Toronto in the Winter

Where to begin? Y’all, I could go on, and on, and on about this city. It’s beautiful, it’s clean, the people are so friendly, the food is AMAZING, the drinks are strong and delicious.  The city is on the water, but surrounded by nature, making it stand out from New York, surrounded by other cities. It’s perfect. As soon as I step foot in Toronto I am at peace with the world. Sure, like my mother would say, “Of course you’re at peace Jacqueline, you’re on vacation!” She has a valid point, but there is just something about Toronto that makes me feel like I’m on more than just being on vacation.

I decided to be really bold one day (thanks to some strong spiked cider’s at Rolf’s) and ask Mike, who I had been dating all of 3 weeks at this point (and still unsure if we were actually dating… You know, that stage… if he would like to go to Toronto for his birthday.  I only asked because the Rangers were playing the Maple Leafs the following Thursday. He was a little weirded out at first, more so because the previous girl he was with would take magazines to games he dragged her to. Meanwhile here I am, planning a vacation around a sporting event only weeks into the relationship. A few days later tickets had been purchased, and the room had been booked. And I decided we would drive……. Brilliant I know…  A seven-hour car ride a month into a relationship is a really great idea by the way, you learn a lot about each other!

We were staying at the Trump International Hotel & Tower, conveniently on the day that he was being inaugurated as our President.  The drive in had been long and we were looking forward to a little relaxation before the game that night. Our room wasn’t ready yet so the concierge suggested a few places for us to grab a bite to eat.  We walked over to a place called The 3 Brewers.  It was good, nothing spectacular.  I had a Caesar salad (I know, lame, but I get weird cravings for them) and Mike had sriracha burger with fries.  The fries and sriracha mayo were really flavorful but the winning factor here was our bartender.  She was so wonderful with recommendations of places for us to go over the weekend.  As a tip – the Financial District is dead on the weekends, so head to the Entertainment District or towards the edges of the city for more local flavor.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel and, and our room was beautiful, I could have lived in it.  There may be a lot of people against Trump, but you’ve got to hand it to the man. He has some damn good hotels. We had a living room with a “fireplace,” a small bar, work area, half bath, and then a large room with a huge bathroom with a big bathtub.  There was a TV in the main bathroom… Mike was all in.

When Mike was younger… before he could LEAGALLY drink in The States… he would go to Montreal with his buddies, and they would always drink Molson Dry, which you can’t get in America. So we were on a mission to find one since he hadn’t had it in 15 years.  At this point, it was almost game time, so as we were walking around the Air Canada Centre we noticed there was a Molson brewery inside so thought we would be in luck.  Turns out, Molson Dry is not so popular and not served there, or sold in most liquor stores, or most pubs.  This was going to be tough.

The game was such a good time.  It was the 150th anniversary of Canadian hockey, and the game presentation incredible.  The intro video was really cool and seemed to bring together the whole city in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Hockey in Canada…. Think soccer in Europe!

After the game, we were hungry again so we made our way to Momofuku at the Shangri-La.  Oh yeah, Rangers won!!! If you’ve ever been to Momofuku in New York, you go in knowing you are waiting at least an hour and half to get seated.  Not so much in Toronto, or at least this night.  We walked straight in, were sat immediately, and had food within 10 minutes.  It was incredible! I guess they just don’t get pork buns like we do….

The next morning we were up and on the trolley on our way to Lady Marmalade for brunch, recommended by our awesome bartender at lunch the day before. I had Huevos Rancheritos and Mike had the Crêpe Croque Monsieur – he won the breakfast battle on day one, but the war wasn’t over.  Lady Marmalade is a pretty decent walk from downtown but I prefer to walk so I can see everything, so we… AKA I… decided to walk back, but agreed to stop at bars on the way, so all good.

The walk took us a while but we found a few of our favorite places on the way.  We stumbled into St. Lawrence Market which reminded me of a less commercialized version of Eataly.  I was pretty bummed we had already eaten because I would have been happy to just walk to all the vendors for samples.  We did taste some Canadian wine which was surprisingly good.  After that, we needed a beer and came across a place called Jersey Giant.  Mike’s from Jersey, so he felt good about it. We were pleasantly surprised; it had the décor and vibe of an old fashioned English pub.  Again, we had a kickass bartender who was making and recommending all sorts of beer combinations for us and FINALLY gave us the unicorn bar that served his Molson Dry.

To the Esplanade we went!  Oh, first we went to hockey Hall of Fame. He kissed The Cup which was cool, but mostly the place is a lovefest with Sidney Crosby and Canadian hockey. If you’re into that you need to go. After that, beer time!! Finally we walked to Old Scotland Yard pub- they had our beer!!  Another cute, old fashioned pub with soccer on and filled with regulars giving us a side eyed look as we sat down.  We had a few Molson Drys, which apparently were not as good as they were 15 years ago, but still made out of beer.  Next door was The Spaghetti Factory which looked quite interesting so we popped in there, and I’m so glad we did.  It’s like a fair in this place.  Its huge, the decorations are loud and there is a carousel! And a caboose that you can eat in!  We were still full so didn’t eat, but the food looked and smelled divine.

Another fabulous place we had both looked up before our trip and were recommended to visit by our bartenders is Beast.  I won this breakfast battle with the Mad Maple: fried chicken thigh, beast bacon, ontario maple syrup, fried egg while Mike had a chorizo benedict, which was good but didn’t compare to mine.  So good, a little out of the way but on our way back we found a bunch of cute antique shops as well as Graffiti Alley- cool to see but a little stinky!

There were a few other items on our itinerary, so I dragged Mike to AGO – Art Gallery of Ontario, which had an extended Mysticism in Landscapes exhibit.  I’m a bit of a nerd, I love museums.  That’s one thing I try to check out in every city I go to and I am ALWAYS in for some Monet paintings.  The exhibit was incredible, so well done, I could have spent hours there but it was a little crowded.  We discovered a new favorite painter, Swede Eugene Jansson who did incredible landscapes of Stockholm. I had never seen any of his work before and was so captivated by it.  But nothing compared to when we turned the last corner to find Starry Night on loan from Musée D’Orsay in Paris.  The D’Orsay is Mike’s favorite museum and Starry Night is his favorite painting.  He had found it before me and when I came around to find him there were tears in his eyes.  I’ve never seen someone so captivated by a painting and as I looked around I noticed most of the room mimicked his expression.  It was my favorite part of the trip for sure.

After our museum experience I still wanted to see Kensington Market and The Lockhart, the Pinterest-renowned Harry Potter bar.  We walked over to the market and discovered Toronto Popcorn Company.  PSA I am OBSESSED with popcorn so this was my personal heaven.  It was a room filled with every flavor popcorn you can imagine and you can sample as many as you want! We bought a couple of bags, Jalapeño, Parmesan and Herb, and Sea Salt with Cracked Pepper – SO GOOD! You can even order online.

Finally it was time for The Lockhart.  I was a little unsure when the cab dropped us off since there is not much branding. Then I noticed a ‘Have You Seen This Wizard’ poster on the window and knew we had made it. There were soooooo many fun drinks to try but we decided on the Befuddlement Draft, served in a cauldron and lit on fire, and 2 Dementor’s Kiss shots, ghost pepper infused tequila. We also ordered a side of tomato with whipped mozzarella mousse. We were skeptical of the food since most theme bars tend to have less than impressive food. The whipped mozzarella though – amazing.  It was so light and still had a creamy texture. Now, let’s discuss the Dementor’s Kiss shot. They are RIDDIKULUS! Mine literally did suck the life out of me, I turned white, I wasn’t sure I could breathe or would ever recover.  It ended up taking about 10 minutes before I felt okay again.  Mike, thought he had killed me and was so worried about my well-being, that he ordered another one. If you are in Toronto and you are a Potter fan you should definitely check it out.  The decorations are really fun and the bathrooms are chalkboards, so it’s pretty entertaining while you’re down there to read what all of the guests write.

We knew we needed to eat after the shots so I went on Yelp to find us a place for a late dinner.  There was a Canadian restaurant called Antler Kitchen + Bar, on the end of the block so we walked in.  The wait was about 30 minutes for the window seat, so we stuck it out. Turns out, it was the best decision we ever made.  I have never had a more perfectly timed, perfectly served, and perfectly cooked meal in my life. The place deserves its own post, so I’m just going to write one. But holy shit, its so good.

I fell in love on this trip with Toronto.  I’ve been back since and I can’t wait to go back again.  I’ll probably make it a yearly ordeal – Antler is on the docket for every trip.

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