A swift trip was made to The Face Shop, whose staff once again boasted great service given the consideration that it was a weekend morning, followed by a leisurely munching session at JOEY.
There is never a shortage of new restaurants to delve into when in Markham. And while JOEY isn't a place that's particularly "new" in terms of duration of operation, the almost Cactus Club-esque dining space was an unexplored venture in my book.
Manouevering through the Markville parking lot is no easy feat come Saturday mornings at 11 AM: majority of the spots are already occupied by drivers looking to snugly wedge in a few quick errands before the lunchtime rush rolls around. However, I found myself to be quite lucky, and managed to pull into a conveniently located spot just minutes after arriving.
A swift trip was made to The Face Shop, whose staff once again boasted great service given the consideration that it was a weekend morning, followed by a leisurely munching session at JOEY.
I haven't had the opportunity to return to the shopping-centred franchise since my last visit to their Eaton Centre location, and, truthfully, I'm amazed at how quickly time has flown since that initial experience. As a foreword, the likeliness of making constant comparisons between the two locations shall be relatively high throughout this post, mainly because I believe in the importance of identifying the merits and shortcomings associated with a restaurant's market niche and management authorities.
The weather was flawless that day, making the outdoor patio seats a very welcoming seating option. However, the sun's glare was rather strong, so a booth seat located just under the roof was selected instead. Our table, along with approximately eight other medium-sized ones, was situated directly underneath a garage door-like structure, which was noticed to be directly connected to a complex pulley and gear system. The general hypothesis was that the door would be cranked manually in order to connect the outdoor patio and somewhat exposed indoor arrangement for increased exposure to natural elements (sunshine and light breezes are always appreciated during the warmer months), improved air quality, and ease of access for servers to efficiently attend to all tables in the area.
Spacious enough to allow for comfortable seating, but nowhere near immaculate enough so as to assure that my nerves didn't prickle, the roomy booth had the capability to contain a pile of light jackets and shopping bags without having them brush the uncleaned remnants of food on the table. Crumbs are not my thing, but maybe our server enjoyed the sight of them.
It should come as no surprise that I've recently developed a strong liking towards cozy cafes, with an even more intense affection for those that offer stable Wi-Fi and plenty of outlets.
Orange Caramel (cue Catellena!) is a name that I found to have several associated positive reviews. Located literally minutes from Finch Station (regardless of whether you are travelling from the TTC or GO Transit/YRT terminal), its convenient coordinates makes it a popular hangout location for students and commuting teenagers alike.
Space is scarce in North York, and as with many other restaurants and diners in the area, stepping foot into the cafe first requires a trek up a short, narrow flight of stairs. (It doesn't exactly meet accessibility standards, but seeing as there wasn't a great deal of space available to move around within the cafe anyway, that probably wasn't a deciding factor in the design stage.)
The tables were large and spacious, but usually only occupied by parties of two or three. Landing on the second floor of the building at half past four on Friday afternoon, our choices were limited. Besides the two very roomy booths situated directly beside the window, the others were all subject to somewhat harsh incandescent lighting.
Indeed, it wasn't the ideal situation for photo-taking.
We ended up choosing the second-closest table to the bar/cashier area, distanced from the excited chatter of high school students that were eagerly discussing the day's happenings.
It was once we sat down that I began to take in my surroundings: Orange Caramel offered comfy chairs with armrests, a few full-length couches ("loveseats"), and sturdy booth spots, all kind of jumbled in between a slightly disorganized bookshelf and dusty, off-season Christmas decorations. I did see where people had been going with the "mismatched-couches-likely-belonging-to-someone's-house" concept. It didn't bother me much though. Rather, I was more concerned about how frequently the place was cleaned.
We took a good, long look at the menu, shooing the friendly waitress away once before we finally decided. Our selections included a Cookies & Cream Milkshake and the renowned American Waffle and Tea Combo.
View the full album HERE !
I remember reading about how Bar Ape was one of those food trucks that was particularly difficult to spot, yet still had quite the loyal following.
Waltzing around the Sweet Jesus area (but not wanting to go for melty soft serve again), I spotted a row of vivid-hued, food-serving vehicles parked along King Street. The ever-so-popular M.E.N.U (spotted previously at Night It Up!) was present and serving a lineup consisting of no less than ten people; across the street was a very compact truck, sporting a muted bronze and sky blue paint job: it was Bar Ape.
I sauntered jaunted up to the two men casually resting within the vehicle, and was promptly acknowledged. As someone with little to zero knowledge regarding their business, I proceeded with ask for details on their products.
From my spontaneously-conducted on-the-spot research, I learned that Bar Ape specializes in unique (and rotating) flavours of gelato bars. All of their iced treats were crafted in-house, utilizing whole milk instead of cream, as well as a plant-based stabilizer as opposed to the traditional addition of egg yolk. It was especially nice to witness the incredible enthusiasm demonstrated in the tone in which the man described his products.
I ordered a Chocolate Orange Gelato Bar (orange sorbetto encased in a firm, chocolate shell) and a Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato Bar (hazelnut gelato covered with the same chocolate shell, but then further topped with chopped hazelnut pieces). Each bar was priced on par with Haagen Dazs - $5 each. (And, oh, it was cash-only.)
The bars were extracted from a mini freezer located within the truck and handed to me as soon as I had paid. Though, wanting to capture a few photos of the truck itself, the man offered to keep them chilled for me until I was ready to indulge.
At this point of my obsessive image-capturing expedition, I have become fairly accustomed to being caught in sticky, inconvenient situations where I have too many things to carry, and simply not enough hands to handle a camera simultaneously. His offer was probably one of the best things I've heard in the past several months, and I could not appreciate it enough! As the process was taking place, wandering pedestrians too became curious customers, yet I was still welcome to take my photos as Bar Ape continued with their business.
"What?! You went again?!" is the reaction I'm expecting from loyal readers (in the case where there are any albeit my failure to maintain a constant posting schedule).
But the answer is: Yes. Yes, I did.
I must confess that seeing the never-ending stream of Specialty Soft Serves was one of the factors, but a minor one if at all. A thought that constantly resonated within me since my previous two visits (1, 2) was that, due to certain circumstances (ie. being too full from lunch), I never actually got the chance to try their most popular items: their range of "Pimped Out" Soft Serves.
Alas, the day had finally arrived.
I found myself at the corner of King and John at quarter to twelve, on my way to MEC to check out backpacks, when it hit me.
"It's not 12pm yet." A voice uttered quietly, "Let's see how diligent people are about lining up."
My feet gradually led to me La Carnita, and then to the corner of the plaza. There was no lineup at all!
I walked right up to the counter and asked the girl at the cashier about the evident lack of impatient customers. She replied that the lines have since dissipated drastically as TIFF activities had concluded, and that the wait times (if any duration at all) were nowhere near as painstakingly long as they had been.
As the clock read 11:50 AM, I knew that soft serve-based drinks (such as the wonderfully flavourful Espresso Shake from my second visit) would not be available yet. I opted for their churros instead. But as luck would have it, the first batch of churros were supposedly overdone and had to be re-cooked.
The clock struck twelve, and I was still waiting. "Might as well order their soft serve while I'm here then!" rang my thought process.
From time to time, I'll find myself in a situation where I have absolute no idea where to go for hangouts. At times like these, I turn towards region-specific blogs or review sites; for catching up with the Mississauga crew, it's always insauga (albeit their occasional inaccuracies in determining the value of restaurants from customer perspectives).
Dominating the "Top 5 Coffee Shops and Cafes" list stood Studio.89, hence forth we vamoosed.
Located not too far off from the highway exit at Eglinton and Tomken was a small but lofty plaza, and contained within one of its corners was a fair trade cafe. The storefront was exceedingly simple, with glass windows and a bold (and very visible) name plate.
Side note: At this point I've come to appreciate two things about the suburbs: they boast clearly visible names on their storefront, as well as provide an abundance of parking spots (with a few exceptions, of course - looking at you Chatime).
User-uploaded photos of the venue were scarce, but the few shots that I saw were coherent with the creative environment I came to see once inside: everything from the whimsical infograph wall decor to the colourful chalkboard calendar of events and menus exuded a constructed yet free-spirited vibe. Positive energy resonated throughout the space.
The full album can be viewed HERE !
In addition to countless well-furnished tables on the main floor was a cashier and kitchen area. Located directly above was a list of the vast food and drink options available, many of which catered to those with special dietary concerns (ie. gluten-free, vegan, egg-free, etc.) Abbreviations noted adjacent to the drink selection also provided indications as to whether they were fair trade, organic, or both ("FO").
We placed our orders and headed upstairs, to the more tranquil, carpet-lined "Off With Your Shoes" zone.
As autumn nears, the period of effective daylight gradually decreases. My morning drives are accompanied by nothing but pure darkness, with the exception of streetlights and the headlights/brake lights of annoyingly impatient rush hour drivers.
However, early mornings hold more meaning than silencing three alarms that go off simultaneously and facing intense parking wars; it results in the ability to view (and capture) every single unique sunrise.
But the thing about sunrises is: while they are a feast for your eyes, they have little to no impact on a sleepy mind. And that is where cold, caffeinated drinks enter the picture.
Having had read about the horrendous truth behind Starbucks' green tea powder (the supposed sugar to tea ratio is approximately 1:1), I thought twice before diving for a Green Tea Latte.
I walked into a nearby Second Cup instead, and it was probably one of the nicest Second Cup locations I had ever step foot into: high ceilings, an abundance of small tables in addition to bar seats, and even a brightly-lit circular bar area for socializing. The girl at the cashier was also very cheerful, and offered to make an Iced Matcha Latte for me even though it technically did not appear on their menu.
There was no lineup, thus I received my drink in a little under three minutes. It contained approximately the same amount of ice (ie. a lot of ice), but the hue was evidently less saturated (in comparison to Starbucks). The flavour was also much more subtle than expected, but nonetheless a great refresher.
I decided to round the corner to Sweet Jesus at this point to observe the current length of the line. By golly! It was even worse than last time. I hovered at the end for about five minutes, but noticed that the line had ceased to move an inch during that time and came to the conclusion that the lineup should be avoided at all times after lunch hours.
Pearl King (also called 明珠樓), is an establishment that I've researched several times already while browsing Zomato and "Eats in the Entertainment District". Their concept is quite interesting: the restaurant is part dimsum-serving, part-sports bar. The interior is modern and minimal, relying heavily on wood and wood-like elements to create a sense of cohesiveness between shiny white tables and slight industrial touches. For diners that exhibit indifference to the cigarette-smoking population of the Downtown Core, patio tables are also offered so that the Chinese "tapas" can be enjoyed outside, weather permitted.
In all honesty, I had just wanted a satisfying sweet treat to sink my teeth into, but the wait for many other restaurants were astoundingly protracted. The restaurant was about 65% empty when I strolled in, but I was still informed that takeout would require 15 minutes to prepare. (Even for ready-made items??)
A trio of Egg Tarts and Duck Yolk Buns were ordered for $4.00 and $6.00 respectively. Indeed, my wallet suffered severe trauma post-Pearl King.
Crowds had been seen bustling outside Sweet Jesus since their first day of operation, however it wasn't until after Instagram had witnessed several hundred hashtagged photos (and after blogto brought the social media phenomenon to light) that lineups spanning 20+ people began to form outside the small espresso / soft serve retailer.
In the course of the 15-20 minute wait, I learned that majority of customers had made use of their lunch time to line up outside the shop, yet had no knowledge of what Sweet Jesus had to offer. The ladies in front even turned around to inquire about the options on their menu at one point.
"I just want to see if this soft serve is really that good!" exclaimed a suited businessman to his dress-donning colleague.
I'd like to praise the entire team for their efficiency though: menus were first handed out to customers while they were waiting in line, and orders were taken on the second round (while still in line). The menus were to be placed back onto the countertop once making it inside the shop, and the cashier would tend to eager coffee- and soft serve-goers individually. Drink orders, as well as pastries, would be handed to customers immediately after paying, whereas "Pimped Out Cones" and Specialty Soft Serves were relayed over a sweets bar.
Despite decked-out creations whizzing me by, my stomach just wasn't prepared yet. Instead, I opted for their Espresso Shake. While the Vanilla soft serve in the description could be switched to Chocolate (or even a Vanilla/Chocolate swirl), the option of switching in one of their flavoured soft serves (such as Banana) was not available.
My initial perception of the Espresso Shake was that it would resemble a sweetened ice coffee and be topped with a small squirt of swirled Vanilla/Chocolate soft serve. This, unfortunately, was not the case, as the soft serve had been placed into a cocktail shaker to blend thoroughly with espresso before serving. However, the barista was extremely nice about it, and offered to top the drink with a bit of Vanilla.
As soon as something hits blogto, one should be prepared for its massive following (aka majority of tech-saavy Torontonians) to make their way to the newly-reviewed spot or upcoming event.
The fact that Smoke's branch-off Burritorie, which apparently specializes in burritos (to complement their poutine?), would be holding a $1 burrito deal on their grand opening day did not go unheard within the community. However, details were few, and doubtful comments aplenty.
Opening hours were set at 11:00 AM, just like their original Poutinerie located directly above the new shop. By almost half-past, the line had accumulated enough to span a few storefronts. Undeterred from my goal, I joined the lineup.
"How bad could it possibly be?" I thought, "Concert lineups like this usually clear within half an hour. It should be fine."
But I had forgotten that this was Toronto, and lines always tend to move unnecessarily slow. Unlike the suburban areas of takeout restaurants, people that operate the small, independent stores here are inefficient, not to mention prone to favouring their friends over famished customers.
Double-sided menus were handed out while the line slowly grew to block the entrances of a few more stores; at this point, we were informed that each person was only permitted to order one burrito, and solely from their list of five signature flavours.
By the fifty-minute mark, I had questioned myself why I hadn't given up and left for somewhere else. The line had shifted a maximum of 2 metres in that period - I hadn't even reached the top of the stairs!
Nacho chips and small containers of salsa were handed out, but the rude guy handing them out decided to exclude me completely.
As a passerby stopped to question the contents in the packets being distributed, he replied with a cheerful, "Oh, we're giving these out to the people that have been waiting for a while." He then returned to his packet-delivering, glancing in disgust at my outstretched hands. The words that emerged from his mouth formed the most disgusting sentence I could have ever heard from a customer service representative:
"We don't have enough. Just share with the person behind you."
While every other person in front of me, including the two acquaintances in the immediately preceding spots, EACH received an individual packet, I was commanded to share a tiny packet of nachos with a complete stranger.
HAVE I ANGERED YOU WITH MY OUTSTRETCHED HANDS, MISTER?!?!
The stranger was a nice person, though, and let me have most of the chips. But this highly derogatory attitude is convincing enough for me to NEVER bother to try Smoke's ever again.
Smoke's might never be aware that they lost a potential customer, nor do I think they'll care either, given the flow of lunch hour traffic in the area.
In the end, I didn't try Smoke's even once. Over an hour had elapsed, and the line hadn't progressed a single inch since the chips had been provided.
My lunch hour was up, and I hadn't munched on anything besides those nachos - which mind you, had turned bitter in my mouth from emotions experienced due to an extreme lack of respect. I couldn't wait any longer, and headed inside to Burrito Boyz instead.
The day started off with some West Coast-esque weather, which pretty much prolonged into the evening hours.
Half-expecting it to be only somewhat milder than the termperatures experienced throughout the week, I headed out sporting only a cardigan layered underneath a sleeveless polyester zip-up vest. Clearly, I made the wrong decision by not checking The Weather Network prior.
This propelled a drop-in at trusty old Starbucks; I picked up a tongue-burning Maple Macchiato and Fruit & Oat Cookie, then took to some blogwork amidst other laptop/tablet users. For the most part, I was able to fully zone out until one girl decided it was a good idea to place all of her three bags onto the table and sit down next to me. Her crossbody bag was then dragged across the table, the clunky chain handle causing louder-the-life vibrations to resonate throughout. But I suppose that's irrelevant to what I'll be moving onto; it shall simply serve as a reminder that noise pollution in public working spaces is not welcomed.
The overcast climate and chilly conditions led us to Power King for a light lunch. The Chinese congee restaurant is located at the leftmost end of New Kennedy Square (which I've also heard being referred to as "Peachtree Centre" on occasion).
Had Wooffles & Cream already opened, I would've simply skipped congee altogether and had egg waffles for lunch. But alas, they don't open until 12:30 PM.
We ordered the Sweet Corn and Taro Congee, as well as Deep-Fried Sweet Dough Roll (牛俐酥) for dipping. Both were rather ordinary, but modest enough to inject some warmth into my slightly shivering body.
Crowds gathered along King St. for Day 2 of TIFF, taking photos of/with the iconic logo and pondering the various international movie options as indicated by the showtimes calendar.
Businesses in the area - open patio restaurants and food trucks alike - were observed to flourish with heavier pedestrian flow.
The time had finally come for me to examine what the independent shops in the area had to offer, starting with an unusually eye-catching soft serve/coffee venue by the name of Sweet Jesus.
Who Am I?
Formerly an avid owner of several interest-based portals, Random Thoughts of a Quirky Blogger presents precisely the elements expected. From experiments in the kitchen to miscellaneous musings, from IGOT7 reflections to developments in transportation infrastructure, it's all consolidated here. Welcome to the raw, unfiltered side of Quirky Aesthetics.