It was the unofficial kick-off to summer in Toronto and the summer food festival scene this week, as Torontonians from far and near gathered at the little back alleyway and parking lot of the iconic Honest Ed's for the return of The Stop’s much anticipated Night Market. It was perhaps one of the most talked about food events of last summer, which certainly caught the attention of many more people this year and encouraged The Stop to expand the Night Market over two nights, with over twice as many chefs and 35 one-of-a-kind food carts created by local designers. But the added night certainly didn't make folks think twice—almost 2,000 tickets were sold out in two hours!
Originally one of the first food banks in Canada, The Stop Community Food Centre is an organization that works to increase access to healthy food in a way that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality. Proceeds from both nights' ticket sales will go toward The Stop's anti-hunger programs.
What I love about The Stop Night Market is that the vibe is unlike any other food event I’ve been in this city. It’s almost like you leave the bustle of the city behind you the instant you walk through the Honest Ed’s alley and into some other unworldly place, with the promise of what will be a fun and magical night. I liken it to a little kid going to the local carnival for the first time—you’re greeted with so many sights and sounds you don’t even know where or how to begin. Do you hit up the game booths first? The ferris wheel? The corndog and cotton candy? Except in this case, it’s trying to figure out which booth to hit up first.
The designers have certainly upped their game this year, coming up with even more creative but functional booths using mostly reclaimed materials. Some of my favourite designs included the [R]ed[U]x Lab booth (Woodlot/Côte de Boeuf), which looked very futuristic when it was all lit up later in the evening; the Lokki Studio booth (THR & Co./The Gabardine) and its creative use of reclaimed doors; the 3runettes booth (Carmen/Torito) for its dragon tail-esque design; and The Falco Collaboration booth (Gusto 101/Toca) and its beautiful mason jar lights.
Night one featured 32 chefs and food vendors, many of them new to the event, like Gusto 101, Acadia, Bestellen, and Table 17/Ascari Enoteca, but the lineup also included returning veterans like Woodlot, Brockton General, SupiCuCu, and feasTO. With so many booths, we quickly made our rounds and tried to hit up as many of them as possible. There was definitely a lot of deliciousness to go around, but below are some of my highlights.
I haven’t run into ESÉ since the earlier Toronto Underground Market days, and I was glad to see that they’ve continued to get better with time. Serving Arpège Egg, the dish consisted of a coddled egg yolk, housemade chorizo, and goat cheese-whipped potatoes. It was almost like a fancy-pants sheppard's pie, but so much better.
I'm often skeptical of dumplings because I've had my fair share of not-so-good dumplings. It probably comes with growing up with my mom’s delicious homemade ones, and she certainly set the bar high for me in terms of dumpling standards. I wasn't sure what to expect at first from the feasTO dumplings, but I was so pleasantly surprised. Crispy exterior, so juicy in the centre, and packed with lots of umami flavour. The pho dumpling was especially a standout for me—loved the lingering of pho broth flavour and spices in my mouth long after I finished that last bite.
I'm not usually a big fan of sandwiches at these kinds of events. A sandwich tends to be big, bulky, sometimes messy (not so good for a major klutz like moi), and far too filling when I’m struggling to try as much as I can. There's only so much carbs I can eat. But man, was the Bestellen sandwich good. What hits you first is the smell of the pesto as you wait in line—so fresh and so evocative of summer that it really whets your appetite. The bread is crusty, the n'duja delightfully spicy, the vegetables perfectly grilled and flavourful. Visually, it looks stunning, and it tastes just as good as it looks (and smells).
It’s been just over a year since I’ve been to Chantecler and I still remember that meal very fondly. And while I patiently wait to try to get into one of the tasting menu dinners, I was delighted that Chantecler was able to participate in The Stop’s Night Market this year. Chef Poon was serving up an Asian-style crostini of sorts—beef tartare perfectly seasoned with fish sauce, horseradish, and peanuts, and sitting on top of a shrimp chip. Delicate, flavourful, and the right balance of texture between the crispy shrimp chip and the melt-in-your-mouth-tender tartare.
I’m always a fan of Rossy’s (a.k.a. SupiCuCu) cooking, and The Stop Night Market was no exception. Rossy’s chorizo chowder was like a hug for your stomach—warm and comforting. A bowl of this was perfect for the evening, which got a tad bit chilly once the sun had set. It was so good, I went to town on it before I even took a shot!
Acadia's new chef de cuisine, Dustin Gallagher, was on hand, serving up fried anson mills grits. Once cut into, warm aged cheddar cheese oozed out, making for a crunchy yet creamy bite. The fried grits was topped with a black pimento sauce, which made the dish look visually stunning.
And who can forget about dessert? Not my sweet tooth! The best dessert of the evening definitely went to The Tempered Chef (a.k.a. Chef Bertrand Alépée) and his choux à la crème orange-vanille with confiture de lait ("milk jam" or that beautiful, beautiful thing we call dulce de leche). It was the perfect little bite to finish off an incredible evening.
While the chefs kept us fed, the beverage vendors quenched our thirst, from Norman Hardie and Tawse wines, to cocktails from Luxardo and Auchentoshan, to Muskoka and Steam Whistle beers, and non-alcoholic drinks from Sloane Tea and Grace Coconut Water.
The night was made even more festive by impromptu musical performances, including an appearance by the amazing "Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Punk-Super-Party-Band" The Lemon Bucket Orkestra.
There are A LOT more photos from the evening (over 100). Be sure to check out my Flickr account for the full set from the first night, including shots of each booth.
Stay tuned tomorrow to find out what went down on Night 2 of The Stop's Night Market!