Last night we headed to the Evergreen Brickworks for the second installment of the Toronto Underground Market. The first event, held last September in the same space, was wildly successful and last night’s event sold out in just a few days! The cold weather didn’t deter anyone and there was a huge crowd of hungry foodies waiting outside the doors at 6pm sharp, waiting anxiously.
Among the vendors were some old favourites (La Carnita was back and so were Comida del Pueblo and Popover Girl), as well as many new additions. While I did a lap to see what was new, Richard volunteered to go and wait in the line at La Carnita, which was strategically placed at the end of a hall of old brick kilns so that their predictably massive line-up wouldn’t impose itself too much on the surrounding vendors. Richard said that as he speed-walked towards their booth he saw people actually sprinting to get there first. By the time I joined him in line fifteen minutes later he was near the front, but the line was easily over 20 feet long by then.
This time they were serving up their famous Voltron fish taco (which I’ve raved about before) and there was a new guy in town: Cochinata Pibil pork taco. The Voltron fish taco was just as perfect as I remember it, and though the presentation seemed to have been sacrificed a bit in the name of speed, which was understanable. This time around there was a very generous amount of Voltron sauce. It still had that perfect amount of heat and cinnamon, and the breaded fish was crispy on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside. I love this taco to death! I think that I’d request it as a last meal.
The Cochinata Pibil taco certainly gave the Voltron fish taco some healthy competition for my heart, though. The pork was juicy, spicy, tangy and almost tasted a bit smokey, which may have been because the meat was cooked in banana leaves. It was well balanced by crumbly cheese and little pieces sweet and slightly tart fruit, and topped with pea shoots and a ring of something beautifully bright and pink which I couldn’t identify. One of the many things that I love about La Carnita is their attention to detail. They always make sure that the ingredients in their tacos are as interesting to look at as they are to taste.
We visited Kurt at Westside Beef again so that my dad and his girlfriend, who came all the way from Brantford for the night after hearing about the last event, could try his beef po boys. They were just as good as last time!
I didn’t try the popovers from Popover Girl at the first Underground Market, but there were healthy debates about her popovers in the comments on my post. People thought that the flavours weren’t very prominent and wanted the popovers themselves to be served hot. Lora, Popover Girl herself, said that next time she was going to focus more on just a few different kinds of popovers and stuffing them with fresh, hot fillings. When I saw the big trays of hot fillings behind her booth this time around I couldn’t resist finding out how these changes would affect the quality. I ordered an eggplant popover, which was filled with a deconstructed eggplant Parmesan and my dad’s girlfriend got the mini walnut and fig tapenade popovers. There weren’t many people in line ahead of us, but they had lost power right before the market opened and they were playing catch-up trying to get things hot again. They were worth the wait and I really respect a person who takes constructive criticism and comes out on top. When we walked past her booth at 8pm it had a line that was almost as long as La Carnita’s line! I wish that I had tried the porchetta popover since it seems that it was a huge hit with everyone I talked to.
Right beside Popover Girl was F&M Brewery‘s booth. They’re located in Guelph and I’ve heard good things about them but hadn’t had the opportunity to try their beer yet because it’s hard to find in Toronto. I was thrilled to see that they had an oatmeal coffee stout on tap because I love dark beer. The darker the better! And this beer was definitely dark. Not a single wave of light was penetrating this glass. It was a very good stout with lots of deep flavour and a good amount of bitterness. Other breweries at the event were Mill Street, Spearhead (Richard had their Hawaiian style Pale Ale, brewed with pineapples) and Flying Monkeys, all of whom are great local craft breweries. There was also a hard alcohol vendor selling rum, but his booth looked pretty lonely every time we walked by.
I was starting to lose some steam at this point, but Richard wanted to try this Romanian meatball soup from Hai La Masa. It had meatballs and roasted vegetables, and the sign said that it was “soured with bors and lovage”. Bors is a fermented wheat water, and it did have an interesting sour taste, but nothing overwhelming. For the most part it tasted like a comforting homemade soup, like the kind your grandma would make for you on a cold day.
This was a very smart choice for the Underground Market: Bacon Caramel popcorn from the Picnic Society! It was easy to serve quickly, so there were virtually no line-ups even though they were cranking this stuff out like crack. Foodies love their bacon, especially when it’s combined with something sweet. This popcorn was a perfect combination of sweet and savory and had a little bite of heat to it at the end. It went really well with my oatmeal coffee stout from F&M, but probably would have been well complimented by their homemade lemonade, which was being served with cute paper straws. I loved their branding.
We really wanted to go to Comida del Pueblo after tasting their jalapeno corn bread grilled cheese at the last market, but their line-up was huge! It snaked around the space in a semi-circle and I’m sure that it would have taken nearly half an hour to get to the front. They were serving the corn bread grilled cheese again, and this time they also had a water buffalo empananda and banana beignets with a caramel filling. Friends told me that the beignets alone were worth the wait.
Just when I thought that we were done eating, Richard appeared with 3 samosas in his hand. I thought that I was full, but I couldn’t resist. They were piping hot and crispy and they were filled with chicken and beef with lots of bright vegetables. They weren’t ground-breaking, but their ingredients were of a much higher quality than most of the samosas that I’ve had.
For dessert we had a cute little pumpkin whoopie pie from Morsel. It had an amazing pumpkin pie flavour and the filling was creamy and sweet.
How cute are these mini cupcakes from Sullivan & Bleeker Baking Co.? I couldn’t resist this little guy. They looked like itty-bitty ice-cream sundaes! I’m sorry to report that shortly after Richard took this picture of me, I was trying to balance my camera and my cupcakes and my cell phone and I dropped a cupcake on the ground! At least it wasn’t my camera, right?
Why is it that you always find such delicious food when you’re way too full to eat it? We ran into a friend who had just picked up this plate of jerk chicken, slaw, plantains and rice from a vendor whose name he couldn’t remember. The jerk chicken smelled so peppery and good! Another vendor that I really wish I had seen earlier was the one right at the entrance. The booth was run by the Thistletown High School Chefs – A group of high school students under the guidance of a teacher/chef. They were serving a few different types of pasta and while we were milling around the doors getting ready to leave we smelled their food and saw people walking away with the most beautiful looking pasta dishes. I wished that I had room in my stomach for some of it. I hope that they’re at the next market in November. Apparently there were also some lobster churros being served somewhere. I wish that I’d seen those, too!
All in all, this month’s market was a big success. I think that Hassel and the other organizers learned a lot from the inaugural event last month. It seemed less crowded this time (even though it was sold out like the last one) and we were able to stay until 8pm without feeling like we might get trampled. I think that part of the reason for this was that the vendors that they expected to draw the biggest lines spaced apart from each other so that their lines don’t converge and cause congestion. The list of vendors was well chosen with lots of variety and a good balance between professionals (caterers, bakeries, breweries) and home chefs.
The last Underground Market of 2011 will be on November 19th (but there will be more events in 2012). Tickets sell out fast, so watch Toronto Underground Market on Twitter or Facebook to find out when you can buy yours.