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culture

The Stop’s Night Market Slings Trendy Food for Charity

The Stop's annual fundraiser drew more than a thousand hungry supporters to the alley behind Honest Ed's.

Tuesday night, the alley behind Honest Ed’s was transformed into an eater’s (and drinker’s) paradise. More than 60 chefs were on hand for the second-annual Night Market, a fundraiser for The Stop Community Food Centre. They were dishing out goodies from 35 one-of-a-kind food carts created by local designers.

This popular event—it sold out within two hours—raised $80,000 for The Stop Community Food Centre’s anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs. A $50 ticket entitled attendees to unlimited food and beverages (at least, until vendors ran out). Due to the popularity of last year’s event, this year’s edition is happening over the course of two nights, rather than one. The second night is tonight (that is, the night of June 19).

More than 1,110 people packed into the outdoor space at Bloor and Markham streets on Tuesday to sample the many dishes on offer, making it a pleasantly packed event with a block-party vibe. While the crowd was social, the focus was all food.

Vendors included familiar names like Acadia, Gusto 101, Barque, and Woodlot. Also represented were up-and-comers like Market 707’s Wiggle Room, Samuel J Moore, and Carmen.

Lineups for the big-name vendors began as soon as the doors opened and remained until the vendors sold out. This proved an excellent opportunity for some of the more obscure places to showcase their specialties, as desperate diners turned to booths with shorter queues.

Some of the better-known vendors were worth the wait. A-OK’s salt cod inari had just the right amount of umami. Deceptively filling, Acadia’s hearty grits, with aged cheddar drizzled in a black pinto sauce, were reminiscent of a creamy, cheesy jalapeno popper without the spice. Chantecler’s beef tartare was perfectly done: not too acidic, and with just the right amount of horseradish bite. A shrimp chip gave it nice texture, and made it into a clever twist on surf and turf.

Vegetarians were covered as well, with options so tasty that even steadfast carnivores jostled for bites. Woodlot, known to be a bit of a vegetarian haven, served up a potato and asparagus salad with hazelnuts, fennel, spring herbs, and idiazabal cheese. Table 17 offered a vegan salad complete with crunchy pea shoots, peanuts, and perfectly pickled heirloom daikon radish in a not-too-sweet peanut dressing. The ever-popular FeasTO had a vegan shiitake mushroom dumpling available, though their chicken, lemongrass, and pho dumplings had crowds lining up again and again.

A handful of Toronto’s newest restaurateurs were represented, and they shined. Samuel J Moore, a Queen Street West restaurant that opened this spring, had purple-grit-coated corn dogs, which were a roaring success. Chef Alexandra Feswick was hopping to keep up with demand. Wiggle Room, which has been open for just three months at Dundas and Bathurst streets, served up “Newfie poutine”: chips, dressing, and gravy. It was one of the first dishes to sell out. Paintbox Bistro, a Regent Park restaurant with a social mandate to provide training and career opportunities to residents of the community, sampled steaming servings of rabbit bolognese with mint. While one may not typically be drawn to pasta at these kinds of events, Paintbox managed to pull off the difficult feat of keeping the dish perfectly textured.

The Chase’s hot-smoked Acadian sturgeon on a crispy baguette with garlic-lemon aioli and shaved fennel salad had a perfectly balanced citrus flavour. This is a good sign for the business, which is set to launch not one but two restaurants at Yonge and Temperance streets this summer. Carmen, which opened at the beginning of April, also served a fish dish: ceviche with just the right amount of acid and accoutrements (avocado and onion).

Of course, there were Mexican options, ever popular at pop-up events like these. Liberty Village’s Maizal, celebrating its first anniversary, made a pinto bean, chorizo, and vegetable dish. Fonda Lola served up tacos, while Ese, a collaboration between Peter Henderson and Ryan Spencer, handed out an arpege egg, complete with coddled yolk, house-made chorizo, goat cheese, and whipped potato, topped with blue-corn tortilla fingers. Henderson and Spencer plan to open a permanent location soon, but for now the pair sell their classic, locally sourced, from-scratch Mexican offerings at the Junction Flea and other pop-up markets around the city.

Out of towners were welcomed with open arms, particularly those dishing up cold sweets. Neil Epstein and his wife Miriam Streiman had come to represent Mad Maple Country Inn, a Creemore, Ontario farmhouse that has been converted into luxury suites. Their dish was Mapleton ice cream, sandwiched between moist, gooey cookies.

If the lines for photographs were any indication, many were delighted to see Jonathan Goodyear, Toronto’s best performer in the most recent season of Top Chef Canada. He was cooking with Victor Barry, of Splendido fame

“Ultimately, it’s a wonderful, wonderful cause, and if I can give back to anyone I’m going to do it,” said Goodyear, who, with a hit Food Network show under his belt and a child on the way, considers himself very fortunate.

The pair served up Ontario pork belly with handpicked McKay Lake wild-leek kimchi and Toronto Island chive blossoms served on a steamed bun. The bigger draw, though, may have been their insanely popular cronuts, well worth a second (long) wait in line.

Lest you think this was a dry affair, a number of alcohol companies were out in full force. Lake of Bays and Steam Whistle cups could be spotted throughout the evening, and many an eater drained colourful bottles of mixed drinks from Black Fly Beverages. Vaughan-based Still Water Distillery offered a sipping vodka, though most were taking it by the shot. Rosewood Estates’ Harvest Gold mead was the perfect end-of-evening sipper.

Cocktails were also a smashing success, and by 8 p.m. Christina Kuypes was out of her line-inducing creation, a mix of gin, orange-blossom water, maraschino, and lime juice, garnished with strawberries and basil. Dave Mitton’s Auchentoshan cocktail ran out even earlier, much to the chagrin of those hoping for a taste of single-malt whiskey with fresh lemon, rhubarb, honey, and ginger, topped with ginger ale.

By 9 p.m. the crowds were complaining about the number of sold-out vendors. Lesson to ticket holders: arrive early, be prepared to face lines, but don’t be scared off by less-than-popular eateries. You aren’t likely to go wrong.

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