The 45th edition of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival (Sept. 10-19) will be like no other. There’s a scaled-down number of in-person screenings at only five venues including two drive-ins and an open-air theater. Although the fans and premieres will be online, Toronto’s hotels and restaurants are re-open and ready for business with new health, safety and enhanced cleaning protocols and consideration for the public health of locals and visitors. At restaurants, there’s more outside seating and an embrace of the outdoors, when weather permits, capacity is reduced and servers are masked. Delivery services have ramped up and to-go options are plentiful.
And if you want to help out those in Toronto who need it most, whether you are at TIFF or enjoying it virtually? These Toronto food-related non-profits are supported by local restaurateurs and hospitality workers.
Food Share takes a community-based approach to addressing the challenges facing those most affected by poverty and food insecurity. Community gardens, cooking classes, food distribution and schoolyard farming projects are among their active programs.
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Food Rescue is organized by Second Harvest Canada, the country’s largest food rescue charity. The org helps distribute donated edible food, which would otherwise be thrown away. The platform allows food donors to connect directly with community social service programs. In 2019, the non-profit redistributed more than 15 million pounds of unsold food.
Chef Jagger Gordon established Feed It Forward in 2014 with the promise to nourish families, not supply landfills. Food destined for destruction is instead used to feed those living with food insecurity. The pandemic has increased demand; Feed It Forward also operates a pay-what-you-can grocery store, bakery and café at 2770 Dundas St. W. in Toronto.
Feed the Frontlines Toronto (launched in March) accepts donations via GoFundMe to purchase meals and deliver to frontline healthcare works, social services staff and Toronto’s food insecure. Local restaurants and food supply chains get support while nutritious meals are distributed.
EAT WELL: COMFORT FOOD ITALIAN-STYLE
When it comes to comfort food that pleases most palates, Toronto’s mainstay Italian spots have local and industry appeal.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and all things Italian are found at Toronto’s Eataly in Yorkville, opened in November 2019. Those familiar with the Manhattan or Los Angeles outposts know the drill: there are several restaurants and counters, a popular patio and a market with Italian-themed specialties ranging from aged prosciutto to Italian wines to house-made mozzarella (shaped from locally sourced curds from Woodbridge, Ont.-based Quality Cheese). Seating areas are fully sanitized with tables spaced apart. During TIFF and continuing through the end of patio season, Il Patio di Eataly by Aperol features Aperol spritzes (and other refreshing drinks) and a lighter summer menu. Reservations recommended. There are take-out and delivery menus via Door Dash, UberEatsCanada and SkipTheDishes too.
55 Bloor St. West
Southern Italian classics, outdoor dining and patio dining under a retractable roof are the draw at Gusto 101 (pictured above) close to TIFF’s King Street West pedestrian-only strip on Portland Street that festgoers know well. Last year both Martin Scorsese and Shia LaBeouf hosted their festival parties at the contemporary eatery. Menu highlights include the cotoletta alla milanese (breaded chicken topped with arugula, parmesan cheese and lemon vinaigrette), the in-demand kale salad (kale plus currants, toasted pinenuts and two kinds of cheese) and the classic Roman pasta dish, cacio e pepe (pasta mixed with cheese, olive oil and pepper). Wine selections are also available for delivery and pick-up.
101 Portland St.
With seven locations, Terroni is both a Toronto and TIFF institution. Terroni Adelaide Street East in downtown is convenient to the drive-in screens; there’s patio and recently re-opened indoor dining. Although cocktail parties are not permitted at this time, private spaces are available for dinners and smaller events. Fresh house-made pasta, pastries, pizzas and to-die for desserts have kept guests returning for more than 27 years. Spaghetti al limone is one of many standouts and combines balanced portions of fresh pasta, spinach, capers, parmigiano and reggiano with lemon and extra-virgin olive oil. Chef-curated food boxes, bottles of wine and family-style meals can be ordered and delivered direct to hotel suites.
57 Adelaide St. E.
Toronto’s diverse dining scene satisfies almost every culinary craving.
Northern Maverick Brewing Co.
A welcoming and spacious beer garden, retail store and colorful cocktail towers are on the menu at the Northern Maverick Brewing Co. (115 Bathurst St.) Craft beer selections rotate and are brewed on-site. Late summer’s patio season brought out an orange-tinged, German sour ale with hibiscus flower added post-fermentation for a tropical hint. The innovative cocktail towers (instead of pitchers) feature blackberry margaritas, mimosas, sangria and more. The Normandy Orchard is a specialty cocktail created for TIFF 2020. It’s a fruit-forward blend of Calvados, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, apple liqueur, Prosecco, lemon and simple syrup. Bites to consider range from house-made charcuterie to a meat-laden Roman-style pizza. A selection of beers and charcuterie can be ordered via DoorDash.
115 Bathurst St.
The Momo House
Tibetan-style dumplings are the specialty at the Momo House (from the team behind Tibet Kitchen). Select a vegetarian or meat filling for these hefty Himalayan-style dumplings, which can be steamed or fried, and topped with hearty chili sauce or butter chicken. Plain and mango yogurt-based lassis are offered along with chai or butter tea. Order for pick up or delivery.
1422 Queen St. West
Buster’s Sea Cove, St. Lawrence Market
The St. Lawrence Market (92-95 Front St.) is home to Buster’s Sea Cove and dozens of other food vendors. Buster’s stays busy for a reason: it offers generous-sized lobster rolls, boat-to-table fish from the North Atlantic (haddock, halibut and salmon) grilled or fried into fish sandwiches, fish tacos and fish and chips. The lobster poutine (lobster, fries, cheese curds and gravy) is a nod to Quebec’s signature dish. There’s take-away as well as patio dining.
92-95 Front St.
The patio and dining room are open at both Project Fish locations; pick up or order via delivery the artfully prepared, to-go omakase box. The Japanese restaurant has a Korean influence; the compact menu features wagyu and tuna tacos, torch-pressed sushi (the chef uses a blow torch to complete the sushi presentation) and a layered fish and rice chirashi tart with avocado — visually enticing and a Toronto Instagram star.
16 Park Home Ave., North York
Dzo Viet Eatery
Order pickup, delivery or dine-in at Dzo Viet Eatery, which serves updated Vietnamese street food and regional dishes. Some items have a multi-cultural twist: Sriracha aioli and crispy shallots accompany the lemongrass tofu Viet taco. The pho poutine is a combo of traditions too. Spiced beef is served over fries covered in gravy and cheese. The drinks menu showcases Canadian craft beers and cocktails that also blend cuisines. Spirits, house-made bitters and fruits (such as dragonfruit and lychee) mix for atypical refreshment.
308 Dundas St. W.
Toronto utilized its pandemic closure time to spiff up and undergo some creative reimagining. Enhanced cleaning protocols are in place, too, to help protect guests and staff.
Opened in November 2018, the 258-room St. Regis Toronto occupies a 65-story tower: floors 1-32 are guest rooms and residences are located on floors 33 and up. The guest rooms and oversized suites now have muted hues and rich natural textures, such as marble and stone throughout. In August the bi-level Iridium Spa opened on the 31st floor with an unusual relaxation area featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and views of downtown Toronto. Also on the same floor: a fitness center with Peloton bikes and an infinity lap pool. More than 500 kinds of whiskeys and dark spirits are on hand at Louix Louis, the St. Regis’ two-story opulent bar and restaurant.
Inspired in part by the film business and connection to TIFF, the Ritz-Carlton Toronto emerged from closure in August with completely renovated rooms and suites. Streamlined design, with upmarket interior details, pay homage to air and rail travel; glam portraits by photographer and director Caitlin Cronenberg now decorate guest rooms and emphasize the hotel’s cinematic connections. Downstairs, the Ritz Bar + Patio expanded outside and made more room inside for physical distancing. There are grab-and-go options available plus craft cocktails and all-day-to-night dining.
Road trips are the preferred getaway of the day. The Drake Toronto expanded its hotel portfolio in summer 2019 with the 12-room Drake Motor Inn, approximately two hours east of Toronto in lakeside Wellington. A mid-century modern style motor inn was colorfully and comfortably revamped with chic-industrial finishes and whimsical amenities including Polaroid cameras to borrow, bikes and fire pits. Each room has a balcony or garden. Lake Ontario’s beaches and parks beckon, as do the Prince Edward County wine region. Sister property the Drake Devonshire is nearby with lakeside dining.
ON DECK FOR 2021
Toronto hotels will see some major additions over the next year: a new 254-room W Toronto hotel in Yorkville is scheduled to open in February. Expect bold pops of color throughout, lots of greenery, a sound suite for intimate recording sessions and several event venues and hangout spots. Post-premiere party planners take note: the rooftop Skylight bar will have a dedicated elevator and entrance. The 219-room Park Hyatt Toronto is also undergoing a major renovation; re-opening date is February with an updated spa and 17th floor lounge. Two new, uber-cool, U.S.-based hotel groups are adding Toronto digs: expect the Ace Hotel and 1 Hotel to finish construction in the coming months.