Cowbell is a favourite for locally sourced, sustainable fare (photo by Derek Shapton)
It’s no surprise that some of Toronto’s top-rated restaurants are devotees of the local food movement: sourcing from nearby artisan farms and producers ensures freshness, which in turn guarantees flavour. Any discussion of “slow food” in this city begins with chef Jamie Kennedy, whose Gilead Café & Bistro serves modern Canadian fare that lets his farm-fresh ingredients shine. Tastefully simple, too, are the artisan meats butchered in-house and served at such restaurants as Cowbell and the Black Hoof—the latter’s charcuterie is legendary, as are the bone marrow–filled beignets at its sister space, Hoof Café. Slightly less meat-
centric is chef Teo Paul’s contemporary country cooking at Union—though you’d be remiss not to order the elk sliders.
Of course, using homegrown ingredients doesn’t mean a chef has to forsake global influences. Local Kitchen and Wine Bar preaches respect for one’s ingredients through exceedingly fresh Italian small plates, while amongst chef Victor Barry’s contemporary offerings at Splendido are a handful of traditional pastas plated with family-farmed accompaniments. High-end, internationally inspired cuisine made with Toronto flair can also be found at long-standing favourites like elegant George and Globe Bistro.
1. In a historic building just north of the waterfront, Harbour Sixty has long been known for its opulent decor, high quality of service and, of course, culinary excellence. But the elite steakhouse isn’t resting on its laurels. To mark its 10th anniversary, the restaurant boasts a dramatically updated interior. Among the many design features: high, brocade-swathed chairs, suede wallpaper and mother of pearl in the bar area, plus graphic valances and contemporary art by Joshua Jensen-Nagle in the dining space; the two distinct rooms encircle a marble- and agate-lined gallery kitchen that serves up the finest USDA Prime and authentic Kobe beef, fresh seafood and sumptuous desserts. Or, descend to the formal, lower-level dining room, where dark woods and leather foster a clubhouse atmosphere and selections from the superior wine cellar are showcased in sleek glass cabinets.
2. At long last, Torontonians and visitors can see for themselves the state of Union, one of the newest restaurants to open on the increasingly hip Ossington Street strip. Thanks to a Toronto Life–backed blog—on which chef Teo Paul documented the many months of successes and setbacks between concept and first service—the farm-to-fork eatery had one of the more hotly anticipated openings in recent memory. It’s quickly become a fixture in an emerging neighbourhood, where dedicated locavores can nosh on fare that uniformly utilizes Ontario-fresh ingredients including grain-fed elk, artisan cheeses and seasonal organic vegetables straight from farmers’ fields.
3. As the cold weather begins to bite, warm your belly with timely takes on comfort-food classics at these welcoming restaurants.
>> The swank dining room of the Drake Hotel belies its carte of toothsome classics like mac ‘n’ cheese ($19) and a po’ boy sandwich with fried cod ($15). Or, try one of executive chef Anthony Rose’s daily blue-plate specials.
>> Modern farmhouse fare dominates the menu at Grace, where dishes such as lamb pot pie ($20) draw inspiration from traditional family dinners. Milk and cookies ($7) bring your meal to a simple yet memorable conclusion.
>> Though its hipster quotient can be intimidating, the food at OddFellows is anything but. The meaty combo of Jack Daniels–braised pork belly and spiced short rib ($16) is enough to make a slow-food lover swoon.