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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taste of the Danforth & Greektown :: Food Festivals & TO Neighbourhoods

Pilaro's Taste of Danforth is one of the most well-known festivals that Toronto has to offer. Gyros, quail, souvlaki, baklava...the festival does a great job in showcasing what the Danforth has to offer. If you're willing to combat the lines, anyways.

As Taste of Danforth has come and gone for another year, I thought that I'd include other non-festival eats that you will find in Greektown.

Taste of the Danforth
Verdict: Busy crowds, but a fun day if you want to sample several restaurants on the Danforth!
Meal: Lunch/Dinner

Price: Varies - $2-$5 per item
Location: Greektown on The Danforth

Greektown Reviews
Click to skip to...
Caffe Demetre
*Greek Community of Toronto (only at Taste of Danforth)
Louis Meat Market
Ocean's Treasures Fish Market
7 Numbers
*Zorba's Shishkebob House

*Cookie&Tomato Favourites

Food festivals! After a great time at last night's T&T Night Market, I was excited to go from Asian festival eats to Greek festival meats. Skewers, wraps, and tiny poultry galore, Taste of Danforth never fails to be a great time with good company. Besides Greek food, the typical festival fare can be found including corn, watermelon, ice cream, & iced tea stands.

Corn & Yellow Watermelon...(I prefer red)

Avli Restaurant
Verdict: Good grilled calamari, enjoyable halal lamb...but there's better at the festival
Meal: Taste of Danforth

Price: $5 per item
Location: 401 Danforth Avenue

Grilled Skewered Shrimp, Grilled Halal Lamb, & Spare Ribs

Grilled Calamari ($5)
Flavourful & not too chewy

Swimming in sauce, the calamari was begging to be scooped up and eaten.  My friend had never tried calamari cooked this way, and he ended up really enjoying it! I've had better grilled calamari from a vendor at July's Corso Italia festival (the name escapes me), as it was more tender but this wasn't bad at all. Not too chewy, every tentacle was enjoyed.

The line moved fairly quickly, the spare ribs didn't look too appetizing and I had more than my fair share of shrimp the day before at the T&T Night Market. However,the halal lamb looked juicy and smelled great...too good to pass up!
Grilled Halal Lamb ($5)
Halal Lamb: Now with handle for easy caveman eating
Yum, this was a great way to start our festivities. A little tough to eat while walking around, but it was juicy and flavourful. However, it was about to be trumped by...

Louis Meat Market
Verdict: Better lamb than Avli, good quail but not better than Zorba's
Taste of Danforth
Price: $3-4 per item
Location: 443 Danforth Avenue

While waiting in the long line at Messini's we eyed Louis Meat Market next door. True to my food festival lessons-learned, I skipped over to this vendor's shorter line for some much anticipated quail. While waiting, I noticed several people grabbing thick, juicy lamb chops and I couldn't resist ordering one. At 2 for $5 (or $3 each), this was a better deal with Avli...and much tastier.
Lamb Chop (1/$3 & 2/$5)
Avli good, Louis Meat Market better (yes, I realize this is not pork but I couldn't resist)

Perhaps because it was a thicker cut, but it was far juicier & more tender. We also preferred their flavouring over Avli's halal lamb.

Quail ($4)
Love these little birds, bones and all
I managed to grab our quail right as it came out from the kitchen. These tiny little birds are so delicious and packed with flavour, you really can't just eat one. Which is why grabbed another at Zorba's... [Compare Quails]

While Louis Meat Market's lamb chop beat Avli, Zorba's quail was much better. My friend enjoyed his chicken gyro from Louis, but I was pretty set on a Messini's gyro so I didn't try it.

Caffe Demetre
Verdict: Run-of-the-mill dessert place. Decent strawberry ice cream...but not even close to Sweet Fantasies' cone
Taste of Danforth
Price: Don't recall
Location: 400 Danforth Avenue
Strawberry crepes with ice cream
Oceans Treasures Fish Market
Verdict: Enjoyed the crab dip
Taste of Danforth
Price: $5
Location: 563 Danforth Avenue

Squid, Salmon skewers, Shrimp skewers

Crab Au-Gratin

Warm crab-au-gratin in a shell was a nice find at Danforth. I was squid'ed out from the Night Market & Calamari from Avli, so we just stuck with the crab. Warm, soft, with melted cheese it was good with the white bread. While we enjoyed it, I can't help but wonder what a really good crab-au-gratin tastes like and where I can find it.

Verdict: Decent pork souvlaki...Zorba is better
Taste of Danforth
Price: $3 per kabob
Location: 390 Danforth Avenue
Every year, Astoria is very popular for their shish kabobs. Selling at $3, pork souvlaki kabobs with buttered bread were selling at a crazy rate. While tasty, I found Zorba's pork skewer better. However, I enjoyed their pork enough to consider giving them a try for a lunch or dinner. [Compare]
Pork Souvlaki ($3)

Greek Community of Toronto Tent
Verdict: Mind blown. Baklava was amazing and I probably have diabetes from single-handedly devouring 8 Loukoumedes.
Meal: Only available @
Taste of Danforth
Price: $3 per item
Location: 443 Danforth Avenue
Every year, I pass this tent without much of a thought. I am so fixated on trying the different restaurants that I don't venture close enough to see their fare. I was missing out big time.

Baklava ($3)
World's best baklava...look at all that honey!
After peering at this for a bit from the side, a wonderfully friendly Greek lady began chatting with us and told us about the homemade baklava. It looked different than the typical dessert that you see in restaurants, as it was circular instead of a layer pastry. I've only tried this dessert once - at 93 Harbord which left me very underwhelmed. However, my friend was drooling at the sight of these honey-drenched desserts so we picked one up.
Drenched in honey, I fell in love. A bit of filo for us to try.
I took a stab, expecting to try a bite and give my buddy the rest. However, the second I popped a forkful into my mouth my sweet tooth awoke and began demanding more, More, MORE! This was ridiculously good, and we stood there forking up every last piece. My friend said that it was the best baklava he has ever had!

After we were done, we promptly turned around to get more. Afterall, how often do you get to eat homemade baklava?! I'm already looking forward to a repeat of this next year...
Loukoumades ($3/8) (or as I like to call 'em, honey balls!)

Again, I was skeptical about this dessert. I'm such an old school chocolate and cookies girl, that I wasn't expecting to fall in love with something like deep fried dough. WRONG!

These delicious puffs were drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. I tried one and I was hooked...and proceeded to greedily eat seven more. In my defense, we had a total of 9 puffs, meant for 6 people. 4 people were in a bar and did not come out to join us for dessert, and my friend stopped at 1. It was either throw these babies out, or eat 'em. Clearly made the right choice The insulin-spiking, diabetes inducing, delicious, delicious choice.

Kataifi ($3)

Kataifi, explained the sweet Greek lady, is filled with almonds, walnuts, cinnamon and sugar. The stringy dough is fluffy dried wheat that's soft and very pleasant.
My friend kept referring it to Shredded Wheat. We wondered if drizzling shredded wheat with honey, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon and brown sugar would be tasty...anyone care to experiment?

Amazing Greek Sweets. This Baklava has a different design, which made it a bit crunchier, but it was just as delicious!

Zorba's Shishkebob House
Verdict: Best quail & pork @ Taste of Danforth
Taste of Danforth
Price: $3-4
Location: 681 Danforth Avenue
My friend was rather disturbed by the overwhelming amount of rotating line quail. Legs wiggling in the air as they knocked against each other, skewered birds kept spinning and spinning...We stopped and stared for a moment, a bit mesmerized before making a beeline to join the hungry queue.
Quail, quail and...more quail!

My friend sarcastically suggested that we try the Kokoretsi, which are lamb intestines wrapped around liver, spleen, and heart. Thinking he was serious, I eagerly nodded and said that I was glad he was open to trying new things! Imagine his relief when an employee scratched it off the menu. Darn. Must return to try it in the near future, or else my curiousity will get the best of me!

Best quail of the festival!

Who could resist such a glorious showcase of poultry? I was grateful that they chopped the bird in half - it was much easier to eat this way. I was also pleasantly surprised to spot the heart in the quail - did I miss it in Louis Meat Market's version? Or was it removed prior to cooking? Still unsure. Either way, Zorba's quail was far juicier and more flavourful. [Compare Quails]
Their combination of spices was fantastic and I will definitely be returning for a full meal there.

Pork Kebob

We especially liked their pork, as it was much juicier, flavourful, and all-around tastier than Asteria's kabobs. [Compare] Less environmentally friendly with the Styrofoam containers though.

Verdict: Good kalamari & salty saganaki
Lunch, Dinner, Taste of Danforth
Price: $25 for dinner
Location: 443 Danforth Avenue
Patio & Seating Areas

Roasted peppers
I've come to associate Mezes with exclamations of "Flaming Cheese!" between friends. Perfect on a cold night, Mezes' saganaki is a favourite late night snack. Decent souvlaki platters and appetizers, Mezes is a good place to go with friends after a day out and I've enjoyed several decent dinners here.

The service is consistently good, and while it's never completely empty, we've never had trouble grabbing a table for a group without a reservation. Decent food for average prices.
Kefalograviera cheese, pan-browned and then flambeed, with brandy...Flaming Cheese!
While on the salty side, I can never resist ordering this from the menu. Not usually a fan of cheese, this is the exception. Warm, crispy and gooey, and perfect for sharing. They toss a shot of brandy, light it on fire and douse it with a slice of lemon.

Kalamari Dinner
Chicken in a puff pastry...meh
Thick calamari, battered and deep fried this is one of the better calamari dishes that I've tried in Toronto. [Compare]

This dinner comes with roasted potatoes, a Greek salad, and a very generous dollop of tzatziki. Personally, I prefer ordering it as an appetizer to share amongst the table.

Aegean Fare Special
Beef and chicken cooked in wine, with mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and tomatoes. Flambéed with brandy. Served with roast potatoes.
While I enjoyed the roasted potatoes, I found the vegetables a little oily the beef tough & overcooked. I wouldn't order this again.
Messini's Authentic Gyros
Verdict:  Busy, good chicken souvlaki. Have yet to try the lamb gyro. Greasy Greek Spoon Diner.
Meal: Lunch, Dinner, &
Taste of Danforth
Price: ~$10 per item
Location: 445 Danforth Avenue
Messini's Authentic Gyros are often touted as Danforth's best gyros. I've tried their chicken and pork gyros, chicken slouvaki, Greek fries, and Spanakopita (spinach pie). Unfortunately, every time that I've visited they had run out of the lamb gyro and they weren't serving it during the festival! An elusive beast, the lamb gyro has evaded me three times.

Consistently one of the busier stands at the festival, they offer gyros for $5. The "authenticity" refers to the French fries they stuff inside each wrap.
Chicken & Pork, all ready to be gyro'ed!
Gyros ($5)
Chicken & Pork, gyro'ed!

While I prefer the chicken over the pork, I wasn't blown away by these gyros. The pork was quite dry, and while the chicken itself was good the fries at the festival tasted stale and mushy. The fries in my gyros when I dined in Messini's were unmemorable as well.

I think that fresh & thinner-cut fries in these gyros would make a world of difference! Despite my disappointment, I plan to return to get that elusive lamb gyro. Perhaps my perception of Messini's will change to match the hype?
Chicken Souvlaki

In contrast, I've tried their Chicken Souvlaki a couple times. Both times they were quite satisfying...perhaps chicken is best left for souvlaki, lamb for the gyro, and pork for the chops!

Greek Fries
Round fries topped with feta cheese, olive oil and oregano - once again, I am unimpressed with their fries. I prefer mine fresh cut and very crispy, whereas these tasted like they were reheated from a frozen supermarket batch. With a great plate of fries, the feta cheese and oregano would have been a tasty combination...add some tomatoes and a bit of lemon and I'd be sold.

While I enjoyed the spinach, I felt that this was a bit on the greasy side. I've heard that Athen's Bakery just down the street makes a great non-greasy Spanakopita which I plan on checking out.

7 Numbers Danforth
Verdict:  Service was was not
Meal: Dinner

Price: ~$25
Location: 307 Danforth Ave

I was quite disappointed with this meal - the zucchini flowers were very oily and poorly deep-fried, the sardines were boring with a sloppy side of vegetables, and my entree was covered in oil with one sad, mushy piece of potato. Huge thumbs down, and I haven't been back since.

Tasting Danforth...
Overall, I'd say that both the Taste of Danforth and Greektown are worth checking out at least once. There are plenty of pubs in the area that you can pop into to relax after the festival. If you've never been to Greektown, this is also a great way to sample different vendors and decide which ones you might want to return to for a full lunch or dinner. For your non-Greekfood-loving friends, there are plenty of too including Thai, corn, and general BBQ food. I even saw a guy walking around with a Subway sandwich (?!!?!)

Non-Greek fare included oysters, pulled pork, and potato pancakes

Taste of Danforth
Verdict: Busy crowds, but a fun day if you want to sample several restaurants on the Danforth!
Meal: Lunch/Dinner

Price: Varies - $2-$5 per item

Location: Greektown on The Danforth
Avli on UrbanspoonAstoria Shish Kebob House - Danforth on Urbanspoon7 Numbers on UrbanspoonMezes on UrbanspoonMessini Authentic Gyros on UrbanspoonZorba's on UrbanspoonZorba's on UrbanspoonCaffe Demetre on UrbanspoonOceans Treasures Fish Market on UrbanspoonLouis Meat Market on Urbanspoon


Galine said...

I just wanted to thank you for this amazing review of "Taste of the Danforth"! I have never been & my husband & I will be going this year. The photos have me extremely hungry & make me look forward to this upcoming weekend ^^ So thank you! (And oh, all the delicious meat...haha)

Erin said...

Thanks Galine :-) Enjoy!!! I'm very excited to visit the Greek Community Tent for their baklava!!!

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