Second Harvest: Good Food for a Good Cause

I had the fortune of being in the vicinity of Yonge-Dundas square yesterday and headed over for the lunch money days campaign which was held in support of Second Harvest, an organization committed to reducing food waste while improving the food security of hundreds if not thousands of people living in Toronto.

Second Harvest (http://secondharvest.ca/) works closely with food retailers, hotels and restaurants to redistribute food to those in need.  Unlike food banks, they focus on perishables such as fruits, vegetables, meat and cheeses. These foods are often discarded by institutions for a variety of reasons. This has always been a particular issue for me, both as a past food service employee and a dietitian.  Furthermore, perishables  are difficult to attain for many on a restrictive budget, especially in the winter due to cost and transportation issues,  and are often the first omitted in efforts to control household spending.

Today’s event invited 15 or so vendors who volunteered their time and food to raise money for this worthy cause.  Famed Toronto chef Mark McEwan was on hand to promote this event which I understand is near and dear to his heart.  I spoke with him for a few minutes and found him to be a humble and inspiring individual….and he let me take a picture.

.Second Harvest advocate Mark McEwan

Second Harvest advocate Mark McEwan

Caplansky’s Deli

This Toronto icon was serving some of its favorites including the smoked meat sandwich with a pickle which I topped with some great hot mustard.  The meat was tender and the bread was fresh. It was a traditional and classic few bites.

The maple and beef-bacon donuts were a sweet finish to the small meal.  It had old school texture and was the size of an overgrown timbit.  The bacon added a wee bit of salt and texture.

http://www.caplanskys.com/

Caplansky's Smoked Meat Sandwich with Maple Beef-Bacon Donuts
Caplansky’s Smoked Meat Sandwich with Maple Beef-Bacon Donuts

Ese

This mysterious  pop-up was present at the event as well, offering a hot chicken masa ball soup brilliantly topped with chicharron (dried chicken skin).  The sight of the clear broth steaming from Le Creuset was music to all my senses, offering relief from the nasty February elements.

(http://www.esesuavecito.ca/)

Rock Lobster

Once again, RL as solid as rock, putting up a tasty lobster  bisque and a lobster roll for tasting.  Both were as delicious as their offerings at their Ossington location.  They did tease me with a copy of their drink menu which left me longing for another taste of their Iginla Fizz..or maybe a lobster tail Caesar.

http://rocklobsterfood.com/

Rock Lobster Bisque and Roll
Rock Lobster Bisque and Roll

Sullivan and Bleeker

Bite size cupcakes in four flavors graced the Sullivan and Bleeker tent.  I opted for the smore and red velvet options although the oreo and cookie dough choices were equally as appealing.

http://sullivanandbleeker.com/

Sullivan and Bleeker Cupcakes
Sullivan and Bleeker Cupcakes

My Take

The lunch money days campaign is a win-win-win-win etc.  Great local eateries peddle their wares and fares to new and interested diners.  These diners get to experience a mish-mash of creativity in bite-size portions.  Most important, second harvest gets  much needed exposure and a financial boost to carry on with their important cause.

Review:Toronto:Little Italy/Portugal Village:Rock Lobster

As far as twitter goes, Rock Lobster is a busy community.  Every night I get numerous tweets and retweets from happy people raving about their recent experience. I must admit I was quite excited for a piece of the action. Walking through the door, I was looking for a place to happen and was greeted by three friendly, plaid wearing barkeeps who quickly sat me at the bar. Looking around, I felt like I was an extra in a Tragically Hip video.  Nostalgic Canadian paraphernalia  filled the walls and the menu followed suit, offering a near coast to coast menu.  It only made sense to salute the flag and partake in the cross country adventure.

Must

Nothing signifies the start a Canadian road trip like a classic caesar.  It followed all the rules including celery and steak spice with the luxury of half a lobster tail  for 12 bucks.  It wasn’t bland nor watery and didn’t require a fire in the hole warning either.  It was yummy and spicy and good.   The tail didn’t hurt either.

Classic Caesar with Lobster Tail
Classic Caesar with Lobster Tail

Ironically, the best item on the menu wasn’t lobster. A trip over the hundredth meridian offered a grilled flank steak  served with homemade hickory sticks, a soft yolked duck egg and a side of homemade tangy dipping sauce  for $14.  The steak was grilled to absolute perfection. The egg was served with a shiny, runny yellow which would trickle down onto the crispy and smoky version of delicious of the Canadian classic snack. Despite the richness of each of the ingredients it was far from a greasy jungle; I would describe it more as hearty small plate presented with skill and determination….and grace, too.

Flank Steak with Hickory Sticks and Duck Egg
Flank Steak with Hickory Sticks and Duck Egg

I stayed out west for my second drink of the night. I ordered an “Iginla Fizz”, a  $10 modern spin on a rye and ginger.  It was simple but delicious. Maybe it was the drink itself or the fact that  I’ve always felt so hard done by as a Calgary  fan and drinking a cocktail named after the Flames captain in Leafs nation was final  and just retribution for the Gary Leeman/Doug Gilmour trade.

The "Iginla Fizz"
The “Iginla Fizz”

One of the showcases of Rock Lobster is a cooler displaying the restaurant’s namesake as well as other things born in the water.  The fresh PEI malpeque oysters drew my attention, especially at a price of two and a quarter each.  One of the bartenders pulled three out, shucked them and served with all the fixings including fresh horseradish she ground with a box grater right at the bar. It was a great offering  other than the mignonette sauce, which I found a little off. She didn’t know for sure what she regularly shucks in a shift  but figured she may do a 20o plus on a good night.

Rock Lobster Oysters
Rock Lobster Oysters

I was told the  lobster roll is the mainstay of the restaurant concept  itself. It had all the fireworks of the classic east coast sandwich.  Chunks of lobster were coated in a rich but not overbearing mayo and served on a fresh and lightly toasted roll. Normally served with fries and a McClure’s pickle, I asked if  they could sub the fries and they gladly doubled the pickle.  This may not sound that exciting, but these pickles have been considered some of the best in the business for a long time running.

Lobster Roll
Lobster Roll

Maybe

Rock Lobster’s Quebec contribution was a lobster poutine.  The fresh fries hit the mark, the cheese curds were authentic but the bisque gravy fell a bit short.  Although full of flavour, the bisque was a little scarce and  served luke warm which prevented the heart of the melt, a bit of a cardinal sin in the poutine world. I know it didn’t blow my mind but I couldn’t figure out if it left me yawning or snarling.

Lobster Poutine
Lobster Poutine

I have a confession.  One of the twitter feeds bragged about diners enjoying whale tails which left me wondering if this was a taboo spin on the Parkdale offal movement.  Much to my relief, the “whale tail” was instead a spin on the classic Canadian beaver tail pastry. It was a crispy and nicely presented, coated in cinnamon sugar and served on a chuck of tree with a shaker of maple sugar.  It came with a few irrelevant trickles of creme anglaise.  It was good enough but wasn’t too hard puttin’ down.

Whale Tail
Whale Tail

My Take

Rock Lobster has rapidly become a  lionized addition to the Ossington strip. The service was friendly, attentive and didn’t take forever.  I can’t explain the exact feeling, but it has a modern spirit that so many foodies crave  as much as the grub itself.  The ironic coupling of  extensive twitter hype with a certain degree of secrecy, the dark canuck ambiance and most importantly the solid execution of a cross-section of Canadian classics from hickory sticks to lobster tails define this eatery as a  pelagic pinnacle as opposed to a nautical disaster.

 

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