From pop-up taco shops to fancy food courts, $100 burgers to deep-fried cola, here’s our all-you-can-eat buffet of local food news from 2011.
Top trends: Tacos, trucks and pop-ups
This year it was all about pop-ups, wherein amateur cooks became overnight-success stories—thanks to word of mouth through Twitter and Facebook—for serving cheap and delectable street food in the most random places. There was Fidel Gastro’s Cuban sandwiches, La Carnita’s tacos, Food Truck Eats (pictured below), the Toronto Underground Market, and the 99 Sudbury Mrkt.
Chefs also got in the action by collaborating with each other to create affordable tasting menus outside of the pricier restaurants they cook at. For example, The Group of Seven dinner series consisted of rowdy chefs on their day off; Matt Kantor made a name for himself with his Secret Pickle Supper Club events; Greg Couillard flew in from Mexico to make jicama tacos at The Burger Bar; The Brockton General served a special Swiss family feast for one night and a bunch of young cooks gathered in Kensington Market to try running their own restaurant. But no other food event could compare to October’s Foodstock, the massive fundraiser where more than 100 chefs gathered at a farm to cook a PWYC lunch to raise money to stop a proposed mega quarry.
As for tacos, they enjoyed a huge revival this year (bonus points if it’s a fish taco) thanks to new places like Agave y Aguacate, Hot Beans, the aforementioned La Carnita, Jang Bang, Banh Mi Boys and The Combine Eatery. Oh, there’s also this little place called Grand Electric that opened in mid-November. And during the soft-shell crab season, The Harbord Room even made a crab version.
Early 2011: $100 burgers, Salad King returns and a crackdown at Pizza Gigi
This year, we saw the local opening of Montreal’s M:brgr—a.k.a. the place that had the $100 hamburger—and then we saw it close a few months later. Sukothai‘s owners left to open Khao San Road in the Entertainment District while The Gabardine opened its doors to Bay Streeters. Every reporter tried their best to not make “special topping” jokes when Pizza Gigi became the target of a drug bust. The taps started flowing at 416 Snack Bar, which became an after-hours destination for chefs. Salad King reopened in its second-floor digs after its original building… well, you know. We also bid adieu to the Open Window Bakery company and The Hoof Cafe, which (never) became BHCO and is currently The Cocktail Bar.
Spring/Summer 2011: Top Chef Canada, the ice-cream explosion and fried cola
By spring, Guu opened a second location on Bloor West, Ortolan settled in next to the House of Lancaster, Barque got people coming back to the construction-plagued Roncesvalles and WVRST brought late-night eats to King West. The Eaton Centre upped its restaurant roster with Italian eatery Trattoria Mercatto, which at the time was headed by chef Rob Rossi, who appeared in our living rooms every Monday night as a contestant on the first season of Top Chef Canada. Craft Burger became Big Smoke Burger and Negroni became Carpano, which closed in the fall.
As temperatures rose (can you still believe it was 40°C in July?), a truckload of ice cream shops popped up: The Lansdowne Cone, Mr. Cream, The Boreal Gelato Company, Cool Hand Luc and the Lickadee Split. It wasn’t till November that liquid nitrogen-lovin’ Cream Brewery opened in Dufferin Mall. In non-ice cream-shop openings, there was the critically acclaimed Acadia, Neapolitan pizzeria Pizza e Pazzi as well as Canadian-centric Keriwa Cafe and Bannock. Meanwhile, the CNE out-fattened itself this year by serving deep-fried cola and donut hamburgers (we combined them all to make one mega-snack, pictured above). Longtime restaurants Ame, Lai Toh Heen and Ackee Tree were papered up while the creator of the mysterious Charlie’s Burger supper club was revealed.
Fall/Winter 2011: Fancy food courts, Pusateri’s and Loblaws! Loblaws! Loblaws!
In September, we ate Big Macs with knives and forks at the Eaton Centre’s new food court, tasted pork belly sliders with kimchi at The County General and rejoiced that we can order eggplant burritos once again at the renovated New York Subway. Shark-fin soup is no longer available in Toronto and, for one weekend, a Pusateri’s was shut down due to an infestation, making us wonder who else got violations. Pizzeria Libretto No. 2 finally opened on the Danforth in November, though no one lined up at 4 a.m. in anticipation of being the first person to try their pizza. The new Loblaws in Maple Leaf Gardens on the other hand…
Five things we’d like to see in 2012
1. More fruit and vegetables. Less pork belly and bacon.
2. Food trucks roaming freely in our streets.
3. Another word for “pop up” (we already got a few suggestions).
4. Lesser known cuisines like Ethiopian, Nepalese and Cambodian becoming as popular as Japanese, French or Italian.
5. A recipe for cockroaches and lava carbonara when the apocalypse arrives.