Saturday, November 29, 2008

A little Country Style in the big city

It was the beginning of September and the sun was shining fairly spectacularly on Canada's largest city when I met up with Sean, former west-coaster and newly-minted Torontonian for some culture-vulturing and sustenance in the Annex (the area around Bloor and Bathurst).

The photo above gives you an idea of where our journey ended – at Riverdale Farm market in the park of the same name, where I saw this beautiful table o' tomatoes of every shape, size and colour. I love that the tablecloth is also all tomatoes. Click on the photo to see it all up close.

You'll have to imagine the shafts of sunlight slanting through the leafy green trees and the little kids running gleefully through water fountains one of these cold rainy days if you need a little cheering/warming up. As I remember, Sean bought some peaches, and it was a lovely place to end an afternoon. But where did we start?

I snapped this photo just out of the subway – at Honest Ed's, of course, a Toronto institution. I love the forms of those letters. I guess they slot a different price next to the items as costs change. But what a good deal on bread, hey? Or should I say, eh?

I was on Bloor to meet Sean at Country Style Hungarian restaurant, another Toronto institution, and a family favourite of Alisha's. Now, if you say 'Country Style' to most Torontonians, they will think 'doughnuts,' because Country Style is also a coffee shop chain that has been around for some time in Toronto. But those in the know will think 'fantastic Hungarian food' instead – and certainly 'fantastically large Hungarian portions' when they think Country Style.

Country Style is one of those great Toronto places that hasn't changed much since mid-century and keeps the gingham tablecloth suppliers in business. I liked the well-stocked counter at the front and the faux-wood panelling, and it's great to overhear conversations in Hungarian and try to decipher them. I believe some of the clientele must have had their particular spots in the restaurant staked out since 1962.

So yes, I took a vegetarian (well, fishatarian, really) to a Hungarian restaurant. Folly, you say? Well, it wasn't all bad, though it was a bit like that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Toula introduces her fiancé to her aunt, explaining that he doesn't eat meat, and the aunt is momentarily baffled before announcing that she'll just make lamb instead.

The waitress was a little confused about the concept of vegetarianism itself, and tried to get Sean a meaty broth soup. Ah yes. But here's Sean enjoying his spaetzle, or dumplings. They were extremely tasty, I have to say. And fully vegetarian!

And here is my totally non-veg option: their delicious wiener schnitzel. Or bécsi szelet in Hungarian (which means 'Viennese slice!' What a great name. It originates from the Austro-Hungarian ties of the nineteenth century).

I have to say, this photo does not fully convey the magnificence (nor the sheer size) of this dish. It was incredible and awe-inspiring. I highly recommend it. The schnitzel also came with the same dumplings that Sean is enjoying above, and a great cucumber salad (which was highly appreciated, about midway through the meat).

I thought my own dinner was astonishingly massive, in a sort of 'undulating waves of schnitzel' way, but someone else had ordered the 'meat platter', in which a large stack of different sorts of meat came skewered on top of each other on a wooden board – and that put mine to shame.

Still, the schnitzel was delicious and highly recommended (particularly if you're an omnivore!) and Country Style is a great destination for hearty eating. 450 Bloor W. Country Style in the heart of the city!


moyrad said...

This will be my first restaurant stop when I go home to Toronto for Christmas. Mmm. How do these family restaurants still serve these portions and survive? I am always impressed by this generosity and can't wait to sample some of this food.

Leeeeesha said...

Laura, this post warmed my heart! (And made my stomach growl a bit too.)

I love love love Country Style - our family has been eating there for many years (could be 20 years by now) and the portions never seem to get smaller (though the prices have gone up since our first visit, but not by all that much, really).

I always order the Viener Schnitzel (in fact I don't think I've ever tried anything else at Country Style) with cucumber salad and roast potatoes. I love how the schnitzel takes up the entire plate, yet underneath that blanket of meat lies a warm bed of potatoes and rice. Surprise! Also of note is their amazing rye bread, which is served before your meal.

We went for dinner at Country Style this summer too - when I was in TO for my cousin's wedding - and it was just as tasty as ever. I sure hope it sticks around for another 20 years!

Meg said...

Wonderful post Laura – I agree with Alisha that it was heartwarming. Great writing. I loved the "undulating waves of schnitzel" – even though viener schnitzel isn't something I've never really thought of trying before, this makes me yearn for it!

And your post makes me yearn for summer, tomatoes, and Toronto as well. I'll be posting my own ode to Toronto food soon... Visiting Country Style is another reason that I'll definitely have to return.

Thanks for bringing WeDine back to life :)