.  Not only do I adore how fast Phoenix dishes out their meals, but I’ve loved everything I’ve ever eaten here and these meals were no different.

The quality is bang on and they set themselves apart from others with such a large selection of menu items that have both HK and Chinese staples (chow mein, ho fun, tong mein) and unique, unexpected dishes (c’mon when have you EVER been to a place that served puff pastry with clam spaghetti?!).  Everyone has their own version and definition of comfort food, and this is definitely one of mine.  It warms, it satisfies, and it makes me feel wiggly happy all over.  Pasta and cheese – it doesn’t get any better than that!

I may have stuck with what I knew I loved when it came to the food, but I did the unexpected when it came to ordering my drink: I ordered red bean.  Let’s put this another way: DEB DOESN’T LIKE RED BEAN AND NEVER HAS.  So why in the world did I order it?!  Because after all these years of wrinkling my nose and puckering my mouth, I’ve given red bean another shot, the same way I’ve given chocolate mint a whirl and the same way I’ve done a complete 180 when it comes to bell peppers.  Growing up, I would always turn down the red bean dessert that came at the end of the Chinese restaurant dinner (tong sui), I wouldn’t touch the pineapple red bean buns with a ten-foot pole, and I would ignore the red bean drinks on the menu and pretend they weren’t there.  To say the least, I was not a fan.

But I’ve had a change of heart as of late (and by that I mean in the last few months) and it’s been growing on me.  There aren’t a lot of things I don’t like to eat (healthy things, of course!), so I make a conscious effort to give the things I used to dislike a shot and I realize that I rather enjoy them now.  And it feels great opening myself up to it all.  Thus, enter the red bean ice slush drink with the sweet whipped cream on top.  I liked ^_^ 

These photos, and the meals they capture, are special to me.  Not only do these photos depict two different meals that have two very specific things I love in common (seafood and cheese!), but they also tell the story of a girl simaltaneously branching out and staying in her comfort food zone.

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Prices for mains range from $6-$9 and many meals include your choice of drink, with an additional charge added for special drinks like slushes, floats, and ices.  Phoenix serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with a selection of appetizers, snacks, desserts, and tea time specials.  Phoenix’s 3 locations are in Markham and Thornhill:

  1. 1 Raymerville Drive, Markham.  Intersection of McCowan and Raymerville Drive south, located north of Hwy.7 and Bullock Drive, south of 16th Ave.
  2. 7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham.  Intersection of Steeles and Woodbine, just north of Steeles.  Off the 404 Steeles highway exit
  3. 8190 Bayview Ave., Thornhill.  North of John St, south of Langstaff Rd.