The Scents and Sensibility of Parliament Street

By Doug O’Neill | @DougONeill


I like to think that I’ve developed a good nose for great neighbourhoods. What lures me to the stretch of Parliament Street between Gerrard and Wellesley in the heart of Toronto’s Cabbagetown is a heady mix of smells: the nostril-tickling aroma of freshly-ground espresso beans at the hipster hangout Jet Fuel Coffee (519 Parliament St.); the ever-so-sharp blue-cheese burger at The Flying Beaver Pubaret (488 Parliament St.); the slightly fruity nose of my fave Friday-night brew, Granville Island English Pale Ale, served at Stout Irish Pub (221 Carlton St, just off Parliament); and the pungent Filipino spice cloud that assails me whenever I enter Wow Philippines Eat Bulaga (584 Parliament St.).

Then there’s the sickly-sweet scent of sticky toffee pudding that comes with the Sunday roast beef dinner special at the longtime gastro-pub House on Parliament (454 Parliament St.). And, yes, you’ll likely get a whiff of sheep (or cow) manure from Riverdale Farm (where Carlton ends just east of Parliament). The novelty of a functioning farm next to four-story Architectural Digest-worthy homes still makes me giggly all over.

Cabbagetown is a mix of everything: bike couriers rub shoulders with Victorian homeowners; mom-and-pop Filipino shops share the block with purveyors of organic goods; there’s topnotch sushi or over-the-counter shawarmas; and skate-boarders share curb space with Saabs.

For grub, pull up a stool at Gourmet Burger (482 Parliament St.) and order the Aussie Burger. (Don’t ask, just do it.) Or spend a little more and check out the (relative) newcomer, Kibo Sushi House (533 Parliament St.). If owner Bo Kyun Seo is lucky that day and gets in a fresh order of oysters, you’ve hit pay dirt.

Entertainment options runs from really good jazz and R&B (Winchester Kitchen and Bar: 51A Winchester, east of Parliament) to raucous and rude (The Flying Beaver Pubaret).

The Flying Beaver is the neighbourhood’s main LGBT hangout, though it definitely draws an uber friendly mixed crowd. The Beav’s management say they aim to answer “the call of all the wild beavers who are looking for a place to hang out, catch a show, have some yummy chow and maybe even do the beaver paddle on the bar.” Hints of naughtiness aside, you only pay $10, maybe $20, for great entertainment (all proceeds go to the performers!). Expect the likes of stand-up-comic-cum-torch-song singer Lea Delaria, funny guy Gavin Crawford, sassy Carla Collins, and plenty of local musicians and artists such as Micah Barnes and others.

One last suggestion: since you’re probably going to travel along Carlton Street, by the 506 Streetcar or by foot, deke into Vincent Gannam’s Brazilian café, Cafuné (194 Carlton St.) You and your mate peckish? Order the Brazil meets France Sharing Platter for two. For $10.95 you get a smattering of yummy European bits to accompany your café or vino. And their dishes? Yes, they smell divine!

Doug O’Neill is the Executive Editor and Travel Blogger for Canadian Living magazine. On the side, Doug writes about his city of Toronto for a variety of publications and web sites which enables him to spend his free time sussing out the best spots through this city. Doug’s advice for newcomers or folks passing through Toronto is the same credo he uses when he travels the world: “Pick a neighbourhood, hop public transit, and just wonder. Mimic the locals. Follow your nose. And don’t forget urban green spaces. Toronto has some of the best. Meander a ravine, meander a mall. It’s all good.” Doug is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and a member of the Canadian Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers.

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