Welcome to another Mastication Monologues and part three in my Canadian food adventures. Day one consisted of a mouthful of Dirty South cookin’ while day two was a yin and yang of cool waters and fiery dinners. Day three was interesting in its own respect. We started off the day nice and early at the Ripley’s aquarium which was pretty entertaining with lots of interesting exhibits and marine specimens. While the Shedd in Chicago has a lot more of the big animals like belugas and dolphins, the Toronto had bested our hometown museum with a larger variety of strange creatures. For example, the giant sawfish that was chilling on the aqua tube we walked through as tons of other fish, sharks, and even turtles swam around us. Oh, boy, I would not want to see that stuff from my kayak seat. The jellyfish exhibit was probably my favorite part since the cool blacklit chambers really made the little guys look like aliens. Janice, however, was going bananas over the puffer fish and even crawled into the middle that was intended for the children school groups. I captured her passion with this pretty cool picture.
Then there were the petting areas where we had some hands-on action with the sea-beasties. Janice was freaking out with the horseshoe crabs, and I finally overcame my fear of petting stingrays…by petting one as big as me.
Unfortunately, none of the small, petable sharks were feeling calm enough to be friendly with the guests. Overall, we highly recommend a visit while you’re here, but try to go in the morning since there will be less hordes of shrieking children. We proceeded to walk to the nearby turntable that turned out to also be the Steamwhistle brewery. If you’re into beer and/or classic trains, this is your paradise.
We finally got in after a bit of waiting, and they didn’t even have any food for lunch. On the plus side, we got to see the inside of the brewery, get some taster beers, and find our next party bike. The brew that we had there tasted like a slightly hoppy IPA that was light and good for a hot day. So, instead of just sitting there and waiting for the food truck to come in, we moved onto the harborfront since we had a kayak lesson in the afternoon. After a moderate constitutional, we found ourselves looking out over Lake Ontario, a perfect backdrop for lunch. We stumbled upon, surprise surprise, another brewery. This one was called Amsterdam Brewery, and thankfully it wasn’t jazzed up like some sort of cheesy homage to the Dutch capital. We got a seat on the patio where there was thankfully some shade, but it seemed like they were training a lot of new staff. Thankfully, our waitress was very on the ball since we had a deadline to stuff our faces and make it to the lesson on time. First world problems. The meal started with da beers. Even though the flights looked tempting, they had to wait. Instead, I got their all natural blonde while Janice got their Big Wheel amber ale. These big glasses quickly came out, and we had different experiences. My blonde seemed quite bland and slightly sour, but Janice’s Big Wheel was a tasty balance of caramel undertones and a hoppy aftertaste. Moving on to food, their menu was a standard bar and grill mix of mostly sandwiches, pizza, and a few slightly ethnic items thrown in there for good measure. I enjoyed their code for pairing the food with the beer through a letter system next to each food option like C for a crisp beer next to the fish and chips. We picked a few things to share before going to burn them off on the water. First, there were the sweet chili rib ends ($11). These pork chunks were delectable minus the occasional bone chip we had to make sure not to swallow. Definitely not a plate for the little ones. However, the flavor was definitely grown and developed through a mix of sweet chili sauce and a braise of lemongrass, lime leaves, and ginger. It kind of was like an Asian sweet, spicy, yet tangy twist on an American favorite. I recommend them. Then we had to get the Canadian classic dish: poutine ($8). This melange of gravy, cheese curds, and French fries was born in rural Quebec in the 1950s, but the origin of the name is highly disputed. Some believe that it is a Frenchified version of the English word “pudding” while others conjecture it comes from the Quebecois French slang for “mess” or “leftovers”. There are even links back to France with regional dialects boasting cognates like the southern Provencal word, “poutité” or “hodgepodge” in English. Whatever you want to call it, it is a super rich comfort food that will make you want to check your cholesterol levels when you’re done. I’m not a huge fan of the soggy fries that soak up a lot of the gravy on the bottom, but the perfect forkful that combines the beefy with the salty fry and tangy cheese is without parallel. Speaking of the cheese, at Amsterdam they use Thornloe cheese that has been a Canadian institution since 1940. Plus, it was founded by a guy named Rene Laframboise or Rene The Raspberry. Now that’s a cheese company I want to patronize! To balance this heavy plate, we rounded out the main course with some of the hoisin chicken lettuce wraps ($12). These were the opposite of the poutine: light, sweet, and fresh. They were basically like make your own tacos, but instead of tortillas we had super verdant leaves of lettuce. The chicken and veggies were stir fried in a light teriyaki sauce, and we received the dark hoisin sauce and a pepper seed laden sauce on the side. All of these plates together were a great value for good food, and we still had a little bit of room to split a dessert. We got the flourless chocolate torte ($7) which was totally our jam, literally, given that the raspberry coulis (coo-LEE; from the Latin colare “to strain”) was the perfect compliment to the sinfully sweet slice. An added bonus was the whipped cream, fresh strawberry, and a mysterious gooseberry that made its way onto our plate. I had never even seen one of these fruits in real life, so I didn’t know what to expect from it. Our waitress warned us that some diners didn’t care for its “interesting” and super sour taste. So, I braced myself for the worst when I popped the small, bright yellow berry in my mouth and bit down. I was greeted with a more neutral, partially earthy flavor washing over my palate. It barely left an impression on me before it was gone. Guess the kayak gods were smiling on us as we got the check and were running to the kayak dock. It was a glorious day for a paddle, and before we knew it, we were in our dual kayak. Our task of getting to the channel islands was harder than expected since we had to try to not get run over by the numerous boats and water taxis that were creating giant waves as well. As if that wasn’t enough, there were airplanes zooming overhead because the landing strip was out by the islands. Definitely got the blood pumping. Eventually, we got to the islands and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon on the calm waters. It’s also a great experience if you want some fantastic photo ops for the Toronto skyline like we got. Going back to port was maybe that just much harder given the constant paddling we had done for the previous three hours. By the time we reached the dock, we were ready for a nap before going out with Aaron and Alyssa. Once we regroups, we were back at the harborfront with the gang, and funny enough they were going to bring us to Amsterdam Brewhouse! Instead we wandered about taking in the Friday night surroundings, including Janice climbing into this contraption that looked like Dr. Seuss’ pimp-mobile. Just par for the course. Eventually, we decided to go out to a bar or two for food and drinks. We hit up the Wellington first for food and then the Banknote. Unfortunately, I don’t have pics for the Wellington, but it had some great nachos. It’s a cozy bar/restaurant too. The Banknote, on the other hand, was a great bar for late night shenanigoats. It was there that I tried another one of the Canadian beers that was also offered at the Amsterdam brewhouse: the Boneshaker IPA. It was surprisingly palatable given that I’m not the biggest fan of the typically hop-heavy IPA style of beers. Luckily, my bones weren’t shaking too much given that we played over three hours of Jenga that they have at their main long table. Then again, when you’re having a good time with great company, it’s bound to happen. Talk about a wild Friday and penultimate night in TO!
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