Rave: Summer of lobster

Lobster, once an expensive food associated with the elite, has experienced a boom this summer in Toronto. Perhaps it’s as a result of the historically high hauls Canadian fisherman have been experiencing this year. Whatever the case, record low lobster prices mean we’re all able to dine like the Kennedys. Whether you’re a lobster-eating newbie or an old pro, we round up our top ways to enjoy the celebrated crustacean. 


Lobster is incredibly simple to cook, once you’ve gotten over the fear of killing your own dinner. The first step, naturally, is to pick up some lobster – 1 to 1.5 pounds per person is about right. Heading to the Maritimes for the weekend? Then grab some live lobsters on your way back (when packaged properly, you can carry these onto the plane). For the rest of us landlocked folks, stop by Hooked to get your lobster fix – they carry them most Fridays. 

GOOPy is a lobster-cooking pro!

Now, for the cooking part. There are a ton of videos and tutorials online outlining the best ways to do this, but Simply Recipes and Bon Appetit are our faves. Once you’ve boiled the sucker, we suggest letting it cool and eating it with hot butter and lemon; preferably outdoors and with an ice cold beer. A tip for amateurs, eating lobster is messy, so leave your fancy clothes for another time.

Drake’s Sunday Lobster Fare

Every Sunday evening this summer, The Drake Hotel serves up lobster on the Sky Yard. Beginning at 7 p.m., and by reservation only, lucky diners can snag a seat and enjoy lobster and its accoutrements in a fun, family-style dinner. For $32 (plus tax and gratuity) diners receive a one-pound lobster, grilled corn, butter and herb potatoes, coleslaw, a biscuit, strawberry shortcake and a bottle of Keith’s. Oh, and hot butter – of course. Sounds like a pretty good deal to us. For non-beer lovers, there’s also a special Bin End wine list. Email specialevents@thedrakehotel.ca or call 416.531.5042 ext. 1 for reservations. 

LobstahPalooza 2012

Their signature lobster rolls. Yum!

Craving a good, ol’ fashioned East Coast party in Toronto? Then LobstahPalooza is the place to be this Sunday, August 19. Hosted by Rock Lobster Food Co. and 99 Sudbury, this lobster-focused jamboree begins at 1 p.m. Tickets are $50, which includes a 1.5-pound lobster, a variety of summer sides (including corn-on-the-cob, potato salad and a fresh lobster salad) and three drink tickets. Tickets can be redeemed from any of the local craft beer, wine or spirits partners, which include Tromba Tequila and Kesington Ale Beer. There’ll be live music and prizes on-site. For those craving one of Rock Lobster’s signature lobster rolls (pictured above), they’ll be available for an extra price. Visit the EventBrite page to purchase tickets. 

Buster Sea Cove Food Truck

We’ll take two of everything. 

Will 2012 be known as the year of the food truck? Maybe, but you won’t hear any arguments from us. This May, St. Lawrence Market stalwart Buster Sea Cove joined in with their very own, seafood-focused food truck. They’ve got a bevy of seafood delights, including fish tacos and crab rolls, along with (what else?) lobster rolls! You can find the mobile seafood-shillers most lunch hours at the corner of Queen & Jarvis, but food truck expert Suresh Doss is a great resource to locate Buster Sea Cove, along with other food trucks.  

Yum, Yum: Sangria in the City

If you’re like us, there are certain types of drinks that are enjoyed during weekend brunch. Sangria is one of them. While weekend brunching with girlfriends, a fruity sangria option often jumps off the menu as the thirst-quencher of choice, especially on a hot day. And since summer weather showed up a little earlier this year, our patio season and summery refreshment tour has been in full force since, well, March if we’re honest.

As the hunt continues, here are three establishments who have seemed to perfect the boozy punch:

Milagro (Three locations: 5 Mercer St., 3187 Yonge St. and 783 Queen W.)

Juicy and refreshing.

With a broad selection of sangria to please even the pickiest of taste buds, Milagro has six blends, including their ‘American’ blend that’ll put a little hair on your chest, complete with bourbon AND peach schnapps. Why not, huh? Summer suggestion: Sangria de Mango…in a pitcher. 

Psst: They have special deals on sangria on Thursdays. What better day to end the week than a delicious glass or two of this cocktail, for less?

Follow @Milagro_cantina on Twitter.
School (70 Fraser Ave.)

School sticks to the basics: red and white. I mean, sure, you could mix them if you want a rose. School creatively serves their wine concoction by glass and by flask. Suggestion: try both! Sangria white is slightly more innocent, combing pinot grigio with green grapes and apples, while the red is a little more daring, mixing rioja (Spanish wine) with orange and cinnamon. Again, enjoy them in a flask.

If you give their Sangria an A+, tell them @schoolville.
Café Nervosa (75 Yorkville Ave.)

Enjoy a frosty glass of sangria and keep an eye out for celebs on this beautiful patio.

This Yorkville spot comes up on a lot of people’s “fave” lists and yes, their pizza is fantastic. But they’ve mastered their sangria as well. When we’re feeling like some solid people-watching and enjoying the quiet buzz of Yorkville, this is our go-to spot. You feel rather posh sipping on their cute patio, and you never know when you might catch a glimpse of a Jonas brother at the table next to you. Their sangria is strong and fruity, with fruit juice as well as the regular wine and spirits.

Drake Hotel (1144 Queen St. W.)
Ok, so we might be a bit biased about this one, but we can’t help but love every cocktail that comes from the Drake’s skilled bar team. Their sangria lives up to their high standards, and the Sky Yard is one of the best spots in Toronto to enjoy a summer cocktail. They’ve got some other tasty concoctions this summer as well (Rum + Raspberry Lemonade, anyone?) but we often stop by after work for a relaxing glass of wine, fruit juice and fruit chunks, complete with art, indie rock and some eye candy.

As always, Drake offers a classic with a twist – the warm Simmering Sangria.
Image courtesy of the Drake Hotel.

Pssst: this past winter, Drake had simmering sangria – a warm version of their summer recipe. It was amazing. Here’s hoping they bring it back next winter!

Tell them you want them to bring back the Simmering Sangria – @thedrakehotel

Victory Cafe (581 Markham St.)

Another fourth floor fave that takes us back to our days of undergrad, but in a good way. They’ve got one of the best patios in the city as well, and in case we haven’t made it clear yet, sangria + patio = summer perfection. Their white sangria is delicious and won’t stain your summer whites should you happen to spill a drop or two.

White sangria on this patio is pretty much perfect.

Keep up with the latest Annex news @victorycafe_TO.

Happy drinking! 

Yum Yum: Bitters

If you haven’t already noticed, cocktail culture in Toronto is thriving. It’s not enough anymore for restaurants to slap together a cocktail menu of kitschy martinis and mojitos, now bartenders have to produce a polished list of classic and inspired cocktails. The Sazarac, Old Fashioned and Manhattan have made a big comeback and if you don’t believe us, ask blogTO.

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If there’s something that all classic cocktails have in common, it’s their use of bitters. Bitters are made from infusing roots, herbs, bark, fruit peels, seeds, spices and botanicals to high-proof alcohol. We learned a little about the bartender’s “salt and pepper” when we took the Cocktails 101 workshop at BYOB and we returned to ask owner Kristen Voisey to school us in the art of bitters and how we can use them to make delicious concoctions at home.

Voisey in her awesome store.
Image: JJ Thompson
First, the history:

Bitters were first used as a medicine to cure everything indigestion-related until someone figured out they tasted great with alcohol (Ed. note: Thanks, someone!). Production boomed in the 1850’s in the US and at one point, there were hundreds of flavours available. But then along came prohibition and the bitters industry evaporated, leaving behind only two types: Angostura and Peychauds.

Wait. If there’s alcohol in bitters, then why can we buy them at grocery stores?

Bitters aren’t potable – which means that by definition, they are too concentrated in flavour to drink alone. That being said, there are potable bitters that you’ve probably seen in the LCBO like Campari, Fernet, Branca and Jagermeister, which are meant to be sipped on alone or added to a drink in ounces, not dashes.

She probably just tasted some Jager. 
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Jagermeister is a bitter? Makes sense. How about the classic cocktails we’re seeing on bar menus? What kind of bitters are used in them?

The number one bitter that every bar uses is Angostura. If a drink description includes ‘bitters’, you can assume they’re talking about Angostura. The Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Pisco Sour and the classic Champagne cocktail all use Angostura.

Peychauds, a bitter out of New Orleans, is another staple. It’s an essential ingredient in the Sazerac. It’s said that you can tell the worth of a bartender by how well they make a Sazerac.

To get creative at home, BYOB carries dozens of bitter flavours like peach, rhubarb, mint, grapefruit, lavender, chocolate, celery, black walnut, cherry, maple and more. They even have a Jerk bitter that would be a spicy Caesar drinker’s dream come true.

BYOB’s vast selection of Bitters.

Some bitters brands to look out for include Fee Brothers, The Bitter Truth, Bittermens, Dr. Adams Bitters, Scrappy’s, Bittercube and The Bitter End.

At the end of the day, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try something as simple as Fee Brothers Grapefruit bitters in some gin and soda, or be daring and try Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters in tequila or dark rum – do whatever tastes good to you.

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We’re pulling our at-home cocktail inspiration from some of our favourite bars – Yours Truly’s Rare Earth cocktail, The County General’s Red Rooster and The Drake’s Pisco Fuzz. Drake even has a special new Cocktail Bar, where bartenders can give you all of the info above and more – while mixing you up a special drink. Yum!

Happy Family Day!

Happy Family Day!

As this holiday is only four years old, you may not have any long-standing family traditions to honour. Thankfully, we’re here with the perfect itinerary for your day. (Shameless plug: these are all our clients, but nonetheless super rad activities).
Piola’s Make-Your-Own-Pizza event

Inspire your little one with this pizza made by Piola’s chefs!
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From 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., stop by Piola (1165 Queen St. W.) where kids under 14 can create their own pizzas with the restaurant’s expert pizza makers. Kids learn how to stretch out the dough and then top the pizza with the toppings of their choice. $10, includes a choice of pop or juice (limit one per child). Call here for reservations 416.477.4652. 
The Monkey Bunch at the Drake Hotel

The Monkey Bunch.
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After filling up on pizza, pop across the street to catch the The Monkey Bunch in the Drake Underground. A rock n’ roll band with a social conscience, The Monkey Bunch’s thoughtful songwriting appeals to both “talls” and “smalls”. Only $8 for a single ticket, $28 for a family pack, the concert starts at 3 p.m. sharp (doors at 2:30 p.m.). For more information, call 416.531.5042.

Potted Potter

Looking for a little magic to top off your holiday? Then Potted Potter is just the ticket! This hilarious, two-man play condenses JK Rowling’s epic series into 70 madcap minutes. With two performances (2 p.m. and 5 p.m.) on Family Day, this play will entertain all the wizards and witches, Muggles and Squibs in your family. Read the Toronto Star‘s 4 star review here. Click here to buy tickets.

Rave: Piola Aperitivo Italiano

The holidays, with their unending parties and gift-buying obligations, may be long gone but that doesn’t mean we want to sit at home twiddling our thumbs until spring arrives. With our wallets and stomachs on diets these days, our social activities tend to err on the lighter side. Thankfully, Piola has heard our prayers and launched their Aperitivo Italiano this month at their Toronto location.

Piola is the new kid on the Queen West block, having recently opened across the street from the Drake Hotel in early December. Their menu centres around light, homestyle Italian cooking with a strong emphasis on their signature thin crust pizzas. The Aperitivo Italiano is the latest tradition they’ve imported from Italy. From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday, Piola treats guests to a delicious assortment of complimentary traditional finger foods while they enjoy drinks at the bar and unwind after a long day’s work. Piola’s Aperitivo Italiano features a variety of light and tasty nibbles, offered for free (!) to bar patrons.

Aperitivo Italiano is a common ritual in Italy, particularly in the northern region where Piola was founded. “Aperitivo” refers to the custom of enjoying drinks and snacks after work, allowing guests to open their palate, socialize and relax before dinner.

The base for the delicious Villa Hibiscus cocktail – a beautiful hibiscus blossom.

Nosh on Italian pinwheels, Caprese salad skewers, mini-calzones, brie polenta squares and Italian breadsticks with a variety of dips. Paired with a glass of antioxidant-filled red wine or a light cocktail (such as the Villa Hibiscus – Prosecco-infused with a hibiscus flower), the Aperitivo Italiano is the perfect place to meet a friend for a quick drink before heading to the gym (or staying for a pizza – we aren’t judging).

Piola is located at 1165 Queen St. W. Follow them on Twitter: @PiolaToronto

Fave Five: Best Eggs Benny

A good eggs Benedict can be hit or miss. Luckily, we consider ourselves brunch connoisseurs, and have done tons of research into what’s tops in Toronto. We’ll trek all over the city for a well-executed Benny. Here, we serve up some of our favourites:

A weekend staple for many of us, the Drake’s Eggs Benedict ($13) offers the classic favourite with eggs over smoked pork loin with a generous dollop of Hollandaise. There is also a delicious Eggs Caleb with smoked salmon. Enjoy it with a DIY Caesar you can share with your friends. 

While not a traditional Benny, the vegetarian Eggs Milestone ($9.99), a delicious combination of goat cheese, sliced Roma tomatoes and avocado salsa topped with hollandaise, makes it an easy brunch decision. Top it off with a Sunshine Mimosa and your weekend’s off to a great start. 

If you’re in the Leslieville area, Lady Marmalade has a great selection and offers a more decadent version with brie, avocado and bacon ($13.50). Enjoy it with your cup of joe and be sure to bring some bills – the restaurant only accepts cash. 

A Rosedale option is The Rebel House’s Rebellion Eggs ($10.75). Your choice of peameal bacon or smoked Atlantic salmon with a tangy fresh H-sauce. They offer a little Bailey’s in your morning coffee, a great addition to any breakfast choice. 

Out at Bloor and Landsdowne, The Bloordale Pantry has a great diner vibe and a Benny menu titled “Hello my name is Benny.” To set them apart, their eggs sit atop a house-made griddle scone and their Classic Benny with peameal bacon ($11.99) is an easy choice when we’re in the area. A glass of freshly squeezed juice tops off a well-rounded brunch. 

Where’s your favourite spot to enjoy a Benny? Let us know @rockitpromo.

City Living: NYE parties

Two things happen once people stop trick-or-treating: Christmas lights go up and the question, “what are you doing for New Year’s?” is asked. Planning your night on December 31 can be stressful for some. That’s why we’re here to help shed some light on what is going on in and around the city on the last night of 2011. Here is where you’re most likely to find us at midnight on New Years Eve.

Dubbed “2012 DOOMSDAY”, the ping-pong club is letting folks hunker down for the catastrophic apocalypse. Their “survival guide” includes two bottles of sparkling wine, a shooter bottle of tequila, Jaegermeister or Jameson, a vat of punch, a case of beer and of course, a ping-pong table for the night. Gather 10 friends and shell out $1000/table (before Wednesday, December 21; after that it’s upped to $1250). Bookings can be made by emailing jessica@toronto.spingalactic.com.
Cottage Living
If you’re more of an escapee, we love getting a group of friends or family together and heading for the hills – you know, those big Ontario ones…

Prices can be steep at this time of the year, but a fire, board games and snow angels make it worth it. An awesome alternative to renting a hotel room is renting a chalet with a big group. Blue Mountain is a favourite of ours, because it also gives the option of hanging out in the village, a cozy area in the middle of the town, full of pubs, live music and yummy restaurants.

Drake Hotel’s Stardust New Year’s Eve

Go to Value Village, find some disco sparkle and platforms and head to Drake for their Stardust New Year’s Eve party. Whether you want to start your night there with a feast, head over to toast in the new year at midnight or stumble up to a room post=festivities, various tickets options give you free reign to choose. Make sure to choose a ticket that lets you sample some of their tasty fare – it’s worth it. Package details here

Elliott BROOD at Lee’s Palace

A Toronto music scene staple, this country-inspired party lets one kick off your stilettos, throw on a loose tank top and sashay into Lee’s Palace for the fourth annual Elliott BROOD NYE show. Sold out year after year, this trio belts out alt-country hit again and again. Come get your honky tonk on.

Dinner/House Party

For the low-key night, gather your closest friends, choose a house and ring in 2012 with some champers, potluck eats and watching the ball drop in New York’s Times Square on the boob tube. An intimate night that allows for actual conversation and friendly banter, it will likely be a bit less sloppy and a bit more filling.
Wherever the night takes you this year, we wish you a safe, happy and healthy 2012!