Navigating TO’s GWFE

This past weekend was Toronto’s annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo (GFWE). The event, which takes place each year at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, is positioned to be one of the biggest food and drink events of the year, welcoming over 45,000 Torontonians and tourists over the event’s 4-day run.

For an event so large, with so much promotional marketing and so many big name sponsors, I honestly was not very impressed with the overall execution. The event was severely overcrowded, almost impossible to navigate and certainly did not have the typical atmosphere anyone would expect for anything gourmet.

When Lisa and I first arrived we were excited to get inside to start eating and drinking (we were starving). After navigating our way through the Convention Centre we finally arrived at the event’s entrance and the massive line that came with it. We arrived at 6:00 PM, thinking it was a reasonable time to arrive given that our tickets were for 5:00 PM or later, and assuming the majority of ticket holders would show up later before heading out to a club, bar or party. There were probably about 1,000 people or more in front of us in line and we almost left, worried that we would be waiting for over an hour to get in. Both luckily and surprisingly, the line moved fairly quickly and we were at the front, happy we didn’t ditch our plans.

But all of the people previously in front of us in line were now inside the event. The place was packed; what I had hoped to be a casual stroll through the venue to try a variety of wines and foods ended up being a struggle through the crowds just to see what each booth had to offer. There were also a few booths that I wanted to go back to, but they were hard to relocate in the jungle that was the GFWE. Perhaps next year it would be helpful if there were maps that listed where each of the exhibitors were located.

In terms of service, it was obviously very busy and for the most part the vendors were doing as much as they could to serve customers in a friendly manner; except for some. Clearly the Alcohol & Gaming Commission was not out to play at this event, otherwise some of the vendors probably would have thought twice about drinking while on the job. I get it, it’s a wine tasting event, but that doesn’t mean the staff working it should be more inebriated than the guests. There were more than a few instances where you could tell that some of the staff had been drinking; at one booth I fully witnessed a vendor crack open a Budweiser, pour the contents into his glass and chug without shame!! Totally unprofessional!! Obviously these people do not directly work for GFWE, but there should be a strict policy put into place for these situations.

Now, not everything was terrible; the food was phenomenal. I tried a variety of different dishes including a cheddar, brie and cranberry grilled cheese, vegetable spring rolls, flat bread, cannolis, rice, a variety of Matt & Steve’s Extreme Bean items and a very delicious ‘eco-taco’ from Feel Good Guru.

Delicious!

Eco-Taco!!

GFWE

Yummies @ GFWE!!

In theory this event is a great concept and a phenomenal business opportunity for up and coming brands to get their name out in Toronto. A $25 entry fee is fairly reasonable – especially since the summer version of this event, Beerfest, was outdoors but double the price. The idea of selling $1 tickets to be used towards food and drink allows for speedy service without the hustle and wait time for change. Hosting at the Metro Convention Centre rather than somewhere else in the city, such as Exhibition place, is also great because it is easily accessible via Union Station and its many modes of transportation (TTC, GO, VIA).

As for next year, I think I’m going to sit this one out. If you decide to test your luck (and remember this post while doing so), please feel free to let me know if they’ve made any positive changes.

For more about the Gourmet Wine & Food Expo, visit: http://www.foodandwineexpo.ca

Catching up with the Queen’s Mum

As I am sure many other twenty-somethings would agree, one of the most popular ways to socialize and catch up with old friends is to meet up for some good food at one of Toronto’s many restaurants.

I recently met up with three friends who I became very close with during my four years at McMaster University. It was Asha’s turn to pick and she suggested we get together at Queen Mother Cafe. As the name implies, this restaurant is located on Queen St, just steps west of University Ave (and Osgoode Station). I was slightly shocked that I had never visited or even heard of this restaurant before given the countless times I have walked past it over the last ten plus years; it really goes to show just how saturated (yet ever-changing) the restaurant industry is in this city we call home.

I was the last to arrive and felt like I was in a maze to find my friends who were on the other end of the restaurant. The set-up for Queen Mother is strange; because there are stairs to a lower level right in the middle of the restaurant, it is one big U-shape that you need to navigate around. None the less, I eventually found my friends who had a table by the window.

The restaurant was packed and I’m surprised that we didn’t have to wait for a table. However, the servers felt the pinch of the busy restaurant and our service was quite slow. It took a considerable amount of time for our first drink order, have the drinks delivered, order food, receive our food and finally pay our bills.

Although service was slow, the menu made up for it. I started with a vegetable lentil soup and then split two salads with Asha; she ordered the kale, roasted tomato and green lentil, while I ordered the quinoa salad. Mixing the two salads into one was probably one of the best decisions I made all evening; the fusion was absolutely phenomenal. Asha chose not to mix hers and commented that they were equally as delicious solo. Portions ended up being considerably larger than I expected and if I had known this, I probably would have skipped the soup; although I’m glad I got to try it. Everything on the menu seemed to be fairly reasonably priced. My meal was under $20 which is usually rare when ordering more than one item. Check out how yummy it all looks:

Vegetable Lentil Soup

Vegetable Lentil Soup

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad

Kale, Roasted Tomato and Green Lentil Salad

Kale, Roasted Tomato and Green Lentil Salad

In terms of atmosphere, this was a great place to catch up. Although the restaurant was very busy during our visit, the noise level was bearable and I could easily hear what the rest of my table was saying. When all was said and done, I was happy that Asha introduced me to this spot; I will definitely be back.

Have you been to Queen Mother Cafe, what did you think? What other restaurants around the city would you like me visit?

For more information on Queen Mother, visit: http://www.queenmothercafe.ca

It’s Raining Grilled Cheese in Kensington

Today,  my friend Lisa and I headed to the streets of Toronto in search for some comfort food given the dismally rainy day.

We ended up at The Grilled Cheese; located in Kensington on Nassaua, just west of Agusta.

When we first arrived at our destination, which was recommended by my roommate, we were unsure. At first glance, it appears as somewhat of a hole in the wall, mind you, as does most of the area. None the less, we decided to enter the restaurant and it had a really rustic, but cool, vibe. When we first arrived there was one other customer, but even though it was middle of the afternoon the place ended up being filled with people by the time we left.

The menu consisted of approximately ten grilled cheese options. I ordered the BLACK JACK, which was $6, and added avocado and bacon, which were an extra $2 each. As you can likely tell from the photo below, it was delicious. I really enjoyed the olive pesto, which was something I certainly never imagined including on my standard grilled cheese. My meal also came with a side of rippled potato chips and a big juicy pickle – two perfect pairings for grilled cheese. The meal was nothing short of amazing; reasonably priced, tasty and fulfilled my desire for comfort food. I would definitely go back.

TheGrilledCheese

My delicious BLACK JACK, yumm!

One key thing to keep in mind is that this is a CASH only restaurant, which I was not aware of and resulted in Lisa buying my lunch (Thanks Leese 🙂 ).

After lunch we decided to do a bit of shopping in Kensington. I ended up getting an awesome pair of earrings at Kid Icarus, but we wrapped our afternoon up quickly due to the rain.

Sadly, The Grilled Cheese doesn’t have a website I can share with you, but while I was hunting for it I came across an old BlogTO post naming The Grilled Cheese as the top spot to get grilled cheese in the city. Check the article out here: http://www.blogto.com/toronto/the_best_grilled_cheese_sandwich_in_toronto/