Here’s what you should know about Toronto’s summer food fest.
What is Summerlicious?
Summerlicious is the City of Toronto’s annual summer celebration of food. This year, it’s happening at featured restaurants across the city from July 5 to 21. Its cold weather partner, Winterlicious, takes place each February.
How it works is that the restaurants offer a three-course prix fixe for dinner ($33/$43/$53) and/or lunch ($23/$28/$33). For each course, you can choose from several dishes. In my experience, the price variance is usually in line with how expensive the restaurant is in non-Summerlicious season.
How restaurants view Summerlicious
I have no illusions about why restaurants participate in Summerlicious. Many Torontonians are out of town and up at the cottage. Business is pretty dead. Summerlicious is at least something restaurants can do to get people in the door. And maybe these people will order some wine.
To make it worth their while, restaurants usually serve small portions of cost effective food. They also try to turn tables quickly, to get as many diners in and out as possible.
Restaurants that don’t participate – the ones that are usually busy all the time no matter what time of year it is – look at the program with disdain. I’ve spoken to many in the food industry and they say they wouldn’t want the customers who are interested in the Summerlicious experience. These diners tend to be cheap and clueless about food. They don’t drink and don’t tip.
The Customer Perspective
Some people (like me) go out to eat all the time. Some people eat out, but most often at chain restaurants, with low prices, big menus and big portions of sub-par food. And some people are very frugal and rarely dine away from home. In my experience, it’s the latter two groups who are most often disappointed with Summerlicious.
For the customers who most often eat at chains, the small portions served at a “fancy” restaurant constantly come under fire. For those who rarely eat out, they feel rushed at the pace of Summerlicious service and don’t think of the prix fixe as a bargain after all.
How I approach Summerlicious
It’s really all about setting your expectations on what you want to get out of a Summerlicious experience.
I look at it as a chance to audition restaurants and perhaps expand the list of establishments that I regularly frequent. I go into it knowing that very rarely will I be blown away.
If a restaurant can impress me with good, friendly service, excellent food (I don’t care about the portion size, other than that the course be larger than a garnish) and a setting that’s pleasant to spend time in, I will go back and try out their regular menu. If they can pass all of the challenges that Summerlicious represents and come out on top, they will win my business. And I drink wine. And I tip.
This Summer’s Best Choice
So far this summer, I’ve had three Summerlicious meals, with more to come next week. At this point, the hands down winner has been Bar Buca Eglinton. They offer TWO appetizers, a main course and a dessert for $23 and the food is absolutely delightful.
I enjoyed two salads: one with melting, succulent tomatoes (seen in the picture at the top of this page); one with cucumbers and compressed rhubarb (a pic of this is also found above). These were followed by a to order risotto, with summer peas and pancetta. The meal was completed with a creamy goat yogurt panna cotta. Perfect.
The server was very attentive and suggested a lovely white wine. I enjoyed two glasses. The place was airy, modern and clean.
I will be back, Bar Buca Eglinton.
Restaurants that are always great Summerlicious options
Don’t want to be disappointed in your Summerlicious experience? Book really early next time and try to get into Canoe. Sit at the Chef’s Rail and watch the kitchen theatre unfold. It’s amazing. And the food is consistently wonderful.
If you don’t want to do O&B, try the Local Kitchen and Wine Bar in Parkdale. It’s a tiny spot, with exquisite food such as hand-pulled mozzarella and amazing pasta.
And if the ricotta and tomato curd is on the menu at Marben, make your way there with haste! It’s fantastic.
This wouldn’t be flick & feast without a suggestion for a film to pair with your meal. After my lunch at Bar Buca Eg, I took in a matinee of Ari Aster’s Midsommar. I much preferred this film over “Hereditary”, Aster’s last.
This blog post is running long, so I won’t say much, but you should read the review from NOW Magazine’s Norm Wilner. Enjoy!