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.

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Getting My Mango and Tofu On – The Mango Tango Burrito at Freshii!

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I look a little silly cradling my burrito half like a baby, but when my food is yummy, I take great care in ensuring all of it ends up in my tummy as opposed to on the floor or on myself.  Well, that, and because I just needed a way to get the burrito in the photo with me!  I love burritos and I love how making them and eating them are one of the easiest and healthiest ways to get all my protein and veggies into a single meal.  I’m crazy about rice and beans and stuffing things like chickpeas, avocado, peppers, cheese, and spinach into them.  And don’t even get me started on the sauce!  I mop up my sauces real good and a burrito just isn’t a burrito unless there’s guacamole, sour cream, or some other delectable dressing to dunk it in. 

I’m a huuuge fan of the fish, shrimp, and veggie and bean burritos at Burrito Boyz, but haven’t really ventured out to other places around the city to try out others.  I always want to, but there’s so many things I always want to eat that sometimes it goes on the backburner until I’m reminded of one and think, “hmm, that burrito looks scrumptious.  I want to stick my face in it”.  I wasn’t kidding though when I said I was afraid of soiling myself with my food; one of my earliest memories of eating tacos and burritos was unfortunately dropping rice and sauce on my dress at the age of 5.  However, I have since replaced that exasperating experience with many happier ones, like the times when I would have build-a-burrito night for dinner at home and have bowls of chopped peppers, tomatoes, ground meat, rice, cheese at my disposable, and the heavenly meals at Burrito Boyz.

This burrito was the first item I tried from Freshii’s Social Menu (mains ranging from $7.29-$9.99), which debuted back in August at all Freshii locations and it was also the first time I tried one of Freshii’s burritos in general.  After being seduced by brown rice Freshii bowls for over a year, it was time for a temporary change of scenery and lucky me, there was a special menu to work with!  Freshii’s Social Menu was introduced over a month ago and the menu features a number of different combinations voted in and recommended by social media followers on sites such as Twitter and Facebook.  This menu not only highlights what some of Freshii’s biggest fans love, but it also attests to the proliferation of social media as a tool for businesses to communicate with consumers, gauge likes and dislikes, reciprocate feedback, and to build relationships across borders.  More and more, businesses are using social media outlets to promote their image and brand and to engage consumers in different ways.  For example, Freshii has used Twitter to ask followers about menu items to add and to pass along promotions and news among other things.  Freshii’s Social Menu thus reflects a very current and relatable mode of communication and creative process.

Freshii’s Mango Tango burrito had my name written all over it: brown rice with avocado, roasted red pepper, melted Jack and cheddar cheese, grilled tofu, and a mango, tomato, roasted red pepper, and cilantro salsa all wrapped in a grilled whole wheat tortilla.  It goes without saying that I loved the combination of avocado, roasted peppers, and cheese, but what totally made this burrito a hit for me was the tofu!  You’d think the tofu would be standing in the wings with a supporting role, but the tofu shined in this one.  The tofu was cut into cubed chunks and it was so good because it didn’t taste rubbery and it had this great warm, nutty flavour to it.  It added another dimension of taste and texture to the burrito and it was my favourite part of the whole thing. 

Some people might think burritos are child’s play to make, but they really aren’t because you need a balance between wet and dry foods.  Too much of things like tomatos and cucumber makes for a gross, leaky burrito and not enough means you’ll end up eating nothing but dry rice and tortilla.  The avocado added creaminess to the rice and tortilla, the tofu added body and nuttiness, the peppers and mango added moisture, and the cheese added its natural saltiness.  I also loved how the tomato and peppers in the salsa didn’t overpower the mango.  Throughout the entire burrito I got little bursts of juicy mango flavour and I only wish it was more than a salsa and instead ginormous chunks!  It was great and I enjoyed it even more after getting a side of blue cheese dressing to dunk my burrito in!  Their blue cheese dressing goes fab with this and as usual, I cleaned it all off.  And I didn’t make a mess the entire time.  Win-win 😀

*****

Freshii in Toronto serves 12 locations in the city with one also serving Mississauga.  Click here for a list and map of specific locations, as well as more information on Freshii’s menu, goals, and mission statement.  The Yonge and St.Clair Freshii is located at 1560 Yonge St., just north of St. Clair Ave. on the west side of Yonge.

Weekly Feature: The Grad Lounge – The Fruity and Summery Jerk Chicken & Mango Salsa Wrap

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Let’s tick off all the foodie things that scream out SUMMER!  There’s watermelon, ice cream trucks and popsicles, juicy corn on the cob straight off the grill, juicy salads, berries, iced beverages, and one of my favourites, salsa!  Tomato salsa, avocado salsa, it’s all amazing.  You eat it with tacos and burritos, dunk chips and pita wedges in it, and hey, bruschetta wouldn’t be the hot tamale that it is without it.  So imagine my jubilance when I saw a Grad Lounge menu item with MANGO SALSA in it!  A jerk chicken grilled flour tortilla wrap (gosh, don’t you just love the grill marks?) outfitted with fresh romaine lettuce and juicy mango made with diced mango, mango puree, and diced red bell pepper.  I was so thrilled to see this menu item on The Grad Lounge’s daily specials menu board that truth be told, I wanted to pluck it off the daily specials right into the permanent menu because it is delicious.  I may feature a different Grad Lounge meal every week, but that doesn’t mean that I absolutely, positively looooove everything to death.  I enjoy many of the meals but there’s always that handful that really make you do the Elaine thumbs-and-little-kicks dance.  And no, I didn’t do the dance…not outwardly anyway.

Just as I talked about last week in my stuffed peppers post, The Grad Lounge once again made good on their resources.  The jerk chicken is something that they regularly serve on their rotating specials menu, normally with rice, salad, and a roll or corn muffin and they used that same chicken to make their jerk chicken and mango salsa wraps.  The wrap had tender pieces of jerk chicken meat with just the subtlest of heat kick.  I’ve had the jerk chicken meal before and holy jeebus does it live up to its name in spiciness!  It’s awesome how spicy it is, but boy did it make me wheeze and pant!  If you have the jerk chicken meal with rice be prepared for a hot one.  Having said that, the heat is completely toned down for the wrap and it’s more about the tenderness of the meat that shines through, which is important in a wrap.  Meat in a wrap needs to be soft, otherwise it just defeats the purpose and you end up having to tug and pull and gnaw and basically destroy the tortilla. 

The grilled tortilla was warm, slightly crispy, and didn’t fall apart, the romaine was fresh and crunchy, and the mango salsa was fantastic!  It further moistened the chicken, dressed the romaine, and gave the wrap the fruitest of flavours.  And it was the perfect consistency.  It wasn’t liquidy yet there was enough body in it from the diced mango and bell pepper that it made the salsa chunky enough to be considered an actual salsa as opposed to a chutney.  It worked on all levels and I’m so happy I got to try this one out.  I’d say this is definitely in my top 5 list of favourite Grad Lounge meals, right up there with the vegetarian lasagna, lamb curry on rice, cannelloni, and vegan chili.  It’s yummy and so perfect for the sunny summer weather.

*****

The Grad Lounge is located at 166 South Ross at the York University Keele campus.  The Grad Lounge’s summer operating hours are from 11:30pm-6:30pm, Monday to Friday.  It is a graduate student space on campus, so please ensure that if you wish to come here that you are either a York grad student with ID on hand, or that you are accompanied by a grad student if you aren’t one.