There are 35 mustards open for tasting at Anton Kozlik’s Mustard shop inside Toronto’s busy St. Lawrence Market. The Bordeaux Green Peppercorn is my favorite but the Hot Russian and Grainy Creole are pretty good too. Especially as a dip for the hefty peameal Canadian bacon sizzling on the grill.
The Market is housed inside three brick buildings dating back to 1831, with 120 food vendors like Kozlik’s in the South Market building. On the mezzanine floor, a private group of about 40 are taking a cooking class in Miele’s Market Kitchen, outfitted like the loft kitchen of your dreams. Light is streaming through the huge arch windows and the place smells wonderful. You can also rent out 10,000 sf of contemporary space at the North Market building, popular for its weekend farmer’s market.
Back at the mustard shop, proprietor Jeremy Kessler tells me that Canada grows 95% of the world’s mustard. I say I thought the good stuff comes from the Dijon area. Kessler says it does, but they use Canadian seeds.
“How come more people don’t know about that?” I ask.
“The typical way with Canadians is to do something well and then zip it,” says Kessler. “Self promotion isn’t really our thing.”
Instead, Torontonians focus on you, your group and the quality of the overall experience and service. While waiting for colleagues alone at the bar at Le Papillon on Front for dinner, there must have been five service staff who came over to say hi. You will experience that same hospitality everywhere from the downtown business hotels to the university area museums.
Regarding infrastructure, Toronto is very much a city of the future. A wealth of adaptive reuse architectural venues, like St. Lawrence Market, make it a leader in urban sustainability. That mix of modernity, history, art and commerce inside a tight central core delivers some wickedly creative group experiences.
EVERGREEN BRICK WORKS
From 1896 to the 1980s, the Don Valley Brick Works produced up to 100,000 bricks daily quarried from a massive pit inside what is now the middle of the city. Following an extensive rehab, the 43-acre LEED Platinum Evergreen Brick Works opened in 2010 as an environmental community center designed for public and corporate groups. Last year, National Geographic named it one of the top 10 geotourism destinations in the world.
The 16 factory buildings and hulking industrial equipment have been left intact. For groups, the Kiln Room is a popular reception venue for 400 pax, filled with brick ovens covered in graffiti below heavy rusted beams and ductwork. The space is now an art gallery for revolving exhibits. “MOVE: The Transportation Expo” is a new show opening in July examining how people and products travel around the globe.”
The end result is an artsy apocalypse. I love the elevated shipping container that can be used as a DJ booth, created by members of Discovery Channel’s Junk Raiders TV show.
Inside the complex, the Centre for Green Cities houses Evergreen’s offices and various meeting rooms inside a drastically modern and efficient corrugated steel building. There’s also a grass roof for receptions up to 80. And surrounding all of it, the Don Valley park and river system offers miles of leafy biking trails.
“We want to change the next generation’s attitude about how a city works,” says Geoff Cape, CEO. “The way office buildings waste energy is choking our cities.”
Architect Joe Lobko adds, “Brick Works is a concept of urban design for the 21st century…. You know, oil’s over. Where are we going from here?”
For group F&B, book the barnyard-chic Cafe Belong. The decor is reminiscent of a miner’s cabin with rough wood studs and a metal bar, except with Le Creuset crockery on the shelves. Try the prosciutto-wrapped venison or steelhead trout gnocchi paired with a local Norman Hardie pinot noir. Seats 100.
Built in 1832, The Distillery District was once the largest scotch producing facility outside Scotland during American Prohibition. Today, the 13-acre community represents the largest collection of preserved Victorian industrial architecture in North America.
Within these bare brick wall and exposed beam buildings, restaurants like Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill serve haddock ’n chips and seared Nova Scotia scallops. The overall ambiance feels like a Cape Cod boathouse. Meanwhile, Archeo is a fine dining sister restaurant that’s also part of the Distillery Events consortium. The group includes the signature Fermenting Cellar warehouse, Boiler House restaurant, Arta Gallery and Stone House Catering. Together they can host 600-pax indoor events year-round and a few thousand outdoors in warm weather months.
You almost have no choice but to visit the District because seemingly everyone in Toronto gets emotional about the Mayan hot chocolate at SOMA. Go there for the delicious nutty cocoa while artisans prepare goodies in the Chocolate Lab using fair trade ingredients from Madagascar to Bolivia.
Directly across the street from the convention center, the Steam Whistle Brewing Company occupies the inside of the John Street Roundhouse locomotive station built in 1929.
The beer company’s HQ is one of Toronto’s most popular group venues for events up to 750 people. The historic train depot is a protected architectural landmark with large multi-pane windows, hand-hewn support pillars and exposed red brick.
There’s a variety of cool venues here. The Hall is the most versatile event space, designed like a loft with 30-foot ceilings and 4,000 sf of room for 500-pax receptions; 250 seated. The towering train doors open out to a 2,000-sf outdoor patio with fantastic views of the skyline and CN Tower.