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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!