Upscale pub grub done right at Habits Gastropub

Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome.

When I hear the word ‘gastropub’ the immediate thought that comes to mind is comfort.  Thankfully, Habits Gastropub (928 College Street) serves up just that and more.  Owners Michelle Genttner and Luis Martins have taken every consideration into heart since opening up their establishment (in 2012) to ensure not only did they serve quality food but they provided a warm, homey atmosphere.

The interior features beautiful exposed brick, reclaimed and refinished wood tables and warm lighting.  The bar is stocked (to date, Habits has 300 bottles of whiskey, giving it the third largest collection in Toronto) with some of Toronto’s finest craft brews and wines.  Each week, several different events and live performances take place – so depending on the evening, you and your friends could enjoy something new.

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So how does the food at Habits stack up? Well the best way to describe everything here is high-end pub fare and for that, it is impressive.  We started off our evening with some Buffalo Sweetbreads with homemade blue cheese & spicy BBQ dipping sauce.  This little gem of a nugget was tender and delicious.  I’m a huge fan of sweetbreads and found it perfectly cooked.  Paired up with the blue cheese sauce, it was fantastic.

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Next up we were treated to another high-end comfort food of their Salmon Duo (Cured Salmon & Pate) with Homemade Mustard and Pickles.  It was simple and properly executed with all the richness of the salmon marrying well with the saltiness of the grainy mustard.  Also: a beautifully plated dish.

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As mentioned, a huge trend that I’m seeing at a lot of Toronto restaurants right now is Cauliflower.  To be honest, I am not complaining one bit.  Habits introduced me to their Cauliflower salad marinated in anchovies and chili.  It was probably one of my favourite dishes of the evening: perfectly sized florets and outstanding tastes.  Just the right amount of heat.

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Another thing I’ve been treated to a lot lately is Bone Marrow and sure enough, Habits has it on their menu as well. What I can say is this: Habits does it well and just a bit different. The dish we had this eve was Bone Marrow on Toast with a Cucumber and Radish Salad. It was so rich and delicious with the salad atop giving it an extra crunch and feel.  This was probably my favourite dish of the evening.

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We were then treated to Chicken Livers and Sage Pappardelle which was absolutely divine. All the pastas are made in-house (which comes through) and the dish was rich.

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You cannot go to any restaurant in the city without having a good ol’ fashioned Slider. The Habits slider was mouth-watering. A huge ol’ slice of bacon atop that mini-patty with a Putanesca relish, crispy onions and a toasted brioche bun. Come to mama.

Habits Gastropub had everything that eve that one would want in a high-quality pub with high-quality pub-grub. If you’re looking for somewhere to watch the game or have a casual and relaxed date night while also indulging in your finer dining side, then Habits Gastropub is the next hidden gem you should visit.

Photos taken by Rochelle Latinsky

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East Thirty Six breathes new life into St Lawrence Market area

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Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome.

A new restaurant has opened up in the St Lawrence Market area taking over the former Lucien spot on Wellington. Opened by restauranteurs Julien and Devon Salomone (the same owners who brought us Boutique Bar) bring us the newly revitalized cocktail and food restaurant, East Thirty Six.

As you walk through the doors of East Thirty Six, you are greeted with opulent wood finishes (retrofitted), beautiful overhead blue-purple art-deco lighting fixture and lovely pops of silver and purple everywhere. The room is cozy but gives off a certain richness and warmth, no matter where you are seated in the room.

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The cocktails here are stellar and not to be missed. Co-owner / mixologist Julien Salomone runs the beverage program and has paid great details to the making of such cocktails as the Rum Row (House-made spiced rum, apricot liquor, lemon juice, ginger syrup, tonic float) or French Connection (Muddled cucumber, gin, chartreuse, lillet blanc, coriander syrup, peychaud bitters, coriander tincture). Each of the cocktails range in price between $12-14 a drink but every sip is totally worth it. At the end of the evening, we were even treated to one of Julien’s barrel aged cocktails (off-menu) and this man knows what he is doing.

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So how the food from East Thirty Six measure up? On the evening in question, we were treated to a lovely selection of their offerings from their new upcoming menu. Some of the standouts from the evening were our Winter Salad (castelfranco, kale, endive, ricotta salata aioli, focaccia) which was full of flavour and rich. So many times you encounter a salad with hard, tough croutons and this was just perfect. Next up, Scallop Crudo (lardo, celery, tequila, lime) was one of the dishes with wow factor. It had a freshness that you look for in a crudo with the lardo adding that extra bit of kick.

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Next up, we were treated to a big trend I have been seeing on menus across Toronto (and something I’m not angry about because I love) cauliflower. This dish was served up with capers, preserved lemon, brown butter, hazelnut, parsley and was stunning. The hazelnuts added the nice crunch to it and the lemon gave good acidity. I could ate a whole other plate of this. Next, probably my favourite dish of the evening: Bone Marrow with Chicken liver mousse and toast. Beautifully prepared and absolutely a pleasure. I did not want to share this and reluctantly had to. The marrow was buttery and delicious. A must have.

 

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Rounding in to some of the final courses, we were treated to a flakey and beautifully plated Halibut (with artichoke, carrot, fennel, white wine and lemon). Each piece I put into my mouth was melt in my mouth goodness and the veg in the broth was just an added bonus to the dish. As our final treat, we were shown a dessert course and brought out a lovely Lemon Custard. As I’m not much of a sweets person, I was unsure how I would feel but this tangy sweetness was just right in my books.

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East Thirty Six is open daily for dinner at 4pm and is perfect for an afterwork cocktail. To learn more about the restaurant, visit their website.

El Caballito Tequila Bar introduces the Midnight Taco

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El Caballito located on King West is serving up more than just midnight tacos, it also is a lovely little tequila bar in the home of downtown Toronto. Opened since the beginning of February and located near Simcoe Street in a dimly lit basement, as you walk down the stairs you are met with feast for your eyes & ears.

With a live DJ (at least on the night I was in attendance) and lots of neon lights with Mexican style murals, the space feels like you’ve entered this authentic Mexican speakeasy of sorts. With plenty of banquettes and tables (the restaurant seats 120 comfortably), you have the ability to come with a large group or a couple pals. Whatever the choice may be, you will feel cozy and comfortable and still be able to have a conversation – even with the music playing. This I can absolutely attest to.

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As mentioned, El Caballito has a private tequila tasting room which seats four people at a time. Bar Manager, Manny, will walk you through the ins and outs of all things tequila and keep you in good hands. El Caballito currently has an extensive tequila list containing of 64 blanco, resposado and anjeo tequilas and mezcals sold by the ounce.

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But in order to keep all the down, how does the food size up? We were given a small tasting of the menu to discover including the Flank Steak Tacos to start loaded with bell peppers, roasted onions, salsa verde and cheese. The slices of steak were cooked to perfectly and thinly sliced making it juicy and tender. The salsa was heavenly, and the cheese cooked onto the tortilla. I could have eaten about 10 of those tacos in no time.
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Photos by yuli scheidt

Next up was the Tamarind Ceviche (including tortilla shells made of jicima and mango) and holy flavour explosion. This was probably one of the best dishes of the evening. It was light and a quick bite. But it was the perfect sweet and spicy. Plus: jicima tortilla shells? Get out of here!

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I was brought to cheese heaven via El Caballito empanada dish which had chicken, tomato sofrito, chipotle and arrived covered in cotija cheese. Delicious and packed a perfect 1-2 punch.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, we were delivered the Quesadilla de Quintero which was stacked with zucchini, bell pepper, cheese & salsa roja on a corn tortilla; Cheesy, light and so good.

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Nothing finishes off a dinner like dessert, so we saddled ourselves up to face the finish; churros! El Caballito provided us with cinnamon doughnuts with vanilla custard, and while I may not be a sweets person, I was most  into this. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that churros are something that are hard to do right, but El Caballito’s did them justice.

So while Toronto is filled with many Mexican restaurants, journey out for something a bit different and take on this tequila bar and midnight taco for size.

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Whippoorwill’s Simply Seasonal Fall/Winter Menu

I have been a huge fan of The Whippoorwill since moving into the Bloordale area and have been a huge advocate of their brunches. So when they told me they were going to be launching their new fall/winter menu, I jumped at the chance to help out with the event and well, indulge in their new offerings.

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Everything about The Whippoorwill is so comforting: old timey photos, candlelight and a warm retro diner feel. All the staff greet you with a smile and are more than knowledgable about all the food/drink they are serving up. One such gentleman is Japhet Bower, head mixologist at The Whippoorwill. He started off our evening with some beautifully made cocktails (off-menu, of course), titled Blogger Love. For those who have been following Japhet’s master mixology, he previously was at La Carnita and has a way with the spirits. All cocktails range in price between $10-$18 and range from sweet to sassy. More on that later.

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Executive Chef Tyler Cunningham walked us through the fall/winter dinner menu that was simple yet sophisticated. It was seasonal and packed so many intense flavours, from appetizers .

Rosemary Cured Coho ($13)
Just a slight hint of rosemary with a beautiful array of fresh coho pieces. This dish really spoke for itself.
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Winter Spiced Beet Salad ($12)
Huge pieces of beets, which were a bit undercooked for my liking.
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Beef Carpaccio ($13)
Probably one of my favourite dishes of the night. It was sliced perfectly and mixed up with tahini, which doesn’t sound like it would work: but it does. Great combination.
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Roasted Cauliflower ($13)
The roasted cauliflower had this slight Indian feel, with its use of cumin, raisins, caramelized onion and almonds. Would make a great side-dish to any main.

Potato Gnocchi with Braised Beef Cheek ($13)
This gnocchi was heaven-sent, no word of a lie. Light and paired together with braised beef cheek, which was tender and juicy, everything about this dish was pretty alright.
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Korean Ribs ($22)
I have an affinity for Korean BBQ and there was something about this shareable Korean Rib plate that made me want more. Could have been the juicy, tender meat. Could have been the delicious teriyaki sauce on top. Whatever it might have been: I want more.
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Braised Duck Leg with Swiss Chard and Carrots ($21)
This reminded me of a good ol’ country cooking home-time meal. We ate this family-style and it gave me all the good feels to dig in to that leg and dig down to the bone. Plus let’s be real: who doesn’t like swiss chard?
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Alright, so in between all those dishes Japhet was hard at work on the bar mixing us up cocktails like The Miss Piggy (Napolean Cortel Brandy, Grand Marnier, Briottet Chestnut, Sage, Lemon, Celery Bitters at $12) which tasted like an explosion of autumn in your mouth.

After that, we were treated to one of the final concoctions: Lemmy, which looked like an ice cream float and paired perfectly with our desserts. The Lemmy includes Alberta Premium Dark Horse Rye, Murphy’s Irish Stout Reduction, Maple, Agave, Lemon and Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum Foam all for $12.

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So if you’re looking for some cozy, comforting fare with delicious cocktails – Whippoorwill Tavern may be the place to check out.

Lincoln MKZ Takes Boehmer Out for a Spin

Paul Boehmer’s namesake Ossington restaurant, Boehmer, recently took part in the Lincoln Motor Company’s Savour the City event. The event paired classic contemporary restaurants with beautiful new Lincoln vehicles, namely the MKZ.

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It was the first time that Yuli and I had stepped into Boehmer and the room centred around an enormous bent-wood and crystal chandelier. The design aspects were breathtakingly fabulous and brilliant. No detail missed. In the corner is a funky lounge and the bar is long & inviting. Funky, yet modern.

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The food mixes everything from French to Canadian techniques and ingredients, keeping a good mindful eye on the seasons. For example, the Beet Salad with Argula, Goat Cheese and Baco Noir Vignette that I had started with. It was light and fresh and healthy. However, the winner was the Grilled Calamari with Curried Jus, which Yuli ate. I may have had a bit of app envy.

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As Yuli and I sat at our table sipping on some MKZ Martinis and waiting for our mains, one disappointment we had was the kitchen staff and its somewhat terrifying demeanour with the servers and guests. With our table so close to the open kitchen, we were privy to almost everything that was happening. WIth an event like this, the kitchen was somewhat slammed and the service was almost uncomfortable to watch at times.

When our main dishes did arrive, Veal Cheeks with Mashed Potatoes and Braised Red Cabbages, the dish tasted heaven sent and was well worth the wait. Apparently, one of the top dishes to order from their regular menu as well. What we didn’t end up trying was their Black Cod, which looked heavenly.

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Finally to round out the evening, we finished it off on a lighter more tart note: Lemon Curd Pistachio Cake. But who doesn’t love cake?

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Boehmer’s food was delicious and the decor was fabulous. Perhaps worth another visit on a less busy evening sans the Lincoln test drive.

The Whippoorwill Restaurant Launches New Menu and Teams up with Facebook Canada

Recently, Facebook Canada announced it would be working on a new initiative titled, “Grand For Good”. The project was the first agency education program of its kind for Facebook globally, which pairs Greater Toronto Area (GTA) small businesses with Canada’s top media agencies.

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One of the businesses that was able to take part in this program was The Whippoorwill Restaurant and Tavern (located at 1285 Bloor St W). The project came just in time for the launch of the Whip’s new Fall/Winter Food & Drink menu as well, which includes seasonal dishes and old time favourites like the burger.

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But Whippoorwill offers up more than just great food and drink. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the restaurant will be bringing in local musicians, like bluegrass, swing and blues acts (for no extra charge). Just a little added bonus for the residents of Bloordale and patrons of the Whipp!

I had the chance to speak with owner/operator Shawn Creamer and Executive Chef Tyler Cunningham about the menu, the restaurant and being a part of the “Grand for Good” campaign.

FGFS: Tell me about how Whippoorwill came to be a part of the Facebook Canada, Grand for Good campaign.

Shawn Creamer: We were lucky enough to know someone who works at Facebook Canada, and they sent us a message saying this would be a wonderful opportunity for our business.
We looked at all the ways this program was planning to help small businesses (like ours) and it seemed like a perfect fit for us.

FGFS: When you were building the bones of the restaurant The Whippoorwill, for the look and feel of the restaurant?

Shawn Creamer: The idea was to go with rustic, warm and comfortable. We wanted you to feel like you were dining out, but maybe you were dining out up at your cottage.

Tyler Cunningham: We wanted a space that one could sink into, a space that could make you forget what it is like outside. A space filled with familiar things used in unfamiliar ways, a space that is constantly evolving along with our guests and us. A space that the neighbourhood would feel comfortable calling their own.

FGFS: Whippoorwill is all about seasonable and fresh.  Tell me about the new menu that you’ve just launch that follows this adage.

Tyler Cunningham: I am very in touch with the seasons and the moods they evoke. I don’t want to serve guests a heavy meal. I would much rather advocate for vegetables. I like to design menus according to the moods of the season. For example, in summer time I use a lot of Asian, bright, crunchy, fresh and spicy flavours that make people feel light and uplifted. Now that fall is upon us I am letting big flavours come into play. I’m taking on more of a European style with this menu. You can expect more roasted, braised and earthy more satisfying flavours to be present. visit the Food Terminal twice a week, and meet with farmers there to see what their sense of change is and what is available. I can offer guests a true taste of each season highlighting the best ingredients.

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FGFS: Recently you have launched a very inspired cocktail list put together by the very talented Japhet Bower.  How did you all come to collaborate and what is your ideas behind this beautiful list of potions.

Tyler Cunningham: Japhet is a very inspired fellow; I have been working with him over the past few weeks on his new menu. He loves to play with pop culture and childhood memories to inspire him. I love his passion and it is inspiring for me to see his process. We are always brainstorming on ways to get the very most from the ingredients he uses and new and inspired innovative ways to prepare and present them. This is only the beginning of what is to come. He is very talented and we are blessed to have him.

Shawn Creamer: There was a lot of cocktail tasting before we settle on a list – those were delicious weeks!

FGFS: Besides having an in-house cocktail program, do you have any other programs in the restaurant that are in-house (breads, sauces, pickling, etc.)?

Tyler Cunningham: Aside from our rather extensive cocktail program, yes we do everything but make bread here (due to lack of space). We do our best to preserve as much of the past seasons by doing as much canning as our schedules will let us. We also do all our charcuterie in house including smoked bacon and sausage at brunch. All pastry work is done here and of course the brunch biscuits are a monster on their own. All sauces, all everything, all the time!

FGFS: What has the experience and reaction been from residents of Bloordale to your dishes?

Tyler Cunningham: For the most part, the neighbourhood has embraced the food at the Whipp. I encourage a great deal of feedback, as I do not wish to be living in vain. So guests are very quick to mention if they are ever not feeling a dish. We have been getting a lot of great feedback on our latest launch. Some of our regulars dine with us 4-5 times a week, so I think we are doing ok (I hope!).

Shawn Creamer: When we opened up The Whippoorwill, we wanted to be a neighborhood restaurant first and we took a lot of feedback from the residents as to what they would like to have on their plates and in their cups. Bloor and Lansdowne is becoming a destination location on its own – thanks to great neighbors like The Emerson, Through Being Cool, Brock Sandwich and Zebuu – and it feels like we are not only a neighborhood restaurant but are showcasing for the city.

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Don’t miss your chance on checking out the Whippoorwill Restaurant and Tavern’s new menu. In the meantime, check out their Facebook page daily for specials and updates on who is playing in-house.

All photos taken by Jessica Blaine Smith, reused by permission by The Whippoorwill Restaurant & Tavern

Osteria dei Ganzi Launches New Fall Menu

Osteria dei Ganzi opened its doors at Jarvis and Wellesley, earlier this year serving up beautiful Italian fare in a historic mansion.
Upon entrance into the restaurant, you’re greeted with high ceilings, stained glass windows and preserved details of the original building. Also around are kitschy throw-backs to Italian culture such as a Vespa, in the bar area.

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With an extensive menu including everything from antipasti, crostini, carpacci, pesce (fish), carni (meat), pasta and pizza, there’s something for everyone here. Plus, perhaps if it is just a cocktail you’re after – the bar has everything from champagne to their signature mixed drinks (including the Pom Pom, including Campari, bitters and orange).

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Just the other week, we were invited to test drive their new fall menu and feast we did. We were greeted with a selection of pizzas: Margherita (tomato, buffalo mozzarella & basil), Bosco (wild mushroom, truffle oil, asparagus & burrata), Bianca (prosciutto, figs, honey, ricotta & asiago) and Salmone (smoked salmon, salsa Bianca & burrata) – each were classic Italian and had great taste. I found the Salmon pizza not to be as fresh, as I would like. But beyond that, the rest were great.

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Next up, we were brought out the Misto Board, which included: parmigiano regiano, gorgonzola, scamorza, salami, mortadella, prosciutto, arancini & fried olives served with piccante sauce, basil marmalade & rosemary focaccia. It felt nice to eat some high quality meats and cheese while pairing with a delicious in-house made basil jam. Nothing says comfort quite like a meat/cheese board.

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As we circled into our main dishes, we were brought out two all-star dishes: Polenta with Spuntature – ragout of beef, lamb, spicy wild boar sausage & back ribs and Beef tenderloin medallion, lamb chop, shrimps & scallops with caponatina romana (red pepper, zucchini, eggplant & potatoes) on a bed of saffron risotto. The portion sizes for each dish was phenomenal and the taste, outstanding . Between the two dishes, the Polenta ragout was probably my favourite for its unassuming flavours and wow factor.

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Osteria dei Ganzi offers an enjoyable night out to experience the joys of Italian food. Each plate was served with extreme attention-to-detail and great flavour and freshness. Highly recommended for an evening out.

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The Delicious Food Show Brings Martha Stewart to Toronto

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Originally posted to Ama’s twice-weekly column on Toronto is Awesome

Foodies!  Are you half as excited about The Delicious Food Show as I am?  Happening this weekend (October 25-27), The Delicious Food Show is Toronto’s newest and highly anticipated decadent food and lifestyle design event.

Some of your favourite food and entertaining personalities will be presenting at the Food Network stage including Padma Lakshmi of Top Chef fame, Mark McEwan from Top Chef Canada, Lynn Crawford fromPitchin’ In, Chef Cobrin from Dinner Party Wars and Chuck Hughes from Chuck’s Day Off.  But the biggest guest of them all will be: household name, best-selling author, TV show host and queen of all “good things,”Martha Stewart.

This ultimate Foodie event will feature over three and a half pleasure packed days, cooking demonstrations, food pairings and hands-on food seminars.

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In the GE Cafe, you’ll be able to register and take in up to 50 classes throughout the show including sushi rolling.  Or if you love the PC Black Label gourmet food line, check out Chef, Tom Filippou and the experts at the Loblaws space to see what’s exciting and new!

Five of the city’s top mobile kitchens will be taking part in Food Trucks for Mt Sinai to raise funds for an incredible cause.  A variety of dishes for $10 from Buster’s Sea Cove, Gourmet Bitches, Feisty Jack, Gourmet Gringos and Fidel Gastro. A portion of the Food Trucks for Sinai sales will be donated to Mount Sinai Hospital, in support of support life-saving work in care and research in women’s cancers.

For more information on the show’s schedule or how to go about show tickets, visit the website.