Recommended Greek Restaurants and Organic Store in GreekTown

Greektown, located on Danforth Avenue, was one of the early Greek immigrant settlements in Toronto and considered the largest in North America in 1970s and 1980s. It is a member of Business Improvement Area (BIA), the association of business people in the community established in 1981 whose goal is to attract more visitors by developing and promoting shops, restaurants and business districts in the area. In 1993, the city council agreed to change its name to GreekTown on the Danforth, known as Greektown or The Danforth.

Though there is no temple of Apollo or Parthenon to distinguish the town’s characteristic, it has unmistakable blue flags with an ancient pillar logo and Greek-English street names along the way.

Greektown flag and bilingual road sign

GREEK FOOD UNDER $10

Spending less than $10 per person on delicious Greek food, why not?

Athens Pastries  target market is crystal clear: people who want to taste Greek pastries and nothing else. Forget gyros, souvlaki and tzatziki. Forget French croissant and Austrian strudel. Eight traditional pastries costing less than $4 per portion (2011’s rate) are enough to lure its audience.

The appearance of loukoumades, a ping pong ball-sized fried dough glazed with honey and hints of cinnamon powder, reminds me of my favourite Dutch oliebol. However, non sweet-tooth people (like me) might say, “Leave the dough alone, honey!” Believe it or not, I drained the infiltrated honey in the dough in an oven toaster to finish the rest (without you, honey, it tasted great already). It’s just a matter of personal point of view, by the way. Other customers, mostly Greek descendants, didn’t seem to have a problem with that.

loukoumades & greek coffee

Suppose anybody has the same issue as mine, spanakopita or spinach pie with feta cheese will be the right option. Nothing sweet about it, except rich cheese that blends perfectly with light-flavoured mashed spinach. It was over the top and one of the best-selling menus in the cafe. To conclude my visit, I took Greek coffee, which is somewhat similar to Indonesian kopi tubruk (literally means collision coffee), where the unfiltered ground coffee is poured together with the liquid in a cup. Though caffeine doesn’t affect me much, I have to warn you that it could bring you trouble sleeping at night.

I wonder how come I missed them when I was in Greece.

loukoumades at athens pastries’ warm display. so sweet!

Alexandros World Famous Gyros didn’t look world famous at a glance. The small restaurant situated near the fountain in Alexander the Great park had a very plain decoration and wasn’t even packed with people at dinner time around 7 pm. However, my sister recommended this place and my parents are crazy for it. Their addiction is contagious after I tried Alexandros’ pork (no lamb, unfortunately) gyros. The spices were strong in a good way, came out so well with the juicy and tender meat, salad and mayonnaise wrapped in pita bread that I forget taking a picture of it to put in my blog! Yep, that’s why I give you the fountain and the podium instead.

fountain in Alexander the Great park on christmas

Later on, I saw customers approaching the cash desk and left with a few bags in their hands. The sales are made mostly from “to go” orders, therefore there were not many people in the restaurant itself. With $6 per portion, you get more than you pay, I promise you.

alexander the great park’s podium

ORGANIC-ORIENTED SHOPPING 

I have found a new hobby after visiting The Big Carrot, the famous organic supermarket on Danforth Avenue: shopping organic beauty products! Although the body care section was not that big, the store layout was pleasant to see with earthy atmosphere, huge variety of brands and attractive merchandise presentation to drive impulsive buying behaviour. The staffs were knowledgeable and all the products sold are paraben free. Being pricey for groceries on a daily basis, I still succeeded finding $2 2-in-1 shampoo bar and soap, probably the cheapest products from its shelves.

Holy Name Parish Church

Since many Canadians are concerned with saver and healthier ingredients in the products they use, organic food and beauty products are also pretty easy to find elsewhere outside The Big Carrot and Greektown. Another drugstore nearby sells organic body care products and organic vitamins. My sister bought cocoa butter mixed with shea butter imported from Ghana, packed in a coconut shell. Quite a unique packaging.

the supermarket’s favourite section
image credit: http://thebigcarrot.ca/index.php?id=27

Organic Juice Bar, still at The Big Carrot, was my next exploration of being organic. Blended juice with hemp and açai berry sounded like interesting ingredients to try, not because I know they are wonderful when mixed together. The controversial hemp as mostly linked to pot smokers and marijuana (although The Body Shop has hemp-based product series) and a superfood member açai berry, known for its high antioxidant capacity, were partners in crime to make my visit memorable.

Honestly, I couldn’t distinguish the difference between the taste of organic fruit and non-organic ones unless someone tells me so and I forget the name of the menu. Only a  positive testimonial left: when both ingredients were mixed with other fruits like banana, strawberry and raspberry, it created refreshing taste for thirst quencher.

the big carrot organic juice bar

Since I didn’t have the luxury to browse all streets and alleys, I only know the surface of GreekTown. If I have more time in the future, here are my to-do lists: concentrate my visit on specialty stores with anything but mainstream, fine dining in a Greek restaurant and spending extra time to repeat what I love best: eating Athens’ spanakopita, Alexandros’ gyros and shopping more organic goods!

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When “Not Really” is Really Not a Good Answer

For me, the lasting memory of Toronto’s famous landmark CN Tower is not the sky pod, the famous glass floor, or dining experience at 360 Restaurant. Especially I didn’t do the latter. It is the moment with the official when I was about to leave the tower.

“Go straight that way, turn left.” The guy behind the computer screen in photo souvenir section showed the way to the elevator to exit the building.

Seconds after thanking him, he suddenly called me back. “Excuse me, were you born in the end of the year, somewhere in October or November?”

What an odd question in the end of the visit. “That was close. It’s November.”

CN tower’s glass floor

“So you are…. hmmm……Scorpio?”

“Scorpio. How do you know that?”

He chuckled. “I’m into zodiac. I learn the way people carry themselves according to their zodiac. Where do you come from?”

“Jakarta, Indonesia.”

Coincidentally, he has several Indonesian friends and would like to visit the country one day. I was flattered that he preliminary noticed my nationality because he thinks that Indonesians are generally warm and friendly in nature.

CN tower’s fresco and the glass floor

It was my last day to fantasize as an undercover police like Joe Pistone as Donnie Brasco. I didn’t know I’m that predictable.

“I’m Jayson, by the way.” He offered me a handshake, leading to a disclosure about himself. The 29 year-old guy, voluntarily admitted he’s still single, is a Canadian citizen who originally comes from The Philippines. He shared a glimpse of his struggle for a more decent job for a better living – that his current job is something temporary – and an equal treatment in a country that is not his, something that locals take for granted and never understand completely.

I could put myself in his shoes. I tried to do the same thing in The Netherlands after graduation, but it didn’t work out.

I accidentally saw his photo editing works in Photoshop program, depicting human figures walking on the tower’s rooftop, some flying like a bird, that reminds me of a graphic design major in my past. There were rows of photograph (of unknown people) souvenirs placed on the wall behind him sold for overwhelmingly $20 per sheet. No wonder why they don’t sell that much, about 23 sheets max in busy periods, 1 or none in quiet periods.

Then, we talked just about everything that came from our head. Design software, photography lessons, his photography side job, camera filters (that I initially called lenses until he corrected it into filters), college life and so on. His Caucasian colleague interrupted him with work-related questions sometimes, but it didn’t stop us continuing the ongoing conversation.

“What time are you going home?” He asked.

Did I hear it right? “Well, I don’t know. May be at 6….or 8…..I don’t know. I’m going to my cousin’s place and meet up in Don Mills.”

I wasn’t lying. My cousin invited me to watch a movie at his home theater he’s so proud of. My niece purposely skipped her fitness routine on that day just to join me. So I wouldn’t let them down by cancelling the appointment.

“Really? I live there, too.” He replied.

CN tower’s souvenir shop on xmas

Later on, it came the most shocking question from a tourist attraction’s official. “Are you single?”

“Not really.” I responded.

We had some small talk for several minutes before a couple of visitors came to him asking about photo souvenirs. I decided to leave as they had a longer conversation and felt bad interrupting him working. So I told him goodbye. He looked at me for a second, nodded and headed back to the customers he was serving.

When I crossed the bridge heading to Rogers Centre, my mind suddenly ran a flashback scene in the tower. Everything went so smoothly before he surprisingly asked my marital status. I got a feeling that his excitement about me gradually went off after the 2 words coming from my mouth: “not really”.

bridge to rogers centre

Gosh! He asked me, “Are you single?” Nonetheless, I heard it otherwise, “Are you in a relationship?”. My honest answer should be, “Yes (I’m single).”

Regardless of the question, “not really” is really not a good answer, especially when it comes to marital status. Not really single, not really in a relationship, not really married? I mean, what are you trying to say? What was I trying to say? It’s a simply yes and no question. Why make it so complicated?

I remember giving him my email address in the middle of our conversation. But silly me, I didn’t ask his. Until now, no friend request on Facebook and “hello how are you” thing from him in my inbox. I believe I broke a good man’s heart. I made him ashamed and lose his face. He forgets me. He lost my address. Or else.

downtown toronto & toronto island

My Facebook search results showed over 100 Jaysons from The Philippines and nothing matches his profile. Anyways, many facebookers don’t use real names in their profile.

My sensitive imagination is running wild, interpreting our nice chitchat as a great chemistry between 2 strangers. Somehow, I wish I had the opportunity to reconnect the chemistry, although not necessarily for a relationship. May be it could start with, “Where were we?”

Get real, we are on our own. I guess, it was just about a guy who needed someone who listens to his thoughts. And I was nothing more than a random pick of the day.

if you find a moose instead of a grizzly bear, that means you’re in canada!

The Touch of Grace in Toronto

As I was walking in Entertainment District in Toronto, I heard someone’s whistling. I kept walking, assuming it was a catcall. Then, I heard it again for 2 more times. I looked back and approached a middle-aged man somewhere in his 50’s who called me. He passed me the ticket to Grace Kelly exhibition that was on him, only valid on the same day. He smiled and gave me a clin d’oeil before getting back to the driver’s seat.

Did I hear it wrong?

I directly entered TIFF Bell Lightbox, the building next to me where the exhibition was held. The actual ticket price was $15, the one I got cost $12, and I got it for free. So Charlie just got his golden ticket to the chocolate factory.  I’d got to rush, the museum would be closed within an hour!

TIFF brochure Grace Kelly

The house rules were strict. No photography, food, backpacks, handbags, stroller, too much noise and jackets worn inside. I held the jacket instead since I’m wasn’t willing to spend extra $2 to keep it in the garderobe.

Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess exhibition was produced by Grimaldi Forum Monaco in 2007 as seen in London, São Paulo, Astana, Rome and Paris. The theme says it all out loud. As I passed the security check, the wall on my left side displayed Kelly’s appearances in international magazines such as Time, Life, Look and Paris Match as a Hollywood actress and Her Serene Highness in the Kingdom of Monaco. In fact, it was the only part I could capture with my camera from the exhibition’s way out.

grace on cover of magazines

There were more archives highlighting Kelly’s life, which was anything but ordinary, behind the glass door of the museum. As one of the most remarkable fashion icons in the 20th century, her royal wedding dress designed by Helen Rose, flower-print dress when she met Prince Rainier III for the first time, the famous Kelly Bag, originally named sac à dépêche by Hermès, her favourite designer’s dresses by Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as Van Cleef and Arpels signature tiara undoubtedly lured her fans worldwide. It also showed scenes from her movie hits, e.g. Dial M for Murder, High Society, and Country Girl (where she won the Oscar) and photos from her past, from the wedding with Prince Rainier III, behind the scene with Alfred Hitchcock until her duties in numerous royal visits.

Her personal side is as interesting as her glamorous one. Kelly was a collector type in nature, although not necessarily beautifully crafted perfume bottles or music boxes. The telegram from Prince Rainier, the letter from AMPAS when she was nominated for an Oscar, from Alfred Hitchcock and her movie contract are some of the intimate belongings she kept well. Visitors had an access to view the Grimaldi family home video showing Kelly as a mother and wife. Besides, she did what A-list Hollywood stars rarely do, to wear some of her gowns more than once to the galas (except her wedding dress, I believe).

The white gloves she wore daily drive my curiosity. Kelly’s hands are more petites than I thought, probably smaller than mine. If I always have a problem getting favourite rings that fit me, especially in western countries, did she (unless they are customized)?

Grace Kelly’s Dresses
Image Credit: Where: Timely Information for Travellers, Nov-Dec 2011, p. 20-21

For a group of senior citizens, the exhibition had more profound meaning, beyond admiration of Kelly’s movies and beauty. They read Kelly’s private letters word by word as if they were love letters from the past lovers found in the old treasure box buried under the sands. They watched the Grimaldi home videos attentively, commenting on little Prince Albert and Princess Stéphanie as if they were their own grandsons.

grace kelly elevators

It brought back the time when they were young, reckless and productive. Kelly’s movies remind them of first high school dates or a family gathering to the cinema. Some still remember the joyful atmosphere when the beloved actress’ wedding become the wedding of the century, whose news was spread out around the globe, and how her wedding dress has become something legendary ever since. Even Kate Middleton couldn’t resist its timeless and classic design. They felt an emotional engagement with the exhibition since they grew up with Grace Kelly.

I wonder, perhaps one day I’ll feel the same way about Lady Gaga or Britney Spears exhibition when I turn 65.

I noticed the senior citizens seem to know each other well. Besides, there was a bus parking outside the museum, whose driver treated me the ticket. Eureka! I think I know why I got my golden ticket. The bus was chartered by the retirement home community to visit the exhibition. Since one of them couldn’t make it, the bus driver decided to give it away to someone else who was by him or herself. Then, he found me.

TIFF facade with Kelly news

“Elegance and beauty of movement, form, expression, or proportion” and “a pleasing or charming quality” are some of the definitions of “grace” quoted from WordReference.com. I believe that’s the part of “grace” the exhibition would like to show about Kelly, apart from commemorating her as a world class actress, fashion icon and princess, that touches both old and young generations. Well, I was lucky enough to feel that touch thanks to the golden ticket.

entertainment district in the pouring rain

Unionville in Less Than an Hour

Departing from Scarborough, the eastern part of Toronto where I stayed with my sister in early December, Unionville was the first tourist attraction I visited on the first 3 days of my stay in Canada. She warned me in advance in order not to disappoint me that it wasn’t the best time to visit this place despite all the pretty houses. Unionville is a town in the suburb of Markham, 33 km from the northeast of downtown Toronto, founded in 1794. Nonetheless, the main street or downtown was only erected in 1840 and all the buildings remain unchanged ever since. Now Unionville is the heritage conservation district especially the main street and listed in historical buildings of Markham.

All the pretty houses

Later on, I understood why she told me so. For a town being dependent on tourism, it was extremely quiet even though I saw some cars parking in front of the stores. There were merely about 10 people passing by outside in almost an hour. Plus my sister, mom and I, altogether were 13. It was just an estimated total, but enough to make number 13 became more notorious bad luck.

Regardless the superstition, there are reasons why it happened. The cold weather and wind in winter were unfriendly to this town. It wasn’t as cold as February, but usually flowers and trees start to blossom in spring. Events and festivals are held in summer. Outdoor terraces are open during summer. People prefer to go out more in spring and summer. Well, could be extended up to autumn, but definitely not winter. I guess they all make sense. Especially we were there at around 3 pm where some pubs, bars and restaurants were still closed. Schools and universities hadn’t had Christmas holidays yet.

But I still believe positive thinking beats all negative things around us. The main street was an outdoor architecture museum with goods to sell and people who operated daily activities of each store, café, restaurant and bar. No blond, black, brunette, grey and white heads blocking your vision to take pictures and to see certain details of the buildings. Visiting this town in the evening to eat out would be more alive during winter, but you won’t see the architecture that much.

Detail of the door of Old Unionville Congregational Church built by EJ Lennox in 1879, the man who built Casa Loma. I took it for the sake of the composition of the engraving, mailbox, door handle and yes, I let it blur. I hope it’s not a lame photo. I would like to see what’s behind this door, but the church was closed.

“Lost wives found here.” You bet!

I instantly got a glimpse of idea of what Unionville offers to its visitors apart from food and beverages by entering some stores without recalling their names. Suppose you’re looking for anything but main street items from fashion, toiletries, gift shop to local artworks, most probably you’re at the right place. Souvenirs were not many and a few weeks before December 25, they sold Christmas decorations too. Fashion goods tend to be vintage look, but doesn’t mean (real) vintage. Second-hand goods from previous styles, new items of a vintage-looking local brand and a cheap vintage-looking Chinese brand are the “vintage” you can get in this town. I prefer calling it vast vintage.

Bombarded “Made in China” goods are something very common in fashion even for Tommy Hilfiger, Armani etc. I could notice some cheap brands from China in the store (I forget its name) easily. I’d be careful with what I buy. I don’t mind purchasing a Canadian fashion brand which is unique and rarely available in other countries even though it’s made in China. But I really do mind purchasing a Chinese jewelry brand I can get less that $5 in my hometown sold for over $30 in Unionville or any other cities around the world. It’s an inevitable global trend that no one could blame. Needless to say, It would be perfect to have a Canadian brand “Made in Canada” in Canada.

If you get lovely real vintage, local brand, uncommon toiletries or local artwork from a gallery, it signifies that you’re a successful shopper.

The most visited building in Unionville built in 1840 by William Eakin, leased in 1872 and finally sold in 1881 to Robert Harringston. Planing Mill was a mill supplying carpentry goods for houses, churches, barns and schools in Unionville for 140 years. It was rebuilt in 1983 after the fire destroyed the building.

Starbucks looks “humble”. Without the signboard, I won’t notice it’s Starbucks.

The sweetest store selling sweets.

Above all, I loved Christmas gifts at Old Firehall Confectionery, the last place we visited to heat up our body and where we got a big cup of hot chocolate before going home. Looking at those chocolate and candy gifts, I felt tempted and pity at the same time. I wish the town had many more visitors, so they wouldn’t be wasted. I would be more than happy to have them if I didn’t gain weight very easily and had a fast metabolism system in my body. I would also like to dine in the restaurants, but I was too full on that day. Instead, my mom got a frozen stewed beef pie from a grocery store still in the main street neighbourhood, which was fortunately tasted really good.

You can run but you can’t hide!

The last object I saw was a squirrel running on a tree branch. It was a cute thing to see, especially the tree was bald so I could see the little creature crystal clear. In total, we spent about 50 minutes in Unionville including parking the car, walking to and from the car park. I was only swimming on the surface when it comes to observing this town. Nonetheless, I was glad it is well-preserved while many other suburban areas nearby and in Toronto mostly have unified square-shaped and -sorry to say, tasteless- shophouses and apartments.

Casa Loma: Majestic Hill House of Toronto

CASA LOMA

I love castles, mansions and Casa Loma! It is indeed my favourite tourist attraction in Toronto. Casa Loma (Hill House) is in Austin Terrace, the hill part of Toronto, built in 1911 for Sir Henry Pellatt, a Canadian financier. It  took 300 men in 3 years to complete his majestic casa. Unfortunately, in less than 10 years, he was in bankruptcy and forced to leave his $3,500,000 mansion.

The weather in Toronto was somewhat unpredictable last December, getting clear blue sky in winter time was like finding treasures in wreckage of Titanic. It required good weather to enjoy attractions at Casa Loma. Scheduling my time to the casa was a bit useless. If the sky was dark and lot of rains, I’d rather change my plan to museums instead. Stepping slippery stairs to Austin Terrace, watching thunder and dark sky from the top floor of the casa were the last things I wanted to do.

Other drawbacks of visiting the former Sir Pellatt’s mansion during winter were the garden and balcony were closed and the fountain outside the main entrance was turned off. But it was OK. I couldn’t avoid them, though.

Main Floor’s Top View

Casa Loma depicts Sir Henry Pellatt’s exquisite taste of medieval European castle and love of details. It is something rare in residential areas nowadays. The private wooden elevator on the main floor, the 800 ft tunnel, and the stairway to the tower where you can overlook Toronto city landscape are the most interesting details of the mansion besides its lavish rooms made of the finest materials, from Italian to Ontario marble, from oak, teak to mahogany wood.

Lady Pellat’s Suite

Lady Pellat’s Bed: Homage to Wedgwood

The casa does not only display Sir Pellatt’s old glory, but also his long term dedication to Queen’s Own Rifles, exhibited in Queen’s Own Rifles Museum on the third floor, and his philanthropic activities in a number of organisations, namely Grace Hospital, Trinity College, and St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. Sir Henry was a true philanthropist, even his bankruptcy didn’t stop him from being one. That is how Canadian people honour him, a philanthropist, not a failed entrepreneur. As a tribute to Lady Pellatt, the casa exhibits Girl Guides of Canada museum on the second floor, emphasizing her support as its first commissioner.

The Round Room

The Guest Suite

One week before Christmas was a busy week for Casa Loma. Santa Claus came to the casa and groups of elementary school had their study tour and made wishes to Santa. Some rooms on the third floor and the great hall on the main floor were closed for elementary school events. It was a bit annoying. However, compared to what the mansion offered, it was just a minor complaint I shouldn’t sweat.

The Great Hall booked for children’s activity

Santa’s staring downstairs waiting for children coming to him

Main entrance and view from the casa tower

bowling alley remains undone

Unfinished swimming pool, bowling alley and shooting range on the lower ground are signs of diminishing finances, becoming the less elegant part of the mansion. On the same floor, you can see the entrance to the tunnel linking to the stables. I thought I was completely lost with no turning back as I walked through the empty tunnel, and I finally reached the stables. There were potting shed, garage, stalls, foyer, carriage room and tack rooms. Indeed, simpler than the rest of the rooms.

Whether I’m a solo traveler or with group of friends, presence of cute animals like squirrels have always been my BFF along the way. They always make me smile.

AUSTIN TERRACE

After leaving Casa Loma, don’t rush to the subway first. Take your time walking around Austin Terrace residential area. It is a peaceful and lovely high-end neighbourhood that middle-class people can only dream of. This place is more than just a residential area, it’s a heritage of Canadian architecture from time to time.

Austin Terrace is located 23 meters high just below St. Clair Avenue. Directly below the hill point is the 12,000 year old shore cliffs of the great glacial lake Iroquois formed during the last Ice Age. The city of Toronto below it was once under water.

The other castle across Casa Loma

Austin Terrace 5: a former mansion of EJ Lennox, the architect of Casa Loma. Today is provincial home of the Sisters Servants Of Mary Immaculate‎. Casa Loma’s mailing address is Austin Terrace 1.

Spadina Museum

Remember, majestic hill houses in Austin Terrace are more than one, even though Casa Loma is the most beautiful and famous of all. Next time you visit Casa Loma, make sure that it’s sunny, no rain and no rush, so you can have it all. Include Austin Terrace sightseeing in your agenda.