|Toulouse enjoys his Mill St Coffee Porter|
I wasn’t long in Toronto, when Nina—who understood my penchant for fine dining, great coffee and culture in unusual settings—took me to the historic Distillery District.
Set on 13 acres in the heart of downtown Toronto, The Distillery District is the single largest collection of Victorian Industrial architecture in North America and one of Toronto’s hottest “gastrozones”. I was in COOL Travel Cat Heaven. Wonderfully restored to retain its funky retro-industrial setting, The Distillery features a wide and eclectic tapestry of shops, cafés, restaurants and galleries including: chocolatiers who produce artisan chocolate directly from the cocoa bean itself; cafés that micro-roast Fairtrade beans; Canadian fine cuisine in industrial chic settings; and galleries and shops that embrace original funk-chic.
Founded in 1832 by brothers-in-law William Gooderham and James Worts, the Gooderham and
Worts Distillery grew into the largest
distillery in the world. They exported spirits and whiskey to ports around the
world from New York to Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo. After 153 years of
continuous production, the plant distilled its last drop of rum in 1990. Resident
beer gardens, wine bars, an award-winning microbrewery (Mill Street Brewery) and
even a sake distillery (which opened a few months ago) have amply filled the
gap. The Ontario Spring Water Sake Company is the first and only sake brewery
in Ontario. It’s prepared in the “Junmai” (pure rice) style, freshly pressed,
unpasteurized and unfiltered. They have a lovely tasting room and several sakes
to try along with Japanese food.
|Historic Distillery District|
|The Potter's Shed|
|Fleur de Sel chocolate caramel|
Soma is one of the few artisan chocolatiers in North America who make small batch chocolates Veni, vidi, vici!
directly from the cocoa bean (which they get
from plantations around the world including the Dominican Republic, Madagascar,
Costa Rica and Panama—with a preference for Fairtrade, Organic and flavor
grade. You can see them making their chocolates in their micro-chocolate
factory through the display window! Toronto Life Magazine and Now Magazine
voted Soma chocolates as the best in town. And why not? Their exquisite
chocolates are lovingly made by dedicated and friendly staff (probably
intoxicated with chocolate-induced endorphins). You can’t go wrong with names
and elegant ingredients like fleur de sel caramels, almond cluster dark
Peruvian, Arbequina Spanish olive oil, cherry bomb, Gooderham and Worts
Whiskey, Douglas Fir and Bergamot.
|Patrons of Soma enjoy exquisite gelato|
Soma’s gelatos and sorbettos are also extremely popular. We returned later to savor one of their 14 flavours.
|Mill Street Brewery Pub|
We sat in their patio facing Tank House Lane. Nina decided on their English Tea Beer and I asked Natalie, our friendly waitress, for their Coffee Porter. The Coffee Porter features roasted beans from Balzac Coffee, down the street, and delights the palate with complex lingering flavors of nuts. With 100% certified ingredients in their stock ales, tank house ales, and porters, who can go wrong?
The Brew Pub opened in 2006, serving exceptional pub-style food that use the Mill Street brews, brewed on site. I ordered a Drunken Butter Chicken (the name somehow appealed)—an organic lager marinated chicken simmered in the Mill’s own butter sauce and served with basmati rice and naan bread. I found large chicken pieces bathed in a delicate “rose” sauce with complex flavors that lingered with a mild heat. Along with their cob salad, which Nina smartly chose, and their signature fish and chips, it is a favorite among Brew Pub patrons.
|The Potter's Shed|
Then it was time to exercise some of that butter chicken away. A little ways down Tank House Lane we felt drawn to the magic realism of The Potter’s Shed, whose earthy artworks looked like they’d spilled out from the tiny shop in artful chaos among the brick pavestones. Clay pots and gardening implements lay scattered among dizzying sprays of lavender, hydrangeas, and ferns. Inside, Behar, in her rainbow sarong, added to a setting out of a classic fiction novel. When we finally stepped back into the sun, Pigcat asked me if I’d seen all the ferries sitting among the pots.
We ambled farther, poking inside eclectic shops, and ended up on Trinity Street. I highly recommend Cube Works Gallery, a fun shop that features original works created from Rubik’s cubes.
We took Case Goods Lane, past several galleries, toward PureSpirits Oyster House & Grill and Toronto Life—for an exquisite dinner of fresh oysters and salad. Ben, out waiter—who recognized me, because he is from Toulouse, France!—offered us Fanny Bay oysters from British Columbia and Beausoleils from New Brunswick. They came on the half-shell with shredded horseradish and several shallot vinaigrettes. I showed Nina how to throw the oyster to the back of the throat and savor the full flavor of the creamy-sweet, sea-salt meat. Pure Spirit oysters are considered “the best” in Toronto by OurFaves.com. We slurped them down with panache, licking our little pink tongues, along with a refreshing baby spinach and arugula salad.
decided to have an early supper of fresh
oysters and beer. Ah, the life of a Cool Cat… We settled on the outside patio—called
“Toronto’s Best Patio” by
|Oyster shucking contest|
It was the last Tuesday in May and Pure Spirits was launching its “Topshuck Patio” shucking contest at 6pm. Of course, we stayed and watched them shuck their little hearts out—well, actually their little oysters out …hehe… It turned out that all of Toronto’s best had come to compete for money and a huge bottle of Sky vodka. Contestants from Rodney’s Oyster House, Oyster Boy and Big Daddy’s, and Starfish (to name a few quality establishments) shucked as we gorged on oysters (Pure Spirits donated the shucked oysters to its patrons. Bonus!). Head chef Tim Miles put on the shindig. Contestants were timed on their ability to successfully shuck a dozen oysters. The fastest shuck against the least demerit points for quality won. Tim and his assistant Carlier Morejon (the “Cuban Missile”) judged each shuck. They added to the time if: the oyster wasn’t severed, the gut was still in the oyster, the shell was broken, the meat was out of shell, it was a bad oyster, it was scrambled, the count was wrong, and on number of parts. We didn’t leave until very late that night and we had actually had our fill of oysters. We felt a little like the “Walrus and the Carpenter” as we ambled home, bellies full and happy.
|Judging the shucking|
World-class theatre and entertainment thrive in X-Men, Chicago, Long Kiss Goodnight, The Recruit and Cinderella Man.
Distillery District. I noted that several theatre companies have made The
Distillery their home, including The Soulpepper Theatre Company and George
Brown’s Theatre School, housed in the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. The
Toronto Star calls it “Toronto’s new cultural hotspot.” Nina informed me that
over 1000 movies, television shows, commercials and music videos were shot in The
Distillery District; some include
|Filming in the Distillery District|