Happening Harbord

You can easily eat your way across the Harbord strip, but stop off at the retailers and pick up some books, gifts and pottery along the way


“The man who ate Harbord Street” sounds like a delicious story, doesn’t it? Whoever the lucky man was, he’d start his night at Splendido (88 Harbord, 416-929-7788, splendido.ca) on the foodie-friendly strip’s easternmost block and pass out with a just-about-to-burst gut on the floor of the Boulevard Café (161 Harbord, 416-961-7676) near Bathurst.

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Along the way, his gluttonous resto crawl would include salt cod fritters at the Harbord Room (89 Harbord, 416-962-8989, theharbordroom.com) and a mezze platter at 93 Harbord (416-922-5914, 93harbord.com). After a roasted beet salad stop at Tati Bistro (124 Harbord, 416-962-8284, tatibistro.com), the burger at Loire (119 Harbord, 416-850-8330, loirerestaurant.ca), with its tomato jam and Quebec brie, should do the job of easing him into mains.

Snap up traditional and contemporary gifts at Things Japanese.

It’s too cold to dine on the picnic tables in front of Harbord Fish & Chips (147 Harbord, 416-925-2225), so he gets his halibut to go, inhaling it on the walk to the Boulevard before meeting his sad but sated end at the hands of a salsa-topped steak.

There are worse ways to go, and more restaurants and cafés to try – Momo’s (196 Robert, 416-966-6671), Tik Talk Café (96 Harbord, 416-964-6414), Messis (97 Harbord, 416-920-2186, messis.ca), Harbord House (150 Harbord, 647-430-7365, harbordhouse.ca) and DT Bistro (154 Harbord, 416-916-8155, dtbistro.com) – if he lives to gorge another day.

The iconic Toronto Women's Bookstore's future is still in doubt, so check it out while you can.

And there’s a good chance he’d peruse Harbord’s boutiques, too. They bustle just after 6 in the evening, when shop owners want to go home but epicureans with 6:30 reservations are hunting for places to pass the time until their tables are ready.

That’s when Clay Design (170 Brunswick, 416-964-3330, claydesign.ca) gets its end-of-the-day rush. The ceramic gallery and studio took over the Greenspans’ Kosher Butcher building 30 years ago, installing its kilns in the old meat locker. Today, partners Dennise Buckley, Phillis McCulloch and Mari Lise Stonehouse teach 10-week-long evening and weekend wheel classes and sell work by Canadian pottery pros.

Harbord Bakery carries downtown Toronto's best bagels and blintzes.

Gallery finds range from whimsical multicoloured flowerpots by Amber Mills to Scott Barnim’s classic casserole dishes glazed blue and green. McCulloch’s vases and dishes are the most modern and minimal option, accented with graphic, ginkgo-leaf silhouettes.

McCulloch’s work wouldn’t look out of place at Things Japanese (128 Harbord, 416-967-9797, thingsjapanese.ca) down the street. Owner Linda Murakami McCann moved her store from Kingston Road to Harbord in 1995 and, after a few years down on College, recently brought her kimono and bento boxes back to the street. Traditional buys like cast iron teapots and geta slippers mix with Astro Boy coin banks and contemporary Masahiro Mori ceramics.

Manager Ludovic Mas shows off the yummy at newcomer to the strip Chabichou.

While restaurants dominate Harbord, bookstores have always been plentiful, too. Now the options are down to Caversham Booksellers (98 Harbord, 416-944-0962, cavershambooksellers.com) and the 36-year-old Toronto Women’s Bookstore (73 Harbord, 416-922-8744 womensbookstore.com), which has been fighting and fundraising to stay in business for the past two months.

Despite an overwhelming show of community support during the holiday season, its fate is still up in the air, due to competition from online booksellers and big-box retailers. You can lend a hand by shopping their stacks of queer fiction and other reads with anti-oppression, feminist and diverse author angles, plus progressive gift finds like Hoi buttons and Envirosax bags.

Other local home and gift stops include framing spot Tangle Gallery (105 Harbord, 416-966-4050, tanglegallery.com) and WonderWorks (79A Harbord, 416-323-3131, gowonderworks.com), with its selection of holistic living supplies.

Good for Her thrives on sex positivity (left). Get high on martinis, not on art, at Charlie's Gallery (right).

Late Valentines can grab belated love and sex treats from Good for Her (175 Harbord, 416-588-0900, goodforher.com) or say it with a painting from Overflow Art (215 Harbord, 416-616-5239, overflowart.com). Locals and destination shoppers alike check out Ring Music (90 Harbord, 416-924-3571, ringmusic.com), La Carrera Cycles (106 Harbord, 416-538-1203, lacarrera-cycles.com) and the wavy hair experts at the Curl Ambassadors (159 Harbord, 416-922-2888, curlambassadors.ca).

But back to food, specifically gourmet to go from long-time neighbourhood favourite the Harbord Bakery (115 Harbord, 416-922-5767) and newer arrival Chabichou (196 Borden, 647-430-4942). The former is known for hearty bites like bagels and cheese blintzes, while the latter is loaded up with French flavours, from jars of canned cassoulet to trays of delicious, death-by-butterfat croissant bread pudding.

By now you probably need a cocktail to wash down this tale. Enter Charlie’s Gallery (112 Harbord, 416-961-2828), which is no longer a gallery at all but a laid-back martini spot with a great late-night view of the street and the parade of gourmands waddling home to bed, happily rubbing their bellies.

Photos by Ethan Eisenberg

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