Every year I go to Toronto to visit my family and old friends. In the last couple of years I seem to end up there in January. In part it’s my desire to avoid the family Christmas thing altogether, but even though January has to be one of the worst months of the year to visit Toronto I always manage to have a good time. On the day before I left, in response to the exhaustion of being on the road for a month (see recent posts of Puerto Vallarta, San Francisco, and San Diego!) and all the stress a trip to visit family entails, I slept in very late and had purposely not made any plans to do anything with anyone until dinner.
When my head cleared a bit I managed to make vague plan and left my hotel room in search of food on my way to visit my old apartment building. In the mythology of my life 67 Gloucester street looms large. It was my first adult apartment that I shared first with my friend Martha and then with my friend George. We painted our door red and used to tell people by way of instructions: third floor red door.
I had no real idea as to where I was going to eat; I just figured something would appear that appealed to me. What I saw initially, from across the street, was the new addition to the LGBT Center at 519 Church street. It looked like there was a cafeteria or something, but I couldn’t tell and there was no sign so I went across the street to check it out.
On closer inspection there was a very bright modern room with several people sitting around a large wooden communal table eating. I still wasn’t sure if this was a private cafeteria for the Center or what, so I went in to investigate.
Before I go any further about my experience at Fabarnak here is what they have to say for themselves:
FABARNAK is a social enterprise initiative of The 519. We re-invest profits from the restaurant into our programs and services, we work to provide training and meaningful employment opportunities for marginalized members of our community and over 80% of our food is locally and sustainably produced.
We believe eating should be fun, food should build relationships between people and eating healthy, local, handmade food shouldn’t be complicated.
How great is that? Not only is it a well designed room, modern yet cozy it actually exists to do good.
Of course all of this would be less impressive if the dedication to good food made with quality ingredients wasn’t there. The menu is filled with hard choices. A combination of breakfast and lunch menu it is split up into 6 sections: Good Morning, Special, Soup, Sandwich, Salad, Slightly More.
I really wanted to order the Square Pegs which is a sampler plate, served TV dinner style, or as they put it: the refined cafeteria style lunch tray. A “best of” from that day’s offerings, including dessert.
When I heard the sandwich special was pulled pork, smoked cheddar, homemade BBQ sauce and apples on whole grain bread, made even more enticing by the fact that it came with my choice of soup or salad, I couldn’t resist. The special soup of the day was a curried parsnip. Beautifully presented. the soup was a thick puree, intensely infused with curry and pepper. I loved it (though it was, indeed, very peppery, which for me was fine, but it certainly wasn’t for the weak of heart). As much as I loved the look of the soup, I always ponder the idea of garnish; in this case they sprinkled micro greens, but I wondered if maybe something in the soup, like say finely chopped, roasted parsnips might not have made a more integral choice than the greens?
The sandwich was heavenly: delicious in every way, the sweet-sour crisp of the apple, the rich and tender pulled pork, the understated BBQ sauce, the great fresh bread. So good. And such a wonderful compliment to the soup.
My concession to breakfast was coffee: it was strong, hot and refilled often.
The most amazing thing about this lunch was that the Soup and Salad cost only $10. By far the best food I ate in Toronto and it was a bargain to boot! Of course I had no real need for dessert but when my waiter was telling me about the Square Peg he mentioned a smoked Stilton cheesecake, and it sounded so unusual I just had to try it. A small tartlet served with a side of blueberries in a light syrup this is not your typical dessert. More a cheese course than a sweet.
Fabarnakhas only been open for a few months and it still hasn’t gotten its liquor license, which I am sure is soon to come. From what I can tell they are open daily from 7:30 am to 4 pm and then from Thursday to Saturday they are serving dinner.
This is a very special place. I spoke with the front of house Manager and the Sous Chef and these guys know what they are doing: an innovative, locally sourced menu, great service and a beautiful room. I regret that I didn’t discover it until my last day, but I certainly know where I will be eating next time I am in Toronto and I heartily encourage anyone who is going to be in Toronto (or lives there) to eat at Fabarnak.