Are there times when the mere thought of cooking is as appealing as a punch in the stomach?
Then you know the feeling that most food industry insiders -- chefs and servers alike -- get after working six or seven days a week in some of Toronto's top restaurants. NOW polled a few of them to find out where and what they chow down on during their nights off.
Chef, Lemon Meringue
"i don't eat a lot of pizza, but i really like the Margherita at King Slice (1598 Bloor West, 416-536-3738)," admits Derek Strachan, the chef at highly rated Lemon Meringue. "It's got a thicker crust than most, a ton of cheese, tomato concassé and torn fresh basil leaves. But my ultimate favourite day-off meal is the all-day breakfast at Bloor-Jane Diner (2434 Bloor West, 416-766-5383), one of the few places where I can walk in, my coffee's waiting and they know exactly what I'm going to order."
"i always go to Terroni for the folded pizza," reveals service vet Adly Gawad who currently works at the recently revamped Splendido (88 Harbord, 416-929-7788).
"India Town on Sunday afternoons is amazing. Buying incense is mandatory, as is a visit to Motimahal (1422 Gerrard East, 416-461-3111) for their vegetarian thali. And noodle soup at Pho Hung (350 Spadina, 416-593-4274) in Kensington is total comfort food."
"the number-five noodle soup with tripe, tendon and rare beef at Pho Hung is wicked," agrees Focaccia chef Sam Gassira. "And seafood congee at King's Noodle (296 Spadina, 416-598-1817) rocks, too. At home, if I'm in a hurry, I eat cold lentils straight out of the can or pour them heated over angel hair pasta."
Hani Ben Shabat
Hani Ben Shabat, the young chef at Spaha, frequents Pho 88 (270 Spadina, 416-971-8899) and Green Mango (730 Yonge, 416-928-0021) for noodles, Greg's (200 Bloor West, 416-961-4734) for coconut ice cream and Cora's (6561/2 Spadina, 416-922-1188) for three-cheese pizza with spinach, "especially in the middle of the night." When she's in the mood for something a bit healthier, she heads for vegetarian eats at Juice for Life (521 Bloor West, 416-531-2635; 336 Queen West, 416-599-4442).
Ruth Tal Brown
Owner, Juice for Life
"i like the easygoing vibe of Terroni," says Juice for Life creator Ruth Tal Brown. "I order cheeseless pizzas. They have a nice thin crust and they're delicious. I also enjoy the Eating Garden (41 Baldwin, 416-595-5525) -- pea shoots with Chinese mushrooms and baby bok choy or purple eggplant with tofu and black bean sauce. For vegetarian, I like Juice for Life -- I'm my own best customer. I go on my days off and wait to be seated just like everyone else.
"I love the noodle dishes and soups at Tiger Lily's (257 Queen West, 416-977-5499). They're simple and yummy -- my kind of food. I always feel good after I eat there." Tal Brown also confesses to late-night cravings for cereal, potato chips and pop.
"in my opinion, the thin-crust pizza at John's Classic (591 College, 416-537-2794) is still the best," states Swan co-owner Damian Heath. His Euclid Street massive also favours the Indian combos at Nataraj (394 Bloor West, 416-928-2925), especially the tandoor cauliflower. He also recommends the Cantonese grub at Jing Peking (404 College, 416-929-5691), the Rebel House's (1068 Yonge, 416-927-0704) buffalo burger, the cheap Middle Eastern spread at Ghazale (504 Bloor West, 416-537-4417) and pulled pork at Dipamo's Barbecue.
Oro chef Dario Tomaselli rates Dipamo's braised brisket, as well as Asian noodles at Happy Seven and Pho Hung, roti at Bacchus (1376 Queen West, 416-532-8191), the Latin American meat pies at Jumbo Empanada, the burgers at People's Foods (176 Dupont, 416-972-0195), Akram's first-rate falafels and upmarket pizza at Romagna Mia (106 Front East, 416-368-8370).
Chef, Silver Spoon
"the pizza at ferro is my favourite," opines chef Rocco Agostino of Silver Spoon. He should know -- he used to work there. He also lists late-night Chinese at Garden Restaurant (149 Dundas West, 416-596-0818), burgers at Licks (1960 Queen East, 416-362-5425, and others) and the "good- quality and reasonably priced" Japonica at Sushi on Bloor (see review, page 47).
"on my days off i check out the competition," says Patriot's David Chrystian. "I had a very good dinner and big bottle of wine recently at Provence (12 Amelia, 416-924-9901)." Other Patriot-ic favourites include hot-and-sour soup at Swatow (309 Spadina, 416-977-0601), satay chicken at Golden Thai (105 Church, 416-868-6668) and pizza at Classico (2457 Bloor West, 416-763-1313).
"i used to work at Harvey's (238 Bloor West, 416-968-3453) in high school," recalls Verveine's Kim Saunders. "I always order bacon and cheese on the burger, and gravy and ketchup on the fries.
"I like delivery from Il Fornello (214 King West, 416-977-2855, and others): #15 with braised onions, gorgonzola, fresh rosemary and pinenuts. Swatow has the best spicy chili squid and crispy skinned duck. I love the action in the giant cauldrons in the front window.
"I could live forever on Julie's tapas and mojitos. And sometimes I'll make Campbell's tomato soup with milk and a batch of Cheese Dreams -- melted Velveeta and bacon on Wonder Bread!"