VON Doughnuts: Bartering, Sex Toys and Memories of Fritters That Look Like Celebrities

I remember when I used to sit on the stools in the poorly decorated Tim Horton’s donuts in the early eighties.  The classic brown and yellow decor, the tattered picture of Tim Horton himself and the nameless (at least I think he was) Timbit mascot are all nothing but distant memories.

Tim Horton was a cult hero on the ice.  Having played the majority of his career for the Leafs (including the last time they won the Stanley Cup), his life ironically ended as a member of the Buffalo Sabres in a traffic accident on the QEW after a game against his old team.

What I remember the most are the doughnuts.  The apple fritters were like fingerprints; no two were the same.  You could look at a batch and, like a cloud, find one that would like Pierre Trudeau, Ernie Whitt or the thing growing on the face of the old woman serving you behind the counter (see below if you don’t want to take my word for it).  They had apple, cherry and blueberry turnovers the size of pirate hats and the once famous strawberry tarts which seemed seasonal anytime of year.

Since then, the explosion of the Starbucks-lead cafe concept and rapid expansion of the Tim’s franchise meant that the creative, heavy handed tendencies of the local bakers have been replaced by the cookie cutter approach meaning that a dutchie  looks the same whether you get it in Yellowknife or at Queen and Bay.

As a result, I’m always looking for this delicious treat in other places.  Whether an old school honey cruller at a small town ma and pa shop or a yeast-raised treat at gourmet boutique hidden within a urban bazaar,  finding a good donut is well worth the trip.  Needless to say, I was excited to see that Von doughnuts was down the road from a restaurant I was dining at that evening.  Despite an Alberta clipper,  I began the three block trek down Danforth in efforts to get there before it closed at 6.  When I walked in, I had the pleasure of meeting the owner who proudly described the daily doughnuts available.  She also informed us that she works 60 plus hours a week which likely explained the sign on the window looking for an evening baker.  She also explained a sort of barter system that existed among local businesses.  For example, she often trades doughnuts for Pizza Libretto’s thin crust pies.

The variation of doughnuts with witty names (such as enjoy-mint and one night stand) differs depending on  the day of the week.  I decided to opt for a variety (half dozen for $18) which included the following:

Pucker up Sucker (bottom left)–  The owner cited this as one of the more popular.  The curd was delicious and pure, leaving out the excessive sweetness that exists with most lemon filling, resulting in a fantastic balance. It was also ingenious that the curd was spread throughout the middle of the doughnut like a sandwich. Jelly filled  doughnuts at Tim Horton’s are like a lottery; you either hit the jackpot or get a smigin of filling which may or may not be the flavour you actually ordered.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time (bottom right)-  The worst part of this creation was the fact that Peanut Butter and Jelly Time song (including Brian from Family Guy dressed up in a banana suit)  got stuck in my head.  Otherwise, It was surprisingly balanced and not over sweet.

Creme Brulee (top left)– Smart in concept but less explosive than its box mates.

Butter tart- (bottom middle)  I didn’t understand this one. I think efforts failed in the attempt to reduce the signature sweetness of a butter tart. Maybe you’re best not to mess with this Canadian favorite.

Spicy Bourbon Cracker Jack (the duplicate)- By the time I ate it, I had forgotten it was spicy and was pleasantly surprised at the reminder.  This was a great combination of snack nostalgia, subtle heat and just enough sweet.

 

Six pack of doughnuts $18
Six pack of doughnuts $18

 My Take

I like the doughnut movement much more than the cupcake one.  I think a deep fried piece of dough is a much better blank slate for creativity and VON has no lack of it. The passion of the owner, coupled the creativity of her wares makes VON doughnuts an exciting destination. Despite trying 5 varieties, I feel I have just scratched the surface.   After all, I haven’t had the opportunity to try the Dill-Dough (ok..that didn’t sound right), which is normally served on Friday and Saturday or any of the seasonal treats that magically appear here and there.  Although I don’t think I will ever again see the day where I can eat an apple fritter that looks like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, I can still get some solace knowing there’s dill-doughs and one night stands to keep me happy.

Von Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

 

 

70 Years of Legendary Women and Seinfeld-Like Cereal Obsessions at Rasa

With the popularity of food trucks in Toronto, it seems like two things are happening.  First, the trucks are spawning off from established restaurants in order to expand their reach.  Second, the gypsy life of a food truck transforms into a brick and mortar opportunity and sets up in one of the many trendy areas of town.

The latter describes Rasa bar.  Set up in the proximity of Harbord Room, THR and Co. and Spendido along Harbord St, it’ s  the brain child of the Food Dudes who may be best known for their Cap’n Crunch tacos served with spiked mango slaw.  In fact, these tacos inspired the dish for my Masterchef Canada tryout a while back.  In addition, I was told by a colleague the the cereal dessert was the best she had in Toronto, which left me more than intrigued.  Needless to say, I was excited to sit down, have a drink and see what else the dudes had to offer. One warning…taking a look at the website may induce seizures or nausea in those who can’t handle rapid movement.  It reminded me of Madonna’s stomach turning “Ray of Light” video.

Once I showed up, I noticed a couple of things almost immediately.  First, it had that garage/industrial type feel.  Second, they played excellent music at a decibel level which allowed for conversation with other people; a novel concept in a city where decor and the insistence of loud tunes outshine the food at times.  Finally, from the minute I entered it was clear that the service would be cordial.  I forgot about how difficult it is to get to Harbord during the bicycle rush hour, so I was 10-15 minutes late and they didn’t bat an eye.

In addition to a small list of draught beer including Niagara-on-the-Lake’s hidden gem Oast brewery, one can sip a number of innovative cocktails featuring some of the trendier spirits on the rail. I opted for the Texas Guinan, a bourbon based drink with accents that allowed the whisky to shine instead of being blunted by conflicting additions.  It’s the way I imagined a cocktail in the era of prohibition where the goal was to relish the booze in its native form. Interestingly enough, this drink is the namesake of a prominent silent movie actress who became America’s first cow girl.  On the more notorious side, she opened a speakeasy in New York during prohibition and was well known to law enforcement for the majority of the 20’s.  Ironically, although spending a decade in an environment filled with booze and scantly clad women, Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan died in Vancouver in 1933 of ameobic dysentery.

Texas Guinan $15
Texas Guinan $15

The food started with a complimentary offering of the mini muffin, a dainty bite filled with the fall flavours of pumpkin and squash and topped with a little salted caramel. It was a cute homage to the season.

Complimentary Mini Muffins
Complimentary Mini Muffins

Next was the chopped salad (vegetables, quinoa, macedonian feta, crispy garbanzos, sumac) for $13.  It was fattoush on steroids.  The strong acidity/sourness of the dressing and sumac, the saltiness of the feta and the crunch of the garbanzo beans created a taste and textural diversity as impressive as the ingredients themselves.

Chopped salad
Chopped salad $13

The fish board special of the night was a chowder ($18).  A thick broth housed jumbo shrimp, scallop, fish, doubled smoked bacon and pickled jalapenos.  It was smooth as silk with enough acid and heat from the pepper to cut the richness to a very palatable level.

Fish Board (Chowder) $18
Fish Board (Chowder) $18

After careful consultation with the very pleasant waitress, we opted for the duck breast over the truffle gnudi and beef cheek ragu.  Rendered nicely and sitting on top of a pillowy puree, it was finished with cherries, chestnuts and greens topped with shaved fois gras torchon.  Although the duck was  underseasoned , it was saved by the array of aforementioned flavours on the plate.

Duck Breast $25
Duck Breast $25

I didn’t need the advice of the waitress for the spare ribs and I wasn’t disappointed. Although a little tricky to eat, they were extremely tender.  More impressive were the playful flavours.  From both a taste and visual perspective, the sweet rib sauce coupled with the foamy polenta was a tongue-tingling metophor of a root beer float. The pickles and corn nuts added a tad of acid and texture.     `

Spare Ribs $17
Spare Ribs $17

As I mentioned, I was told about the druthers of the cereal dessert.  Although I can’t say it is the best in Toronto, it fused modern flavours and techniques with the simple flavours of the well-known boxed treat.  Despite the use of cocoa puffs (or a reasonable facsimile), the sweetness was surprisingly subtle and was further suppressed by the intense nuttiness of the macademia milk.  The fact that it was poured tableside added a nostalgic flare reminiscent of the morning ritual.  It appears from the menu now that there have been some modifications to the dessert (ie. banana and cocoa milk) so I can’t confirm it would be the same today.

Cereal $8
Cereal $9

The other dessert we ordered was the praline sticky bun.  Another breakfast favorite turned dessert,  candied bacon and walnuts surrounded a decedent and rather large pastry sitting on top an innovative cream cheese anglaise.  It was sinful and delicious.

Sticky Bun
Sticky Bun $10

My Take

Rasa by the Food Dudes takes their innovative gypsy philosophy and centralizes it into a bricks and mortar environment. From the homage to female legends (including the Texas Guinan cocktail and Madonna’s Ray of Light website) to their Seinfeld-like cereal infatuation, the concept is pop-intelligent and fun.  The menu seems to rotate often (it’s changed since I went a couple of weeks ago) and there is always the mystery of things like the daily fish plate. There is also “set Mondays”, a $35 tasting menu  with $5 drinks and live music. I suspect Rasa’s promise of fun food and respectful service might actually draw foodies and food truck followers alike into the relatively unknown area north of the College Street parallel and into a land lacking “provision pretension” despite primping plaid shirts. In summary, when I think of Rasa I can’t help but think that Tony the Tiger said it best;”They’re Greeeeeeeaaaaat!”

Rasa on Urbanspoon