Where to Find Authentic Canadian Cuisine in Toronto
By Nicola Brown. In reaction to a dizzying array of international restaurants and bars, Toronto has begun gazing inward to embrace Canada’s own culinary history, elevating traditional recipes, regional specialties and local ingredients to world-class status.
On your next visit, sink your teeth into these favourite local spots for a taste of true Canadian cuisine.
Boralia: Canadian History Brought to Life Through Food
Taken from a name first proposed for Canada at the time of confederation, Boralia imbues each dish that exits the kitchen with the same historical inspiration. Dates scrawled next to menu items reference traditional Aboriginal and settler recipes as far back as the 17th century.
The tapas-style menu lets you try a bit of everything, which is exactly what you want to do here. Start with the Devilled Chinese Tea Eggs (c. 1860, $7) and Chopsuey Croquettes (c. 1860, $6), both nods to Canada’s Chinese history.
Without a doubt the star of the culinary show is the L’éclade (c. 1605, $15). The smokey pine aromas wafting from these succulent mussels will reach you before they do. This inventive preparation of a well-loved classic is as close as you can get to the sensory experience of Canadian wilderness camping in the heart of the city.
Other standouts include the tender Pan-Roasted Elk ($15) and sublimely glazed Sugar Shack ‘Ham’ (c. 1889, $15). You’d be remiss if you didn’t pair all this with one of the restaurant’s divine shrub-based cocktails: Grapefruit Shrub Spritz ($12) if you’re in the mood for bubbles, or Lemon Sage Iced Tea ($14) for those long hot days.
It’s Boralia’s attention to detail that wins it top marks in my books. Gaze upward and you’ll find you’re sitting under the timber frame of a longhouse. A bespoke wall hanging in the back depicts the buffalo migration, and if you take a peak above the bar you’ll find mystery bottles of “XXX” and piles of furs.
Hopgood’s Foodliner: East Coast Flair and a Love of Seafood
Hopgood’s has brought a serving of Canada’s east coast hominess to Toronto in its casual nautical-inspired dining space. If the stretched canvas prints tied off like sails didn’t give it away, the freshly shucked oyster bar should tip you off pretty quickly that this is where you come to indulge your love of seafood.
There’s seemingly everything on offer here: tuna, oysters, clams, shrimp, scallops, mackerel, mussels, snow crab, and octopus. It’s the octopus that wins my heart, though. Rich and meaty, freshened up with mint and parsley and served with crispy roasted chickpeas.
Nothing quite upstages the seafood dishes here, but the inventive cocktail menu comes close. In name and flavour it’s hard to resist ordering the Fat Drunk Duck ($15) with raisin and foie gras infused Jameson (yes I said foie gras), sherry, lemon, Demerara syrup, egg whites and chocolate bitters. It may read like an over-ambitious cacophony in a glass but you won’t be disappointed with how well it pairs with the food.
Grab the window spot to catch some sun or head to the cozy bench seating in the back. If you’re with a small group consider the private dining room: Hopgood’s “oyster shack,” complete with lobster traps and a large kitchen island for a table, feels like you just walked into someone’s home by the sea.
Woodlot: Honest, Simple Cooking with Fresh Local Ingredients
Housed in a converted garage, the airy, industrial-accented Woodlot is one of the most unique restaurant spaces in the city. Head to the upper loft-style seating and grab a spot by the railing for an unobstructed view of the kitchen and wood-fired brick oven below.
Woodlot prides itself on food that is “simple, honest and handmade,” and they do it with impossibly fresh ingredients. In my opinion you can judge the level of care a restaurant takes with its ingredients by its most basic offering: bread and butter. Woodlot’s loaves are served fresh every day by an overnight team of bakers. If you only have time for a grab-and-go meal, it’s worth stopping by to pick up a red fife or sour dough loaf any time from 3:00pm onwards.
Believe it or not some of my favourite dishes are actually the salads, particularly the Beetroot and Roasted Peanut Salad ($14) – a wonderful medley of crisp, earthy flavours, another testament to the freshness of the ingredients. Make sure to pair your meal with a local brew or glass of wine – try a Pearl-Morisette Chardonnay or Gamay to match the earthy flavours.
For the Love of Canadian Cuisine
Although these three restaurants offer very different experiences, the chefs and owners behind these unique spots share something in common: an honest, humble approach to food that’s fuelled by a simple passion for what authentic Canadian cuisine has to offer – and it’s enough to impress a full spectrum of tastes.
About the Author
Nicola Brown is an award-winning writer, editor and communication consultant based in Toronto. She is Editor-in-Chef of AnewTraveller.com and freelance writer for a broad range of publications from FIX.com to enRoute Magazine. She has travelled to 19 countries and still can’t decide whether Canada or the UK is home. She lives for opportunities to illuminate the life-changing power of travel through inspiring words and photos for as many people as possible.