A Hockey/Eating Weekend in Toronto, Part 2

I had never heard of Roncesvalles, but apparently, it is to Toronto what Logan Square is to Chicago: a bohemian ‘hood on the verge of gentrification. My friends were planning to take me and Max with their kids to a relatively new barbecue joint there called Barque Smokehouse on Sunday night, which, appropriately enough, was family night at the restaurant. They only have seatings at 5 and 6:45 p.m. on Sundays, but the menu is set, with a pretty large assortment included in the tasting.

Dining room at Barque

They started us off with chestnut soup (weak, according to Max; I concurred) as well as some decent, super crispy chicken fingers for the kids and some spicy shrimp cocktail for the adults. While I sipped a beautifully-made whiskey sour, they were already bringing out the next round: juicy, meaty smoked baby back ribs and an impossibly moist smoked chicken. It had to be brined, as the juices were just bursting with each bite; the ribs had a nice chew and tug to them, and the meaty, tasty pork had the tell-tale pink smoke ring, but didn’t need to be bathed in the hickory-scented barbecue sauce. Other large oval plates arrived with celery root-studded mashed potatoes, sauteed garlic spinach and a braised brisket-mushroom stew. I barely had room left for the cookies that showed up at the end of the meal; the highlight being a soft sugar version with a buttery-rich mocha frosting on top of it.


Heavy duty side dishes at Barque

Max and I were pretty stuffed, but we didn’t want to go back to the hotel quite so soon (it was only 7 p.m.). We swung by a Shoeless Joe’s Sports Bar to watch the first period of the Hawks-Flames game, then caught an 8 p.m. movie at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (home of the Toronto International Film Festival), which has to be among the finest movie palaces we’ve ever seen a film in, right up there with the ArcLight in L.A. and the Siskel in Chicago. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, (which was immaculately maintained), and as we walked into completely darkened theaters (no annoying bright Exit signs to distract your peripheral vision) we felt like we were walking into a professional screening room. The bone-rattling sound system provided total immersion. We got to bed around midnight, as we planned our final day in town, with the Hockey Hall of Fame as our focal point.

Front counter at Gilead Cafe

Jamie Kennedy has become one of Toronto’s Celebrity Chefs, thanks in part to his marketing acumen, but also due to the fact he works with the greatest products from within the Province and does very little to them. It’s funny though, because when you say “celebrity chef” in the States, you’re typically implying a larger-than-life personality; this being Canada, Kennedy maintains a high profile by just being himself, always pretty reserved and low-key, and none of the bluster more commonly associated with his American counterparts. The one exception: the big poster/advertisement for his fries I saw at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. His latest cafe, Gilead, is a hidden gem on the Eastern edge of downtown, where we decided to meet a local friend for breakfast before our big day at the Hall.


Pain au chocolat at Gilead


We started off with some buttery, flaky pain au chocolat, which Max just devoured; he then ordered a ham and cheese croissant for his main course, knowing full well the food options at the Hall would most likely be limited to hot dogs.

Ham & cheese croissant from Gilead


I opted for something a little on the healthier side: Kennedy makes his own “JK” preserves and jams, some of which ends up in the beautifully smooth and slightly tart yogurt. But at Gilead, he also adds some chopped hazelnuts and granola, which provide a much needed textural crunch to that monotony of creaminess; a drizzle of honey also wakes it up and gives it a jolt of sweetness, but not too much so.

Yogurt, preserves, hazelnuts and honey at Gilead

After we spent a few hours at the Hall of Fame, we had a little bit of time to kill before we headed back to the shuttle bus pickup. By now, it was after 2 p.m., and Max was dying to go back to City Hall and do some more skating. We squeezed in an hour of skate time, then walked across Bay Street to a little deli called Bannock, which features a mostly Ontario-centered menu. The thinly-sliced brisket sandwich I had was more like a soft corned beef, ramped up with fresh horseradish and served on some impossibly eggy-rich brioche buns that were just barely griddled on a panini press. Max opted for a ham with brie on French bread, and we both split a hearty, bracing bowl of finely-ground venison chili, jam-packed with black and garbanzo beans. We picked up a raspberry danish and a butter tart to go, the latter of which is one of Canada’s favorite treats (the guy behind the counter told us it was like “Halloween in a single bite”) and while I’ve had them before at the St. Lawrence Market, I still find them teeth-chatteringly too sweet. Think of them as a way to mainline sugar and fat into your system without the needle.

I should mention that on the return trip, again, via Porter Airlines, it took all of 20 minutes to get to the airport from the Fairmont, via bus and then short ferry across the water. We loved the super high-speed Macs in the waiting area, along with the free snacks and drinks. I had a nice glass of Ontario’s Jackson Triggs chardonnay on the flight itself (free) and when we got to Midway, it took all of five minutes to go through the shortest customs line ever. I was home exactly four hours after I had left the Fairmont. Take that, United!

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