Toronto

Eating out in Kensington Market on $10

By: Jim Bamboulis

Kensington Market is the kind of place that has some sort of cosmic force that lures you in and takes hold of you for a while…or at least for an entire afternoon.

Free-spirited, vibrant and often festive, the Market is packed with small, independently owned shops that truly reflect its unique charm. In fact, you won’t find any big chains around this area. Don’t ask anyone either, you might get the cut eye.

The name of the game here is to take your time. Stroll, browse, sample. Summer is probably the better time to visit, because this market lives outdoors. There’s too much passion here to be contained indoors. Ideally, visit on the last Sunday of each Month (May to October) for ‘Pedestrian Sundays’. The streets are closed off to traffic allowing you to walk more freely and take in the festival like energy.

If you’re like me and enjoy eating food from all parts of the World, then this is your spot. Whether it’s Thai, Caribbean, Latin American, you name it; spend the day here and you’ll feel as if you’ve traveled around the world eating  up several cultures.

You can easily spend good coin, hitting up and dining in some pretty decent restaurants that serve up decent quality food. But if you want to save some cash and spend a total of around $10, you can follow my personal itinerary.  Here we go.

I usually start with a good foundation, a small but good filling meal that won’t make me hungry in 10 minutes.  I start at Akram’s. The couple that owns this gem is really very lovely and sweet who make everything from scratch. Part take-out restaurant part small market, it’s Middle-eastern from the heart. You’ll find tabouleh, baklava and shawarma but I always go for their bread and butter, the falafel, arguably the better falafel in Toronto.  Loaded with freshness with a splash of spice for that kick.

Cost –  $2.10.

Photo Courtesy – foodjunkiechronicles.net
Photo Courtesy – Blogto.com

Naturally, after a meal like that, I go for something sweet.

My preferred spot is Emporium Latino. Spices, fruits and veggies, imported sauces and even a small take out joint in the back serving up fresh papusas and tamales, Emporium offers up all the ingredients you need to make your own Latin American meal.
For me, it’s about the popsicle. Offered in a bunch of different flavours including mango and coconut (my fave), this is loaded with real fruit chucks in it.

Cost – $2.50

If you crave a dessert that’s hot instead of cold, I recommend you stop off at Pancho’s Bakery. In fact, sometimes, a trip to the market isn’t complete until I’ve had a couple of churros; I follow them up with the popsicle! At Pancho’s you’ll be greeted with a loud hello and massive smiles. As for the churros, they make them hot and fresh and fill them with either hot chocolate syrup, dolce de leche or strawberry.

Cost – 2 churro’s for $3

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Walk around, take it in, maybe meet some new people. It’s fairly easy to do that here. But when you’ve reached that point in the day when you need a coffee, there are plenty of places to choose from. I tend to go to Jimmy’s Coffee, located right next to Akram’s. The service is solid with a friendly vibe, the atmosphere is quintessential market with a variety of types coming and going and the coffee is pretty good.  And if you sit in the right place, you can even have former US President Jimmy Carter himself smiling right back at ya at you drink your decaf Americano.

Cost- $2.25

Have your own eats experience in Kensington Market or have some other suggested places to hit up, then share the love.

Happy travels!

 

3 FREE off-the-beaten-path attractions in Toronto

By: Jim Bamboulis

We all love free, don’t we?

In Toronto, there’s no shortage of free fun stuff to see and do. Guide books usually have a large list of popular attractions that you ‘must do’ when you’re anywhere. Toronto is no exception.

But if you’re looking for a bit of adventure, off-the-beaten-path sites that are still downtown, near the subway lines and still tell you an awesome story, then you want to check out the following 3 sites because each of them has a unique history waiting to be re-discovered.

1 – Allan Gardens Conservatory

This is the type of attraction that many Torontonians know exists because they have either walked or driven by it…but rarely feel it’s worth the look.

But it is.  Because it’s a GEM!

This colourful piece of Toronto history dates back to the mid-late 19th century and is probably one of the best smelling buildings anywhere. And the fine aroma comes from natural sources.

A large park surrounds an indoor botanical garden featuring 6 greenhouses and measuring over 16,000 square feet. Here, you’ll find colourful plants and flowers from around the world, while in the “Palm House”, you’ll find several variations of palms meticulously maintained. This is an oasis, away from the horn honking, people pushing business from the street. Great place to stroll, breathe, stay cool in the summer, warm in the winter and if you really want to reach zen, it’s a great place to meditate.

It’s open every single day of the year between 10am-5pm.

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 2 – Maple Leaf Gardens

Any hockey fan knows that Maple Leaf Gardens was and may always be the greatest, most illustrious cathedral of hockey the World has ever seen.

Maybe.

But if ever went to a hockey game at MLG, you knew damn well that there was absolutely NO leg room, not even enough leg room for a 10-year-old boy.

But it was a great place to see a good old hockey game.

Maple Leaf Gardens is steps away from Allan Gardens, about a 5-10 minute walk west along Carlton Street.

Between 1931 and 1999, it was the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team.  Elvis also played here in ’57, making MLG one of the few stadiums outside of the US where the King performed.

It has also been given the special distinction, named a National Historic Site of Canada in 2007 because it was:

…one of the most renowned “shrines” in the history of hockey… the largest arena in the country when it was built, it was one of the country’s foremost venues for large-scale sporting events such as boxing matches and track meets, and non-sporting events such as concerts, rallies and political gatherings, religious services and opera… the Gardens holds a special place in the country’s popular culture: here Canadians welcomed a wide range of cultural icons from the Beatles to the Metropolitan Opera, from Tim Buck to Team Canada vs. the Soviets, from Winston Churchill to the Muhammad Ali-George Chuvalo fight.

—Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2006.

Today, it’s many things. The lower floors contain a massive supermarket, liquor store, clothing store and a cooking school. On the upper levels, there is an athletic centre and an NHL-sized hockey rink which is now home ice for the Ryerson University Rams hockey team.

Original Blue Seats and Original Wall leading up the escalator
Original Blue Seats and Original Wall leading up the escalator
Blue Seats in the shape of a Maple Leaf

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3 – St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church 

Heading south from Maple Leaf Gardens, about a 10 minute walk along Church Street, inside the Ryerson University campus, you find another piece of Toronto history that can’t be overlooked.

St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church is simply a beautiful place where old world craftsmanship is illustrated beautifully.

I must say that I don’t believe that churches should be considered a place to gingerly stroll into and take pictures. Sometimes it can be disrespectful. So do everyone a favour and wait until the appropriate time to take a few photos. After all, places of worship, no matter what the religion, should be treated with respect and rules must be followed.

This church isn’t open everyday. However, there is a chance to see this church at an event called Doors Open Toronto. 

Considered to be the “mother church” of the Greeks in Canada, it was founded in 1909 by Toronto’s early Greek immigrants. It’s the oldest Greek Orthodox church in Toronto and up until 1961, the only one in the city.

Byzantine inspired, the church’s interior is unique in that it’s the only church outside of Greece to have been painted by Pachomaioi monks and master iconographers, Theophilos and Chrysostomos from famed Mount Athos, Greece. I made it a priority to see it this year and what I saw was truly breathtaking.

Have other free sites to see in Toronto?  Share the love.

Happy travels!

Flying over Toronto

By: Jim Bamboulis

A good friend of mine, Massimo, invited me up to Buttonville Airport, just north of Toronto for a chance at a fly-over in a tiny Cessna.   You see, Massimo is learning how to fly and Buttonville is one of the few airports around that offers lessons.

It’s funny because the thought of Massimo flying didn’t scare me.  After all, I went to his wedding.  I know his wife.  Bright future.  No risks.

What did make me nervous was the Pilot.  Yes, the Pilot.

Blake.  Young guy.  Too young.  I have to admit, I started sweating a bit. Should I kiss the tarmac before I put my belt on?  Should I call my mom and tell her I love her?  Naaaw, it’ll be fine.

My stomach on the other hand….not so much.  Take a look!

Why do tourists always seem to wear white runners?

By: Jim Bamboulis

Tourists.

Gotta love ’em.

Naive, scared, easily intimidated and more often than not introverted too.  They always obey street signs, never jaywalk and never ask for directions.  They keep to themselves, hide their maps and wear those stupid camera straps around their necks making themselves look like branded bulls.

I’m not going to go into the whole Seinfeld-ian, “do you ever notice this, do you ever notice that” but yes,  I couldn’t help but notice one strange and consistent characteristic that makes tourists truly stand out:

White running shoes!

So many tourists seem to wear them that it has become a staple to the tourist outfit.   I recently took a walk around Toronto and stumbled upon some of these good folk.  Couldn’t help but notice that most of them, no matter where in the World they come from, were wearing whiteys. It’s almost like there are 3 certainties in life:  death, taxes and tourists wearing white running shoes.

Not everyone wears them of course.  Take a look at the slide show.

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Christmas Display Windows, Downtown

By: Jim Bamboulis

Every year, right before Christmas the flagship Hudson’s Bay store in Toronto puts together an incredible display of Christmas celebration and cheer.

5 windows along very busy Queen Street West (just west of Yonge Street) are decorated with elaborate, detailed and festive Christmas scenes that conjure all sorts of warm, fuzzy feelings to all those who walk by them.

You can’t help but stop, take a pic or two and admire how the craftsmanship is done!

Snowy scene
Snowy scene
Letters and lists
Letters and lists
Clocks ticking
Clocks ticking
Long list
Long list
Singing Carols
Singing Carols
Feast
Feast
Sleeping
Sleeping

They’re only around for a limited time and are definitely worth the visit!

 

The 1st Snowfall of the Season is always chaos!

By: Jim Bamboulis

It’s Saturday.

Big snow storm going on outside.  Here’s what the skyline looks like.

Toronto

On days like this, people generally stay inside, read a book, watch a movie, maybe get drunk or write a blog post.  Sometimes in that order, sometimes not.  Many though decide to venture out.

Some drive.  Here’s what the roads look like.

Sure, turn around on a hill
Sure, turn around on a hill
It may not look bad but the first one is always the toughest
It may not look bad but the first one is always the toughest

Sure, if you must drive you have little choice but to battle the traffic. Yes, tempers flare and yes Toronto does have hills. They aren’t San Francisco type hills but this city has inclines that, on days like this, make it feel like you’re tobogganing in a car with plenty of backsliding, and back bumper to front bumper accidents.

Let me just go ahead and cause a potential shit storm
Let me just go ahead and cause a potential shit storm
Causing a shit storm
Causing a shit storm. Can you hear the honking horns?

There are particular parts of the city that cause greater chaos than others. This hill in mid-town Toronto is notorious for slipping, sliding and all sorts of chaotic activity. In the past, there have been people who have gotten the balls to do this…and make it successfully!

In fact, when the snow is really bad, as it is today, the TV cameras show up. Filming the chaos and gathering sound bites for everyone to see, hear and judge those who decided to drive on a day like this.

We're the News.
We’re the News.

Now, back to that book, bag of chips, movie and drink.  Potentially in that order.

 

Best Cheap East in Toronto’s Greek Town 

By: Jim Bamboulis

I’m often asked from both out-of-towners and locals about where to dine in Toronto.  And although I’m always flattered that some would look to me for a recommendation, I always take a few minutes to respond. I’m not one to steer someone wrong.  But here’s the thing.

It’s a loaded question.  Toronto is huge!  And what’s more, it’s got several thousand restaurants to choose from.  Menus, Chefs and in turn quality of food change all the time. With so many factors, it’s tough to pick and tougher to recommend.

That being said, I’ve decided to start by answering questions about where to dine in one of the most popular Toronto strips:  Greek Town on the Danforth.

I’m not going to talk about the area itself other than to say, it’s loaded with cafes, boutiques and restaurants, festive all year round (but especially in the summer), and of course safe.  Bottom line, if you’re planning to go to Toronto’s Greek Town, you’ll have a great time.

Now to the good stuff:  where to eat.  Especially on the cheap.
Here’s my Top 5.  And by all means, this list is not the gospel.  Well, actually it is…it’s my gospel.  Feel free to critique my list, suggest other restaurants I may have overlooked or even create a list of your own…which would end up being your gospel.

#5 – Detroit Eatery 

Why go?
Besides the obvious inexpensiveness of the whole thing, the Eatery has a lot of history.  Its walls are shrouded with both recent and past hockey paraphernalia and autographed pictures.  It’s small and a no nonsense kind of diner where you get a kick ass burger and if you’re lucky a chance to pose with the Stanley Cup itself, which has made an appearance at the Eatery several times over the years (Go Red Wings).

How much am I looking at?
Burger with fries and a drink will probably run you about $5- $10.

Where? 
389 Danforth Avenue, Subway: Chester station.

#4 – Louis Meat Market  

Why go?
Virtually no line-ups, quick, friendly and personable service.  Oh ya, and a big, delicious portion.  The Meat Market isn’t a bar, it’s a market/restaurant which serves up some of the best Gyro this side of Corfu.  So why did I put it at #4?  Don’t get me wrong I hate waiting in line, but I think we can all agree that waiting is all part of the experience of going out. I like a festive atmosphere with waiters jumping around, people walking by, the whole shebang.  Otherwise, it’s just like eating at home. If you’re looking for great food and a bit of small talk with little else, then Louis is for you.

How much am I looking at?
Chicken/Pork Gyro and a pop will cost you about $7.

Where?
449 Danforth Avenue, Subway: Chester station.

#3 – Square Boy  

Why go?  
You wanna talk about institutions?  A place where generations of people have come and shared good times over an old-fashioned style burger, fries with gravy and a real chocolate shake?
2 words:  Square Boy.
The concept is simple: Order a Home Burger (preferred considering it’s home-made, seasoned and transformed into a giant, thick and juicy burger just like mama use to make…or in this case a wise old Greek man), with fries.  After ordering, move casually to the left where you wait a few minutes before telling the straight up guy behind the counter what you want on your burger.  Tzatziki sauce is available and I highly recommend you add it to your toppings.  Of course, burgers aren’t the only thing on the menu.  Chicken/pork souvlaki on a bun or pita is good too and if you’re extra hungry, you can order a whole chicken fresh off the rotisserie for about $10 bucks!  That being said, the portions are beyond big.  Add it all up and you get lineups that sometimes go out the door.

How much am I looking at?  
Depending on how hungry you are, a home burger with fries and a drink will add up to about $8-$10.  Or just get the whole chicken and feed the family for about the same cost.

Where?
875 Danforth Avenue, Subway: Donlands Station.

#2 – Asteria Souvlaki Place  

Why go?
Because it seems like this place is only known and frequented by locals.  And when I see locals frequent a place, I know it’s good. In many ways, Asteria is a typical Greek restaurant. More than likely a family run business for years, it’s the kind of place where you’ll see old framed shots of the Parthenon decorate the wallpaper.  It’s not fancy by any means but it’s still got some atmosphere.  Not to mention a team of dedicated and very experienced older Greek men behind the counter, who are all business all the time.  I’ve never, not even once, ever seen any of them talk to each other. The bonus here is that there are no secrets.  The kitchen itself is along the window, you can peek inside and see what exactly is on the grill and who exactly is preparing the dishes. If you believe that the best cooks are men, then this is your spot.  And they don’t go small either; portions will fill you up good.  Popular here is the Chicken souvlaki dinner with giant chucks of meat, and a bunch of sides to choose from such as fries, rice and of course the ever popular, lemon potatoes.

How much am I looking at?  
This place is the priciest on my list.  But then again you get the most meal here.  Chicken Breast souvlaki or Pork Souvlaki on a Pita or Bun will run you about $5- $6.  But if you want something bigger and more filling, try the Chicken Souvlaki dinner with sides which will cost you about $12-$15.

Where?
292 Danforth Avenue, Subway: Chester station.

#1 – Messini  

Why go?  
Big portions at great prices with plenty of atmosphere, quick service and open all night, or at least it seems to be.  This place made its presence felt almost immediately after coming on the scene.  People have flocked here from the start and haven’t stopped.  At lunch time, it’s busy.  At dinner time, it’s busier.  On the weekend it’s hopping.  After midnight it’s jumping.  How do they keep up with the demand?  Having about 5 Gyro spits going at once, at all times of the day and night.  The Greek salad is crisp, green and fresh.  The Gyro is packed thick and juicy.   But the other big draw here are the Greek Fries.  Sliced potatoes topped with olive oil, oregano and feta cheese which is broiled on top for that extra gooey deliciousness.

How much Travel Mammal?!  
The salads will run you anywhere from $6-$8. If you have a Pork, Chicken or Lamb dinner, you’re looking at anywhere from $11- $12.50.  A Chicken Gyro topped with onions, tzatziki, tomatoes and french fries will cost you $5 and those Greek Fries I mentioned about $4.

Where?
445 Danforth Avenue, Subway: Chester station.

There’s our list of the cheapest eats on Toronto’s Greek Town.
Do you have other suggestions? Know of a place we may have missed?  Don’t keep it to yourself. Let us know. Spread your gospel of cheap eats in this area of Toronto.

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