DineOut Reviews: Hittin’ up big box restaurants in Toronto

Il Fornello (Richmond Hill)

On a particularly lazy day when we did not deserve to dine out, Lil Sis and I went to Shoppers Drug Mart near her place and the old-looking Il Fornello looked appetizing. There are several locations around town and with seven locations around GTA, we were going to try it sometime so why not that evening? We went in almost resolved to order just one dish to sate our appetite for Italian food but the prices were not too bad and who wants to cook the other half of dinner when we get back anyways??

We ordered the linguini salmone with smoked salmon, peas, and lemon tarragon sauce. I had recently had a taste of smoked salmon and wanted more. The cream sauce was good but a touch too thick. Lil Sis ordered the fichi pizza with marscapone, proscuitto, figs, shaved grana padano, honey, and arugula. She was trying to decide between two pizzas, wary that this one might miss the mark but it was “her risk” so I pushed for the “weirder” one. And it turned out really fantastic! It was a divine pizza with the tastiest combination of toppings. Who would have thought that?

Downtown Toronto location at 214 King Street West (at University)


Alice Fazooli’s (Markham)

One evening, Lil Sis was jonesing for a big box restaurant meal. It’s not often she requests that at all and I was excited for what we might get to try! There is a “plaza” at 404 and Highway 7 with an embarrassment of big box restaurants including The Keg, Jack Astors, Destiny Teahouse, Marlowe’s, Caffe Demettre, and some Malaysian place to name the ones I can remember. The Keg was too much of a treat, Destiny didn’t offer what she wanted, and Marlowe’s has scary signage so we tried out Alice Fazooli’s which has four other locations around GTA.

There was something about the description that Lil Sis and I both ended up getting the Salsiccia dishes (one pizza and one past). Salsiccia is Niagara Berkshire pork sausage so perhaps we wanted to have a taste of the wine country. The Pizza Salsiccia was topped with the sausage, fresh Niagara artisanal mozzarella, chili oil, basil, arugula, and lemon. The pasta was very pedestrian, a ragu with the sausage, spinach, and roasted tomatoes. Instead, both entrees were underwhelming (the pizza just a little less so) and overly salty. Sausage’s fault or kitchen’s fault?

Downtown Toronto location at 294 Adelaide Street West (at John)


Me Va Me (Vaughan)

When we were up at Bathurst and 16th, Lil Sis pointed out Me Va Me as a restaurant she went to with Big Uncle and our cousin Warner. They went to an older location and I salivated at the sight of the shiny new location serving up Arabic cuisine.

What should two little girls order to maximize what they try yet also be budget conscious? We decided on ordering a trio of dipping sauces, selecting green eggplant salad, matbuha, and a marinated mushroom salad. Of course the button mushrooms were tasty and we ate all those up with the pita bread provided. Mathuba consists of cooked tomatoes and roasted red bell peppers. It was nice, but I found I didn’t like it so much in such quantities. To be different, we ordered the green eggplant instead of the more popular baba ganoush and that was our downfall. Cilantro was not listed as an ingredient but it was definitely there and we couldn’t eat it.

We also ordered the grill delight with a skewer each of lamb, tenderloin, chicken thigh, and chicken breast. While the lamb was chewy, the tenderloin was really delicious, tender, and juicy. It’s a good bet if you had to pick just one type of meat!


Panera Bread (Richmond Hill)

I have loved Panera Bread since learning about it in 2005 ahead of my trip to L.A with Lil Sis. It’s so pedestrian for Americans but “exotic” for me such that I was excited to introduce NPY to Panera at Northgate near Seattle. The only way to kick it out of my system was to have easy access to it, in Canada! There are four locations in GTA, one of them in Toronto at 322 Yonge Street, but I was visiting the Richmond Hill one.

Besides their great bakery (like breakfast souffles), I love their Pick 2 combos and just before I would not longer have telecommuting days to spend at Panera, they advertised a great sounding combo: roasted turkey artichoke panini with mac ‘n’ cheese as a deluxe side. I almost balked at the $12 price tag for “soup ‘n’ sandwich” but softened a little when I was reminded that their own label of kettle chips is included. I found the panini to be overwhelmed by the other roasted vegetables and not the artichoke. The mac ‘n’ cheese was a nice sized portion and had a bold taste and fancy tasting ingredients.

Downtown Toronto location at 322 Yonge Street (at Edward, north of Dundas)

Druxy’s (in the PATH)

I remember Druxy’s from when it was the closest place to go eat when I was working at Ericsson in Mississauga… over fifteen years ago. It has changed a lot since then, a sandwich and smoked meat shop where I would get bagels and seen better times and toughed out the leaner times. I’m still impressed by their presence around downtown Toronto these days and love their reliable offering.

At Druxy’s they challenge you to try as many of their 40 salad toppings as you can when you get a design your own salad and I like how, unlike the sandwich shops nearby, they don’t charge extra for “fancy” toppings like avocado and tofu. Their smallest salad is $6 and they really pack in the toppings and toss the salad evenly with your dressing of choice. For me, it’s a meal with ample leftovers.

Vina alerted me to their design your own grilled cheese where you can get a basic grilled cheese for around $2 but you can changed the bread or cheese and add ingredients like vegetables and meats for extra. I love getting their eggy challah bread and you can have breakfast-for-lunch with a slice of sausage in your grilled cheese!


Red Lobster (Richmond Hill)

In early November, Lil Sis and I had cause to celebrate and we eschewed a celebratory dinner at The Keg for one at Red Lobster. We had been curious about the kind of reputation RL has north of the border and had been seeing the surf ‘n’ turf advertisements on television. Lil Sis already knew she was going for surf ‘n’ turf was was I going to, too?

We were in on a Monday evening which was very quite at the Richmond Hill location (among 7 in GTA). After we ordered, we were presented with crunchy cheese and scallion scones. They were warm and fluffy and I loved them, hoping dinner would be just as good.

Lil Sis ordered the surf ‘n’ turf consisting of a grilled Maritime lobster and peppercorn sirloin. She thought the steal was somewhat low in quality and the lobster was undercooked. But then there was the matter of my lobster…. Trying to keep things “light”, I ordered the Harbourside Lobster and Shrimp meal with shrimp both on a skewer and in garlic butter, rice pilaf and baked lobster tail. The shrimp were good enough but my lobster was so tough and dry, entirely like nothing I’d ever had before–lobster tail that had sadly been ruined.

Downtown Toronto location 20 Dundas Street West (at Yonge)


Baton Rouge (Toronto)

Oh, I remember my first encounter with Baton Rouge. It was back in 2007 when I visited Ottawa and Mona and I went there for a late night bite. It was before I rigorously photographed everything (new) I ate so I can’t remember what I ordered! With two locations in the heart of the city (and at least six more in GTA, I guess Baton Rouge is Toronto’s Earls, Milestones, and Cactus Club (Earlstone Club?) and you know I’ve eaten at those chain restaurants countless times. And while I personally rank the food at Cactus, then Earls, then Milestones, I just might rate Baton Rouge even worse. Ouch, huh?

We went to Baton Rouge after a night out, ahead of a day at CNE (Vina and Rita, not me) and I went for lunch fare in the form of a pulled pork sandwich with cinnamon apple slices as a side. It just tasted sweet to me and I was disappointed since this is Baton Rouge. The plating was careless and the apple slices were mushy. The best item we ordered, I think, was the Mississippi calamari with Cajun spice.

The chicken tender salad has all the ingredients that please me: fried chicken tenders, mixed greens, croutons, chopped egg, bacon bits, sliced avocado, and marinated hearts of palm and artichokes. I ordered it with honey mustard dressing. The whole thing was embarrassingly massive (I couldn’t finish) and the nutrition content is appalling (970 calories). The chicken tenders were not battered in bread crumbs or the like but a thick batter like you would find on fish & chips. A little too thick, I think. Otherwise it was quite tasty, because it had to be.

Downtown Toronto locations at 277 Front Street West (at CN Tower) and 216 Yonge Street (at Eaton Centre)


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