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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Gluten Free in Toronto, ON

Last weekend my husband and I decided to make the two hour drive up to Toronto, ON for a fun getaway. Of course, the first thing I did was research gluten free and celiac-friendly options in the city. I quickly had a list of restaurants I wanted to check out!

We arrived on Saturday, June 28 around 10:30am. It was World Pride weekend in the city and our hotel (The Courtyard Marriott) was smack dab in the center of all the festivities. We quickly checked in before heading away from "festival zone" towards Chinatown which bordered the Kensington Market area where our first stop was located; The Kensington Cornerstone.
Kensington Cornerstone
Let me tell you, this place was an amazing find! Located at the end of Kensington Avenue, with an adorable, cozy patio to enjoy the beautiful summer morning, we found the perfect place to start our gluten free eating extravaganza! Kensington Cornerstone is 100 percent gluten free - the absolute best thing a celiac can hear! 

We split a pitcher of Vodka Lemonade which was delightful and just the right proportion of lemonade to vodka. After a lengthy debate between french toast and a breakfast sandwich I chose the french toast and never regretted my decision. It came out looking beautiful and scrumptious and tasted even better. The bread was thick, perfectly cooked, and the crusts seemed like they had been dipped in sugar and cinnamon for extra enjoyment! I loved every second of eating this breakfast favorite that I haven't had since I've gone gluten free - so at least two years! Drew ordered the eggs Benedict and loved it, including the gluten free bread. What an awesome way to start the day!
First french toast since celiac!
I had told Drew there was a bakery I wanted to go to, but looking on the map I realized it was a lot further than I had thought. I decided we'd skip it. We began to wander around the Kensington Market area, savoring the unique shops and restaurants and hipster vibe. Suddenly, I looked up to see "Bunner's," the name of the 100% vegan, gluten free bakery I had wanted to visit! What?! We went inside and quickly discovered that they had just opened up a second location (this one!) the day before! What luck! We ordered a cinnamon bun which they warmed up and cut in half for us, and I also got a red velvet cupcake and a creamie (two chocolate chip cookies with frosting in the middle) to save for later. All three of these items were absolutely delicious and tasted like they had been jam-packed with gluten because they were that good! I will definitely make a point to go back there the next time I'm in Toronto.
Bunner's 100% Vegan and Gluten Free Bakery in the Kensington Market area
After some more wandering and shopping we headed to our next food-specific destination: Poutini's House of Poutine. Poutine is kind of a Canadian delicacy consisting of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. I'd never had it, but decided that if there was a gluten free version I should probably indulge. Drew loves poutine so he was totally on board for this adventure. We had to walk a couple miles to find this place and there wasn't much to it. No bathroom, cash only, a couple high tables and a kitchen. We were still stuffed from brunch and bakery treats, so we split a regular gluten free poutine. I was pleasantly surprised. For some reason, I expected poutine to be a lot, um...grosser? Haha. It was literally a paper cup's worth, so it wasn't too too much. The french fries were good, the gravy was tasty and not overloading the fries, and the cheese curds were not overwhelming either. All in all, a good first poutine experience!
GF Poutine, a Canadian Tradition
The remainder of our daylight hours were spent walking, window shopping, and enjoying a cold beverage before stopping into the Pride Festival to visit some friends we met while on our Galapagos diving trip last year. Soon, it was time to venture out for dinner.

We headed to the Distillery District, a funky area in the historical district I had visited in the fall. I knew Drew would love the vibe as much as I had. We headed to El Catrin, as it was listed on several websites when I was searching for gluten free in Toronto. The restaurant patio was massive and gorgeous with giant rustic metal chandeliers hanging, and a fire pit in the middle. The line was out the door and around the corner. There was a private party inside, so only patio seating was available. We decided to wait. 

An hour later we were seated. The menu had little icons next to certain items stating "wheat free." I asked about this and the hostess gave me a confused answer about it really meaning gluten free. Hmm. So I asked the server and he said yes, they were gluten free if they have that icon. Not to give away the rest of the story, but at this point, I should have asked to speak with a manager. Unfortunately, the place was crazy and I was starving and I did not. Instead, Drew and I ordered a few items (it is tapas style), and our food came quickly. We had Esquites (a corn dip), Sopes de Tinga (delicious little tart looking things), Cochnita Pibil (BBQ pulled pork tacos), and Carne Asada de Catrin (flat iron steak). Everything tasted amazing!! We loved the experience, the food, and our waiter. Unfortunately, about 20 minutes later I quickly realized I had been glutened. I'll leave out the details, but I will say, if you go here, please make sure you do your due diligence and talk to a manager so you can be assured what you order is gluten free. And maybe it would be better not to go on a Saturday night in the middle of summer so they aren't so busy and can be more careful of cross contamination. I'm not sure what made me sick, but it definitely gave our awesome gluten free food day a less-than-awesome ending.
Taken while I was enjoying my food...
The next morning we went to the Brownstone Bistro for breakfast as I found it on my "Find Me Gluten Free" app. Another disappointment. When I asked about gluten free, our unfriendly waitress sort of laughed and said that the menu she gave us was the menu for Pride Festival and there were no substitutions. OK, then. She also said "you know what you can eat, right?" And I said "Yes, but sometimes there are hidden things in certain items." She didn't seem to care. I ordered an omelet (after verifying with our super friendly waitress that they didn't use anything but eggs in their eggs), and my plate came out with bread on it. I ate the 3/4 of the omelet that wasn't near the bread, begrudgingly. After the night before, I was upset and angry, but felt too defeated to fight. I debated just not eating anything, but I was hungry, so I ate the part I felt should be safe.

Overall, we had a fun time in Toronto. It's a great city that is a melting pot of cultures, making you feel like you could be almost anywhere depending on the area of the city you are in. Plus, we found three awesome gluten free finds in Toronto and I will definitely revisit Kensington Cornerstone and Bunner's the next time we head north!

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