Where to eat, drink and shop in the Danforth
1 month ago
1 month ago
As neighbourhoods go, the Danforth is more commonly pigeonholed than most. If you imagine it saturated in blue and white decor, its restaurants ouzo soaked, with golden loukoumades crowding its bakery windows, you’re not alone. Despite its deserved renown as home to Greektown, stroll further along Danforth Avenue and you’ll find that the area’s merits go beyond its Grecian flair.
Named for American contractor Asa Danforth, Danforth Avenue extends from the Don Valley Parkway to Kingston Road, passing through several neighbourhoods along the way. Originally cut off from the city centre by the Don Valley and Don River, it was the area’s remoteness that first defined its reputation. With a wealth of natural resources making it ideal for brickmaking, it was also soon recognized as an important industrial zone.
With the area’s annexation to the city came improvements to accessibility and transportation. Running along Danforth Avenue, the Danforth line of the Toronto Civic Railways opened in 1913. Five years later, the completion of The Prince Edward Viaduct System (aka, the Bloor Street Viaduct) formally connected the city’s west and east ends. These developments coincided with an influx of European immigrants to the city, many who made their homes in the up-and-coming area.
Now one of the city’s most pedestrian-friendly routes, Danforth Avenue boasts a giddy number of eateries, mom-and-pop shops, and bars. Of these, many have grown with the neighbourhoods around them, establishing deep roots within the community. An area best discovered little by little, you’ll want to set aside ample time to relish every one of the Danforth’s significant charms.
1382 Danforth Avenue
Part bar, part restaurant — all saloon-style swagger — The Wren is the type of spot that makes longevity in the restaurant industry seem like child’s play. With a casual approach to hospitality, The Wren has quietly pressed on for a decade, winning over the hearts, and stomachs, of locals, and securing its status as one of its neighbourhood’s most cherished, if most modest, gems.
Billed as a “craft beer pub,” The Wren takes its lagers and ales as seriously as you’d expect. On tap, there’s a who’s who of local microbrews from purveyors like Muddy York, Left Field, Godspeed, Great Lakes Brewery, and more. Alongside, a menu of hearty, globally-inspired fare is big on flavour, comfort, and portions. Each and every dish — from the succulent French Onion Burger to the zingy Big Dill Chicken Sandwich — is a study in devil-may-care cooking that’s as fun, and feel-good as food gets. The promise of a unique daily special only adds to the gleeful feeling of dining out at The Wren. No, The Wren doesn’t take reservations. But, if you subscribe to the same relaxed ethos as the people calling the shots, you won’t mind one bit.
456 Danforth Avenue
Home to Greektown, one of North America’s largest Greek neighbourhoods, the Danforth is as close as you’ll get to the Hellenic Republic this side of the Atlantic. As all Torontonians know, when you’re craving the flavours of Greece, head to the Danforth and you’ll find them, in spades.
At Mezes, a staple of the neighbourhood since 1996, guests won’t just find classic Greek cuisine. They’ll also encounter a welcome that’s as warm and genuine as if an Aegean yia-yia herself had taken you under her wing. Meant to be shared, abundant platters crowd tabletops as hungry guests yield to the menu’s temptations. Unsurprisingly, given the restaurant’s name, Mezes’ list of starters is as long as the catalogue of Zeus’ offspring, and offers a culinary junket across Greece’s varied regions. Tender garlic pita accompanies dip whorls, while kefalograviera cheese arrives to the dramatic spark of fire, and requisite “Opa!”. Mains of pork, chicken and lamb souvlaki compete for attention with baked whole fish, while bright produce that’s been marinated, grilled, and gussied up offers plenty for vegetarians to devour. A place that thrives on creating memorable moments for guests through shared meals, Mezes doesn’t just serve up a taste of Greek cuisine; it shares a vivacious slice of Greek culture, one dish at a time.
1380 Danforth Avenue
If ever there was a logical next step to owning and operating a successful craft beer pub, opening a wine bar must be it. At least, that’s how Dennis Kimeda and Rhonda Wade-Kimeda followed up their success at The Wren. Opened in 2021, next door to The Wren, The Wood Owl was built from a similarly affable foundation, with the focus simply shifting from beer to wine.
Invitingly shabby chic, The Wood Owl is as effortlessly beguiling as Paris’ most popular bistros. With a winning recipe of eclectic wines, refined food and a room bathed in a golden glow, it’s as appealing for a pre-dinner snack and sip as it is for an entire evening of fun. As at its sister spot, The Wood Owl offers a menu of seasonal fare that draws on a wealth of culinary influences and rotates frequently. On any given day, guests may be tempted by rabbit Dijonnaise, steak frites, seared King Cole duck, or pork chops napped with pineapple and ginger sweet and sour sauce. Also on offer, are a range of refined appetizers and desserts, each assembled to exacting standards and served on delicate porcelain plates. And, though a carefree approach to outings may sound devastatingly chic, those who’d like to coolly introduce a little order to their social calendar will be pleased to hear that The Wood Owl accepts reservations.
596 Danforth Avenue
Despite its Danforth Avenue address, Simone’s caters to cravings for Caribbean, not Mediterranean, flavours. When jerk and Johnny cakes, sweet plantains and buttery ackee beckon, Simone Lawrence’s Jamaican comfort food is guaranteed to save the day. Prepared with care coupled with the unmistakable depth only family recipes can give, dishes at Simone’s are as big on nostalgia as they are on bold, bright flavour. Here, meals begin with plates piled high with peppery beef patties, codfish fritters and tender Jamaican festival rolls. Roti appears blanketing sundry fillings, from fragrant curried shrimp to chana and callaloo that’s every bit as complex and gratifying as its meatier cousins. Visit often, and soon enough, Ms. Simone’s cooking will start to feel like a taste of home.
875 Danforth Avenue
If ever there was a team that subscribed to the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” it’s the one from Square Boy. A fixture on Danforth Avenue since the ‘60s, this is a spot that has outlasted its neighbours, has seen fads come and go, and has managed to remain unchanged as modernism encroached on the world outside. If it’s an old-school diner you’re looking for, Square Boy is the happy place you seek.