Did you know that Toronto’s East-end landmark known as “The Danforth”, is the largest Greek neighbourhood in North America?
The Grecian influence and culture, displayed in both subtle and more overt ways, exudes a warm and welcoming vibe! Close proximity to the downtown core, direct subway access, a mix of trendy and traditional shopping as well as a huge selection off fabulous restaurants are all great reasons to explore the Danforth.
In the summertime, the sidewalks are overflowing with colourful planters, fresh local produce, and all year round you’ll find couples strolling, parents chasing toddlers, singles cycling and dogs stopping for friendly bowls of water as they all make their way down the long, vibrant Danfroth strip.
As I set out to explore this unique neighbourhood I began to see the Danforth in an entirely new light. Once fixated on the Greek restaurants and ma' and pa' shops, most with signs that are in Greek, I now start to notice a new direction with so many of the stores retired and replaced by fun and trendy boutiques, offering a unique blend of products and services. But, rest assured, Greek flags and souvlaki are still on every corner and the culture and heritage are preserved, alive and well.
Here are some of the places we’ve carefully selected for our neighbourhood spotlight.
Avli - 401 Danforth Avenue
I will admit, it can be quite a challenge to pick a Greek restaurant to dine at when there are so many to choose from in a 10 block radius. I have been to almost every classic Greek restaurant on the strip and I enjoy many of them, but Avli has been old faithful for me. For 17 years they have been serving up all of the classic homestyle favourites like creamy tzatziki with pita, moussaka and souvlaki. The big difference between Avli and some of the other spots on the block is that they are constantly updating their menu to include more of the contemporary gourmet Greek-inspired dishes. So, whether you're looking for a family-friendly meal, or an upscale date spot I highly recommend this reliable favourite.
Neighbour’s Tip: They have a wonderful selection of vegetarian variations like their classic Moussaka vegetarian style.
Mocha Mocha- 489 Danforth Avenue. Mocha Mocha is a family-owned and operated business that has been a neighbourhood favourite for over 20 years. The menu, is fun and relaxed with a very eclectic and delightful blend of Mexican and African flare. The atmosphere is casual, welcoming and although you place your order at the counter, from there you are welcome to take a table and a drink while waiting for your dishes to be custom prepared and brought to your table with a smile! Mocha Mocha serves up tasty, healthy dishes at a great price that are sure to delight the whole family.
Neighbour’s Tip: The warm brown rice salad is out of this world. With a subtle sesame oil and rice vinegar overtone, fresh grated veggies and aromatic spices….it's completely satisfying and infinitely healthy (but, maybe I shouldn't have told you that part!).
Libretto - 550 Danforth Avenue
Pizzeria Libretto Danforth is the second location of the original popular Ossington pizza joint. Serving authentic Neapolitan pizza, Libretto is the first VPN certified pizzeria in Canada. The spacious and colourful design of the restaurant feels cheerful and laid-back. While maintaing the staples, such as the Margherita pizza, that have resulted in 2-plus hour waits at their Ossington location, Libretto Danforth offers new menu items and seasonal specials, including fresh Ontario asparagus salads and winter vegetable pizzas. Luckily for east enders, Pizzeria Librtetto Danforth takes reservations.
Neighbour’s Tip: Not feeling like dragging the family out on a Friday night? Order in advance and pick up your pizza to take home.
Big Carrot Grocery and Juice Bar - Carrot Common - 348 Danforth Avenue
Long before Whole Foods became the trendy place to shop for healthy organics, there was the Big Carrot, originally on the South side of the Danforth across from what is now Carrot Commons. The store houses a fabulous array of organic groceries and prepared foods, along with an extensive selection of nutritional supplements and vitamins. In addition to the grocery department, they have a separate organic juice bar that was the first in Toronto. The Juice Bar's menu has a selection of delicious, organic fruit smoothies, vegan milkshakes, many possessing special booster "powers". Everything about the Big Carrot experience feels like the real deal and it also has a special place in my heart, as I remember the nostalgic flavour of Filsinger's organic apple juice that my mom used to purchase from the original Big Carrot.
Neighbour’s Tip: Feeling a little run down? Head in to the juice bar for an immune elixir to help you fight that bug going around.
Meat Dept. - 207 Danforth Avenue
Big Jim at the Meat Dept. just wants people to "come in and have fun". The store feels like a lot more than just a selection of raw meat - It also has a beautiful display of homemade pickles, pasta sauces, dry rubs and marinades, bacon cured to perfection in a variety of different seasonings, and a massive blackboard with the MLB standings, updated daily. Big Jim really means it when he says to come in and stay a while. His approach is a perfect combination of "old school" quality and standards with a more "youthful" focus on local and socially conscious products. Pop into the Meat Dept. and let Big Jim help you plan your next BBQ.
Neighbour’s Tip: If you're grilling up burgers, head next door to pick up fresh baked buns from Dough Bakeshop.
Dough Bakeshop - 173 Danforth Avenue
In my search for the ultimate bakery on the Danforth I came across Dough Bakeshop, which met way more than my wildest expectations. I enjoyed sitting on barstools by the window with friendly and upbeat owner, Tracy O'Hara, hearing about their incredible selection of breads, pizza, sandwiches, soups and sweet treats. In keeping with the trend I've noticed on the Danforth, Dough uses local grains that are organic whenever possible, with many gluten free and vegetarian options. Hanging on the wall is a list of "Daily Breads" to show you which 7 or 8 loaves are in the oven on any given day, but they are always happy to take your custom bread order with a couple days notice.
Neighbour’s Tip: If you're looking for a new place to read your morning paper or check your email over coffee, Dough makes amazing cappuccinos and other specialty coffee. Pair that with a croissant and you're off to a good start!
Evymama - 230 Danforth Avenue
Toronto's only breastfeeding boutique is a spot that all new or expecting moms should check out. This store is one of a kind, literally! It was hard for me to believe the clothes hanging on the racks were breastfeeding-friendly or maternity wear. This store has stylish and beautiful quality clothing, many that conveniently and stealthily morph to allow easy breastfeeding access, which in turn makes mommy and baby very content. Drop in to Evymama to receive the best care from one of their patient and knowledgeable staff members and we can almost guarantee you’ll find a practical piece for your wardrobe that you feel beautiful and confident in.
Neighbour’s Tip: In addition to their fabulous selection of clothing, they also have a great selection of baby slings and carriers and
encourage you to come in with your little one and stroll around the block to test out the carrier before you buy it.
100-Mile Child - 348 Danforth Avenue
It seems baby and kids stores are on every block these days, but many of them are one in the same, but not 100-Mile Child. As the name suggests, the store's theme is to outfit your child with toys and clothing that are all made locally. While everything in the store is made in Canada by eco-friendly, environmentally conscious small businesses and momtrepreneurs, many tags on the clothing display a red school bus, which indicates that the product was made within 100 miles of the store. I first noticed the red school bus on a fabulous selection of glamorous costumes by Dreampower, made outside of Kitchener. Any child would be ecstatic to sport one of their fabulous capes or tutus. A Toronto dad makes hand puppets from reclaimed wool, as well as onsies and hats, with no two alike.
Neighbour’s Tip: 100-Mile Child carries a very hard to find brand of non-toxic, hypoallergenic, water based nail polish called Piggy Paint. Now your "girly-girl" can get those glittery fingernails she wants and you don't need to worry about the odour or chemicals.
Korry's - 569 Danforth Avenue
Korry's is a classic menswear hub on the strip that carries an impressive collection of brand-name clothing, neatly organized in their two-storey home. Owner, Saul Korman, dubbed the "Duke of the Danforth" by former mayor Mel Lastman, has been outfitting Toronto men in the finest brands for over 60 years. As I explored the store, I was greeted by helpful staff, wearing measuring tape draped over their shoulders. I made my way upstairs and was playfully accompanied by a gentleman named Jerry who was dressed to the nines in a stunningly tailored suit and was eager to help in any way needed, even if that meant making me a cappuccino at their coffee bar. After a quick browse around, my ears were caught by the recognizable voice of a well known DJ from 102.1 The Edge, yet another celebrity who enjoys the Korry's shopping experience. After shopping at Korry's once, it's obvious how the store has stood the test of time.
Neighbour’s Tip: Take advantage of their great sales! They always have something on special and you can pick up a great 2-4-1 deal.
Small Wonders Pet Emporium - 148 Danforth AvenueWith two dogs and one cat of my own, I can tell you first hand that not all pet stores are created equal. I am always on the hunt for the perfect food for my cat'schronic irritable bowel syndrome, and a treat that my 12 year old arthritic sheppard-collie cross can eat without gaining weight. The twosome animal-loving sales team were more than generous and helpful as they walked around the store with me, showing off different products, explaining them all and generously handing me samples to bring home for my finicky babies to test out before I doled out 50 dollars on a bag of gluten-free dry food. My visit to Small Wonders was made even more enjoyable by the presence of their resident Yorkie there to greet customers and play fetch with the willing.
Neighbour’s Tip: If you're looking for a new dry food, ask if they can give you a sample for your pet to test out before you commit to a whole bag. We highly recommend Ellen Degeneres’ brand Halo, which my cat gave two paws up!