Cheesed Off

I decided to come out of hibernation this winter to attend Joylister’s Grilled Cheese Fest. Bread + Cheese + Butter + Heat = Deliciousness! Grilled cheese is one of my favourite comfort foods, so when I heard about this event, there was no doubt in my mind that I had to attend. The $40 ticket price for all you can eat grilled cheese, soup and some beer seemed a little steep, but I was willing to shell it out because I am a lover of cheesy goodness. After taking part in the ‘spectacle‘ that was the grilled cheese fest, I am thinking it may have been wise to continue hibernating a little more.

The event had so much potential; great vendors, great assortment of grilled cheese and soups, and all you can eat for 5 hours! Unfortunately, the evening seemed doomed right from the start. As opposed to writing a post detailing the catastrophes of the night, I have decided to make a HITS and MISSES list instead.

HITS:

1) The Vendors.  The 10 or so vendors that came to the event really were incredible. While there were some ‘technical’ difficulties throughout the night, they persevered and wanted to try and distribute as many grilled cheese sandwiches as possible. Some of my sandwich highlights include:

  • “The Wafella” by Leslieville Cheese Market. Gluten Free Waffles, Coconut Gouda, and Nutella. Probably one of my favourite sandwiches from the night. I was a little skeptical at first, but it was so tasty I regret not waiting in line for a 2nd!
    wafella grilled cheese leslieville cheese market
  • Creme Fraiche Market. 2 yr old cow cheddar, caramelized onion chutney, and organic butter. We luckily grabbed this sandwich on our way out the door at 9:55 pm. The sandwich (and lack of line) definitely helped to redeem this rather disappointing night
  • “The Sheeva” by The Construction Site. 4-cheese mac & cheese, egg loaf, panko bread crumbs, parmesan. Seriously…Mac & Cheese inside a grilled cheese? Yes please! Two of my favourite foods merged into 1. It was delightful to see and eat!

MISSES:

1) Event Organization. Everything that could possibly go wrong with organizing an event happened with the Grilled Cheese Fest. From waiting outside in the cold for nearly 40 minutes, to taking almost 2 hours before I ate my first grilled cheese, this event was a catastrophe from the get-go. I did manage to snap a nice pic of Roy Thompson Hall while freezing my butt off in line though (trying to be a little positive here).
Outside Roy Thompson Hall2) Lines, Lines and More Lines. Going from one line to the next is not my idea of a good time. I also seemed to have picked nearly the wrong line no matter where I went.

LINE FAIL #1 – Waiting 35 minutes for Cheesewerks only to find out that they had power issues and couldn’t make any sandwiches until power was restored. They redeemed themselves though (I will detail at bottom of post).

LINE FAIL #2 – Waiting 25 minutes in line only to find out that the Market Garden (by Eaton Chelsea hotels) was out of the vegetarian grilled cheese offering and were only making tandoori chicken grilled cheese. C’MON! 1.5 hours at the event and still no grilled cheese!

3) Dividing and Unconquering. What was most unfortunate about the event was the fact that I was separated from the group of people I came with. If we had any chance of securing food (or beer), it meant splitting up into different lines and grabbing extras for someone else. Most of my friends left within the first hour due to frustration. I probably had longer conversations with people waiting in line with me than my actual friends. For that reason alone Joylister, you are getting a rather large BOO and thumbs down from this grilled cheese lovin’ gal!

THE AFTERMATH

Since the event took place, many people have gone to social media to send their thoughts to Joylister on how disappointed they were with the festival. Joylister is apologizing for their disastrous event and are offering refunds to anyone who emails them and complains. However, I have to give credit to Cheesewerks for making a statement on twitter this morning by offering a free grilled cheese sandwich this weekend to anyone that purchased a ticket to the event.

I took them up on their offer and headed down with my friend to get our free treats. We were immediately greeted with a large smile and received fantastic service. We ordered some of their house-made sodas and waited patiently for our sandwiches to be grilled to perfection.

The sandwiches were delicious (as expected), and we definitely saw some other items on the menu that peaked our interest. In particular was the “Candy Bar Grilled Cheese” in which a candy bar of your choosing is melted inside a grilled cheese sandwich and served with strawberries and maple syrup. After chatting in the restaurant for a couple of hours, we decided we were in the mood for something a little sweet and decided to be adventurous and try the dessert-like sandwich. Our taste buds were super happy with our decision. In the end, we had our own grilled cheese fest at Cheesewerks and were pretty happy about that. Needless to say, I don’t plan on attending any future Joylister events.

Night Market

Night Market CrowdNow that summer is just around the corner (literally, it’s tomorrow…yay!), the abundance of outdoor festivals in the city is about to begin! My first summer event of this year was The Stop’s Night Market that took place over the last two days in Honest Ed’s Alley. I didn’t know much about the Night Market prior to purchasing tickets, but you can’t really go wrong with paying $50 for an all you can eat and drink festival in Toronto (well I am sure you can go wrong, but I was optimistic about this one).

After purchasing the tickets, I learned that the money raised from the event goes towards supporting anti-hunger programs in the city. Various restaurants, bars and wineries all donated their time, food and drink, to help raise money and awareness for the program. Fortunate people like myself (there was a bit of a glitch with the online ticketing system and many people were not able to get tickets) got to taste little samplings from various local restaurants and breweries on a perfect evening in Toronto.

When entering the Night Market, I was overwhelmed by all the selection in front of me. My eyes (and stomach) didn’t know where to go first. Being a vegetarian, I knew I would be limited in food options (I was planning on getting my money’s worth by drinking beer and wine anyway), but was actually surprised when one of the first booths I came across was The Beet Organic Restaurant. Obviously I lined up (and was the first in line as I am not sure how many other vegetarians were at this event) and was treated with a lovely, bite size tempeh sloppy joe sandwich. I was actually slightly terrified to eat this thing as I had no idea how messy it was going to be. As one hand was already full holding my drink mug (’cause you gotta have a drink mug), I tried to eat this thing as carefully as possible without it all falling apart (or on my lap). Luckily there were some tables scattered around that I was able to rest my mug on so I could enjoy my tasty little treat. After that experience, I was ready to try more and started venturing off through the crowds on a mission to try and eat everything vegetarian that was available.

Surprisingly enough, there were quite a few veggie options for me at the event (enough to get me full at least), however, I kept getting drawn back to the dessert booths. Seriously, mini-donuts? Who doesn’t want to eat frosted mini-donuts? I only learned after wolfing down the bite-sized goodies that these donuts were actually vegan and gluten free. Could it be? Kudos Tori’s Bakeshop.  They were AMAZING. The donut display by Paulette’s Chicken and Donuts was also fantastic. A tower of donuts is a piece of art in my books (and tasty edible art is even better!).

Other than the food and drink, the Night Market actually had entertainment. Large chalk boards were available at the entrance where you could sketch your favourite vegetable or share your thoughts on what it means to eat well (my favourite comment was the person that wrote ‘poutine’). A live band also busted out some awesome tunes to dance along to as they performed on the rooftop of a neighbouring building. However, the most random entertainment at the event was the French delivery man, AKA “Martin de la Rue” (and yes he has a website..). I made eyes across the alley way with Martin and he came over and handed me a folded up piece of paper addressed to “La Belle Femme”. Inside was a message that read “After a full belly STOP all is poetry END”. Those words definitely summed up my night! All was poetry!

Vegan Weekend

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to have a friend visit me from out of town (a vegan friend to give this post a little more context). Prior to her arrival, I had done much research on some of the various vegan restaurants in the city and was definitely up for a little culinary adventure. I decided that I would try and be vegan during her entire stay (a whole 3 days!!) and experience some new cuisine. Now for those of you that think it should be pretty easy for a vegetarian to turn vegan for 3 days – you are sadly mistaken. I have never had to think whether the pesto sauce on my bruschetta may be made with Parmesan cheese, or whether the bread served with dinner has an egg wash. I also LOVE dairy. While vegans may have substitutes for butter and cream, I am still a lover of cheese and yogurt and for that reason alone could never go vegan. However, this past weekend did open up my eyes to some pretty good vegan food and I wanted to share some of those experiences here (as you may never know when you will have a vegan out-of-town visitor).

Butler’s Pantry

Now while Butler’s Pantry is not a strictly vegan restaurant, it does have several vegan options on the menu. It is also one of my go-to places in the city when I am craving comfort food (my mouth is now salivating as I think of the veggie curry pie). What is great about the menu is that it actually calls out which items are vegan so that you don’t need to think whether the food has any sort of dairy or egg product in it (and you don’t need to ask your waiter a million questions about it either). Both my friend and I ordered the mixed vegetable bhaji as we were wanting a little more ‘spice’ in our meal. The portion sizes were quite substantial and we definitely needed to go for a walk after paying the bill to help digest the deliciousness. The restaurant is a great option for a group that has vegetarians or vegans in it, as it offers a little something for everyone (meat eaters too!)

The Hogtown Vegan

Finding places that serve vegan lunch and dinner options in the city is pretty easy to do. I did find it more difficult to locate vegan brunch places as most staples for brunch include meat and eggs. However, when doing my research, the Hogtown Vegan made it to the top of my list for a best-in-class vegan brunch restaurant (I will thank the food network and the show “you gotta eat here” for that recommendation). Brunch favourites such as french toast and omelets are featured on the menu, but the item that caught our attention was the ‘Unchicken and Waffles’. While I did not order the unchicken (as there were other tasty things to try), I did get a little taste and now need to return to order it for myself. Whoever thinks that vegan food is ‘healthy’ has obviously never been to the Hogtown Vegan. Deep fried goodness all ’round!

Sadie’s Diner

Sadie’s Diner is one of those local Toronto establishments that I have been meaning to check out for years (I walk by it every week when doing my routine run to Loblaws). I am ashamed to say it has taken me so long to check this place out, but now that I have, I will definitely need to frequent it more often. We came to Sadie’s for dinner (even though I have been told they have a fantastic brunch) and left with full and happy bellies. I ordered the veggie quesadilla and was most interested in trying the ‘vegan’ cheese that was baked inside (I’m not sure what this stuff was made of, but it kind of melted like actual cheese. It was fascinating!). The vegan sour cream it came with was also delicious and would be perfect for any of you lactose-intolerant people out there. I hate to repeat myself, but again, this was not the healthiest of meals we could have eaten that night. Vegan doesn’t mean healthy! (but it can definitely mean tasty!)

Fresh

I know Fresh is an obvious choice for a vegan restaurant in the city, but the food is so tasty that it warranted a visit for brunch! The truth is, our plan was to actually check out Disgraceland, but after hanging outside a dark and locked restaurant for 10 minutes, we learned that the restaurant recently changed its hours and we were there an hour before it opened. Seeing as though we had a Blue Jay game to catch at 1 pm, we could not wait around to see if the Disgraceland chef could really turn every menu item into a vegan masterpiece (as it claims on their menu)!

While the brunch menu at Fresh is a little on the small side, they do have all the typical breakfast staples including pancakes! My vegan friend was very excited to try these (although she was craving the french toast from Disgraceland). We ordered a pancake platter that came with some tofu scramble (I normally hate scrambled eggs, but would definitely order this tofu scramble again. It was super flavourful and had a great texture), as well an order of blueberry almond pancakes. All of the pancakes were extremely large and filling and most importantly, tasty! We definitely did not need to eat until dinner that day!

Vegetarian Haven

The last stop on our Toronto vegan adventure was Vegetarian Haven in Baldwin Village. The menu is mainly Asian-inspired and includes a variety of stir-fried dishes and wraps. We each ordered a different stir-fried creation and ended up going home with take-home containers due to the large size of our meals (Bonus – lunch for the next day. Thumbs up in my books!). Both our meals had great flavour to them and lots of colour (due to the assortment of fresh veggies that were used). We also ordered the seared dumplings in which our waitress informed us were the best veggie dumplings in the city. We were actually a little disappointed in them as we felt they were missing quite a bit of flavour (or maybe we were spoiled as we were served our main dishes before the dumplings and got a mouth full of rich flavour beforehand?). In any case, the food was delicious and nicely prepared. I would not hesitate returning (I just may not order the dumplings again).

So I am glad to report that I accepted and completed my three-day vegan challenge (and have the food baby to prove it!). I am pretty sure my friend enjoyed her vegan experience too (check out my lovely parting note left on my kitchen wall).chalkboard note