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3030

Posted on April 26, 2013 by in The Junction

3 Stars

3030 has young-professional written all over it. Craft beers, slightly pretentious menu and crowd, its Junction location (sigh, I remember the days when they avoided this area). And although I spend quite a bit of time in the neighbourhood, I only managed to getting around to checking it out a few days ago. That’s mostly because it’s a difficult place to notice, with an unassuming, simple ’3030′ stenciled on the front door, and not much else to identify it.

3030 is huge inside… seriously huge; especially for a place in The Junction. Stuffed full of small table settings and 2 full bars, it seems more like you’re in a concert hall than a neighbourhood restaurant, and that’s with good intention. 3030 is built to be a live music venue that doubles as a food-venue, and in my opinion, not the other way around (although that’s what they go for in the off hours).

One thing’s for sure, they put a lot of thought into their draft selection. The back bar has taps full of local-ish craft brews, including Wellington, Beaus, and even some other, more difficult one’s to find, like the Junction Craft Brewing’s IPA (which was fantastic), a Sawdust City stout, and a Broadhead White. Clearly, they take their beer selection very seriously. The unfortunate thing about the bars though is that with no stools to sit on, you get the distinct that they don’t want you hanging out there.

Much like you’d expect from a place aimed at young-pros in The Junction (sigh), the atmosphere sets it up as a pretty cool place to hang out, with shelves full of board games and walls lined with old-school pinball machines and plenty of interesting art. With the retro pinball machines all lit up in the evening, it gives the perfect backdrop to a night out.

But with just a little ’5 dollar snack menu’ card on each table, you wonder what about those of us that were there for more than snacks. Our server haphazardly and unconfidently rattled off the items they serve (there was only 4 of them at the time) but not before having to go back to the kitchen a couple of times before she could get it right. I asked if the items changed daily, hence no menus and the difficulty remembering them, but nope, these items had been here for a while she said. While it’s cool to try items out to see what works, I hope that eventually they’ll put together a more permanent and more expansive menu, or at least one that changes seasonally.

Because none of their mains sounded appealing to us, we instead opted for the items on the snack menu. The Butter Chicken Wings, while mostly tasty with the typical strong flavours you’d expect, arrived lukewarm. The Potato Wedges on the other hand, were indescribably and inedibly  hot, which turned out to be ok because they were bland and tasteless anyways. Overall, we just didn’t find any of the items on the snack menu impressive at all.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, 3030 may be worth checking out, but I’d say solely for their draft selection; and although the fact that there isn’t much like it in the neighbourhood makes it the kind of place you want to check out, I’d wait until there is a concert or show you want to see before making the trek. In my opinion, it just isn’t worth going out of your way for.

With a Gabby’s now opened next door, I remember feeling a little upset for them having competition so close from some evil, corporate chain, but really, it’s of little consequence. It’s obvious right away that they’ll both be attracting very different types of people.

- Andre

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Playa Cabana Cantina – The Junction

Posted on April 1, 2013 by in The Junction, The Junction Triangle

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4 Stars

Playa Cabana Cantina is the latest restaurant to open in Toronto to fuel our newfound taco addiction in the city. It’s located in The Junction at 2883 Dundas St. West (at Keele).

Playa Cabana Cantina is the second location for Playa Cabana – with it’s first location on Dupont (at Davenport). The Junction has accepted it well, considering there were absolutely no reservations available for the whole weekend – but they assured me that they keep the bar open for walk ins.

So we walked in. Right away I was impressed by the decor, there’s plenty of neon-lit signs including a shout out to JUNCTION – WEST TORONTO, and an “Keep and Enforce Prohibition” sign at the bar – perhaps a little tongue in cheek reference to The Junction’s past as a dry neighbourhood until 2000.

The menu here is set up a little differently than other taco favourites like Grand Electric or La Carnita. Instead of ordering tapas style – one taco at a time, Playa Cantina’s menu includes everything from tacos and tostados to burritos and enchiladas along with a side of rice and black or pinto beans.

We started off the meal with guacamole and chips. The chips arrived warm to the table and were extra crispy and fresh. The guacamole was smooth and not too spicy for our tastes. The bartender replenished the chips free of charge too, which is a great touch.

Playa Cabana Cantina has a fresh oyster bar set up, and at $2 a shuck, we couldn’t resist them. They were huge, no skimping here, and were served with horseradish and hot sauce. Then, we each ordered a set of tacos with a side of rice and black beans, after starting off with Amber Agave Margaritas.

The Ancho Braised Shortrib-Brisket Crispy Tacos were served on a corn tortilla with melted cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo. They came to the table piping hot, and the mix of brisket and cheese was perfect along with the extra crispy tortilla. They were reasonably priced at $14 for an entree.

Next up was the Tacos de Pescado (Baja-Style fish tacos) for $13 . They were a little underwhelming in comparison. The breaded tilapia didn’t have the substance to stand up to the guacamole and shredded cabbage filling. Usually I’m a big fan of a good fish taco but this wasn’t the best I’ve had lately.

Personally, I prefer picking and choosing different tacos to try instead of ordering them as a personal entree. The sides of yellow rice and beans were fresh and a great addition, but it would have been great to try a few different kinds of tacos instead of three of one kind.

With another round of drinks coming, we felt the need for some dessert… Unsure of what to get, the bartender recommended the Mexican Flan, so we gave it a shot. After waiting a little longer than necessary (I think the kitchen forgot about us), our bartender arrived with the flan, which was actually 2 mini flan served with whipped cream. He apologized for the delay and said the dessert was on the house.

Overall the personal service at the bar was great, the bartender gave us a lot of recommendations on what to order and was more than helpful. The atmosphere was comfortable and casual, it didn’t have that ‘too cool’ vibe that many new restaurants are picking up on now.

We definitely will be returning to try out the burritos and other menu items along with the amazing guacamole again too. The tacos were flavourful, with fresh, house made ingredients but not the best of what the city has to offer right now.

- Karin

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Tea Blendz

Posted on April 6, 2011 by in The Junction

5 stars

- There sure are a lot of tea places showing up nowadays, especially since the monstrous success of David’s Tea. Say what you will about that corporate beast, but in my opinion, David’s Tea has had a firm hand in pushing tea into the hands of mainstream Toronto. So, in a market on its way to becoming pretty heavily saturated, what’s Tea Blendz doing to differentiate themselves? Plenty…

First off, it’s not a corporate beast. It’s a little boutique shop owned by Khadija, an incredibly nice person whose passion for all things tea-related is almost contagious. That feeling of non-corporateness runs throughout the experience at Tea Blendz. Khadija is easily approachable, encourages you to ask questions, and is obviously passionate about the stuff she’s selling. Not to say that the staff at those corporate places aren’t passionate, but at Tea Blendz, it just seemed more honest.

They also have a pretty kick-ass teaspresso machine–one of the only ones in Toronto right now I’m told. Basically, it allows them to quick-press loose-leaf tea rather then steep it. That means you can get it faster and cleaner, and the whole process is under more control of the brewer rather than being at the mercy of the boiling water. Your tea will still take a few minutes, but those few minutes can easily be spent talking to the warm and pleasant staff. In fact, I ended up staying and chatting about tea and the neighbourhood for far longer than those few minutes that my tea was pressed.

Using the teaspresso machine, Tea Blendz also brews up some pretty amazing tea lattes. Khadija claimed they were the best in the city, and I can’t say I’d disagree with her. While I’m self-admittedly not a tea or tea latte expert by any means, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I could definitely see myself going out of my way to enjoy another one.

Khadija works with local tea blenders to come up with a lot of her blends. They have plenty of classic flavours, like Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and Bourbon Street Vanilla, and some of that are hers and the blenders creation, like Chocolate Mint Delight, Root Beer Rooibos, and Sweet Pumpkin Spice. Despite being pressed and not steeped, the subtle flavours that the tea descriptions promised were still prevalent. I also picked up on a slight sweetness, which amazingly highlighted the even subtler flavours in the tea. All-in-all, I’d sort of equate it to wine-tasting; after tasting it, discussing the tea and its flavours seemed almost natural.

Khadija mentioned that there’s a growing trend in food and tea pairing. Because of that, I wondered if she planned on offering any food at some point, which right now she doesn’t. I don’t mean sitting down and eating a club sandwich and fries, but a small, one-bite of something that was specifically made just to be paired with a particular tea would certainly have been interesting. But Tea Blendz just opened a month ago, so things aren’t yet set in stone.

All-in-all, I had a great chat with Khadija. I learned some stuff, and I even left with a few bags of tea. I brought home a bag of Chocolate Mint Delight and the Sweet Pumpkin Spice, and at 5 bucks for 50 grams, I left feeling pretty good about buying it.

So if you’re in the neighbourhood, this honest-to-goodness, non-corporate boutique shop is definitely worth checking out and supporting. Even if you’re not in the neighbourhood, it’s worth the drive if you want to learn more about tea and if you appreciate truly nice customer service.

- Andre

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La Revolucion

Posted on March 9, 2011 by in The Junction

2 stars

- La Revolucion is amazing! Well no, it isn’t, but that’s exactly how I wanted to start this off. Man, I really wanted to love this place. La Revolucion just looks so dam cool that I figured the whole experience was going to be amazing. When I was first drawn by the interesting front stained-glass window and poked my head inside to look around, I figured that in no-time-at-all, there’d be a lineup to get in. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to be the case anytime soon.

La  Revolucion is a Mexican restaurant, but at first glance, it certainly doesn’t scream Mexican; after eating there, I’m not even sure if that’s what they’re going for. It’s a sparsely decorated joint that for some reason—at least while I was there—feels the need to distance themselves even more from their Mexican roots by blasting annoyingly loud rave music. I mean, their food is the typical, standard Mexican fare you’d expect, like enchiladas and tacos and burritos, but other than that and the few Mexican-esque decorations, there wasn’t much Mexican about it at all.

They’re heavily pushing the banditos aspect of Mexican culture, which is actually a pretty cool gimic in my eyes. While I get the whole concept of banditos and revolution, it seemed as though La Revolucion fell a little short of their delivery of the theme. While what little decor they have there is mostly bandito-related, the rest of the theme is left to interpretation. La Revolucion does feel as though they’re finding their identity, but they have a lot of difficulty conveying what that identity is exactly to their guests. Sitting there, it doesn’t feel as though you were part of the revolution, it feels as though you’re interrupting them while they plan it, and they can’t wait for you to leave so they can get back down to business.

Presentation isn’t their strong point either. They haphazardly slap the food down on the plate, without much concern for appearances. My enchiladas were slightly warm and covered in tasteless green salsa; my burrito was humungous, but it was bland and not nearly warm enough. When I asked for hot sauce, because it was nowhere to be found, I got a small ramekin with some sort of sauce, but it’s details remained a mystery that was left for me to find out with no explanation from the server, and while you’re waiting for that stuff to all arrive, there’s no offer of chips and salsa or even water for that matter, which would have definitely improved the experience.

Interestingly enough, before this place was a Mexican place it was, well, a Mexican place. Whoever it is that owns it probably just decided it was time to rebrand, and while that may have been a great idea on their part, the execution of their new brand and concept needs some polishing because it’s hard to tell exactly what the concept is. La Revolucion may be a restaurant, but a revolution it is not.

- AB

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littlefish

Posted on February 23, 2011 by in The Junction

3 stars

- As I’m writing this, I already know a lot of people are going to disagree with me. After all, the arrival of littlefish in the Junction has definitely been well received. The neighbourhood has been waiting an awfully long time for a cool, hipster-worthy brunch spot. Unfortunately, the arrival of littlefish hasn’t completely filled that void just yet. They still have a few kinks to work out, but don’t give up on them yet. I won’t, but only because I really want to love it.

Ok. First off, this is a pretty cool restaurant. Besides the obviously brilliant name, littlefish is a great little place to grab weekend brunch. It’s small, only about 8 tables or so, but that just makes it all-the-more cozier and comfortable. It’s a long, narrow space filled with exposed red brick and shiny metal airducts. The daily specials, scrawled and displayed on a suspended chalkboard, are imaginative, original, and well-thought-out.

The brunch menu is pretty much what you’d expect to see. They have everything from French toast and eggs benedict to pancakes and crepes. Best of all, they seem to make everything from scratch with good ingredients.

The staff goes out of their way to be friendly and to make sure you have everything you need to feel comfortable. Constantly being checked on, I never found myself without a full cup of hot coffee, but I suppose that’s sort of expected in a place that only seats about 30 people.

The thing that’s not expected in a place this size is the ridiculous wait time for food. When I was there, it seemed as though everyone in the whole place waited 45 minutes to an hour for their orders to arrive; I know I definitely did. If they were understaffed, I couldn’t understand it; there were at least 5 people in the exposed kitchen, none of them seeming to be moving with any sense of urgency. Definitely not understaffed here. The whole place seemed to be in a state of chaos. The front counter was covered with papers and dishes, and the visible part of the kitchen was overcrowded with food containers and crowded counterspaces. Possibly it was organized chaos, but just barely contained.

People rave about the food here, but I really don’t see it. My eggs benny was, meh, not bad I suppose, but they certainly weren’t anything to get excited about. They were warm but not hot, and the side of potatoes was mostly burned. My daughter had their now ‘Internet famous’ French toast. With burned edges on an overcrowded plate, they were even less than meh.

Make no mistake though, this place was busy. Newcomers are put on a couch to wait until a table vacates, but they are offered coffee. If you’re planning on getting a table on the weekend, be prepared to wait. So why so busy? Personally, I think a lot of it has to do with the neighbourhood’s lack of options. I’d be willing to bet that although littlefish may be doing well in the Junction, had they been on a more brunch heavy area, like West Queen West, they may not be doing as well as they are now.

So would I go back to littlefish? Sure. I’d like to give them another chance. I think the whole neighbourhood would. After all, the Junction needs a place like littlefish as much as littlefish needs a neighbourhood like the Junction.

- Andre

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Junction Fromagerie

Posted on December 15, 2010 by in The Junction

4 stars

- Living in the Junction and relying on transit can make for a lack of choices when it comes to food, particularly stuff that’s considered artisanal. While that may have been true a few years ago, boy-oh-boy, the times are changing. Those of us living in the neighbourhood awhile have seen its dynamic (albeit slow) change, particularly when it comes to food; but in the Junction’s ever-expanding food landscape, a few places are setting the stage. Enter the Junction Fromagerie.

Junction Fromagerie is sitting non-coincidentally right next to Delight, a chocolate shop that’s perhaps known in the neighbourhood more for their ice cream than their handmade chocolate. Both Delight and Junction Fromagerie are brain-childs of the same people, Jennifer Rashleigh & Jeff Brown, and the association is obvious as far as quality goes. While Delight doesn’t have any cheese, they do have a uniquely flavoured and way-better-than-it-sounds Quebec blue cheese ice cream. Soft and creamy with an exacting amount of high-quality blue cheese, it’s obviously well crafted and surprisingly tasty.

What makes the Junction Fromagerie different from the handful of other cheese specialty shops in Toronto is their strict direction to Canadian products; they only carry Canadian cheeses, local and artisanal mind you, but Canadian nonetheless. They’re also particularly partial to Ontario cheeses. Their in-house made butter, crackers, and croustinis, in conjunction with those small-batch and locally sourced cheeses, make them a worthy underdog in an increasingly competitive business.

The Junction Fromagerie brings with it some old-world charm, and at first walk-in, you may mistake it for a boutique fromage on a quiet Paris street. Big-frame bay window and a creaky wood-laid floor set the space. Besides that, the whole store is fairly nondescript other than the front case brightly displaying their cheeses.

Don’t know your Comtomme from your Bleu de la Moutonndere? No worries! Not only is the staff knowledgeable and the cheese labeled and explained, but the Junction Fromagerie also offers cheese tastings and pairings that not only teach you about the cheese they carry, but also inspire you to be a bit more adventurous in your cheese selections. Although these tastings aren’t a regularly occurring event, they do happen. Their Stone’s Throw Cheese and WIne Pairing event, which was created with the folks at Stone’s Throw Winery, sold out super quick.

The appearance of Junction Fromagerie signals more than just beautiful cheese being available in the Junction. It also serves as an important reminder that when it comes to food, the Junction is fast becoming a neighbourhood that is known for quality.

- Andre

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Cool Hand of a Girl

Posted on November 18, 2010 by in The Junction

2 stars

- Cool Hand of a Girl offers simple and healthy food made with organic products, which has become what you’d expect from a place in the Junction as of late. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate how great I feel after a wholesome meal made with locally-sourced, pesticide-free food, but to me, one of the most important things that a restaurant can and should do is make their guests feel welcome. That’s where Cool Hand loses points.

Maybe it’s all part of the appeal for the artsy crowd you can expect to see, but Cool Hand can make you feel as if you’re an annoyance to them just for being there. So although I did enjoy my Chicken Tarragon sandwich, I just can’t see myself getting back there anytime soon, and somehow, I don’t think they’ll care.

- Andre

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