A Patio Season Guide That Won’t Leave You Constantly Waiting on a Table

About two weeks ago on a Wednesday the weather hit about 26 degrees and people of Toronto celebrated the best way we know how: on a patio. I myself was graced by the retail gods on this day and was released early from my steaming duties and, of course, like everyone else, set out to find a good spot in the sun to grab a drink in. This goal was much more taxing than I realized it would be as my boyfriend and I were repeatedly shut down by stressed out servers telling us the wait would be over an hour. Finally, in a little nook on Kensington we found a place that was wide open, just waiting for those in search of libations! While this was a small victory, it had me thinking that that this journey didn’t have to be so difficult if I just knew about this wonderful outdoor watering hole all along. Here are some no fuss, no frills and usually no wait time kinds of patio’s sorted by location that will be your favourite places to hang on your next downtown adventure in the sun.

Kensington Market

El Rey (2a Kensington Ave)

Photo Courtesy of El Ray’s Instagram

The bench’s at El Ray give a very simple feel but the location mixed with the red aesthetics and Mexican music makes it a great place to spend an afternoon after hitting up some stores in the area. They also offer a wide selection of cheap beers (priorities, people), a huge mezcal selection, and delicious options for shareable Mexican snacks.

Bloor West/The Annex

Paupers Pub (539 Bloor Street West)

Photo Courtesy of Ernesto Garcia

Paupers Pub is an endless building with multiple levels including two patios! With one on the roof and one on the street, it’s less likely for you to get turned away due to a large waitlist. The staff is super accommodating to large groups and the patio on the rooftop has its own bar, making it okay to stand around if there are no seats or tables available. Paupers Pub’s large and always developing draft beer collection is another reason to want to spend the day in the sun here.

The Entertainment District

El Patio (145 Pearl Street)

Photo Courtesy of El Patio

If you want Instagram worthy photos while having fun taking them, then El Caballito‘s El Patio is where you want to check out! It has a beautiful atmosphere and is known for their tacos — definitely a drunk, hungry person’s oasis. For party options, you can organize a tequila tasting event on the patio for the summer or you can chose to create your own type of event with the staff as they are very accommodating with the specific needs of their patio lovers!

Queen West

The Bovine Sex Club (Tiki Bar) (542 Queen West)

Photo Courtesy of Blogto

A true no fuss zone. Above the debaucherous Bovine Sex Club lies the Tiki Bar. This patio has great music, tiki themed drink options, and a colourful crowd of like-minded strangers who just want to drink. A huge disguised benefit to coming here is their lack of kitchen, which means you can bring your own food from any takeout place you’d like!

The Village (Church-Wellesley)

Hair of the Dog (425 Church Street)

Photo Courtesy of @simplyharmonyxo (Instagram)

I feel like I am in my grandparents carefully tended to garden each time I go to Hair of the Dog. The multiple levels of patios are covered in vines, decorated with fountains, and each spot still somehow manages to provide the perfect balance of sun and shade — it is a picky person’s dream! Hungover breakfast is the best thing to have on this patio as the greenery surrounding the space makes you feel like you are breathing in some fresh goodness while you are still in the air polluted, city streets.

Parkdale

Caddilac Lounge (1296 Queen Street West)

Photo Courtesy of Blogto

An old-school rock themed bar makes the Caddilac Lounge‘s back patio a great place to go when exploring Parkdale. Some patios on the street can be really nice, but the secluded area that the bar provides for its sun worshipers continues their theme and is a fun space to bring a bunch of friends on a Saturday afternoon. The venue is just a few steps inside, so a great place to have an all night adventure.

Harbourfront

Amsterdam Brew House (245 Queens Quay West)

Photo Courtesy of StreetsTo

While Amsterdam Brewhouse can be a little touristy, their lakeside view is totally worth the extra crowd. Also, their patio has multiple levels and wraps around the building, which is great for your chances of finding a seat quickly. The beer is also house made and the servers are extremely knowledgable on their specific beer options and pairings, making this a beer, food, and sun lovers’ paradise!

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Novella Picks the Realest ‘Best Of Toronto’

Artwork by Michelle Cheung for Novella Magazine

There are Best Of.. articles everywhere these days — the best brunch, the best shops, the best bars, the best theatre, not to mention the best restaurant for a particular dish like pizza, ramen, etc. Despite the information overload in the internet, some categories, also essential to getting the most out of the city, have been egregiously left out. Hence this somewhat tongue-in-cheek but in all honesty a well-curated list picked by Novella’s motley contributors! Take notes.

Best Place to Get Shitfaced

Every crazy drunken night has started and ended at Sweaty Betty’s located at 13 Ossington ave. The bartenders are really cool, it has a nice patio, and the drinks are cheap enough to make you ask yourself the next the day “how the hell did I get home?”. — Drew Brown, Editor-in Chief

McQueen’s Pub on Queen East is a great place for a series of afternoon pints. Start at three and by the time dinner bell rings, you’ll be well into conversations with the barkeeps — whose names I, naturally, forget — and the nice usually older regulars around the bar (shout-out to the older gentleman always on a tablet, drinking pinot-grigio and the PBR tall boy lady), and find it hard to leave. Order another pint, some wings, and sit around some more. — Hoon, Managing Editor

When you need a place to chill out with your friends, have a good drink, and take your epic dance moves for a spin, you need to get yourself to The Beaver (1192 Queen Street W.). The atmosphere is warm, the bartenders are friendly, and the drinks are cheap. After dancing the night away, the bar has a back patio where you can get some air and cool off before catching your second wind and starting the boozy dance party all over again. – Michelle, Social Media Coordinator

To be honest, I feel like you can get shitfaced pretty much anywhere. But, if I had to choose, I tend to enjoy getting shitfaced at The Ballroom on John Street. The atmosphere is chill, the dress code is casual, the decor is creative, and there are two floors to choose from, including a bowling alley on the first floor and a large restaurant, bar, pool table, ping pong table, and dance floor upstairs. The best part? Live music. — Claire Ball, Contributor

Best Place to Get Over a Hangover

Caplansky’s Deli (356 College St) With all day breakfasts full of eggs, smoked meats, and loads of lovely carbs, Caplansky’s is the perfect place to nurse that raging hangover. The atmosphere is nice and cozy, the service is excellent, and the prices aren’t terrible. Not to mention, compared to other weekend brunch spots, there are never any huge crowds or lines to ruin your day. I’ve spent many a weekend morning/afternoon gorging myself on challah french toast and smoked salmon eggs (and endless cups of coffee). — Adina Heisler, Contributor

Wake up, get dressed, and look up a pho joint closest to you; the fresh noodles soak it all up; the broth flushes everything out; the tai (rare beef, eye of round), nam (brisket), gan (tendons) rejuvenate. In my case, the neighborhood go-to is Pho Linh in Brockton Village. There’s one closer, on Bloor, and we won’t name names, but there are reasons for the extra hungover ten minute’s walk down to Pho Linh. If you’re in Leslieville, where I used to live, Com Tam 168 was always a solid choice. And if any champion out there knows of oxtail pho in the city, please give me a shout-out. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Clinton’s Tavern (693 Bloor Street West) — Let’s get real, no one really makes it out for hungover brunch before 12 pm. That’s why I ask, why restrict myself to breakfast foods? The club area at Clinton’s may be the place that did the damage the night before, but allow it to be your spot to replenish and you will be widely impressed by the chill atmosphere and massive amount of delicious and creative pub food. Other bonuses include it being affordable and any dish can be altered for a vegetarian! — Meg, Contributor

Last year I went to an event at Starving Artists located at 810 College St. and I am still dreaming about the waffles. This west-end all day brunch restaurant serves delicious stuffed waffles or just waffles with the ingredients on the side. I had the waffles with bacon inside and it was sooo good. Yes, after a night of drinking there is very little that can drag me out of bed but the food at Starving Artists is great motivation. -Drew Brown, Editor-in Chief

Recently I went to Insomnia on Bloor Street West and now I am obsessed. Their brunch menu is what dreams are made of. With a variety of benedicts to choose from, and the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. This place is a must try! Once you’re finished with your daily coffee dose, they have $5 mimosas! What better way to cure a hangover? — Claire Ball, Contributor

Best Place to Take Your Date When You’re Broke but Want to Look Rich

This really depends on how rich you want to look and how broke you actually are. But if I am to err on the side of optimism, let’s say you’re broke in the sense that Becky literally has no money but Ubers four blocks to a spa. In this case, consider Kintaro near Church and Wellesley. The dishes are conducive to sharing, the atmosphere feels cozy, if not swanky, and is nicely decorated, and pints of Sapporo are cheaper than glasses or a bottle of wine. A good night at Kintaro will set you back around $50~60 for two people. Not cheap, but not French bistro prices either. — Hoon, Managing Editor

I feel like this situation all comes down to the proper execution of the date. Going to any restaurant that’s not on the pricey side might just give you up right away, so why not play the “I’m too fly to want to go to nice places card” and maybe take the opportunity to show off the little places in Toronto you like to go to for fun. Some of my favourites are, hitting up Pancho’s Bakery in Kensington for a signature $1 churro and looking through the stores, putting some Baileys in a cup of coffee and heading up to the top of Casa Loma, or teaching your date your favourite card game over a tall can in Trinity Belwoods. Any of these will make a memorable date that will show them that you are a keeper despite your ever shrinking bank account. —Meg, Contributor

Best Place to Take Mirror Selfies

Nordstrom, The Eaton Centre — This is weirdly specific but the Nordstrom bathrooms are hella nice and are the perfect size and length to take full outfit pictures. The lighting is decent and it’s not too shabby to post a pic with a fancy af bathroom in the background. Maybe people will assume you shop at Nordstrom. You’re welcome. — Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor 

In the privacy and coziness of your private domain, be it the living room, bathroom, or kitchen countertop. Doing so also gives you extra good karma points for saving other people from having to see you try multiple times to get that shot right. As they say, way to hell is paved with publicly taken selfies then posted on Instagram. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Locals Only on King Street West has exceptional mirror selfie potential. Honestly, I don’t really take mirror selfies frequently, but I’ve already planned my next one to be taken here. The bathrooms have decorative wallpaper that makes for a great background, and the mirrors have a soft light around them so the lighting is on point. Mirror selfies from the Locals Only bathroom are definitely Instagram worthy. — Claire Ball, Contributor

Best Place to Buy Art When You’re not a Art Snob

Museum gift shops always have good selections of nicely printed posters, either framed or not. They also have puzzles that can be glued afterwards and framed, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I unashamedly am. So next time you visit the AGO or ROM or wherever, don’t skip on the gift shop! Mingle with the tourist group and discuss best bargains. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Once you walk into Kid Icarus (205 Augusta Avenue) in the eclectic Kensington Market, you will see beautifully well-designed posters plastered on the walls, handmade cards, and stationary goods. They are a design shop that specializes in printing, and if you feel like stretching your own artistic muscles, they offer workshops in screen-printing and linoleum carving. Be sure to give yourself at least thirty minutes to explore this little shop — it will be worth your time. — Michelle, Social Media Coordinator

Best Neighborhoods for Thrift Shopping

Bloordale — The strip along Bloor St. in the west-end between Dundas West and Ossington is filled with tons of thrift stores. You’ve got everything from Value Village and Vintage Depot to smaller independent stores all within a fifteen-minute-walks of one another. My personal recommendations are the Odd Finds General Store and Ransack the Universe. Perfect for spending a Saturday afternoon browsing away. —Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Parkdale — Personally, I’ve always been an avid Queen West vintage buyer (usually between John and Bathurst). However, the other day I sat on the 501 streetcar a little longer and was in absolute clothing bliss. From Public Butter to House of Vintage, my Levis collection has doubled in size and expanded in quality! A definite must go! — Meg, Contributor

Best Thing to Buy at LCBO When You’re Hosting

Jive Elderflower Pearl Edition Sparkling Wine $8.30 — Not only is this one of the LCBO’s  best-kept secrets, it clocks in at just about $9.40 after taxes. Making it unbelievably cost effective when hosting a party. But don’t let the price fool you, this stuff tastes like citrus, flowers, Paris, and sunshine in a bottle. The stuff is so good you could probably bring loved ones back to life by just sprinkling this elixir of the Gods over their grave. I stand behind Jive sparkling one so much that if it was socially acceptable, I’d pour some into a travel mug and start my day with it. — Chris Zaghi, Fashion Editor

Bulleit Rye is $40 and that may seem like a lot until you consider that it’s a multi-awards winning Rye and that you can make Sazeracs, Old Fashioneds, and Manhattans, drink it on the rocks, drink it neat, drink it out of the bottle, cook with it, and still have some left over for the day after in case you need the hair of the dog. You may ask, I like it fine but what if my friends don’t like whiskey? Well, nothing wrong with a party of one. — Hoon, Managing Editor

This may sound strange but Twisted Tea Original is a great go-to drink to have stocked in your fridge if you’re hosting. They’re refreshing, delicious, and, just in case things get a little rowdy, they go super easy if you need to start chugging or shotgunning. So make sure you buy the cans instead of the bottles! You never know when you might need them. — Claire Ball, Contributor

Best Place to See a Band You’ve Never Heard Of

I don’t know that many bands, so I’m not sure if the bands I’ve never heard of are necessarily bands everyone’s never heard of, and I’d hate to frown and have malicious thoughts at someone who’s supposedly known the said bands since they were in utero. But the last couple of times I’ve been to REX on Queen West, the bands, some of them student bands, were really great. — Hoon, Managing Editor

The Hideout (423 College Street) — I was personally offended when the Hideout closed the doors of their always bumpin’ Queen West location but ecstatic when learning that they’d be just down the road at a new location on College! The venue does a really great job at hiring bands that will play for the people in the bar. Even if you’ve never heard of the band, you’re bound to join the dance floor and hear a great mix of the bands personal songs and covers! —Meg, Contributor

Self-claimed as the best place for live music and cold beer, it’s hard to argue with The Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington Avenue). When I feel like visualizing myself in an indie folk music video, this is my go-to. The bar, with low ceilings and Christmas lights strung on stage all year around, offers a more intimate experience with bands. Order a few beers with your friends and you might even find yourself belting out some tunes. – Michelle, Social Media Coordinator

Best Underrated Festivals

TURF (Toronto Urban Roots Fest) — I wouldn’t necessarily call TURF underrated because it is quite popular, but it’s definitely not on the level with other music festivals you see come through the area. The headliners get attention but the rest of the festival is low key. The line up is a mix of bigger names and small bands touring around the country – some of those smaller bands draw small crowds, but those shows are a blast to be at. You can absolutely find one of your new favourite bands here and take in some of the amazing food options they have at the same time. — Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Corn Fest on St. Clair, happening later this year in August, is just something I’d like to attend. I expect a lot of varieties of corn, cuban corn, grilled corn, popcorn, tortillas, tamales, and more. Apparently there will be free BBQ as well. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Best Place to Workout and not Feel Judged

The YMCA — There’s a reason there’s a song about it. You get your regular gym nuts at the Y, but there are also so many people of all ages that go for so many different reasons. We have seniors chilling, kids running around and everyone in between just trying to do their thing. Everyone’s going at their own pace. Just avoid those in the middle of a personal trainer session. They can get intense. — Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Sully’s Boxing Gym is an old school boxing gym up on Dupont by Dufferin. You might get yelled at and pushed to do better but nobody will judge you, as long as you keep trying. The crowd is always friendly and Tony and Winslow, the two beyond fantastic coaches, are always helpful. — Hoon, Managing Editor

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Bars Around Town: Beer Break at Blood Brothers Brewery

Art work by Michelle Cheung for Novella Magazine

Blood Brothers Brewery Draft Room, 165 Geary Ave, Toronto

On one end of a long metal table encircling the brewery’s small draft room, a young man, in an orange cap and a grey v-neck, pocketed his copy of Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus. He sipped on his tulip glass of beer and lamented to his two friends, ‘His writing is okay, but I find it too utilitarian.’ On the other end, the bar, where the bartender, in a red and black plaid shirt, sweated from moving boxes of bottled beers from the brewery in the back, pouring beers, and humming to Led Zepplin and Kiss. It was a windy afternoon, a bit chilly, though the sun was out and the four patio tables were fully occupied. On one, one woman nursed her baby while chatting to her two friends. With the garage door leading to the draft room open, the space was small but roomy. The crowd: young, healthy-looking individuals out to enjoy a beer before returning to a fulfilling passion project. Not that one could not get drunk at the Blood Brothers draft room: beers — predominantly ales — are all under six dollars for a 12oz tulip glass, and a flight of four 4oz is around ten, considerably more accommodating than the prices at various microbreweries around the city. Though if you are slow, you might have to move to a different spot as the draft room closes at nine. Some simply picked up a four-pack from a fridge by the wall and went on their ways. The short menu of snacks is lackluster, utilitarian, whipped up because of demand without much enthusiasm; but the two-dollar-pepperettes, ‘made fresh and locally,’ are surprisingly delicious and addictive, especially with Paradise Lost, a sweet sour ale brewed with sauvignon blanc grape juice. Around the corner from the brewery, between Dupont and Geary is a train track, wider, upon closer look, than one originally thinks it to be. It technically separates the bar further from the cooler, more hipster areas closer to Ossington and Bloor. Yet the draft room is not exactly a world apart, but just a rest stop on the way to one.

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VizEat: A Revolutionary Dining Experience

Ever find yourself searching online for the “most authentic” places to eat when traveling to a new place? What if you could have the most authentic dining experience? VizEat allows you to pick any country and search for the best food experiences.

Conceptually similar to Airbnb, users choose a city, then select an experience that best suits their style and taste — or something completely different for an experience out of their comfort zones. It could be a cheese and wine tasting in Paris or enjoying a feast on a rooftop in Istanbul.

Source: VizEat

As a host, you can sign up as a passionate home cook or amateur chef. After sharing your food story, the menu you want to create, and some other details, you’re on your way to cooking for travellers coming from all over the world! Love throwing dinner parties? This is a great way to share your love of food and cooking with people who are interested, while making some extra income.

Vizeat started in France in 2014, and then launched mid-February in Canada by Cristina Carpio- Canadian Food and Beverage Expert, TV Host, Going Global TV and Restaurant Operator/Brand Strategist/Entrepreneur. Highly invested in the Canadian Food and Beverage scene, Carpio’s goal is to “provide opportunities to fellow Canadians who love to cook as well as help attract tourists to our beautiful cities here in Canada.”

By downloading the app, anyone can access over 22,000 hosts in 100 countries.

 VizEat is bringing together people who share a love of food. According to Carpio, they “have from local celebrity chefs to master chefs to home cooks, dining platform provides opportunities to anyone who has a passion for cooking. We also have food tour companies, wine tour companies, and other food and beverage related businesses providing authentic experiences.” All menus are available with host profile so users will know exactly what they are booking.

In New Brunswick, they have a caviar education and tasting experience, In Toronto, Chef Scott Savoie, pioneer of food tours in Toronto offers a great package, in which he takes users to St. Lawrence Market, shops for ingredients with guests and tours the local city market. He and the diners then go back to the dinner location for a cooking class and to prepare the meal together. He also does Ontario wine pairings with dinner and cocktails to start the evening!

Source: Vizeat

VizEat offers various experiences such as a homemade meal. Experience lunch, brunch, dinner, aperitif, picnic, or tea time with your host in their home while sharing stories and cultures. This is also a great way to get advice and tips from a local about the city. You can also sign up for a cooking class. In these sessions, you can learn how to prepare authentic dishes with help from your host in a 2-3 hour culinary experience. You can also do a food tour. Your host will take you on a tour of their favourite foodie hotspots. This may include local markets, artisanal stalls and gourmet shops. You can taste local specialties and get to know the shopkeepers. Experiences also vary from cheap eats to a culinary Italian feast by MasterChef finalist Vince Spitale.

Carpio states “VizEat is all about cultural immersion and immersing yourself with locals and providing authentic experiences. This platform shows people that dining experiences are not only found in restaurants and hotels, resorts. VizEat experiences are only held in authentic locations and NEVER in restaurants. Cultural immersion is the future of dining and travel.”

An experience on its own, VizEat is a great way to meet people, and an out-of-the-box alternative to simply reserving a spot at the local restaurant.

Masterchef Canada Season 3 finalist Vince Spitale

Where Toronto Eats: Yum Cha in Markham

Art by Andrea Vahrusev

How far is too far for good yum cha? Though it may seem like a rhetorical question, there is, at least in the minds of aficionados of any kind of food, a sense that the quality of a restaurant is proportional to its inaccessibility; ask a ramen head where the best ramen is — it won’t be down the block, around the corner. Elegance Chinese Dining and Banquet in Markham is certainly not — it’s a few corners (up to North York Centre station), a few perilous bridges (a generous friend with a driver’s license + car), and a crocodile moat (a congested freeway or two) away from downtown Toronto. Once there, the lines, especially on weekend mornings, are long and tedious despite its 350+ persons capacity, as Elegance’s waiting area is relatively small and it shares its strip mall with one or two other restaurants and dubious-looking health stores extolling the benefits of certain tropical berries. Its staff, as is the case in the best of old school restaurants, are not even half heartedly concerned with making you feel ‘at home’.

So it goes without saying that it also has some of the best dim sum I’ve had in Canada.

Elegance’s excellence is telling from the moment the inevitable pot of oolong arrives. The pot of tea is accompanied by a pot of reserve hot water to dilute — if the tea is too strong — or to steep afresh. (And, unusual in my experience of yum cha, the teacups have small handles that bring to mind a certain British/colonial touch.) The tea itself is freshly brewed and delicate, a familiar and comforting opening that far from being pro-forma.

The menu at Elegance is short and divided into sections to help you find what you want. The ha gow is a must, as it’s often deemed the dish to judge a restaurant by; at Elegance, the seasoned and supple shrimps can be seen through the thin and slightly chewy skin. The chive and seafood dumpling, bbq pork bun, pork spare ribs with black beans, and shumai are all telling of the restaurant’s freshness and quality. Steamed rice rolls with shrimp and rice skins was, as they say, a revelation: The soft and chewy skin, perfectly seasoned shrimp, and the crunch of the mysterious ‘rice skin’ dipped in slightly sweet soy sauce — to borrow the hyperbole of Stephen Chow’s God of Cookery — cured the mind’s ailments born since childhood, namely the absence of said roll. The only steamed thing to avoid here is the xiaolong bao, or soup dumplings — I don’t know what happened at the kitchen, but it just wasn’t, by any standards, a xialong bao. 

Elegance is much better at steamed dishes than at fried ones. The pan-fried turnip cakes were wrapped, for no apparent reason, in nori and served with XO sauce; the deep-fried tofu skin was dry; and, most egregious of all, they do not serve pork and chive dumplings.

However, Elegance‘s simply prepared vegetable dishes more than make up for what it misses in its fried section. The snow pea tips and gai lan (Chinese broccoli ), both blanched then prepared simply with oil and salt, were not only delicious but also palate cleansing. If you get a chance, do ask for the snow pea tips while they are in season and easily available; it’s subtle and flavorful and will make you reconsider charring all your vegetables.

Elegance is, I should mention, slightly pricier than most dim sum joints in the city. Each plate is around $4 and the larger plates or specials of the day cost a little extra. However, it should also be said that a local pub’s mediocre special on burgers is often upwards $15 and nobody complains. Or, on a more positive note, even with each plate costing slightly more, you can yum cha like a king and pay only double-digits.

Elegance Chinese Restaurant & Banquet is located at 20 Gibson Drive in Markham and is open daily from 9am to 10pm. On weekends, get there either as early as possible or slightly later in the afternoon to beat the crowd. 

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