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Exploring the disappearing old school diners of Toronto took me to Vesta Lunch in The Annex district slightly northwest of University of Toronto. Vesta Lunch was founded in 1955.
It's a small but prominent yellow shop at the busy Dupont and Bathurst Street intersection.
It's a basic classic diner set up. Open kitchen, long bar counter, swivelling padded bar stools, narrow aisle back to large street side windows. The well worn bar counter was laid with greyish formica which was chipped and peeling at the edges with age.
The single staff greeted me "signore" (sounds like xing neo le) as I walked in - I am not sure it was Italian or Spanish but this is just north of Toronto's Little Italy.
The atmosphere was quiet, laid back, even a bit listless as this was 4pm on a chilly but bright Canadian summer afternoon. The diner is usually busy with regulars during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Vesta Lunch is also a popular late night snack hangout as it opens 24/7/365.
At the inside end, a muted television was tuned to the news. Of course, the only news on was on the Toronto Raptors' historic victory over the Oakland Golden State Warriors to win the NBA Championship on 13 Jun 2019 - the first time a non USA team won the title.
The Vesta - Vimeo
Miriam Reinoso and her hubby bought the humble diner in 1955. She is a kind hearted, warm spirited angel. My daughter met her years before during her school days and remembered her fondly. Miriam wasn't in when I was there this time.
If Miriam isn't in the house, service is the luck of the draw depending on who's on duty when you are there and whether you are a regular. Hence reviews are mixed - you can read them on Google map. During my visit, there was a change of shift and the difference noticeably slid from perfunctory to indifferent.
The menu is up there in the kitchen which we can see from the counter. It's the usual greasy spoon stuff like bacon, eggs, fries, toasts, ham, sausage, burgers, fish and chips, you know.... .
I ordered a peameal bacon which was cooked right there in the kitchen.
I can see, smell and even hear my food sizzling on the hot griddle - that's what make old school diners charming to me. Raised on street food, not seeing my food being cooked takes away some of the fun of eating out (like at fine dine places).
Peameal bacon is pork loin, trimmed of fat, wet cured in brine and then rolled in milled corn before packing.
Peameal bacon is a Toronto thing. Not invented here, but in the early 1900s, Toronto's William Davies Company was the largest meat packer in the whole British Empire and peameal bacon was their top export.
Everything here CDN15 altogether including tax and tip. The peameal bacon comes with two fried eggs, buttered toasts and home fries (potato).
I have fallen in love with peameal bacon.
I like its tender moist texture with a slight chewy crunch and mild savoury salty flavour.
Coffee is brewed Americano style - very mild citrusy bitter taste and coffee aroma. The deal at diners is free flow coffee (bottomless cup they say here).
Information for you 👌 Food at Vesta Diner is just okay lah. But, I enjoy slices of authentic everyday ordinariness for its insights on unembellished local culture, heritage and history.
Ask any Torontonian to recommend an old school diner, and George Street Diner will always be among the handful mentioned.
The little eatery is located at the intersection of George Street and Richmond Street East, hence the name George Street Diner.
Painted red, the distinctive looking hard to miss diner is also called Little Red Diner because of its distinctive loud crimson colour.
George Street Diner - Toronto, Canada - YouTube
Owner Ash Farrelly came to Canada from Ireland in 1988, 18 years old with just $12 in her pocket. Working as a waitress in various restaurants including the iconic Senator at Victoria Street, she learnt the trade and also saved enough money to strike out on her own.
Her opportunity came in 2007, when she spotted a decrepit, termite infested diner at the intersection of George and Richmond East. Farrelly took the plunge, bought the property and dove into turning the business around.
Farrelly simply cleaned and spruced up the place. Added Irish touches to the menu while maintaining much of the original. Most importantly, she ran the diner hands on, personally cooking and serving customers. From the word go, Farrelly put bringing people together at the heart of her business - “People come in, they talk, they meet each other … it’s community. We have so many regulars” she told CityNews in 2008.
Twelve years on, her acumen and hard work paid off - George Street Diner is established as one of Toronto's top classic greasy spoon diners. The little diner still sports the classic diner ambiance of open kitchen, bar top, bar stools, booth seats and large street facing window all along one side. The people and place are bright and cheerful.
Shawn Mendes - Life Of The Party (Lyric Video) - YouTube
A Date with Miss Fortune Official Trailer 1 (2016) - Joaquim de Almeida, Vik Sahay Movie HD - YouTube
Over the years, George Street Diner was featured in movies (e.g. What if, The F Word, A Date with Miss Fortune), television and music videos which earned it fame and appeal.
"The Diner" - YouTube
Some scenes in the movie Every Day (2018) were shot in George Street Diner. I found this intriguing scene particularly captivating.
Still, George Street Diner is best known for their homely, honest good food and warm service.
Everything is on one page, simple and nice.
I had their signature All Day Irish Breakfast which is a full meal (price CDN11.95++). There's two organic eggs, French fries, baked beans, grilled tomato, Irish soda bread (i.e. baking soda, no yeast) and ham (there's option of sausage, peameal bacon or avocado).
I like everything in the dish and they come together very well. The savoury flavours were relatively milder which suits my tastebuds. I ate it with marmalade, the Irish way, which gave the dish a gentle sweet zest.
Brewed coffee is free flow which the friendly waitress comes around to top up regularly. Tasted like Americano, light body, slight sourish bitter. Slight aroma.
Recommended for you 👍 If you are visiting Toronto, eating in a diner is an opportunity to mingle with locals and experience local comfort food. The food at George Street Diner is nice, service is warm, and this place is extra special, if you are a movie buff.
When I am in Ang Moh land, I like to visit old school diners which are the equivalent of kopitiams of Singapore and Malaysia.
Like the kopitiams of Singapore and Malaysia, old style diners are slowly disappearing. Actually, the situation is even more acute in Toronto. There are less heritage diners in Toronto today than the fingers on one hand.
Patrician Grill is one of the last hold outs, and perhaps the most famous. (The nostalgic diner with vintage bar stools and well padded booth seats is still regularly used for location shoots for movies and television.)
Chris' parents-in-law Louie and Helen founded Patrician Grill in 1967. Chris and brother-in-law Terry now run Patrician Grill which has a reputation of turning out comforting food that tastes the same for the last 50 years.
The quintessential greasy gas griddle in the open kitchen in full view from the bar counter. Bantering with the friendly chef owners while perched on a bar stool is a popular pastime of Patrician Grill regulars.
The menu is pretty homely, if not prosaic - just comfort food like eggs, pancakes, sandwiches, burgers, meatloaf, fries, and other diet busting fare as well as coffee and tea. Patrician Grill even proudly sports the tag line "Nothing fancy since 1967".
And that's the thing, like kopitiam food, its enduring charm comes from it being ingrained into our everyday lives since our first eating out. Indeed, many of Patrician Grill's regulars first come here with their parents and now come with their own children.
Since I am in Toronto, I opted for a classic peameal bacon sandwich with kaiser buns.
Peameal bacon is cut from pork loin, fat is trimmed, wet cured in brine, and rolled in cornmeal. It is sliced, grilled on a griddle and served as a sandwich often between a crusty kaiser bun.
Peameal bacon is closely linked to William Davis, owner of William Davies Company at Front Street, just steps from today's Patrician Grill. In the early 1900s, William Davies Company was the largest meat exporter in the British Empire, earning Toronto the nickname Hogtown.
The peameal bacon was tender, juicy, savoury, salty. I like peameal bacon.
The coffee, like Americano was light, slightly citrussy with subtle bitter. Doesn't have the caffeine jolt of Nanyang kopi.
Everything today, peameal bacon sandwich and coffee for CDN$10 tax and tip included.
Recommended for you 👍 When you visit Toronto, one of the must try foods is a peameal bacon sandwich. I suggest you can experience it at Patrician Grill. The food is good, the price is right, service is great and this historic eatery is one of Toronto's last old school greasy spoon diners. They say visit this soon before it becomes another high rise condo 🌇
Restaurant name: Patrician Grill Address: 219 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A 1J9 GPS: 43°39'03.7"N 79°22'08.4"W 🌐 43.651024, -79.368990 Tel: 1(416) 366-4841 Hours: 7:00am - 4:00pm (opens at 8am on Sat & closes at 3:30pm on Fri. Sundays off)
I like many Korean dishes and one of my favourites is gamjatang. It literally means potato soup but I think of it as the Korean version of bak kut teh (Singapore/ Malaysia pork bone soup).
Most Korean restaurants in Toronto have gamjatang in their menu - not surprising since its main ingredients, potatoes and pork are abundant in Ontario, Canada.
I checked into Tofu Village on Bloor Street today for my gamjatang fix as I have not tried this Korean restaurant in Toronto's Koreatown before. I last had gamjatang 2 years ago in 2017.
Many Korean students studying in University of Toronto since the 1950s chose to live along the stretch of Bloor Street within walking distance from their school, turning it into Toronto's Koreatown. The students' wives set up little eateries along Bloor Street, earning Koreatown restaurants the reputation for authentic home cooked style Korean food.
Gamjatang and bak kut teh are similar in that they are both invented by port workers (in Singapore and Port Klang here in Southeast Asia, and in Incheon Port in Korea). But, whereas pork ribs in bak kut teh is a cut of pork, gamjatang uses the spine bone which is a discard. Of course, spine bones are no longer discards nowadays as gamjatang is a mainstream dish now, just like once thrown away fish heads are prized today for curry fish head.
Picking out the soft meat, fat and tendons from between the bone crevices is part of the fun of eating gamjatang. At Tofu Village, the fresh pork tasted naturally sweet with subtle underlying porkiness. There's lots of meat, if we work at it 😄
There were a couple of soft, near crumbling chunks of potatoes.
There were crushed perilla seeds but no perilla leaves (a type of mint). A kind of leafy mustard green was used instead.
The bones and potatoes with bean sprouts sit in a bowl of fiery looking soup which tasted sweet and savoury with a rather robust spicy hot sting in the aftertaste. The flavours were well balanced and I like it.
Gamjatang is finger licking food in that the best way to enjoy it is with our hands and fingers.
Information for you 👌 I like Tofu Village's gamjatang because the ingredients are fresh, all the sweet, savoury and spicy flavours are present and well balanced. The restaurant is simply furnished and clean. Service is attentive and friendly. Prices are competitive.
Restaurant name: Tofu Village Address: 681 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON M6G 1L3 GPS: 43°39'50.0"N 79°25'00.1"W 🌐 43.663886, -79.416702 Nearest TTC station: Christie Tel: (647) 345-3836 Hours: 11:00am - 10:30pm
With 1,500 rooms catering to budget travellers, Hotel Boss was extremely busy. Truth be told, I was a little anxious at the check in on seeing so many people at the reception lobby. Will it take very long to get into our rooms?
We were delighted that check in formalities were done in a jiffy despite the crowd. Thanks to the reception staff who were friendly, knowledgeable, professional and efficient.
We quickly settled into our rooms. Small and basic but everything was there, clean and in place.
(Floor and room access is by security key card. I forgot to take a picture 😂 )
The all important mattress was thick and had the right firmness that I need for my aching old spine. The bed linen were clean and odourless. Actually, the whole room smelled fresh. (I have been to enough Five Star hotels that stink of stale tobacco, to never take clean smelling rooms for granted.)
All the basic amenities were there. But, there was no cabinet (closet), so my clothes were hung outside (which is not a big deal for me for a night or 2).
Complimentary WiFi connection was strong and consistent. Poor Internet connection can ruin an entire stay for me. It was good at Hotel Boss.
The view through the window looked like a large TV screen, don't you agree?
Pushing open a door in the room, I was delighted that it opened to a patio with deck loungers (which I did not expect).
From the patio, I got a nice bird's eye view of Kampong Glam and Singapore's Central Business District in the background. Can you see the Singapore Flyer and the Super Trees of Gardens by the Bay?
There they are.
View of the Sultan Mosque, pulling it in at 5x zoom.
Singapore cityscape by night.
Good morning Singapore. It was cloudy over the Singapore Sports Hub.
If you want this type of room, it is known as "Premier Room with Balcony".
The ground floor coffee house where buffet breakfast was served was large but it was busy and crowded. The range of food was wide from many varieties of breads, pastries, rice, to porridge, and noodles with different preparations of eggs, wieners, etc. There were also cereals, fruits and desserts. Taste and quality of food was OK.
The hardworking staff cleared vacated tables very quickly, so it was easy to find seats even during peak hours.
There is a Halal restaurant for buffet breakfast (at level 4). You may request to have your breakfast here (which I did). Just inform the reception staff when you check in.
After breakfast, we looked around the pool area.
We had a nice view of the city while dipping in the water.
There's a small, basically equipped gym to keep our muscles in tone while we are on the road.
🏨 A nice, comfortable, well run budget hotel. Located within 10 minutes walking distance to Lavender MRT station and destinations like Kampong Glam, Little India, etc.
Today, we visited BATCH, a brewpub (micro brewery cum pub) in downtown Toronto's Victoria Street, a stone's throw from Eaton Centre mall and Hudson's Bay Company (iconic historic department store).
BATCH is located in a historic building at the intersection of Victoria Street and Lombard Street. All around Toronto's downtown core, high rise gleaming glass and steel condos under construction are towering over heritage masonry buildings.
Pushing open the heavy front door at BATCH, the first thing we saw was a wall of canned and bottled beers. There were BATCH beers in bottles brewed right there at the shop and canned beers by Creemore Springs, BATCH's parent which in turn is owned by Molson Coors (world's 7th largest brewer by volume in 2017).
Inside BATCH, the ambiance is casual, warm and welcoming, understated yet classy. The inviting heavy, well padded furnishings are very comfortable.
Taking the stairs down to the basement, there's another bar, a games room and space for private parties.
BATCH brew their beers right there at the shop everyday. The kettle room is on our right as we enter the brewpub - we can smell the distinctive aroma of brewing hops (much like you smell brewing Arabica in good coffee shops).
Head brewer Chloe Lovatt brings to BATCH, infectious passion and a wealth of experience. Thanks to her, I caught the brewpub bug.
Torontonian Chloe learnt her craft starting at Matilda Bay Brewery in Melbourne Australia and worked in several leading breweries including Little Creatures in Fremantle (near Perth) before coming back to Toronto.
A post shared by Batch Toronto (@batchtoronto) on Mar 7, 2019 at 9:21am PST
Chloe joked that a beer brewer's job is part chef and part janitor because a big part of a brewer's work day which starts at 7am consists of cleaning and scrubbing. This is because the brewing process is highly sensitive to cleanliness and hygiene - the slightest contamination can ruin a whole kettle.
Head brewer Chloe with her team Justin and Cassandra. (Another member, George was on vacation during our visit.)
Chloe graciously showed us around the kettle room. In the room were a mix of original vintage wood cladded copper kettles, as well as modern steel pots.
Justin feeding hops into the kettle.
No preservatives, no additives are used and BATCH beers are non pasteurised.
The beers on tap today. Six were freshly brewed right there in BATCH.
The best way to sample beers is in a Flight of Four. We can pick any 4 of the 6 brews of the day.
I like every beer I tasted today, with the more robust tasting Black Lager being my favourite. Though I enjoyed BATCH's beers a lot, I'll be faking it if I just copy the taste notes and pretend they are mine. I am learning more about appreciating beers, but meanwhile here are the taste notes according to BATCH's menu:
🍺 Cream Ale (ABV 4.8%) Corn, mild hops, stone fruit, clean, easy finish
🍺 Black Lager (ABV 4.5%) Dark chocolate, rye bread, espresso, hints of dark berries to finish
Daily fresh brew at 5 bucks a pint (US pint = 16 ounces or 473 ml). Jolly good deal - that's cheaper than most generic canned beers in restaurants 😄
BATCH has a menu of beer snacks / appetisers, salads, sandwiches, and mains. We picked Fiddleheads because we had no idea what they were 😄
Turned out that we all loved it 😋
It's fresh ferns on bagna cauda dip and whipped ricotta cheese with garlic pickle and brown butter (price CDN14+).
Fiddleheads are like sayur paku that we get from East Malaysia, but the green coils are bigger with a stiffer crunch to the bite. It has similar fresh green taste as sayur paku.
Fiddleheads go really well with the tangy sweetish savoury rich creamy bagna cauda and whipped ricotta.
Recommended for you 👍 Tasty daily fresh house brews, nice bites, cool ambiance, comfortable furnishings, great service, good value. If you are brewpub hopping in Toronto you gotta include this hoppy place.