Astoria

The Astoria, located at number 390 on the Danforth, was where I travelled to satiate my craving for some good ol’ Greek food. Now, I’m more of a newbie than a connoisseur when it comes to Greek food, considering it all mostly good. Pita? Awesome. Tzatziki, gyro, souvlaki? Yum. Throw some o’ dat on my plate. Remember Sofia’s with the open-faced chicken souvlaki with spinach and feta? One of my favourite restaurants in Montreal would be Marvin’s up by l’Acadie, a little tavern-looking Greek restaurant with the greatest calamari and lamb chops.

Anyway, the Astoria Shish Kabob House, its full name, is rated on BlogTO as the best restaurant for Greek food in Toronto. Now, I was madly craving some of that souvlaki and was willing to walk the hour from my place to the Danforth to have some, seeing as most of the restaurants on the list were, with reason, located in Toronto’s Greek town.

The restaurant itself was surprisingly large, but this is coming from eating exclusively in downtown Toronto for the last 4 months or so where restaurants try to maximize their space by cramming as many tables as possible inside. Whenever I try to squeeze into my seat, I inevitably send other people’s meals crashing to the ground with my ass.

I ordered myself the lamb souvlaki on a pita, as I am very very partial to lamb. The waiter asked how I wanted my lamb (medium rare) and this was the exact reason I was willing to walk all the way up here instead of just the 10 minutes to a random food court for some random food court meat on a stick. Granted, I didn’t actually have to walk because my brother (pictured below) had to come drop off some laundry for me and run some errands, so we went for dinner.

The brother and his sweaty back.

The lamb was succulent, impeccably seasoned. So juicy, and cooked perfectly medium rare, just how I like it. The problem with lamb is that if the meat is too old or not from a less gamey breed of lamb, the taste can be off-putting for some people. Me, I like it just fine, but this lamb was great, not too gamey, perfectly tender. There were a few spots where the fat was too chewy for me but that was just for a few cuts and I chewed through it like a caveman. No one to impress, y’know how it is. The pita seemed a little dry and they forgot to put onions on my order, but that’s only because they got confused, since my brother ordered no onions on his.

The tzatziki was very strong. A great fresh flavour, but tasted a bit too strongly of yogourt for my preferences. I’m sure it’s a fantastic sauce, but I’m not really a big fan of dairy products. You know, except for ice cream.

Predictably, my brother, the chicken-addict, ordered the chicken souvlaki. He’s still chasing after that wonderful chicken gyro that we had in New York. I like chicken and all but I don’t really like to order it at a restaurant, unless it’s in some sort of pasta.

I had a piece of his chicken, and it was nicely seasoned, but it was just so dry. I’m the kind of person that likes my food a bit bloody, but for obvious reasons, you can’t really do that with chicken. My brother likes his steaks well done (really, wtf), so I can see why he would put up with the dryness of chicken. I guess the texture doesn’t really bother him, but I’ll admit that the seasons on the chicken were quite pleasant. Slightly tangy, yet very savoury.

I ordered a side of garlic bread for only $0.78! I think. It was definitely under a dollar though. And this is a lot of garlic bread for a side order. Very garlic-y, and it satisfied my cravings well. The top bread was soft and buttery, while the bottom sides were a bit crunchy. Best of both worlds!

When it came time for the bill, I was expecting a 35-40 dollar bill, but it surprisingly only came up to $24 for the both of us to dine there. A steal for the restaurant setting. The only thing I’m going to complain about is the after-dinner mints, which really isn’t that big a deal. I mean, they did give us 3 pieces of candy for two people, but really, cinnamon flavour and black licorice flavour. Why would someone even buy that?

Luckily I headed next-door to Dolce Gelato, which apparently just opened up, and had myself some gelato. The thing about this dessert is that what looks like a tiny cup is actually a lot of gelato! I bought a small cup for $3.75 and they allowed me to put two flavours into it, and man did they have a lot of flavours to choose from. I went with my favourite gelato, lemon flavour, and then my crack from Vietnam, passion fruit. :)

Ahh, walking through slash driving through the Danforth and seeing all the great houses with great lawns just steps from the main street made me fall in love with it. The Danforth just has a great feeling to it, great boutiques and lots of different restaurants. The place is a little like quaint suburbia mixed with a slight hustle-bustle of city life, and it’s right on the subway line so getting downtown is a breeze. I think this is where I want to raise my family. Haha! Dreams and wishes.

 

 

 

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The Great American Ride

So I’ve been neglecting this wonderful world of word wizardry for the past month, but I’m back and you can expect some wicked updates, hopefully consistently. I went back to Montreal for a month-long visit. I’ve got some school orientation activities to attend for the next few days and then officially begin university! Exciting. Terrifying. New. Amazing.

Today’s story took place just this past wondrous Tuesday. I love food. I love adventures. I love doing things that make me happy. So, Mixa and I decided to make an impromptu mini-road trip to the great state of New York and hit up some restaurants that have been featured on the show, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives from the Food Network. The tentative itinerary had been to leave at 8am to get breakfast from Sophia’s Restaurant in Buffalo, do some light shopping in a couple of malls, snack at the Cheesecake Factory (not a Triple D stop), fill up my tank with some cheap cheap American fuel, and then head to Grover’s for dinner before going back home to London Tap House for some nachos.

The day started out not as planned with us just rousing ourselves from sleep at 8:30, which meant we only actually got out of bed at 9:30. Having just gotten to Toronto from Montreal the night before at 2:00am, I think it was justified that we were dragging our feet a bit, no matter how excited we were for the day. We left the house with a leftover sandwich from Tim Hortons to tie us over till breakfast while running errands before crossing the border.

We got to Sophia’s Restaurant at about 12:30, in time for lunch. There were just a few tables seated, but that was understandable since we were there in the middle of a weekday. Apparently the place gets very packed on weekends and dinner and breakfast time, I’d believe it.

The area was very unassuming. Sitting on a road that might as well have been gravel, in the middle of a podunk industrial region, with sketchy gas stations and autoshops on either side stood the little wooden house-turned-restaurant. As you can see above, the poster of Guy Fieri stood front and centre of the diner’s kitchen. Sophia’s Restaurant is a little diner specializing in greek food but also conventional American breakfast. They make their own bread, and get all their ingredients fresh from local farmers. I ordered an open face chicken souvlaki sandwich, and Mixa ordered an open gyro. They gave us a free order of french fries and potatoes because we were pretty. Ahem, well they said that they “didn’t want to waste them” but we knew what they meant.

This is Mixa with her order and the restaurant's manager, Sophia's younger son.

And my plate. Don't be fooled by how it looks!

I can’t vouch for Mixa’s plate (though she says it was delicious), but my plate was phenomenal. Atop a freshly baked, golden and crispy toasted slice of bread was a mountain of marinated chicken souvlaki, fresh tomatoes, spinach and melted feta cheese, accompanied by a nice pickle. Now, the chicken was tender, juicy, and so much flavour it hurt my taste buds. Spinach was soft and moist, the tomatoes were sweet, and the creamy feta just mixed perfectly with everything it came in contact with. The best part though, was the bread. A thick slice of it, hidden under the extravagant gastronomic orgy, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and miraculously not soggy through out. A slight hint of butter with bit of a tang of oil. It was so very very delicious.

The free potatoes were very good too. The home fries were soft, flavourful. Not too thick, and there were some that were crunchy because of their thinness. The fries were surprising. Delicious when they first came out and even after we finished our meal an hour later, they retained their crispy exterior!

At the end of it all, our two gigantic plates, the fries/potatoes, and two drinks came up to a whopping… $18. Are you serious? I love America.

We even met the restaurant's original owner, Sophia, and got a horrible picture with her!

After our amazing lunch, my gas light came on so we headed out to fill up the tank. Now, depending on the day and how much gas stations love me, it’ll take me about $40 to fill up my tank from empty. It’s gone as high as $46.  How much did it cost me in Buffalo? $30 flat. It was beautiful.

While getting ready to head to the mall, we were approached by a guy in about his 20’s asking if we were going to UB. “…Sorry.. what?” It might have been the Itis setting in, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying clearly, even though I detected no accent.

“University of Buffalo. Are you going to the concert tonight? Do you know what time it starts at?”

“Sorry, we weren’t aware there was a concert.”

“It’s a free Kid Cudi concert, everyone’s going but I don’t know when it starts.”

Free? That’s our favourite word. To the Google machine, where he is quickly given his answer and we are given another stop for the day.

We spent the next few hours racing up and down the state, passing toll booth after toll booth, this island and that. Hit up the Fashion Outlet Mall and the Walden Galleria. Spent a bunch of money. Nothing terribly interesting. Picked up a cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory to bring back home.

At around 6, we head to East Amherst to dine at Grovers Bar & Grill, apparently President Grover’s old hunting lodge. Grovers won the local “Best Burger” three years running and when you walk in, you can tell. The place was packed with people either eating or waiting to eat. When you walk in, you have to sign yourself up on the blackboard to be seated. Mixa and I ended up sitting at the bar to eat. We chatted with some locals around us who were waiting to be seated, sipping on iced tea and cola because we are not yet 21. Unable to order alcohol is a strange feeling.

Our guide on the wall

Still a bit full from lunch, we decided to skip out on the Cheeseburger soup, which I really wanted to try and instead each got a burger and shared a single order of wings. We got the “Honey Parmesan” chicken wings. I ordered the “Bruiser” and Mixa got the “Bacon Blue.”


The chicken wings were delightfully crispy and wonderfully seasoned. Piping hot, but it was nothing compared to these burgers. 12 oz. 12 OUNCES of burger. On top of these wonderful buns. I could hardly get it into my mouth. Mixa’s Bacon Blue is nearly self explanatory. Burger. Toppings. Bacon. Blue Cheese.

I’m pretty sure this was the best burger I’ve ever had. Ever. In my life. I ordered my burger medium rare and it came out just so, steaming hot. This gigantic burger sat in front of me and it was all mine. The meat was fresh, juicy, and slightly pink on the inside. The bun that it sat on could barely contain it. I cannot stress how juicy it was. The Bruiser: burger, lettuce, tomatoes, fresh onion, grilled onions, cajun spice, and blue cheese. I love onions. I could hardly pick it up to shove into my mouth but when I did, that first bite was the closest I’ve ever been to heaven.

There is no clean way to eat this burger. You forget what your momma taught you, you forget you’re in a crowded restaurant, and you just scarf it down. The juices run down your hand, there’s cheese on your fingers, and ketchup all over your face, but you know what? No one gives a shit. Not you, not anyone, because they are all engrossed in their own burger. MMMF, so good. I could only stuff down half the burger, but as I’m writing this, I wish I ate it all. I boxed the other half and gave it to my brother when I got home, and even cold, it was one of the best tasting things in the world (that I’ve eaten so far in my life).

Unable to bask in the afterglow of great food, we had to rush over to University At Buffalo for the Kid Cudi show. The internet said that it was to start at 7:00, while gates opened at 6:30. We left Grover’s at 7:30, but not being gigantic Cudi fans, we weren’t too miffed about not being very close to the stage.

Walking onto campus, we felt immediately as if we stood out. It was as if they knew we didn’t go to the school, or even lived in the country. The population was very nearly completely caucasian. Were they staring at us because we were Asian or because Mixa was wearing a stupid coat? Hahaha.

Part of the crowd and Mixa's hand

Cudi came on at around 8/8:15 and performed for about an hour. It was a fun show full of energy, and everyone was having fun. At one point, there was a guy swinging from high up in a tree.

Cudiii!!!

We left a bit before the end of the concert because we had previous engagements back in Canada. As we were walking away, we heard him say that it was the last song, so it was alright, we weren’t missing anything. Walking across the parking lot to Pursuit of Happiness, beating the end of concert traffic jam, and not getting questioned at the border brought a perfect end to our stay in the USA.

From the back of the crowd