Toronto Underground Market, Part 1

25 Sep

The food revolution in Toronto started with events like Food Truck Eats and La Carnita’s pop-up taco stands, and it continued last night at the Toronto Underground Market. 25 vendors without their own restaurants or food trucks came together to share their food with Toronto’s hungry masses. Organized by the ambitious Hassel Aviles, it took place at the Evergreen Brickworks, nestled between old brick kilns.

Toronto Underground Market at the Evergreen Brickworks

I loved the Brickworks as a venue for this event. Before Evergreen bought this building and renovated it, Richard and I used to sneak in with our cameras to take pictures. It was strange and nice to be back in this room, buzzing with life, when we had spent so much time there in silence and darkness. It created a great vibe for the market, which wouldn’t have felt quite as cool and underground if it had been held in a more modern or sterile venue.

We wanted to get some tacos from La Carnita, but the line-up was huge. It stretched from their booth in the corner of the market all the way to the seating area in between the kilns! It’s amazing to see the response that La Carnita gets everywhere they go. They’re celebrities of the underground food scene in Toronto. People love their tacos, and for good reason! You can see my behind-the-scenes post about one of their pop-up taco stands here.

Beef PoBoy from Westside Beef at Toronto Underground Market

The first thing that we tried was the beef po boy from Westside Beef. Kurt, the owner, is one of the guys who is usually helping with La Carnita, but Westside Beef is his baby. The po boy was small, but what it lacked in size it made up for in taste. The beef was hearty and saucy while still being easy to eat while standing, and it was incredibly tender. This was one of my favourite dishes of the night!

Scotch Eggs at Toronto Underground Market

Scotch Eggs at Toronto Underground Market

Next, we tried some traditional scotch eggs. These were good, especially after drizzling them with some Tabasco, but I think that they would have been better if they hadn’t been so cold. I know that they’re traditionally served at this temperature, but I think that they would have been much better if they were a bit warmer. They didn’t even need to be hot, they just needed to be closer to room temperature. This is probably just a personal preference.

Bacon and Egg Dumplings

Next up: More eggs! These were bacon and egg dumplings from Les Amis d’Oeuf. I have no idea how they made these, but they were very interesting. The egg seemed to be steamed in the wrapper, and the yolk was still runny in the middle. It was an inventive dish and it was very well executed. This was another favourite. I’d like to see them do other breakfast dumplings for next month’s market.

Vietnamese Chicken Curry at Toronto Underground Market.

A nice change of pace was the chicken curry from The Backyard Kitchen. It had a nice coconut taste and a bit of spice and heat. It had wonderful little beads of oil on the top. It wasn’t as rich was I was expecting it to be, but I really enjoyed it. We were lucky to find a table to eat it on, though. It would have been quite difficult to eat this while standing up. This booth was also serving pulled pork sandwiches that looked really good, but at this point we were trying to save room in our stomachs.

Bahn Mi at Toronto Underground Market

We got a sneak peek of some of the dishes that would be at the Underground Market a few months ago and this was one that I was very excited to try. It’s a Latino bánh mì from Comida del Pueblo. It looked very similar to a traditional bánh mì, but it tasted unlike any bánh mì I’ve ever had. The buns are homemade! There was chicken hiding behind the pickled carrots and the cilantro and it was well complimented by a tangy sauce.

Jalapeno grilled cheese on corn bread at Toronto Underground Market.

Also from Comida del Pueblo, we got this grilled cheese sandwich. Like the bánh mì, it wasn’t your average grilled cheese. It was made with homemade jalapeno cornbread. Sharing space in between the slices of cornbread was the cheese and some refried beans, and on top of the sandwich was some very exceptional guacamole. I would have eaten a bowl of that guacamole on its own. This was a good sandwich, but it was so hard to eat! The cornbread was crumbly and it fell apart as we picked it up. Still, after finishing his half and some of mine, Richard wanted to go back for seconds!

Macarons at Toronto Underground Market

Macarons at Toronto Underground Market

We’d had our fill of savory treats, so we moved on to the sweets. The macarons from Katrina’s were so beautiful! We got the salted caramel and the lemon marscapone, and I wish that we’d bought some to bring home. The salted caramel were especially good. The flavours were a lot more intense than I’ve tasted in other macarons.

Ice cream sandwich at Toronto Underground Market

Ice cream sandwich at Toronto Underground Market

This ice cream sandwich was confusing. I wasn’t sure if it was a dessert or not! It certainly looked like one, but the ice cream was made of cream cheese and instead of chocolate chips there were little chunks of smoked salmon and lemon zest in it. The concept was a good one, but something about it wasn’t quite right. When you got a bite of the smoked salmon, it was really salty but there wasn’t anything to balance it out. The savory foods in ice cream thing seems to work a lot better with bacon than with fish.

Creme brulee from the Lunch Room at Toronto Underground Market

Creme brulee from the Lunch Room at Toronto Underground Market

This was our last treat: Creme brulee from The Lunch Room. I was really full at this point but I did find some room and I’m glad that I did. It was one of the better creme brulees I’ve had. I find that some creme brulees are a bit too firm and Jello-y in texture, but this had the velvety texture of soft ice cream. The custard underneath was flecked with vanilla and the burnt sugar topping was perfectly crunchy. Definitely a nice way to end the night.

This was the inaugural Toronto Underground Market and there will be many more in the future, with Part 2 on October 22. Tickets for October’s market go on sale on Monday September 26th and if the response is anything like it was for the first market, you should buy your tickets soon because they’ll sell out quickly! | @TOundrgroundmkt


32 Responses to “Toronto Underground Market, Part 1”

  1. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite September 25, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Wow you got this up quickly! Thanks for a sneak peek at what’s to come on Oct 22. I wasn’t supposed to be in town this weekend so I didn’t get tickets but my plans changed and it was too late. Will be online buying tix for part 2 early tomorrow morning!

  2. Sandi Yacobucci (owner) September 25, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Nice overview of this amazing market—gives lots of insight as to the variety of foods available for everyone to try.
    Must say, your taste buds have definitely improved over the years!!

  3. Roy Sharp September 25, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    The guy with the torch should wear gloves.

  4. Justsayn September 25, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

    We had similar experiences I see. Here is my review…

    The chorizo bahn mi was right at the top of our top 5! The bread was actually a shoe pastry (used for eclairs) that worked amazingly well. We also tried their chocolate tamales and they were exceptional!! We weren’t going to wait in their line up for grilled cheese so I can’t comment.

    Pork Belly and their coffee both in my top 5. Pork sandwich could have included some crisp pork rind for that extra crunch but it was delicious and complete when compared to the other vendors. The coffee tasted great and amazingly smooth!

    The Lemon Marscapone and the Salted Caramel Macarons were insane, out of the 6 or 8 flavours we tried. The big downside was how inconsistent the meringues were from flavour to flavour. The Vanilla Bean had a great taste but it was too hard to enjoy. I shared feedback to the vendor as she wanted to know my top choice, so I mentioned this inconsistency, and the woman told me all batches come out different. She would give my feedback to Katrina who makes them. I was then disappointed about the known inconsistency but more so with the fact that Katrina wasn’t even at the event!

    La Carnita was lined up and I have already eaten them twice in the past so we skipped that line. I am sure they would have been in my top 5 but they are certainly far from novice!

    1. Bahn Mi
    2. Chocolate Tamale
    3. Pork Belly
    4. Coffee
    5. Macaron
    (6. Rillette / Sauerkraut – it was just not my thing but it was well done!)

    Beyond those top treats, there were terrible items not worth mentioning and there were some near-hits. Some foods I suspect were great at home but weren’t exectuted properly given the limitations of the environment.

    My near-hits…
    Had the scotch egg been served room temperature instead of cold, more flavours would have come through and it possibly would have rated in my top 5 bumping the macaron. The seasoned potato chips could have rated had they not been so inconsistent from chip to chip – some had seasoning while some lacked and others were just plain soggy rather than crisped. The Popovers were a great idea, poorly executed. We bought 3 figuring that each would be so unique but instead we found that the base was the same for all with a bit of bacon or feta sprinkled on top. As well, they were not warmed all the way through. I am not sure there is a way to serve awesome popovers, except right out of the oven!! And the flavours should have been incorporated throughout the dough!

    Unless I forgot something, there was nothing else worth mentioning out of our samplings. We tried maybe 7 or 8 additional items.

    • Katrina Broughton September 26, 2011 at 1:19 am #

      Robin – Thanks for the great review and awesome photos! I’m glad you enjoyed the first Underground Market.

      Justsayn – Thank you for your comments! I am always striving to improve my macarons and I do appreciate your feedback on the meringue. As you mention, it can be challenging executing your home tested recipes in a new commercial kitchen.

      I was at the event all night, but was lucky enough to have a few friends helping out so I could step away for a few moments to see the other vendors – sorry I missed you, hopefully I will see you at future events.


    • lora September 26, 2011 at 5:14 am #

      Hi, it’s Popover Girl. Thanks for the constructive feedback. I agree, but determined to make it work. Next month will be better.

      • Justsayn September 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

        ; P

      • Justsayn September 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

        Maybe narrow down the selection to 2 or 3 sweet and 2 or 3 savoury so you can concentrate on making them best. Also, to us, cold fillings in an already lukewarm popover didn’t sound appealing.

      • lora September 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

        that’s where I’m headed, possibly only 3-4 flavors (worked into the batter). This way we don’t need to toast to order. My ‘peep’s’/ free labour were overwhelmed by the line.
        Flavors like the roasted pepper feta and pistachio tapenade will go back to their regular state and offered as a spread/ filling. As well as a soup.
        It was a great learning experience and a whole lot of fun!
        Thx again

      • lora September 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

        just want to clarify me and my team were overwhelmed with the line.

  5. amanda September 26, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    nice! lovely photos too. food is so hard to shoot well 🙂

  6. Karen September 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words about our Scotch Eggs – we’re so glad you tried them!

    Yes, we agree, they should be kept at room temperature, as is the tradition in the UK….However we were instructed to keep them refrigerated….and asked twice if our display “stunt eggs” were for sale…c’est la vie!

  7. rob September 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Nice pictures and a great rundown of the event. I’m sorry I missed this, but hope I can make it to the next one. Would love to participate one day!

    IMO Scotch Eggs are much nicer when the eggs are “soft boiled” and the yolks are still slightly runny. Kind of helps to make a little bit of a sauce and insures the eggs aren’t dry. Also, prevents the grey/black ring from forming around the yolk. This guy in London makes the best Scotch Eggs I have had

    • Karen September 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

      Eat My Pies? Yep, they’re fabulous…especially the black pudding one (and I’m not particularly pro black pudding at the best of times). Andy’s my hero/mentor.

  8. Carly September 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Hey there – the Scotch Egg served cold was indeed a Public Health issue – we were instructed by our lovely and very thorough Health Inspectors (whom we met with often along the way, prior to Market night) that any food with meat, dairy, eggs, or rice (!) could not be kept at room temperature (amongst other foods). Hence the cold eggs. But frankly, I had one with Tabasco and I thought it was delicious!

    Would that we could throw a truly “underground” market. The problem with that is that it’s not sustainable. The model comes from San Francisco, which for over a year ran a true “underground” market, and then was abruptly shut down. Now they have to start from scratch. We wanted to do what we could to make the Market above-ground, and work with Public Health to find a way around the regulations (as archaic as they might be). That way we could make sure that we would be 1) safe for the public, and 2) a place where new food entrepreneurs could continue to come to sell their food, over and over again.

    Sorry for the long response! I worked as the lawyer for the Toronto Underground Market, and I’m really interested in communicating to people why we had to do some of the things that we did, at least from a Public Health perspective.

    • Karen September 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      Heya Carly – thanks for your explanation.

      It was such a great event – you guys were terrific!!

    • If Looks Could Fill - A Food Blog September 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

      Don’t worry, I get it. I think that some of the Public Health codes are ridiculous, but I also understand that as a start-up food entrepreneur it wouldn’t be smart to participate in an event that wasn’t legal and would end up essentially ruining your reputation with Public Health later when you wanted to start a restaurant or a food truck. It’s also best for the future of TUM to keep it completely legal so that people can continue to attend events like these for the foreseeable future!

  9. Richard September 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    The market was really great.
    I think that everyone – organizers, vendors, volunteers and attendees – should be applauded.
    Vendors: take any critiquing well. Feedback – both positive or negative – will only make you a stronger vendor for future business endeavors.

    See you guys in October

    • Andrei September 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

      True that Richard. The first run was a great learning experience for organizers, volunteers, and vendors. I think when vendors get the feel for quantity cooking, consistency issues will be resolved. Feedback is definitely welcome from all.

      • lora September 26, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

        I’m working on getting the quality right in large quantities for TUM #2. Not easy but the experience from TUM #1 and more experimenting is helping getting me there. I appreciate the feedback.
        Popover Girl

      • Richard September 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

        My thought…
        Since there were some graphic designers/artists there, it may be nice to increase the ticket price by $1 and pay graphic artists to team up with vendors to design eye-catching signeage.
        For example, some tables had nothing. Other tables, we had no clue who the vendor was. I walked by the coffee vendor without stopping because I don’t drink coffee…but I do eat pork belly (and therefore missed it). With better signeage, you would get increased sales.

  10. webpossum September 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    really enjoyed myself at Saturday night’s TUM – astonished at how well organized it was. Really appreciated the many garbage cans (and organic dishes), hand sanitizer and tables – and pretty flowers to boot!

    in case any of the vendors happen to read this, a little feedback on some dishes that my friends and I tried:

    • Carnita’s – always yummy and Saturday’s offerings were more of the same. Thumbs up.
    • LOVED the beef po boys from Westside Beef, favourite offering of the night
    • garlic peanuts – didn’t really notice the garlic flavour that much but didn’t miss it. Enjoyed munching on the warm nuts while waiting in line for other vendors.
    • bacon and egg dumplings – we did not enjoy these at all. While we thought the soft yolk was dead cool, they were really lacking in seasoning/flavour. I noticed that the ones pictured in the photo above had way more bacon and herbs (we had none) – that probably made a big difference
    • red fife bread with rillette – pate was alright, bread was favourite part
    • found the vietnamese curry to be difficult to eat standing up and very oily. Meat was very tender though.
    • pork belly was yum… and the sides/toppings were so cool! Seemed under priced for all that effort, I’d definitely pay more!
    • basil watermelon lemonade – refreshing, thumbs up
    • found everything from Bistro Filipino to be really greasy. The pork was flavourful but way too fatty and the bun was soaked with oil. Quail eggs were tasty but again, greasier than expected.
    • macaroons from The Lunch Room were a great deal, bit sweeter than I personally like but I was in the clear minority on that one
    • I really enjoyed the salmon ice cream! I did find it hard to eat though and wondered if it would have been better as a disc of ice cream with one cookie stuck in the top. People seemed confused about it being savoury – their loss, it was good and the cookies were delicious.
    • my potato chips were well seasoned but agree that they’d started to get a bit soggy by night’s end. Didn’t bother me, they were still tasty.

    overall it was a great experience. I would recommend for the next one that the vendors have much larger signs above their booths with a description of their items as well as the prices clearly marked. Also, if you’ve run out of an item, please take a minute to let the people in line know – it was disappointing to wait 30 minutes for fish and chips only to be told there was a delay for fish and to come back later 😦

    looking forward to the next one!

    • Alex Paolo Borromeo September 27, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

      Hey there, Alex from Bistro Filipino here. Thanks for the feedback on our dishes. We appreciate the comments. As always we want to make sure we bring out the best food we can and take feedback seriously. We are hoping to come back in November with a new menu for the colder months. Hope we can serve you all then and keep supporting TUM!

  11. titaflips September 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    Great post and beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing this. And all comments/ feedbacks have been very helpful for TUM#2 to be better!

  12. The Beech Tree (@TheBeechTreePub) September 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Great discussion! Robert from the Beech Tree here. I have to weigh in on the health inspector thing too. One of my dishes was a rare roast beef (actually a roast flank). It’s actually best served room temperature-to-just-slightly-warm. I knew I would have to place them in chafing dishes, so I purposely cooked them more rarer than I would like anticipating the heat from the chafing dishes taking them further. By the time I sold the last beef sandwich, my rare roast beef was grey and over done! I dont’ know about the other vendors, but once the volume of the food production goes up along with the crazy speed you have to keep up, I felt the quality of my food started to suffer a little. A great learning experiene no doubt. Did anybody find this transition from home cooking to mass cooking as difficult as I did? It was very humbling.

  13. Deirdre September 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    Hi all,
    Deirdre of the slightly soggy chips (nice bake shop) here.

    To Robert’s point, as a skilled home cook you really have no clue the amount of work involved to get 250 bags of potato chips to the stall for 6pm. I was frying by myself for 8 hours straight on 2 fryers and I could not keep up. I’ve learned a ton and I have ideas about how I will change/ manage the volume problem for next time, so I can keep up and so I can ensure there are no soggy chip ( for which I do apologize). It is truly humbling to try to manufacture something that on a small scale you are competent and passionate about!!
    We live, we learn!
    Hope to see you next time!

    • Eshwar Sarwan September 30, 2011 at 3:39 pm #


      You did a really good job all by yourself. Take courage things will only get better! It was pleasure helping you at the event!


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