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Daiter's is basically a dairy deli. Located in a neighbourhood dominated by Jewish groceries and bagel shops, the place serves up "schmear" (their word!) of all varieties. They also have beautiful lox and other sorts of smoked and preserved fish, fresh Gryfe's AND Montreal-style bagels and plenty of assorted bagel-accoutrement (capers, onions, a variety of pickels, etc.) They cater as well, but I can't speak to that as I haven't tried it.

The cheeses are seriously delicious, seriously caloric and fairly seriously priced. The question is therefore not so much about if it's worth it, so much as it is about if it's worth it TO YOU, if you know what I mean.

I hit up Daiter's on Saturday morning, happy to find it open even on the Sabbath. Unfortunately, we found it too frustrating to get service at the Deli counter (no line, multiple servers, no number system ... it seemed like the best way to get served was to be as pushy as possible). We ended up buying pre-packaged food instead: Six bagels, two packages of lox and some creme cheese.

We gorged ourselves on the lot of it in the car. Not pretty.

I was disappointed in the service, in the slowness, but not in the food. Even with pre-packaged, we had a tasty experience. (Mind you, I feel like we could have had the same experience after a trip to Loblaws.)

My friend and I went home satisfied and happy, but our breakfast cost as much as a nice restaurant meal, which was a bummer, considering the whole car thing. I mean, if I'm going to pay $30 for a breakfast for two, I at least want coffee, and say, cutlery. Or a table. Something.

I did have an urge to lick some crumbs off the dashboard, which tells you something about the taste, but i guess it all depends on your priorities. (Don't worry! I didn't lick. I reserved my crumb licking for my own fingertips and the front of my sweater. Furry, but still worth it.)

Daiter's Creamery & Appetizers
3535 Bathurst Street
North York, ON M6A 2C7
(416) 781-6101

*Photo by Nathalie Dulex from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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Gryfe's current offers my favorite bagels in all of Toronto. When I was a little girl, my family favored the Old Fashioned Bagel Factory just down the road, but that place seems to have moved or closed, and in its absence, I have turned to Gryfe's.

So. Delicious.

I argue with people about this a lot, because Gryfe's bagels aren't so-called "Montreal-style" (meaning, in my opinion, they aren't hard and small and yucky... why do people like those!?) Gryfe's bagels are softer, and just a tiny bit sweet, and they're easy to tear and share. Sigh. I am getting hungry just thinking about them.

I think Gryfe's does some sort of honey/water dip or subtle glaze, which accounts for the slight sweetness. So if the thought of that bothers you, consider yourself informed. But if you've never tried it, I really recommend you do. It makes all the difference.

Access to Gryfe's isn't easy if you don't drive. (Bathurst Bus? Boo. No thank you.) But if you do drive, it's absolutely worth it to tool up there on a lazy Sunday morning. I did that this weekend and it was lovely. I recommend ordering a bakers dozen split between sesame and poppy seed (equally good and definitely staples). Load up on spreads and maybe some lox and you've got a gourmet brunch. But know that these bagels are good enough to eat straight too. Especially when they're warm (which they tend to be).

It'll only cost about $5.25 for a full doz. And man howdy. Your taste buds (if not your waist line) will thank you.

Gryfe's Bagel Bakery
3421 Bathurst St.
Toronto, ON M6A 2C1
(416) 783-1552

*Photo by Byron Solomon from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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My man doesn't like Italian food. I do, but he doesn't, and as a result, we don't tend to eat a lot of it. This bums me out. Luckily, I am sneaky and occasionally manipulative and I have recently convinced him to open his mind.

(Actually, I'm not really sneaky and manipulative. I mean, maybe just a little bit, but who isn't? Is that a bad thing? I'm mostly very nice! But I digress).

Anyway, my point is, I pouted a little and acted put out, and that combined with the fact that Serra is just 5 minutes from my apartment, helped me convince the boy to give the place a try.

Result: he's a convert!

There's a lot of bad Italian on offer in Toronto, but this isn't some of it. Serra is decent, if not decadent . Solid, if not sensational. It's a charming little place with a dark atmosphere, pretty blue fairy-light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, and modern oils on the walls (for sale). They also have very polite, knowledgeable staff.

We had grilled calamari (which was great and the best thing we ordered by far), a beef pasta and a pork loin. The pork was a little dry and and I wasn't crazy about it. The pasta was unusual, but nice. I tend to expect tomato or garlic flavours when I have pasta and the beef made this option into a whole different thing, but it was yummy. Add two glasses of the house red and we ended up with a bill of approximately $80 (including tax and tip). Not bad for a fancyish night out.

The standout was definitely the calamari, which is what convinced my man that Italian isn't as boring as he thought. At the very least, I'd say it's worth it to go for wine and the calamari appetizer alone. Share the plate between you. Be romantic. Veer away from sneakery.

Serra Ristorante 
378 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M5S 1X2
(416) 922-6999

*Photo by Travis Walker from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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I love that the 'hood I grew up in is improving and growing in such a charming way. Proof: Pain Perdu, an adorable little French bakery-patisserie-cafe.

The food is very strong. This St. Clair shop has lovely chocolate croissants (though personally, I like classic butter or almond better ... oh god, the almond ones are good), nice sweets, squares, tarts, etc. Very nice olive bread.

I also love love love the atmosphere and styling. The cultural value is high and the vibe is truly French in a really appealing way. There's nothing North American or chain-y about it. It feels very authentic and old-fashioned.

My only critiques are that because it's small, Pain Perdu can be a bit crowded. And at $2.50 per croissant, it can get pricey. Also, the staff aren't always sweet. The first time I was there, I really seemed to annoy the cashier by adding something to my order at the last moment. I get that such a thing can be irritating, but if you work in service and you're good at your job, I feel like you should probably hide that/suck it up. The customer is supposed to be right!

Anyhoo. A full menu with prices is available at http://www.painperdu.com.

Pain Perdu
736 St. Clair Avenue W.
Toronto, ON M6C 1B3
(416) 656-7246

*Photo by arryll from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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When I worked at Bloor and Yonge, I often ate lunch at Zyng. And I'll admit right off the bat that I'm not very adventurous with my orders. I tend to eat at Zyng when I'm feeling worn down by work, and as a result, I stick to comfort foods (which is to say, foods I'm already sure I like).

At Zyng, you can construct your own dish by picking your noodles or rice, picking your meat or protein and picking your veg. They put it all together into a sort of stir fry with your choice of sauce, curry or otherwise.

Personally, I tend to forgo the above for the big Prince's Won Ton Soup, which is really vermicelli noodles and gyoza-like dumplings (NOT true won tons) in a clear broth. It's low-fat, yummy and warming, especially when it's freezing out. It's not at all spicy, so I tend to add soy sauce and hot sauce from the table caddy. It also fills me up and costs (with tax and tip) about $10, which seems like a fair price.

Even at high noon, Zyng isn't crowded and you can get a table or a seat at the bar looking out the windows. Going there allows me to take advantage of my full lunch hour (they're fast), to feel like I'm having a civilized meal sitting down, and to read my book interrupted.

Here's a little tip if you're in a hurry: when you're done and ready to leave, don't wait for your bill. Just walk up to the cash to pay. It saves time and the staff don't seem to mind. They seem to appreciate it.
Zyng Asian Market & Noodlery
730 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 2B7
(416) 964-8410
*Photo by Lali Masriera from Stock Xchng. 

 
 
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I like Grassroots, but I don't love it.

The shop is nice, but the green goods are very expensive. Think tiny organic cotton baby toys for $30-$45. (I don't mean to hurt the feelings of globally conscious babies, but they're just going to spit up on these things. Considering that, doesn't budget have to be a factor?)

That said, they have some a little free-trade clothing, which I know from experience is really hard to find in this city. I spent ages shopping for a sweater to give to my no-sweat-shops man this holiday season, only to find one at Grassroots, and then find myself thwarted by the price.

Despite the small size of the shop, Grassroots carries lots of stuff and that's probably the best thing about it. They have eco-friendly (and ethical) items from water bottles, to slings to cleaning products to gifts.

The best thing about Grassroots, in my opinion, is that it's illuminating. Want to know more about alternative options? This is a good place to start. But if you're on a budget, you might not be able to afford to live this sort of green. You might have to find an alternative to the alternative.

Grassroots Environmental Products
408 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M5S 1X5
(416) 944-1993

* Image by Flavio Takemoto from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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This morning, walking along frigid Bloor St., head down, shoulders braced against the cold, fingers numb, I found myself thinking about ... ice cream.

Clearly, I need psychological help.

Or do I? All I was really doing was fantasizing about Sweet Fantasies. And about how I am SO BUMMED that it's still winter and this lovely little spot is still closed. (They're a seasonal place.)

This literal hole-in-the-wall ice cream shop is one of my favorite summer hang outs. Stopping in for a cone or cup and walking the Annex strip in the summertime for some good people watching and window shopping is the best. (Yes, there is a little patio of seating in front, but it's not the nicest. Sweet Fantasies is really a take-away sort of joint.)

Best parts: they offer organic, non-dairy and even and low fat ice cream options. (I like the the fruit fro-yo. Yes, I just said fro-yo.)

Worst parts: it's a wee bit pricey.

That said, you can always get a single scoop in a cup to save on both cost and calories.

Summer can't come soon enough!

Sweet Fantasies
398 Bloor St. W.
Toronto, ON M5R
(416) 968-8816

*Photo by Becco Eliacik from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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Atlas Ave. did not always have Atlas One. When I was a little girl, the place was a dry-cleaner/tailoring shop, owned by my friend's mom. I spent hours there as a little girl, playing among the buttons and the spools. But fond memories aside, I am much happier with this location's cafe incarnation.

Atlas One is a great addition to this Little Italy/Little Portugal north neighbourhood. They offer yummy middle-eastern-inspired food (kebabs, etc.) and drinks. I recommend going for some quiet patio time in the summer. Atlas is a chillaxed street, but Atlas One is just off St. Clair, so you're still near the action. Order wine, and maybe some oysters (which is what I had the last time I was there) and soak in the real Toronto atmosphere. I hear they also offer belly dancing and/or jazz bands on some summer nights, but I have not experienced that. I think of Atlas One as a quiet place, good for dates.

Ultimately, what I love about this little place is that it's a truly local establishment, one that feels very home-grown. Try it now. Or wait until Patio season when you're likely to enjoy it even more.

Atlas One Cafe
820 St. Clair W.
Toronto, ON M6C 1B6
(416) 656-4817

*Photo by Dominic Morel from Stock Xchng.

UPDATE 2013: Atlas One is closed. In place is another place called Statione or something. Oh well.