One of my very good friends for many years now was Helen Ebron. We were former colleagues at GlaxoSmithKline and we haven’t really dropped the friendship just because I have decided to lead another career. We have regularly kept in touch, meeting every now and then to catch up with each other. This week, she sought me out to celebrate my birthday. She voluntarily said she was willing to travel from Mississauga to downtown Toronto to see me. Devious devil in me, I mapped out several stops that we could do so I can get her hooked on experiencing downtown. So I came up with a route where we could have small tastings in different restaurants and weave in and out of little shops that dot Queen St. West.
We met up by the Eaton Centre and it amused me to find out that Helen has never used TTC streetcar transport before. Granted, I never used the GO train too. So we even that score quite easy. Riding on the streetcar, I planned to bring Helen to North of Brooklyn Pizzeria. I had my eye on this place ever since I chanced upon it during my crawl of Queen St. West during this year’s Nuit Blanche. I had to bypass it then as I was meeting friends for dinner somewhere else. This time, I brought a friend with me to enjoy the experience of eating thin-crusted pizzas.
We alighted from the streetcar at Bathurst and Queen and did a short walk going west to Palmerston. Just as I remembered it, its facade was minimalist with its dark gray paint and its bold bulbs spelling out its name. It was visually more impressive when it gets dark as the bulb glow very prominently contrasting on its dark background. We walked in and the space was smaller than what I thought. Despite its size, the interiors were segregated smartly to still give the space separation from the ordering counter.
We approached and bought two slices: one of pepperoni and the other, their seasonal veg, which was strewn with mushrooms, fontina and mozzarella cheese. The slices were big enough to split into two portions and Helen and I traded to get a taste of each kind. The crust of the pizza was just what I wanted. You could hear it crunch and the bottom was crusty dry. I must say of the two we tried, I love their seasonal veg the most.
Reasonably full for the moment, we started walking back east and led Helen to interesting shops along Queen St. West. We stumbled into several interesting stores like Ten Thousand Villages, CB2 Canada, and The Outer Layer. After all that browsing and impulsive shopping, we reached Spadina and Queen St. West. We headed north as the next food stop I had in mind for coffee and dessert was the newly-opened Strada 241. I have been a fan of the Rubino brothers, Guy and Michael’s FoodTVNetwork show, Made To Order and was excited to try their food. I knew that they had pizza too as their main. I had struggled with not trying their pizza that night but that should give me a reason to come back. Seeing the restaurant, I knew I would be back there soon.
Walking in, the restaurant was impressive visually. Ultra-high ceilings, brick walls, expansive counter-tops, vintage accessories, big wood communal tables in front and more tables at the back, gourmet groceries and the open kitchen were a feast for the eyes. As I checked on the list of coffees, I noticed WiFi password written on the same mirror-board. That thought was a real perk. That alone would get me back to enjoy coffee at Strada 241. Wanting dessert, we asked for the dinner menu and found that there were five on their list. Helen and I both opted for lattes (Mocha latte for Helen and Nuttella latte for me) paired with gelato and Chocolate and Hazelnut Semifreddo. The two desserts were bonafide sugar jolts. I don’t often talk about desserts but I must say I would want to experience a Strada 241 sugar jolt once again. I should make specific accolades for the meringue that sat on top of the Chocolate and Hazelnut Semifreddo. It literally melted in your mouth without any effort. It was such a pleasant texture on the roof of your mouth as it slowly softens without being sickly sweet. As for the Nutella Latte, it was such a pleasant surprise. I purposely selected an unusual latte and I patted myself on the back for being adventurous. The subtle nutty taste complimented a very smooth brew.
We continued on our Spadina trek north as I wanted her to see where I source out most of the props I use for shoots. We entered my playground Tap Phong Trading and had a kick of checking out the shelves. It was a good thing that I have learned how to control my impulse buying in this store. I used to spend about an hour in here getting so much inspiration what my next shoot would look like. Like what I said, Tap Phong Trading was my playground.
As we left Tap Phong, I had a crazy craving for something greasy and rich. Helen and I agreed to walk further east on Queen to check out more shops and find ourselves a greasy spoon diner. After another round of impromptu shopping, Helen suggested to stop by Marche by Yonge and Wellesley. It should present so many greasy options and after seeing the choices, we opted to share some fish & chips. Glads to be finally sitting down and off my sore feet, we talked some more for another hour.
But as like all nights, that night ended too. I wished for a longer time with such a good friend. One big comfort though was that I know that I can repeat this night once again sometime soon. That was good about having friends like Helen. They stand by you, no matter what. :)