The friendly people at Smoke Signals dished out the barbecue at Stop Night Market 2015. This year's fest goes June 14 and 15.
THE STOP NIGHT MARKET
Here are my criteria for a good food fest: short lines, room to move, adventurous (and plentiful) eats, good booze to wash 'em down, and - if you can swing it - a sense of play and something for your eyes to feast on, too.
The Stop's Night Market (June 14-15), now heading into its fourth year, neatly hits all those marks. On top of that, the all-you-can-eat event, where some of the city's most happening restaurants and chefs donate their time and ingredients, is for an excellent cause: funding the Parkdale-based food outreach organization's programming. (Knowing a single ticket funds 20 meals at The Stop's drop-in centre sure takes the sting out of that $100 price.)
Depending on what day you drop in on the two-day event, which fills a vacant lot on Sterling with a plethora of colourful, ultra-creative booths contributed by local design firms, you can sample a different smorgasbord of eats, with about 50 vendors per evening taking part. A sampling: Tuesday's lineup features Boralia, the Commodore, Dailo, Nana, Rose & Sons and Torteria San Cosme, while Wednesday-night visitors can grab eats from Momofuku Shoto, Bar Fancy, Kanpai, Richmond Station, Patois and Valdez chef Steve Gonzalez, who's hosting a series of pop-ups while the restaurant finalizes its move to a new space on King.
June 14 and 15, 158 Sterling. $100, nightmarket.thestop.org.
Tuck into Playa Cabana's Carnita Taco at Taco Fest.
Toronto has been busy exploring new facets of Mexican cuisine - antojitos, tortas, paletas - but our taco consumption is still off the charts. If you're in the process of eating your way through the city's best, Taco Fest rolls 15 of them into one big fiesta.
The inaugural festival, which takes over 99 Sudbury, features bites from new-school spots like El Caballito, Playa Cabana and Macho Radio Bar alongside mom-and-pop Mexican from El Trompo and food-truck-based outfits like Fidel Gastro's and Rancho Relaxo to Go.
"There will be some of the newer Mexican spots, as well as the mom-and-pop shops that have been around for a while - we did this purposely," says Brandon Klein of TasteToronto, the fest's organizers. "We really wanted to get exposure not only for the newest Mexican restaurants, but for the original ones who laid the foundation for Mexican cuisine in Toronto."
Klein promises the roster of tacos ($3.50 to $6 a pop, depending on fillings) will cover all dietary preferences, while a hot sauce tasting bar, margaritas, sangria and piñata smashing will round out the experience.
And for those worried (justifiably, if you've been paying attention to other first-time Toronto food fests) that the relatively small lineup of vendors will hit bottom on supplies after a few hours, the organizers are selling tickets by time of day for optimal crowd control. They're $9.95 to$14.95 - on top of the cost of tacos, mind - but there's something to be said for enjoying tacos from all over town with central AC and a mariachi band.
June 17 to 19. 99 Sudbury. $9.95-$14.95. thetacofest.ca.
Get close to the chefs at Taste Of Toronto.
TASTE OF TORONTO
Last year, for his first outing at the Taste Of Toronto festival, Drake chef Ted Corrado prepared three different dishes with 1,000 servings each.
By day two, he was calling around to his restaurants to get them to bring in more lobster rolls. "In total, I probably made about 5,000," he says. "It was crazy."
This year, he's ready for the controlled chaos of one of the city's biggest food festivals. Good thing - last year's event saw 22,000 guests, and the upcoming third iteration of the festival is set to be the biggest yet.
About two dozen restaurants are set to bring their kitchens down to the Garrison Common this month, with Fat Pasha, Mamakas, Richmond Station, Piano Piano, Alo and Antler among the notable names.
Between lunch and dinner services, chefs hold sporadic master classes in cooking. "Last year I got to bring my kids in and they took part," Corrado recalls. "This year the organizers reached out to me and said, 'Hey, your kids stole the show. Can you do a kid-friendly one?' So I'm doing a mac and cheese." Other schedule highlights: Cajun crab boils with Barque's David Neinstein, chorizo-ginger mussels with Rob Bragagnolo of Carver, truffle risotto with Mark McEwan and sushi-making with Kazuya Matsuoka of Miku.
Another of Corrado's highlights - a laid-back round table discussion with festival guests, who lobbed questions at him and his fellow chefs about his experiences in the industry - returns this year.
"When you have that plate of food separating you [from your guests], there's a barrier," Corrado says. "This is a totally different environment. I mean, you're out in a field on a nice day."
June 23 to 26, Garrison Common at Fort York (100 Garrison). $19, youth $10, under 12 free, VIP $45. tasteoftoronto.com.
R. Jeanette Martin
The Bandshell at the Ex was rockin' at Toronto's Festival Of Beer last year. The 2016 edition happens July 22.
Should hot-commodity downtown patios, hidden park benches and weekly pilgrimages to the Island fail to meet your outdoor drinking needs, there are a host of booze festivals to hit.
Discover the fascinating world of Japan's famous rice brew at the fifth annual Kampai Toronto Friday (June 3), featuring over 150 sakes from Japan, Canada and the U.S. and nibbles from some of the city's top Japanese restos. It all happens at the Fermenting Cellar (28 Distillery Lane). More info at sakeinstituteofontario.com.
There might be a billion and one beer fests in Toronto this summer, but only one full week is dedicated to what's good and local. Ontario Craft Beer Week, June 10 to 19, is a province-wide celebration, with tons of events to choose from (ocbweek.ca). Don't miss the kickoff at SESSION Craft Beer Festival (sessiontoronto.com), June 11 at Yonge-Dundas Square, which also features the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies' Craft Beer Festival part deux, back by popular demand.
Hit the waterfront for Toronto's annual Wine & Spirit Festival, June 16 to 18, when Sugar Beach gets flooded with wine, spirits and beer for good measure. Vendors include Canadian companies like Georgian Bay Spirit Co, Victoria Distillers and Walter All-natural Craft Caesar, who will be slinging cups of Canada's national cocktail. Your biggest challenge will be trying to behave yourself. wineandspiritfestival.ca.
The summer version of the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival (August 13 to 14), held on the grounds of this historic landmark, is hard to beat. Sipping suds from over 20 Ontario breweries while grazing a lineup of food trucks on a sunny Sunday afternoon is about as idyllic as it gets. craftbeerfest.ca.
No way you won't wanna dance at Salsa On St. Clair.
Hit the streets
Wanna get a real sense of T.O.'s spectacular diversity? Check out the street festivals for the ultimate staycation
Take Salsa On St. Clair on July 9 and 10, for example, the centrepiece of the larger Salsa In Toronto Festival Week. Stroll on the avenue between Winona and Christie, where Peruvian, Mexican and other Latina restos prepare snacks on the sidewalk. And some of the best salsa dancers in the world will teach you how to dance. salsaintoronto.com.
In Wexford Heights, the Taste Of Lawrence, launched with 1,000 revelers 13 years ago, has blossomed to become Scarborough's largest street fest, attracting over 150,000 people. July 8 to 10 it takes over Lawrence from Warden to Birchmount. This is where you get the most dynamite Sri Lankan food in town. wexfordbia.ca.
Head to Little India on Gerrard between Greenwood and Coxwell for the Festival Of South Asia July 16 and 17. Snack at the area's much-vaunted eateries, including Lahore Tikka House (1365 Gerrard East, 416-406-1668, lahoretikkahouse.com) and Mahar (1410 Gerrard, 416-466-6241), check out the fashion show and artists showcasing their works on the theme of "Oneness." festivalofsouthasia.com.
On June 26, the Annex Family Festival on Bloor between Bathurst to Spadina features 115 craft and specialty food vendors and, for children, Pirate Life, which invites kids on a treasure hunt on a pirate ship (on wheels, if you're wondering). And hear music by percussion-happy Drumhand and folkies Sue & Dwight and others. annexfamilyfestival.org.
The Dundas West Fest, June 11, takes over a huge swath between Lansdowne and Ossington. Food and drink figure prominently, of course. Look for suds from Lansdowne Brewery, eats from Malaysian Barbecue, hot Mexican from Rebozos and more. Hear live music by the Dears, too. dundaswestfest.ca.
At the Junction Summer Solstice Festival June 18, on Dundas between Keele and Runnymede, check out the acrobats, get involved in a live mural project and do some late-night shopping. This festival is definitely not daytime only. Eats provided by Playa Cabana Cantina, Bunner's Bakery and many more. thejunctionsummersolstice.com.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Mac And Cheese Festival More than 75 food, drink and artisanal vendors, live entertainment and judging. Free admission, VIP packages $25-$80. Ontario Place West Island, 955 Lake Shore W. macandcheesefestival.ca. Jun 3 to 5
Toronto Craft Brew Cruise Celebration of craft brewing with two sailings offered. 2 & 7 pm. $45 includes 4 sample tokens, commemorative mug. Reserve. River Gambler, 333 Lake Shore E, Pier 31. craftbrewcruise.com. Jun 4
Toronto bbq week Fifteen select restaurants across the city offer BBQ deals. See website for details. torontobbqweek.com. Jun 6 to 12
ONTArio Craft Beer Week Tastings, brewery tours, live music and DJ dance parties, brewing demonstrations and more. Various venues, see website for info. ocbweek.ca. Jun 10 to 19
Great Lakes Brewery Annual Charity BBQ Kids games, beer garden, cask lounge, live music, food and more. Free admission. Noon-5 pm. Benefits the Franklin Horner Community Centre. Great Lakes Brewery, 30 Queen Elizabeth Blvd. greatlakesbeer.com. Jun 11
Grilled Cheese Challenge Entertainment, rides, inflatables, games and a grilled cheese competition featuring local restaurants. Noon-6 pm. Free admission, fees for some activities. Lake Shore West from 1st to 10th Sts. grilledcheesechallenge.ca. Jun 11
Session Toronto Craft Beer Festival Beer sampling, beer education, live music and food. Ladies session from 11 am-3 pm. Ladies event $40-$100, afternoon session 5-9 pm, $40-$100. Yonge-Dundas Square, 1 Dundas E. sessiontoronto.com. Jun 11
Toronto Craft Beer Festival Sample craft beers and ciders, food, fun activities and live music including The Carpet Frogs, Gene Pool, Paul James Band, Dan McLean Jr and others, all outdoors. Fri 4:30-11 pm. Sat 1:30-11 pm. $30-$60, designated driver $10. Edward Village North York, 185 Yorkland. tcbf.ca. Jun 17 to 18
Beach BBQ & Brews Festival Barbecue competitions, grilling demos, live music, craft vendors & more. Fri 3-11 pm, Sat noon-11 pm, Sun noon-8 pm. Free. Woodbine Park, Coxwell & Lake Shore E. beachbbqandbrews.com. Jun 17 to 19
Toronto Ribfest Live entertainment, a Canada Day citizenship ceremony, magic shows, kids' activities, rib judging with celebrity judges and more. Thu-Sun 11 am-11 pm. Etobicoke Centennial Park, 256 Centennial Park Rd. torontoribfest.com. Jun 30 to Jul 3
Summerlicious City of Toronto presents the annual foodie fest. Special three-course prix fixe lunch and dinner menus at more than 200 restaurants across the city. $18-$48. See website for info. toronto.ca/summerlicious. Jul 8 to 24
Lovin' Local Food Fest Local food and music event. Free. Yonge-Dundas Square, 1 Dundas E. ydsquare.ca. Jul 9
Uncork Ontario Wine Tour: Prince Edward County George Brown Centre for Hospitatlity and Culinary Arts bus excursion to wine and cheese destinations. 8 am-8 pm. $175-$200. Pre-register 416-415-5000 ext 6161. Jul 9
T.O. Food Fest Food samples by Toronto chefs and restaurants. Sat noon-11 pm, Sun noon-6 pm. Free admission with a non-perishable food donation or $2 to Second Harvest. Chinese Cultural Centre, 5813 Sheppard E. tofoodfest.com. Jul 9 to 10
Liberty Village Summer Craft Beer Fest Celebrate ice-cold beer with big bites and offers from Liberty Market vendors. 5-10 pm. Pay as you go event. Liberty Market Galleria, 171 East Liberty. summercraftbeerfest.com. Jul 14
Toronto Festival Of Beer Jump Around at this summer festival showcasing local and international beer. Music by House Of Pain (Fri), Big Sugar (Sat) The Temperance Movement (Sun) and more. $42.50-$80. Exhibition Place Bandshell Park, 210 Princes' Blvd. beerfestival.ca. Jul 22 to 24
12 Beers Of Summer Breweries samples, live bands and DJs, karaoke and more. 6:30-9:30 pm. $30. Reserve. Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen W. gladstonehotel.com. Jul 29
Taste Of The Danforth Festival of Greek culture with Mediterranean and international food, live music and dance, interactive activities and more. Danforth, from Broadview to Jones. tasteofthedanforth.com Aug 5 to 7Aug 13 to 14
Hot & Spicy Food Festival Southern barbecue special, New Orleans-style party music by Treme Brass Band and more. Most events free. Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W. harbourfrontcentre.com. Aug 19 to 21
CNE Craft Beer Fest In the midst of Food Truck Frenzy, master brewers offer samples of their craft beers. 11 am-11 pm. Exhibition Place, 200 Princes' Blvd. theex.com. Aug 26 to 28
Toronto Cider Festival Enjoy grown-up (hard) cider, live music, food vendors, games, photo booth and more. Session 1 from 11:30 am-4 pm; Session 2 from 6-10:30 pm. $40-$60. Yonge-Dundas Square, 1 Dundas E. torontociderfestival.com. Aug 27