Somewhere in Scarborough is some sushi with your name on it.
For someone who’d decided to keep west of Victoria Park Avenue, it seems like I’m spending a whole lotta time in Scarborough these days!
In the land of strip malls, beauty salons and more ethnic diversity than almost anywhere else in Toronto,
Welcome to Wexford Heights. On Lawrence Avenue East, an area of town that saw coaching inns and country estates 200 years ago, it now offers foods from a wealth of different global cuisines. Why grab lunch at the local KFC when you have so much to choose from?
But how do you know what’s good? How do you know where to go when you have so much to choose from?
With this question in mind, Scarborough Dishcrawl stepped in to help me answer it.
What is a Dishcrawl?
As Dishcrawl describes itself, it’s all about
Food, Fun, and Exploration! We here at Dishcrawl aim to provide you with a premier culinary social experience by bringing together neighborhood restaurants, local chefs, regional food producers and fellow food enthusiasts. Join us if you’d like to embark on a one-of-a-kind gastronomic adventure!
A Dishcrawl is the pub crawl equivalent for foodies. You pay one price beforehand and visit several restaurants throughout the night.
In order to keep it a surprise, you’re not told where you’re going beforehand — 48 hours before the event’s start, you’re emailed with a meeting point to start the night, but everything else is a mystery from there!
The night would be led by Jennifer, the Scarborough Dishcrawl Ambassador who’d orchestrated the night’s event and set it up to make sure we all enjoyed ourselves as much as possible.
Here’s where we wound up that night….
Gu-Mi’s been around for more than 25 years and specializes in Japanese and Korean food (as its owner, Susan — who was very nice and welcoming — demonstrated to us by a short pantomime of PSY’s “Gangnam Style”). They sat us in its newest section, and with a glowing review of the food by a South Korean family that was visiting, we got to sample some of the cooking from Susan’s brother, the restaurant’s chef working his magic in the back.
What We Had:
- Korean pancake
- chicken teriyaki
- California and avocado rolls
- zucchini and yam tempura
- miso soup
How it Was:
Largely like your typical Japanese restaurant — the only item that was new to me was the Korean pancake, which was delicious with some soy sauce! Would’ve loved to have some of the spicy food that Korean cuisine is known for, but it was an event trying to appeal to a variety of people and not just me, so I could make do!
Naan and Kabob
Naan and Kabob is just a few doors down from Gu-Mi and offers up Afghan fare. You can immediately tell that a professional interior decorator designed it; many of the motifs, from the lighting to the art and colour choices, give a feeling like many of the dining choices you’d find on Queen or King Street and not Lawrence Avenue East.
What We Got:
- Mantu, a popular Afghan dish that’s a pasta filled with ground beef
- Chicken breast from a kabob
- Basmati rice
- Salad with a yogurt dressing
How it Was:
I have to admit, I was looking forward to the Indian naan I know (and love — thoroughly), but the meal wasn’t bad. I would’ve liked slightly larger portions, but it was still enough to give me a good idea of what the restaurant had to offer.
L’s Chinese Eatery
Our next stop was a slight walk from the first two, but not a problem with the wonderful weather we had!
L’s Chinese Eatery has only been open a month and serves what you’d expect from a Chinese restaurant, offering up Cantonese and Hakka-style Chinese food. The decor is really nice — the mirrored wall distracted me from the restaurant’s small size (it likely only seats 25-30 people). Our night’s host, John, would apologize for his bad English (which wasn’t all that bad) and tell us about the bites of Chinese cuisine we’d be noshing on.
Quick Caveat — The place is so new that it doesn’t even have a liquor license yet, so I hope you like water and tea!
What We Got:
- homemade egg rolls
- hakka chow mein with chicken
- hot and sour soup
How it Was:
The standout item here was the homemade egg rolls. It was a shame that we were given little packets of plum sauce to put on them, but they were still delicious! Everything else was pretty standard, though.
Damas Mediterranean Grill House and Juice Bar
The night’s final stop was Damas Mediterranean Grill and Juice Bar, a Syrian-owned restaurant on the corner of Victoria Park and Lawrence that’s been in business for more than 25 years.
Not really much to say on this one — the owners weren’t there and we were just there for juice and baklava, but it was a good way to wrap up a night of Dishcrawling!
What We Got:
- mango/banana/strawberry smoothies
How it Was:
The smoothies and baklava were both sweet. That’s really all I’ve got on this one.
So how WAS Scarborough Dishcrawl?
- Great socializing: It’s always good meeting new people you wouldn’t otherwise, and because the Dishcrawl forces you to find new seats every time you change locations, it’s something that you keep doing with each new restaurant. The night’s highlight for me was meeting a Whitby couple who’re just the kind of parents I’d want to be with their approach, their mindset and the relationship they have with their kids. I was definitely taking notes.
- No choices = no wasted time: With a budgeted 45 minutes per restaurant, it surprised me that we never felt rushed — by taking away the need to figure out what we’d be eating, it left plenty of time to focus on time with the restaurant owners, time for conversation and time for enjoying the pre-set meals that’d been prepared for us.
- Location: If you live east of Yonge (that’s right — you don’t even need to be from Scarborough to enjoy a Scarborough Dishcrawl), it’s not all that hard to get to the locations in Scarborough. It also offered something that’s a bit of a rarity in downtown Toronto — free parking! Car or no, though, the fact that you just need to get there and then walk to each location is a huge draw for you subway warriors out there!
- Same ol’, same ol': With a few notable exceptions, most of the food was stuff I could find just about anywhere I look in downtown Toronto. If you want something that’s different from the norm for Toronto, it might not be in Wexford Heights.
- A Tough Sell: Maybe it was poor luck, but some of these restaurants didn’t sell themselves very well. Despite Dishcrawl bringing in business and offering the spread the word about their restaurants, neither Naan nor Damas had any management on hand to help us learn about their restaurants. Part of attracting repeat customers to a restaurant is creating an unforgettable experience, but in forgetting this it made them seem inexperienced.
Would I do it again? Sure — Dishcrawls are a great way to discover foods in parts of the city that you’re not familiar with, and Toronto has no end of things to discover!
Watch for the next Scarborough Dishcrawl whenever it comes your way! In the meantime, you can see their official rundown of the night’s events here: http://www.dishcrawl.com/blog/community/3626/four-gastronomic-delights-in-one-spring-night-dishcrawl
Until next time, amigos,
[Disclaimer: I was given a free ticket to Scarborough Dishcrawl to write this post, which admittedly turned out a lot longer than I originally anticipated!]