On the occasion of a dear friend being married, I recently hopped on a Greyhound and made a break for the border. The Canadian border, that is. Fourteen hours later, I emerged in Toronto, a "hit list" in hand: 1.Poutine 2. Butter Tart 3. Wedding. After all, I could not visit a foodie town like Toronto without sampling some of the specialties.
First up was a quest for poutine. I've read about it on food blogs, seen it on the Food Channel, and always wondered what in the world a "squeaky cheese curd" would taste like. So within an hour of arrival, my foodie cohort and I were winging our way down Queen Street, in search of Poutini's House of Poutine, a shop that does only one thing: homemade fries, smothered in gravy (vegetarian gravy is top notch there), and topped with...yes, the squeaky cheese curd.
Now, friends, it is perilous work to ferret out the food secrets of a city. And sometimes, national treasures are an acquired taste. And all told, being prepared to faint from the ecstasy of comfort food done to a high art, I was...a little underwhelmed by the poutine. And my cheese was squeaking when I chewed it. My foodie cohort pointed out that were I stuck in a Canadian winter, with my metabolism fighting to keep flesh on my bones against the perilous cold, I too might begin to worship the bucket-size vat of fries, gravy, and cheese. And perhaps she is right. But in August, being in no danger of frost bite, I decided to leave the poutine to the Canadians, and move on to the unofficial specialty of the city: the butter tart. And I had a hot tip on Andrea's Gerrard Street Bakery, hiding in the byways of Chinatown.
As we drove to Andrea's, I couldn't help but worry, how could something called a butter tart turn out to be a memorable eating experience?
And it's true, given my choice of lemon curd, frangipane, and raspberry tarts, I probably would've passed over the plate of plain brown ones in the back. Luckily for all, I didn't. And oh, just for a moment, as I bit into the gooey, soft brown bliss, my tongue swirling in maple syrup, browned butter, and cream, I had one of those bakery babe moments where months of dry scones and soggy cake all dwindle away in the heaven of one perfect bite. One of those "I'd sell my soul for a six pack of these butter tarts" kind of moments. The crust was light and flaky on the outside, a little moist on the inside, and by the gods above, it is the sort of treasure that I live for in my food blogging adventures. Not kidding. Five stars on Andrea's butter tarts. My friend and I bought one of the sizable tarts to split. Five minutes later, we were back up at the counter to buy another. And oh, the four or so we got in the to-go box. Now, I will admit, Andrea uses maple syrup in her butter tarts, and that is what launches them into the stratosphere. But I submit that as you ditch modesty and lick the plate of the last crumb, arguments about what constitutes a "real" Toronto butter tart will not make it into the conversation. What you will be talking about is how soon you can get back to Andrea's for another!
But woman cannot live on butter tarts alone. And after a few more investigations, I can now tell you. 1. Do have a beer at the Duke of York Pub. 2. Do not order nachos in Canada...ever. 3. Don't fear the sushi. Toronto has some excellent Japanese restaurants!
And if you have the chance, make haste for St.Lawrence food market, an indoor stadium of food stalls the likes of which this bakery babe will not soon forget!
There are other places to see, of course, and I saw most of them at a flat out sprint. St. Jame's Cathedral, St. Michael's Church, the Royal Ontario Museum, etc. And many other bakeries that I did not have time to visit (Bakerbots, Prairie Girl, Tori's). But let's not forget, there was #3, the most important to consider on my list: the wedding. The weekend was filled with many sweet moments of visiting with old friends, and convening at the University of Toronto for a heartfelt wedding that reminded me that no matter how far we've traveled on our way, love will always call us back to what matters most: friendship, joined hands, and dare I add that sweetest of confections, wedding cake. Or, in this case, the plural, wedding cakes. Well, what can I say, those Canadians know how to throw a party!
And so, sugar blissed and fortunate in friendship, I must say, au revoir, Toronto. Let us meet again soon!