Friends With Salad – The Fresh Bocconcini & Tomato Caprese Salad with Pesto & Basil at The Commissary

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Every time I think of salad, I laugh to myself as I think of the episode of the Simpsons when Lisa becomes a vegetarian and the scene with Bart, Homer, and Marge dancing in a little conga line chanting, “you don’t win friends with sa-lad!  You don’t win friends with sa-lad!”  with Lisa scowling on the couch.  Oh, Simpsons, how you fit into every aspect of my life.  We know the truth though: salads kick butt and some are so much more worthy than their appetizer and side status at the meal table.  One of my all-time favourite salads is a tomato salad with fresh bufala mozzarella or bocconcini cheese with basil or a caprese salad.  Slices of tomato and cheese, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that there is basil, the tomatoes are juicy and sweet, and the cheese is soft and melt-in-your-mouth delightful.  I love it with a really great olive oil but a sweet and tangy balsamic works just fine too.

Source: the-rivalry.com

I’ll never forget the day I found out about bocconcini cheese.  I was still in university doing my undergrad and I was with a coworker at the flower shop I used to work at and it was dinnertime.  She had brought a whole container of bocconcini to nosh on and I looked over, was curious, and asked her what she was eating.  She told me bocconcini cheese and gushed about how great it was with tomato salad.  And from that day on, I was in love with bocconcini cheese, buying it from the supermarket to have on hand for snacks and salads at home, and looking out for any bocconcini or bufala mozzarella cheese menu items at restaurants.  All that time this wonderful cheese was absent from my life and now I can’t imagine my life without it!  I am such a cheese fanatic and this is definitely one of my favourite varieties.  And here to deliver a fantastic caprese salad bursting with tomatoes and soft fresh cheese is The Commissary!

Their caprese salad is part of all 3 menus (brunch, lunch, and dinner) and comes in both main ($8) and side ($6) portions.  Oh my gosh, trust me when I say that you need to disregard this salad as merely a side and always, ALWAYS order it as a main.  I mean, if you can.  And want to.  You should!  I had mine as a separate side and thought, “holy bejesus I could eat this endlessly!” and vowed that the next time I was there, I would have their caprese salad as a main with a side of The Commissary’s breakfast potatoes to go with it! 

This caprese screams fresh and juicy.  The multicoloured grape tomatoes and bocconcini are covered in delicious pesto, sweet and tangy balsamic, and a fresh as air chiffonade of basil.  What makes this salad is the fresh cheese and, combined with the balsamic and basil, it is over the moon delicious!  I felt like I was having bocconcini for the first time all over again, only 10 times more amazing!  I could not believe how soft and melt-in-your-mouth it was.  I barely even had to chew because it was that soft.  And I loved how they weren’t skimpy on the cheese either!  This is the real deal and while the cheese I’ve had at the supermarket was good, this blows everything out of the water. 

It’s a great variation of the traditional sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella salad and if my love for this salad and their baby arugula and mango salad with goat cheese salad is any indication, I’m not just friends with salad, I’m kind of bffs with it.

*****

The Commissary is located at 889 Queen Street East at the southeast corner of Queen and Logan Ave. in Leslieville.  They serve weekend brunch, and lunch and dinner during the week.  Weekend brunch is served from 9am-3pm on Saturdays and Sundays and from Monday to Friday, they are open from 11am-10pm.

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.

Confessions of a Brunch-Obsessed Foodie – Brunch Picks From Leslieville & Brunch-Themed Flavour Favourite Series

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To finish off this mini series of Leslieville posts, I thought it would be fun to compile and share a list of some of the places I think would be great to check out for brunch!  Leslieville is growing community with more and more people raving about the food culture and scene every day, so this list is by no means exhaustive!  These are, however, some of the spots I’ve had my eye on over the past year and I want to share them with you all! 

  • The Commissary – located at 889 Queen Street East, this hip new dining spot is the new kid in town having only taken up residence in the neighbourhood within the past half year.  I literally did a double-take when I walked by it a week and a half ago (“what in the world, when did this place show up?!”) and as soon as I took a quick peek at their menu, I knew I had hit brunch jackpot.  Although the person sitting by the window must not have felt the same as he probably felt the tiniest bit uncomfortable with me somewhat pressing my nose up against the window to read the menu.  I’m kidding!  Sort of.  Anyway, highlights from their weekend brunch menu (Saturdays and Sundays from 10am) include: smoked bacon and gouda eggs benny ($10); ratatouille with fresh herbs ($10); rock lobster tail and mango salsa ($13); 4 different types of French toast (!!!) with sweet and savoury options ($9); and curried shrimp and melon salad ($8 for main, $6 as a side) just to rattle off a bunch.

*****

  • Le Papillon on the Park – located at 1001 Eastern Ave. directly behind Jonathan Ashbridge Park, home of Leslieville’s farmers’ market, just off a Cam Fella Lane.  Oozing with French appeal and a menu to match, Papillon delivers weekend brunch French fare dishes such as breakfast poutine (4 different kinds!  $9-$14); rolled crepes with baked Quebec brie ($9); Québécois meat pie tourtière with tomato apple relish ($17); plenty of savoury meat and vegetable crepes, pain doré French toast, croque monsieur, and many, many eggs and eggs benny items!  The kicker for me?  Their roof-top patio!  And the fact that they have a patio menu, a price fixe menu, and a dessert menu!  It doesn’t get any better than that.

*****

  • Edward Levesque’s Kitchen – located at 1290 Queen Street East, east of Leslie Street by Hastings Ave.  If you’re looking for all-day breakfast, this spot is here to serve you!  What makes Edward Levesque’s Kitchen even more appealing to me is their special weekend brunch items in addition to their daily breakfast!  I love it when there are different things to look forward to during different parts of the week, especially for brunch (I think the rotating cupcake menus at many of the cupcake bakeries in town have me feeling this way) and their offerings sure don’t disappoint: cinnamon vanilla challah toast with apple butter ($11) and latkes with smoked salmon, sour cream, and chives ($15) on the weekends, and poached eggs with Italian sausage, tomato basil sauce, and cornbread ($16), and poached eggs with curried lentils, lamb sausage, coriander, and toasted cumin ($15) all week long!  Oh, and let’s not forget their ridiculously long list of brunch sides!  I counted 14 items.  No joke.

In addition to drooling over brunch menus, I have a bunch of different brunch themed Flavour Favourites series that I’m working on right now and I’m really excited about them!  It’ll take me awhile to rack up enough posts for each of them, but I’m so looking forward to putting these compilation posts together once I do have enough.  I’ll be putting together Flavour Favourites posts for tofu brunch items, strawberry brunch items, blueberry pancakes, French toast (especially banana bread ones!), and a whole slew of the best eggy benny dishes!  I literally have a running list of places that serve these types of dishes and the list is growing each and every week as I find out about more spots that serve breakfast and brunch on weekends.  Some might find it a little overwhelming but I think it’s so much fun and it feels so nice knocking out a new spot every week.  And with the fall season just around the corner, I’ll be keeping an eye out for fall-inspired menu items too!