Keyyes Picks: Where To Eat And Drink In Toronto


The diverse city surprises with charming epicurean spots


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Keyyes Picks: Where To Eat And Drink In Toronto
Dining January 16th, 2019

It’s frigid in Toronto right now, but it can all be forgotten and forgiven when you have great food and drink at hand. But more important are the people whom you dine with. We spoke to the city’s tastemakers to unearth a bunch of restaurants where you can get social at.

Chubby’s Jamaican is a pocket of sunshine in the dead of winter.

Chubby’s Jamaican

104 Portland Street, Toronto

T: +1 (416) 792-8105

Book a seat via the Keyyes Membership App

The Vibe

Welcome to Portland Street’s worst-kept secret — Chubby’s Jamaican, a pocket of sunshine in the dead of winter. Run by restaurateur Janet Zuccarini (also responsible for the buzz-worthy Gusto 101) and her tightly-knit crew of creators, there’s no place better to enjoy food and the atmosphere of the tropics. Housed in an 1890s row house, the building is fairly nondescript, with nothing but whitewashed walls and a small neon pink sign. Step in, and it’s another world: two storeys of laid-back tropical decor, happy diners and a mix of reggae, hip hop and old school jams rocking the speakers.

Eat This

The food here straddles modern and traditional home-style cooking, courtesy of Jamaican-born chef Donavon Campbell. From the “likkle” bites like pepper shrimp to an entire jerk chicken from the pit, he brings plenty of heat, flavour and zest to the plate — more than what you’d ask for, most likely.

Drink That

By now, it is obvious that you can’t run from rum. Sip 10 of the world’s best — the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, for example — or simply start with Everything Nice, a cocktail of Appleton, Aperol, mango, lemon, tamarind and interestingly, Scotch bonnet pepper.

Across the street from Chubby’s Jamaican is Gusto 101, a popular hangout spot that serves gussied-up Southern Italian.

Gusto 101

101 Portland Street, Toronto

T: +1 (416) 504-9669

Book a seat via the Keyyes Membership App

The Vibe

Gusto 101, the sister to Chubby’s Jamaican, is prominent in the Toronto restaurant scene, and deservedly so. “Gusto”, which translates to “tasty” is a lot more casual than you’d expect as well. You’ll be surrounded by vintage signs in a space open and well lit, and you’ll be served by the friendliest staff dressed in T-shirts and denim shorts. Choose to sit at the patio — there’s one out the front and another upstairs — or in the main seating area, where you can watch the chefs navigate the open flames and bartenders prep cocktails.

Eat This

In a few words, the menu presents Southern Italian classics that don’t feel tired. For the full Gusto 101 experience, go on a weekday night, since there’s only a simpler brunch menu on the weekends. The à la carte menu (also available at lunch) is a romp through the South, with must-haves including the house-made focaccia, light and airy with a wonderful caramelised crust; the mushroom bruschetta, paired with ricotta and taleggio; the cacio e pepe, which is near perfect; and the Polpette pizza, a tomato-based pie topped with meatballs and smoked provolone. Don’t miss daily specials like the sausage potato gnocchi and bistecca, available from 6pm.

Drink That

Chances are you won’t leave the premises sober. Knock yourself out with house wine at C$1 an ounce. Beyond that, there are bottles of solid Italian wine, Scotch, amari and cocktails to go around.

Mezu

1375 Dundas Street, West Toronto

T: +1 (647) 346-8858

Book a seat via the Keyyes Membership App

The Vibe

Opened just last August, Mezu is quickly gaining a reputation for solid Korean fusion tapas, kind service and a friendly atmosphere. Located right on the corner of Dundas West and Beaconsfield Avenue, it’s a breezy spot full of reclaimed wood, paper lanterns and eclectic Asian art. The space is home to a modest open kitchen and a bar well-stocked with sake and soju, the two drinks that go well with almost anything.

Eat This

Executive chef Donguk Sul, formerly from Momofuku, brings a variety of international influences to his dishes. The Arancini, an Italian classic, is dressed in fig jam sauce, while the steak tartare — a wise starter — comes with soy dressing and crispy seaweed chips. What you must not miss, however, is the melt-in-your-mouth pork belly ssam, served with a tangy chimichurri and fresh, crisp lettuce.

Drink That

A good selection of sake, soju and makgeolli (traditional Korean rice wine) is available. But feel free to order a cocktail — the Gaza Mezu, a mix of cava, plum extract and yuzu, is rather tasty — Japanese yuzu beer or wine.

This West Toronto staple is chic and refined, but gloriously laid-back. Remember to start with the burrata, flown in from Italy every other week.

Oretta

633 King Street, West Toronto

T: +1 (416) 944-1932

Book a seat via the Keyyes Membership App

The Vibe

The appeal of this West Toronto staple is how it manages to be chic and refined, but gloriously laid-back. You’ll love everything from the sleek, floor-to-ceiling windows and soft pink accents, to the ‘80s vintage light fixtures and vivid floor tiles. The space also gleams with natural light. The restaurant — connected to a cafe (the cappuccinos are legendary) and private dining area — is frequently packed, but hardly overcrowded or noisy. Walk in and you’ll be seated within minutes. The service is prompt, courteous and never suffocating.

Eat This

You’ll be spoilt for choice. We recommend starting with the charred octopus and burrata, which is flown in from Italy every other week. Then move on to the Piemonte, a roasted garlic and mushroom pizza, and the maccheroni smothered in ragu, just like chef’s nonna used to make.

Drink That

The drinks menu is thicker than the food, so come prepared. Open with a negroni or aperitif, then progress to Scotch, Cognac or one of the many, many wines found here.

Toronto Temperance Society, a speakeasy hidden by Sidecar, has a knack for classics and on-the-spot dealer’s choice cocktails.

Toronto Temperance Society

577A College Street, Toronto

T: +1 (416) 536-7001

Book a seat via the Keyyes Membership App

The Vibe

This is the ‘secret bar’ that everyone nonetheless knows about. Located beside Sidecar, the contemporary French-American restaurant on College Street, the only sign that points you in its direction is a brown unmarked door. Behind that door is a narrow and dark staircase that leads you up to the small speakeasy, a haven with world-class spirits and cocktails.

Eat This

Expect well-executed comfort food courtesy of the fine folks at Sidecar. There’s duck confit, grilled chicken and hanger steak, tender and cooked to perfection. Portions are bigger than you’d imagine, essential for padding the stomach before the night officially begins.

Drink That

Manned by some of the best bartenders in town — including Alessandro Zonfrillo (pictured above) — the bar offers a whole range of classics and on-the-spot dealer’s choice cocktails. Begin the night with a refreshing whisky sour, before exploring everything else. Go forth, and drink.

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