For many people, the coming of Spring is signaled by melting snow, chirping birds, planting tomato seedlings, and losing a precious hour of sleep (ugh). Well, I don’t really “do” nature, and daylight savings hadn’t even crossed my mind until I got the hint from my twitter and facebook feeds. So for me, the advent of Spring is best evidenced by the return of one of the city’s most popular food events, the Toronto Underground Market (TUM).
If you haven’t visited TUM in the past, you should know you’re seriously missing out. Each month, dozens of budding food entrepreneurs set up a “pop-up” booth at the Brickworks market and sell their goods to the hungry masses at remarkably affordable prices. While a percentage of successful vendors return in subsequent months, there are always passionate new chefs to meet and delicious new dishes to sample.
Having been invited to sample day this year (where vendor hopefuls are selected for each event), I had no doubt that the entry fee was worth it. So I brought together some of my favourite foodie friends so that we could divide and conquer the premises and sample as much as our tummy’s allowed. This is what I tried:
From the Kitchen: Grilled Short Rib Sammies (Sherry Braised Short Ribs, Sriracha Tomato Jam, Pickled Caramelized Onions, Monterey Jack Cheese, Arugula on Brioche)
One of the top dishes of the night, it was well balanced, refined and not excessively rich. The short ribs were sweet and tender, the tomato jam had a good kick, and the onions brought the acid and crunch. I also appreciated that they didn’t overwhelm the beef with too much cheese, which could have been a tempting mistake to make. I was a bit disappointed, however, that I couldn’t sample their ice cream which apparently had melted and was still in freezer recovery. Next time!
How Bout Them Meatballs: El Gardo (Old Skool Meatball Wrapped in Pancetta) [left] / Sloppy Saucy (Ciabatta in Nonna’s Saucy) [right]
The meatball was really well seasoned and had good meaty flavour, but I did find it a touch dense. I was mainly disappointed that the “Sloppy Saucy” was actually just bread with tomato sauce and parmesan on it – I guess when I read menu description I was envisioning a Sloppy Joe type Sammy, but perhaps one with a little more cheese. Ah well. You win some, you lose some.
Rebel Food Inc: Pulled Chili Chicken Bahn Mi (Lettuce, Carrot, Slaw, Cucumber, Sriracha Aioli) / Root Beer Braised Short Rib (Aged Cheddar, Coleslaw, BBQ Sauce)
The buns for both were too tough to cleanly get through, so after fighting with the bread a bit, we all just resorted to dissecting the works. I found the chicken a bit bland in the bites I got without any mayo, and I wasn’t able to detect any root beer in the beef. I also didn’t like that the beef sandwich was served cold so that the cheddar had not melted at all.
Meat Pie Mates: Butter Chicken Pie and Pulled Pork and Apple Pie
Another favourite vendor of mine that I was happy to see return. Both pies were served fresh and piping hot (an unfortunate anomaly on Saturday night) so that the golden brown pastry remained flaky, buttery and moist. While I really liked the rich aromatic curry in the chicken, the winner for us was the pork, which brought a bright balance of sweetness and acid to temper the rich pulled meat.
Bricks and Mortar: When Pigs Fly (Pulled Duck in Citrus Hoisin sauce, with Pork Rinds and Arugula) served with Potato Salad / The Xhibit (Pork Belly Slider with more bacon, smoked gouda, arugula, tomato on avocado crema)
Another star of a vendor! I loved the sweet tender duck, especially in the bites a little piece of crunchy pork rind joined the mouth party. I also thoroughly enjoyed the pork on pork slider, which offered a wicked crunch factor, a nice smoky element, and a bright herbaceous note from the avocado cream. Definitely a vendor to watch.
The Golden Apple: Skor Caramel Apple
Great crunchy apple, deliciously chewy caramel and a little bit of chocolate toffee bits for crunch. Despite being coated in caramel, the dessert wasn’t cloyingly sweet, making a second, third or fourth piece much too hard to resist.
Jack n’ Lils: Nougatine, Coconut, Lemon, Dulce de Leche, Turkish Delight / Nuts by Edith: Artisan Caramelized Pecans and Milk Chocolate Pecan Clusters
Top dessert of the night. Jack n’ Lils’ meringues are marshmallowy on the inside and crispy on the outside and are easily complemented by their fabulous flavours. The stars of the evening were definitely the creamy dulce de leche with little bits of toffee on top, and the beautifully bright lemon curd.
Our last take-home treat. The pecans were fresh with just a hint of sweetness, certainly not the sugar-bombs I am used to making at home. Like the whole nuts, the clusters (a combination of crushed pecans, chocolate, sugar, vanilla and spices) were also not overwhelmingly sweet, and made for a tasty midnight snack few hours later before going to bed. I wouldn’t call these addictive (I have the two bags sitting right in front of me right now and don’t feel the urge to pounce), but they were tasty nonetheless.
As always, thank you to all of the hardworking staff and volunteers for enabling another tasty food adventure for Toronto foodies, and another opportunity for food-biz hopefuls to shine. If you were at this month’s TUM, who do you foresee becoming the next wickedly successful TUMalum?
For more information on the Toronto Underground Market visit yumtum.ca. Follow TUM on facebook.com/TOundrgroundmkt, and on Twitter @TOundrgroundmkt. Tickets for the April 6th, 2013 TUM go on sale March 22nd. Purchase here.
Abbey Sharp is a registered dietitian, an avid food writer and blogger (for both a personal blog, and Eat St. Food Network’s blog), a passionate home chef, and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen. She has a BASc. in Nutrition and Food, and has participated in numerous formal and informal professional culinary courses. Balancing the ideological demands of being a foodie and dietitian, Abbey understands that food represents so much more than nutrients, numbers, calories, and portions. It can symbolize culture, family, love, identity, and sensuality at its peak. With its role in such a variety of delicious domains, Abbey believes that a pleasurable relationship with food is inherently essential for good health. Abbey has embraced this philosophy in all aspects of the Abbey’s Kitchen brand including her social media activities, speaking appearances (i.e. TEDx), blogging, food events (ie. Sips and Nibbles), food demonstrations, as well as through academic and popular writing. Her goal has been to break the common association of healthy food as boring and bland, and demonstrate instead its inherently satisfying, flavourful and sexy qualities.
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The Toronto Underground Market (TUM) is a social food market to promote Toronto home cooks & budding food entrepreneurs. It is a venue to showcase their products. The vendors are not all chefs, although some are and it’s not a farmers market. TUM provides an opportunity to share food with the community that would otherwise only be consumed by friends and family.
Tickets for the March 6, 2013 TUM are still available, purchase here.
Rock Lobster Food Co. is a Toronto based Pop Up Street Food Company & Seafood Supplier partnering with independent Canadian fishermen offering ocean friendly, sustainable, fresh seafood.