The popular patio at O’Grady’s is perfect for people-watching.
Over the past few years, something interesting happened to the Church-Wellesley Village: the area stopped sucking as a dining destination.
The Village is rammed with restaurants, but has never broken into foodie consciousness mainly because of an inconsistent line-up and club-district reputation. The evolution is still underway—really, three pizza chain franchises?—but from a hidden gem of a lunch to a boozy beverage worthy of a bucket list, we found five-a-half good cullinary reasons to celebrate Church Street.
A Great Patio RatioThe patios of Church-Wellesley Village restaurants have often been better than the food they served—but then again, people often weren’t visiting for the food. The best Village patio belongs to O’Grady’s, where there are generous opportunities for people-watching, whether it be other patrons or passersby on the street. Other pubs with great outdoor spaces include the Churchmouse and Firkin, and Hair of the Dog. All three establishments had decent burgers, although in our dreams, the ultimate burger would take something from each: the thick, juicy patty from O’Grady’s with the charred flavour of the Firkin, sided with the frites from the Dog.
If you’re not in the mood for a pub, two patios that stand out are in the northern end of the Village are Lola’s Commissary and Asahi (more on both momentarily). Fuzion also has a beautiful and refined take on the patio, but the drinks tend to be better than the food, so stick with the fancy cocktails.
Hair Of The Dog’s Killer CaesarSpeaking of the Dog, its Caesar should be on your Toronto bucket list, without doubt. Not only does it come with plenty of horseradish and Worcestershire, it’s also topped with a veritable salad—half a pickle, an olive, a grape tomato, and a slice of lime. Drinking two pretty much qualifies as a meal. Pair the Caesar with the nachos (a generous serving of standard toppings over crisp pita chips), and grab a seat in the shaded patio surrounded by greenery and fountains.
Something Cheesy Going On
The cheesecake-stuffed French Toast at Lola’s Commissary.
Toronto has seen its share of food trends, with burgers, poutine, shwarma, and izakaya pub fare all taking turns on must-do lists, but one that deserves more love is the grilled cheese. The grilled cheese sandwich at About Cheese is a refined take on the childhood fave and beats having to grab a sandwich at the adjacent Starbucks. Two different kinds of cheese sit between slices of sourdough (from the local St John’s Bakery), warmed to gooey perfection. You have the option to add prosciutto as well, making this a supreme indulgence.
Another decadent cheese sandwich of sorts is the cheesecake-stuffed French toast at Lola’s Commissary. Cheesecake on its own can often be heavy, but a thin slice in between toast and topped with fresh fruit actually feels quite light. The dish was so popular, it migrated from the brunch menu to become a lunchtime regular. The smaller version sided with a salad is more than enough as a meal.
Ride Along The Asian ExpressIf you’re a fan of casual Asian cuisine, there is a cluster of satisfying choices for affordable and guilt-free meals in the Village (although the area could use phở and ramen shops ASAP). Among these: the aforementioned Asahi for Japanese and Korean food (we like the healthier brown rice option for the sushi); Kokoni Izakaya; and noodle shops Sweetlulu and Ginger. While Kokoni is no Guu, the portions are surprisingly big and the range of dishes above-average—and there’s no ridiculous line-up, either. Sweetlulu is a dependable noodle shop that is part of a city-wide chain; the choice of mix-and-match almost makes up for the high prices. The lower-end Ginger is also part of a chain, and is a local favourite for its affordability, fast service, and Vietnamese dishes with decent flavours.
Bulldog’s Delish Brew
While Bulldog is technically just outside the Village, we’re counting their latte as a reason for a trip to the area.
Bulldog is worth a visit for its well-executed espresso-based drinks. Be warned, there’s limited seating, the staff can be curmudgeons—something we don’t mind and find adorable—and it closes relatively early (7 p.m. all week except Sundays, when it closes at 4 p.m.). In the Village proper there are always Starbucks and Timothy’s, which both have more seating space, stay open for longer hours, and, most importantly, act as important neighbourhood hubs. Just don’t be too disappointed when you get service with a smile.
Fabarnak’s Bento Box BargainA hidden gem in the city, Fabarnak is situated in the 519 Community Centre and has one of the best lunches in the city for under $10. The highly satisfying bento box, lovingly dubbed the Square Peg, offers a gourmet take on salad, a vegetable side, a main, and a taste of dessert. The fare aims high (the spot stocks kombucha, for crying out loud), and very much delivers. After dining, take a stroll through the 519, which recently underwent a renovation and has rare art lining its walls.
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Photos by Jaime Woo/Torontoist