By Lory Diaz
Torontonicity was recently invited by Bria Weaver of Food Nook Tours to attend their Valentine’s Day tour through one of Toronto’s most underrated neighbourhoods: Roncesvalles! The food tour focused on some of the hidden gems for nightlife, entertainment, restaurants, markets, and the delicious and delightful gourmet food products they offer. Despite the cold and snowy day, our group was taken on a fun and informative walk down Roncesvalles Avenue, learning some interesting historical facts, and tasting some great flavours, along the way!
Food Nook Tours started in May 2016, and delivers tours to groups of approximately six – twelve people lasting anywhere between two to three hours. The length of the tour really depends on the participants: how long they linger at each location and if they stick around for the group dinner at the end. Bria, our guide, was also very open to suggesting dining options to any couples that wanted to head out at the end and do their own romantic thing.
Our first stop was The Chocolateria! We were given quite a few samples of some of the store’s popular items including their chocolate covered pretzels, dark chocolate raspberry truffle, and an amazing salt and candied chocolate bark. All the items were fantastic, but the creaminess of the chocolate really stood out for me. These items aren’t overly sweet, as some chocolate can be, instead, they’re made with strong flavours that pair so well together that you’re left craving more. Many of our tour members picked up some sweet treats to take home!
We then went into Fantail Cafe for some freshly baked goods. Bria explained the history of the cafe, and what the owners were aiming for when opening the location. It became very clear that she has taken the time to get to know individual shop owners and build relationships with their staff, demonstrate a wealth of knowledge on their selection of goodies, including their vegan options! We sampled their gluten-free Caramelized Onion Frittata: it was light, fluffy, and slightly sweet from the caramelization. Delicious!
Mercantile was our next stop, and what a treat this place was! They carry a variety of handmade goods including stationery (an adorable collection of Valentine’s Day cards), sauces, dips, and anything required to throw a quirky cocktail party. Bria introduced us to Joey, who highlighted some of his favourite items in the store, and gave us samples of their Purple Party Peanuts, and Meredith’s Ginger Elixir. I found my favourite condiment ever at Mercantile: Okazu Curry Miso Sauce. I thought this was only available at the One of a Kind Show, but was so happy to see I could purchase it locally on Roncesvalles! Thanks Bria!
Our group was then introduced to the local seafood market, De La Mer. We warmed ourselves up with a sample of their Squash Puree Soup, and were introduced to the amazing selection of in-house cured seafood options including their vodka cured gravlax (a Nordic dish made with raw salmon). The staff were incredibly friendly and happy to answer any questions we had about their products. Bria confirmed that the De La Mer team was very helpful, and always willing to clarify any uncertainties about purchasing seafood. I was intrigued by the selection of their prepared meals – specifically a Shrimp Thai Coconut soup – and have already made a note to return to the shop!
The fifth and final stop was Barque Butcher Bar. Bria highlighted the mini market section of the restaurant, with their vast selection of dry rubs and sauces, before taking us to the seating area where we sampled all the flavours of popcorn. Once deciding upon our favourites, we were treated to fries and wings, which were seasoned with the 299 rub: Lightly salted and spiced, not overpowering, and pairing so well with any of the other toppings, the 299 rub creates a flavourful base for enjoying the juicy wing. I decided upon their lemon pepper rub, because it had a vibrant zest to it, and was so delicious! The group agreed though that Barque’s White BBQ Sauce was by far a favourite, and highly recommended for any return visit.
As the food tour came to an end and the couples broke off going their separate ways, Bria made recommendations for restaurants depending on what they were craving. I’ve been on tours before, but never with someone as approachable, knowledgeable, and charismatic! Food Nook tours are absolutely worth booking if you’re interesting in exploring areas like Roncesvalles, but aren’t sure about where to start or what the best bets are for dining. Bria takes time to do the research and learn about the neighbourhood before organizing any tour, and is currently working on expanding to The Junction. I assure you that once those tours are announced, I’ll be one of the first people to sign up. Happy exploring!