The Queen Elizabeth Way is riddled with heavy traffic, flanked by high-rise condominiums on either side of the highway. In the distance, Lake Ontario shivers beneath evening skies spitting freezing rain.
It has been more than 30 years since my last visit to Canada’s largest city. I vividly recall tearing myself away from the O’Keefe Center between performances of Peter Pan in order to comb the city for a very specific item. Trivial Pursuit had just been introduced in the states and I was an able-bodied board game runner. My personal best post matinee shopping dash culminated with a bag doubled for strength, filled with four weighty board games. Securing them from the Eaton Centre which still stands tall today, was no easy feat. I am overjoyed to learn that The Hudson Bay flagship store remains steadfast within the retail complex, complete with an entire department dedicated to its signature wool striped blankets. Shivering beneath an oversized houndstooth scarf, my frozen self is warmed by this thought. It also occurs to me that the game pieces from Trivial Pursuit were referred to as pieces of pie. Foreshadowing? Perhaps.
One couldn’t secure a more enthusiastic tour guide for our New Year’s Rockin’ Eve weekend than Sibling Sister Formerly of Seattle, Currently of Toronto. We embrace all modes of public transportation in our quest for some of the finest eats the city has to offer.
On Saturday morning, we pause to fortify ourselves with stellar caffeine from Rooster coffee. A finely spiced molasses ginger crinkle provides personal sustenance should I grow faint with hunger during our food tour. I needn’t have worried; it soon becomes evident why National Geographic has named Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market as the world’s best food market.
Sibling Sister has briefed us on many of the highlights; Peameal bacon (lean boneless pork loin, trimmed, cured and dredged in cornmeal), crusty bagels from St. Urbain’s brick ovens, silken Portuguese custard tarts, baskets of top-knotted brioche. I pause by Kozliks Canadian mustards where an earnest merchant slices warm puff pastry, oozing gruyere cheese, spiked with the perfect heat of spicy mustard. Repeated sampling of that puff pastry could have become my life’s work had I not been distracted by the promise of maple glazed donuts overfilled with cream.
We traverse the market like pack mules, tucking parcels of meats and cheeses wrapped in white butcher paper into groaning canvas totes.. The market sprawls over two levels then extends to a separate building housing organic produce. Selecting a crisp/sweet Ida Red apple as a palate cleanser, we continue on to the Kensington Market, located in the city’s Chinatown district.
Unlike the St. Lawrence Market which is housed in one building, Kensington is an outdoor market, located in one of the city’s older districts. During the early twentieth century, the area was referred to as the ‘Jewish Market,’ but today embraces multi-cultural entrepreneurs and retailers.
Blackbird Baking Company provides us with warm, crusty baguettes and a lemon tart cloaked in burnt sugar. We sample too many cheeses at Global Cheese and ask for a healthy slice of marble halvah in case we find ourselves hungry sometime between 4 pm and the New Year. Our food odyssey pauses at Wanda’s Pie In the Sky before we rest our weary selves at the perfectly hip, gorgeously appointed Bar Raval. Retreating to Sibling Sister’s hi-rise digs, we cover her glass-top coffee table from end to end with our market provisions. The CN Tower stands just outside, illuminated in its very best red and white.
Perfectly sated with our market comestibles and perhaps just the slightest bit of bubbly, we don our serious parkas and warmest gloves. New Year’s Eve concludes in front of City Hall with a humble display of fireworks. As the gridlocked crowd disperses moving a little too close for comfort, we bob and weave directly across the street from The Hudson Bay Company.
It’s probably a good thing I opted to forego the purchase of a Hudson Bay Blanket. I already have plenty to declare as we clear customs on Monday; thousands and thousands of calories.