Just like the disparity between the Irish and the Scottish or the absolute antagonism between Eastern Europeans and Western Europeans, Montrealers are generally raised – not in any way purposefully or forcefully, but often inherently – to dislike the city of Toronto. In Montreal, words that are used to describe the CN tower’s home, are “overbearing”, “uncultured”, “lackluster” and “corporate”. People often say that the city lacks history, a sense of community and is just too big for anyone to call home. They say it’s viciously competitive, a place where people dedicate their lives to the work they do in their enclosed offices, and where summer’s smog makes everything absolutely unenjoyable and utterly disgusting. Evidently, us Montrealers have a lot to say…and most of us feel this way for a good part of our lives…rejecting invites to the bustling city and using any chance we get to insult it.
The truth is, years ago, I was one of these Montrealers. “Nothing would make me move to Toronto” was a sentence I regularly uttered. Truly ironic, since I am, years later, happily living my life as a Torontonian, boarding streetcars with ease and slowly coming to terms with the navigational structure of such a large city (applause? anyone?)
I am, without a doubt, a huge fan of the 514, a city that I know like the back of my hand (aside from the clubs that seem to appear out of nowhere every time I visit), and it’s true, the beauty of Old Montreal is unsurpassed, it is – as they say – like strolling through a little piece of Europe. But. If you take the time to learn Toronto, you’ll find that there are places just like that in this Canadian concrete jungle, and you may be surprised just how much the two have in common despite size differences and major province/language contrasts.
Well, in a world where hate runs wild, I’m attempting to do my part in ending this little battle once and for all (although the hockey thing is not my jurisdiction). If you are ready and willing, dear Montrealers, here are five things you must experience before judging Toronto:
1. The Distillery District
Cobblestones, restored Victorian establishments, old world charm, antique stores galore, quaint, exceptional restaurants…sound familiar Habs fans? Thought so. Toronto’s distillery district located southeast of downtown, in a location one wouldn’t expect to find such a treasure, is by far the most reminiscent of our very own Old Port. It’s got it’s own unique characteristics, with a no car policy and hip Soho-esque allure, and certainly offers the greatest escape to the hustle and bustle of the city. Brunch at The Boiler House is absolutely worth the visit – live jazz plays in an outstanding setting, with a sprawling buffet for $24/person. So. worth. it.
2. Restaurant Lee
As Montrealers, we are extremely fortunate to have hundreds of critically-acclaimed, well priced, delicious restaurants at our doorsteps – with new venues sprouting up every week – and I must say that I was always under the impression that moving to Ontario would erase that part of my life completely. Pub food, chain restaurants and takeout were to be my new stomping grounds. Well, in the case of Toronto at least, I was, very fortunately, incorrect. My meal at Restaurant Lee is now comfortably sitting on my list of best meals ever (and I just spent 3 months in Europe people). Master Chef winner, Susur Lee, owns several restaurants in Toronto and New York and has become somewhat of a celebrity. After much gushing to our waiter, we were lucky enough to have Lee himself visit our table and speak a few words. He is humble and kind, even offering his coleslaw recipe to my mom. Speaking of coleslaw – this NINETEEN ingredient “Slaw” has become Lee’s signature and the minute I tasted it, I knew why. It is a mouth-watering masterpiece. Truth be told, there is exquisite food in Toronto.
3. Saturday morning at St. Lawrence Market
Picture a larger Atwater Market mixed with a St. Laurent street sale vibe. Amazing, right? St. Lawrence market is an absolute utopia for foodies – offering samples to visitors including dozens of mustards, fresh pasta with homemade sauce, rows upon rows of berries, an area filled with what could plausibly be all the cheeses in the world…and so much more. An inviting environment filled with all the things you crave, fresher than ever before. There’s certainly no buyer’s remorse when you’re able to taste what you bring home! The pasta machine that effortlessly churns out fresh pieces (pictured below) is worth a visit of its own.
4. Breakfast at School
Aside from being a huge fan of Toronto and Montreal (obviously.), I’m also big on breakfast. Yes, it’s easy to serve up eggs and toast, or offer some out-of-this-world homefries, but truly reinventing the way we eat breakfast is what really draws my attention. Enter school. An adorable building in Liberty Village, School is exactly as its name implies…waitresses dressed in sassy uniforms, clocks and chalk boards adorning the walls, apples on each table, and – for all you chemistry junkies out there – all liquid is served in beakers. All context aside, the food is incredible. Upon my first visit, each person in the group ordered a different dish, consequently taste testing each of our choices, and deciding the meal pictured below was 100% the best (although all options were outstanding). Crispy. French. Toast. Need I say more? Try it.
5. King West on a Saturday Night
We all want different things from our Saturday nights. Some of us look for manic dancing, others want to grab a beer (preferably by a TV playing sports?), live music, cocktails, mouth-watering tapas, a documentary festival? King West has it all. Exhibit A: A few months ago, a large group of us set out for a night on the town. The place we had intended on going to (F-Stop) had an issue with a pipe and was therefore closed. Just like St-Laurent in dear old MTL, never fear! There are places near. Rather than finding ourselves at a regular joe bar that plays Top 40 hits, where short skirts overpopulate strong drinks… we ended up at Spin – a Ping Pong bar owned by none other than Susan Sarandon. Random? Yes. Hilarious, Ridiculous, Fun, Memorable? YES and YES. King West is a treasure trove for fun and exciting bars that won’t have you begging you were at Le Confessional or perusing the usual suspects on St.Lau.
Toronto and Montreal both have exceptional character… and just like boyfriends past and present, it’s not fair to compare the two when they offer such unique qualities. The best way to form an opinion is to get out there and gain some perspective.
So, visiting me anytime soon?