Deep, blue and ocean-like on the horizon, Lake Ontario defines Toronto. It makes winters bearable, summers buoyant and viticulture possible. As a port of trade, it has made the city attractive to prosperity seekers from places like Russia, Poland and China. Naturally, food traditions came along, which resulted in one of Canada’s richest culinary scenes. A thriving craft brewery, distillery and wine industry, too, makes Toronto a year-round wine-and-dine destination.
Trust tour guide Dick Snyder, founder of Drink Toronto, to show you the city’s hippest, booziest boîtes, or bars. A former food and drinks writer, Snyder has studied the sips that deserve your Canadian dollars. Archive, a hole-in-the-wall wine bar typically populated by industry types, offers funky, artisan and local wines. It also serves a flavorful steak tartare, the unofficial dish of Toronto. Mad/Crush Wine Bar, a stylish new wine-centric spot in Little Italy, also nails tartare of all types. Plus, it houses a wine boot camp.
Even newer, the industrial-chic vibe at Paris Paris blends French romance with Canadian sensibility and global fare. Don’t miss the oversized chicken liver toast smothered in shaved raw mushrooms. Housed in a former greasy spoon, Montgomery’s Restaurant has raised the bar on quality and sources some ingredients from Mennonite farms. There’s also a natural-leaning wine list that includes eccentric selections from local producer Pearl Morissette.
At TOCA, the Ritz-Carlton Toronto’s upscale Italian spot, bottles from “the boot” share cellar space with Ontario’s best, enough to enjoy an all-Canadian dinner pairing. With Böehmer, Owner/Chef Paul Boehmer brought sophisticated dining to Ossington Avenue, an area once replete with karaoke bars and auto shops. For show-stopping lake views and a commensurate bottle list, book lunch at Canoe, located on the 54th floor of TD Bank Tower. Scan the stalls at St. Lawrence Market for snacks or a low-key lunch. Tuck into a juicy burger or beef tartare at Richmond Station and sip local wine or clarified milk punch.
Purchase a CityPASS to access five Toronto attractions, like the landmark CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. On wintry days, wander TIFF Bell Lightbox’s five floors of cinemas, restaurants and art galleries. Snap colorful, social media-worthy photos in Graffiti Alley, explore the bohemian-style neighborhood of Kensington Market or take a picnic to Centre Island. The Distillery District, where Al Capone once bootlegged, has retained its industrial architecture. Sports enthusiasts, meanwhile, can pop into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Toronto has a patchwork of neighborhoods that would take ages to unpack. Focus on Queen West, where independent shops rule. High-end women’s shop Gaspard stocks fine threads and pricy jewelry. Scan the racks for affordable duds from Canadian designers at Coal Miner’s Daughter. Interior design buffs should browse the midcentury and modern pieces in Morba. Grab a sandwich at Cumbrae’s, the gold standard in butchery, or enjoy nutrient-packed juices at Greenhouse Juice Co., tucked inside flower shop Crown Flora Studio.
4 Hour Getaway
Drive or take a 12-minute flight to Niagara. Prime your palate with elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at Hidden Bench Estate Winery in Beamsville, then enjoy burgers with Cabernet Sauvignon at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, an organic, family-owned farm from the 1860s. Nearby, Stratus Vineyards produces finely polished reds with a European touch, while Malivoire Wine Company proves itself the master of Gamay. Take in sweeping lake views with a glass of Pinot at Flat Rock Cellars. On a clear afternoon, Toronto shimmers on the horizon. Finally, cap the day off with oysters and Riesling on the patio at Redstone Winery.
Follow @wineenthusiast on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes highlights from Mowery’s Toronto trip.