A Foodist guide to Liberty Village

The Village Cheesemonger

The Village Cheesemonger

Today’s guest post is by Rob Davidson, a commercial photographer, specializing in food photography for around 30 years. He lives and works in Liberty Village, a new/old village in the heart of Downtown Toronto.  He’s put together a guide with some photos of his favorite haunts. You can see some of his work at the Epicure in Light and Davidson Photography.

Hello, and welcome to my neighborhood. Liberty Village, located in the southwest corner of downtown Toronto has recently become the city’s hottest new neighborhood. Originally home to some of Canada’s industrial giants such as Massey Ferguson and Dominion carpet, the area has languished in obscurity for the last few decades.

However, in recent years the westward march of Toronto development has transformed this area into a burgeoning village of lofts, town houses and condos, while still holding onto its industrial roots.

Most important for the foodist, the neighborhood has become a hotbed of new restaurants and food purveyors. With over 40 restaurants, this compact village offers up a great variety of dining choices, from elegant gourmet dining to quick and cheerful take out. And so I offer up my purely personal guide to eating in and dining out in Liberty Village.

When I’m in the mood for an elegant meal in a really cool environment I walk over to Mildred’s Temple Kitchen to see what they have on their ever-changing menu.  Donna Dooher and Kevin Gallagher (Who previously owned Mildred Pierce restaurant) have created an enclave of cool but comfortable dining that attracts food lovers from all over the city. They’re open concept kitchen never fails to delight with locally sourced cuisine and everything they serve is created in-house. Their Georgian Bay whitefish fritters are a perfectly indulgent start to a meal, and I recently followed that up with their Wellington County tenderloin which was cooked to perfection of taste. Be sure to leave room for dessert, such as profiteroles with homemade chocolate ice cream.

Their brunches  on Saturday and Sunday are very popular (and delicious). When you do visit make a point of checking out the washrooms… You’ll be surprised and delighted!

Speaking of elegant, the Academy of Spherical Arts is a truly unique experience. Housed in  the building where Brunswick Pool tables were actually manufactured, this combination restaurant and billiards emporium boasts a truly unique ambiance. Picture yourself playing billiards on a century-old table amidst antique décor while sampling from their extensive bar selection and eclectic menu. Not exactly your corner pool hall, unless of course you live in Liberty Village.

Raw Japanese Cuisine: Spicy Tartar

Raw Japanese Cuisine: Spicy Tartar

Being a big fan of Asian cuisine, I’m happy to report that we have four Asian restaurants in the neighborhood (Japanese, Vietnamese, pan Asian and Korean). My favorite is Raaw Japanese Cuisine,  where Angela Chow and Jay Lin prepare incredibly fresh and tasty sushi in their own, unique style. My favorite dish is their spicy tartare: layers of finely slivered tuna, yellow tail or salmon, sushi rice and tempura bits served with a spicy sauce… delicious and unique! I’m also addicted to the crispy soft shell crab, which they serve with a piquant ponzu sauce. The modern and elegant décor in black and orange is a welcome departure from the expected.

If you’re in the neighborhood around lunch time you have some delightfully fresh and different options. At the Liberty Village Market and Café, fresh homemade soups and chili’s always draw a crowd on a blustery day. Their custom made sandwiches and wraps are also very popular. I also invariably indulge in one of their homemade Nanaimo Bars for dessert.

If it happens to be Tuesday or Wednesday don’t miss Merci Mon Ami! Tuesday is taco day, featuring fresh house made beef, chicken or vegetarian tacos served in a takeout box with a fresh salad, guacamole and sour cream. On Wednesdays they make the best burger in the village with your choice of delicious fixings. Long communal tables and a nice patio for the summer make this a friendly place to grab a quick, healthy and delicious lunch.

Coffee time in the village also transcends the usual Timmies! Balzac’s Coffee pays tribute to the great author, and his equally great caffeine addiction with their selection of fresh roasted coffees and turn-of-the-century atmosphere. The local village creative types show up here for their mid-morning jolt of caffeinated inspiration.

Barista Espresso Bar

Barista Espresso Bar

Around the corner in the covered walkway of the Liberty Design Center, Barista Espresso Bar feels like stepping out of Toronto and into the heart of Italy, were carefully crafted espressos and cappuccinos are accompanied by delicious homemade snacks. In the summer I’m addicted to their affogato, a scoop of locally made gelato topped with a shot of espresso…. a sweet and bitter blend to refresh the stickiest of days.

If you’re looking to stay in an Italian mood, a visit to Café Cinquecento will keep you there. For lunches they offer an authentic Tavola Calda, an assortment of Italian dishes for you to choose from. Their evening menu features a complete selection of traditional Italian cuisine from antipasti to dolci, which can be enjoyed on their street level or upper deck patios.

Ireland’s voice is also heard in the village, at the Brazen Head. This boisterous pub, housed in a historical building going back to World War I, features a wide selection of draft beers, malt scotch, Irish whiskey, and surprisingly good food. Live music on Thursday and Saturday nights, and cheering crowds of Toronto FC fans after every game mark this pub as the party spot for the village.  Their three large patios are also popular social hangouts on warm summer afternoons and evenings.

Another spot to enjoy fine food and live music, in a jazz mood, is The Liberty Bistro, where some of Toronto’s best musicians will play accompaniment to your dining pleasure.

My favorite destination for gourmet shopping, tasting and food chat is the Village Cheesemonger,  where co-owners David Nudds and Michael Bottomley share their passion for fine cheeses while plying your taste buds with samples of their wares. They feature a wide selection of local and imported cheeses, locally sourced charcuterie and carefully selected gourmet items to enrich your home larder.

Just a few doors down from there lurks the ultimate small indulgence, For The Love of Cake. Their whimsical cake window beckons me inside to partake from their eclectic selection of cupcakes.  Their Mancakes feature such macho ingredients as Guinness & Chocolate, Maple Bacon, and Stout Spice. However, having nothing to prove, I happily indulge in Red Velvet, Death by Chocolate, or Tiramisu.  Ah, sweet temptation!

So there you have my insider’s guide to the food of Liberty Village.  As new spots appear I’ll check them out for you and keep you posted on anything good to eat.


One Response to “A Foodist guide to Liberty Village”

  1. Posted on December 25th, 2010

    Great article Rob!

    I don’t think I’ve ever been to this neighbourhood in TO, but will definitely make sure to check it out next time I’m back.

    Hope to see more articles from you here as a regular contributor soon!

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