Bria Weaver is nothing if not passionate about her Roncesvalles food tour venture: Food Nook Tours. We caught up with her a few weeks ago for a private food tasting tour of five purveyors in her west end Toronto neighbourhood. Although she had been a bit under the weather, Bria happily met us, explaining that she usually has more participants but because she had not been in top shape had not done as much promotion (she does have a day job at a non-profit organization). It was also a long weekend so most Torontonians had escaped the city heat and tourists were spending time in the usual touristy spots.
Of course our aim was to taste stuff but Bria also gave us interesting historical bits about the neighbourhood including the influence of architect John George Howard (who used to own High Park) and Colonel Walter O’Hara (who named Roncesvalles Avenue after the Battle of Roncesvalles in Spain, where he had led a regiment that fought against the retreating army of Napoleon in 1813). I’d like to name places after battles I’ve won too.
On to food – and Bria is definitely a foodie – our first stop was Chocolateria (361 Roncesvalles) whose local claim to fame is the chocolate-dipped potato chip. Although sweet and salty is now a common flavour combination, when the shop first opened a few years ago, it was an original. And it’s still delicious since the chocolate is lovingly made on site and, as the owner says, “we will dip just about anything in chocolate”. Of course we tried the chips, ginger and the sponge candy – reminiscent of a chocolate bar that I remember eating as a child – the ‘Crunchie’. Probably why we bought some.
Click on any photo to enlarge
Next came Fantail Bakery Café (333 Roncesvalles) offering vegetarian and vegan delicacies both sweet and savoury. We tasted a little of each and purchased their organic frittata for later (well, not too much later). The New Zealand family that owns this place was exceptionally welcoming, generous and obviously talented.
At The Mercantile (297 Roncesvalles) – whose tagline is Specialty Foods, Gifts and Treats – we took a bit of a break from eating and meandered around this charming store chock-full of goodies you never knew you needed. There was still tasting involved but mostly of ‘elixirs’ with exotic flavours. Of course we had to buy one of these since they were new to us. We also threw in the must-have Portuguese extra-virgin olive oil.
And then to the place that we wish we could have bought from but since we wouldn’t be staying in town to cook, had to pass up its gorgeous offerings. This was De La Mer (291 Roncesvalles) the fresh fish oasis of my husband’s dreams. We did taste smoked salmon, oysters, and other ready items but the glistening raw seafood of all kinds beckoned to be taken home. It was not to be. We promised to come back when we were next in town.
At our last stop, Barque’s Butcher Bar (287 Roncesvalles) we had a chance to sit, eat and drink – as if we really needed to. This is essentially a smokehouse where you can have pork ribs or chicken wings (or both) or you can order them to go. If you do the latter, you get them packaged in a wonderful, smoky marinade and heat them up at home. Our tasting included wings, a variety of delicious accompanying sauces, olives, popcorn and cashews. As we nibbled, we received a call from our son who lives in the city, letting us know that yes, he could do dinner with us and should we meet somewhere. It really was a no-brainer – my husband and I looked at each other and ordered ribs and wings to go.
As we said our good-byes, we thanked Bria for her easy-going but knowledgeable way of organizing this type of neighbourhood food tour. It was refreshingly ‘bite-sized’. She was organized but flexible and helped us get to know a bit of Toronto that we’d previously just passed through.
– Miria Ioannou
Photos by Miria Ioannou
but…. but…. there’s no mention of where the fish or meat come from. Is the butcher serving feed lot beef? Is the fish sustainable or is it just another fish store? What’s the STORY behind the store?
I’ve been drinking Meredith’s ginger syrup (featured in your article) for everything that ails me for years. Made lovingly over an open fire in Collingwood Ontario it’s perfect in a cup of hot water for tummy aches and headaches On a cold winter afternoon I sip it while reading a great book; no better cure for the winter blues.
Cheryl Kryzaniwsky, Port Elgin, ON