Don't Forget the Food Stands

By Keisha Balatbat

Crumbs Patties, Choco Churros, and La Marquesita along Gould Street. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Crumbs Patties, Choco Churros, and La Marquesita along Gould Street. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

The endless food options surrounding the Ryerson University campus can be seen as either an advantage or a daunting task. With so many choices, it can be difficult to narrow down exactly what you want to eat.

While most students opt for big name fast food chains, some head over to the often overlooked food stands, located across from the Student Learning Centre, for a delicious meal or dessert.

Among the cluster of food stands and trucks, you’ll find Crumbs Patties, Choco Churros, and La Marquesita.

Crumbs Patties is a stand that sells patties, which are pastries that contain different kinds of fillings, most commonly beef.

“What makes us different is the options,” said Pierre St. Rose, founder of Crumbs.

Customers at Crumbs Patties love ordering the beef, curry chicken, or their signature beef and cheese patty. Apart from these, Crumbs also offers vegetarian options.

“We do a stuffed patty and a deluxe patty so it’s not just your standard patty shop. We have modernized it,” said St. Rose.

He believes in giving each customer great service. He enjoys talking to customers, asking how they’re doing and ending each interaction with a ‘pound’, also known as a fist bump.

“A thank you is one thing but also giving the pound is saying much respect, just from a culture standpoint,” said St. Rose, who is Jamaican and Trinidadian.

“Yes, in reality I’m a business and you’re a customer, but it should be more than just that.”

He typically runs the stand with his cousin and a few other employees. They were once located just across the street, but after a big restaurant bought the building, they decided to temporarily move over to the stand that they have now.

“It’s working but it’s small for the operation we have,” he said. He is currently working on opportunities to expand Crumbs.

This sentiment is something that is shared between the stands in this area. At Choco Churros, they are also hoping to expand the business. Sergio Herrera, one of the employees, said that they want to have a place with an actual cafeteria and provide more places for people to sit in.

The stand opened up in downtown Toronto in October of last year, but the business was actually started by Herrera’s cousin in the 80s in New York.

“What makes us special around this area is that no one else is selling this kind of dessert,” said Herrera.

Churros are fried sticks of dough covered in cinnamon sugar. This stand also offers different sauces on top, the most popular being caramel and chocolate.

Making sure their churros are affordable is one of the philosophies of the business. “You can get three big churros for less than $10,” said Herrera.

Their other philosophies include providing good customer service and ensuring that the food is always fresh.

“I come one hour before opening so I can make fresh dough for you guys. They’re actually the freshest churros in town and what’s a churro if it’s not fresh?” said Herrera.

Sergio Herrera making fresh churros inside of the Choco Churros stand. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Sergio Herrera making fresh churros inside of the Choco Churros stand. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Like Choco Churros, La Marquesita, the newest food stand to open up, also values fresh food.

Making authentic Mexican food is something that La Marquesita believes in. As many other places downtown lean towards Tex-Mex, Pablo Morales, one of La Marquesita’s employees, said they aim to “make everything fresh and create authentic Mexican street food.”

La Marquesita’s most popular dish are the taquitos, which are a tortilla rolled up around fillings like beef or cheese. Rather than the hard shell tacos that people are used to buying, the use of 100 per cent corn tortillas indicate that the food is authentically Mexican and not Tex-Mex, the Americanized version of Mexican food.

“In Mexico, we eat taquitos all the time - in the morning, brunch, dinner, every time - and we wanted to bring that to Toronto,” said Morales.

Their visible corner spot is an asset according to Morales, but like Crumbs and Choco Churros, La Marquesita also struggles with the small space.

“Sometimes many people come to eat but we don’t have too much space to get more people in,” said Morales.

Pablo Morales greeting customers at La Marquesita. La Marquesita hopes to become a franchise and open more stores downtown. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Pablo Morales greeting customers at La Marquesita. La Marquesita hopes to become a franchise and open more stores downtown. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Apart from the small space, the cold weather is also something that causes some difficulty for these food stands as people do not want to spend too much time outside during the winter.

This forces vendors to get creative with their stands. “We don’t have an indoor spot so sometimes I put the heater out here so people can get warm,” said Herrera, referring to a small heater that attaches to the counter of the stand.

“Being around a school, yes you have the traffic, but at the same time when there’s weather issues like the cold, you don’t have the opportunity to have people funnel into somewhere like a mall,” said St. Rose.

Food vendors and their relationship with Ryerson students

The Choco Churros stand which is open on weekdays from 12 to 8 p.m. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

The Choco Churros stand which is open on weekdays from 12 to 8 p.m. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

The convenience and closeness of the location brings a lot of Ryerson students to these businesses.

“I love this business because everyone is happy when they come get churros,” said Herrera.

He says students love sweets and the quickness of the service. “It helps them have better performances in their classes because of all the sweets,” he jokes.

“This is our first spot and you’ll be part of our story if you get churros from here,” said Herrera.

Despite the convenience of the location, bringing in new customers can be a challenge for these businesses.

“You just have to find ways to interact with the student body as far as just marketing from the same old spot or with social media,” said St. Rose. He said marketing on social media can be difficult.

“You have to be very constant, and how many times can I really say patties?”

However, he encourages students to try new things. “We offer a modernized food item that’s been around for so long and provide an option that has been remixed, along with other creations,” said St. Rose.

Students get 10 per cent off at La Marquesita, but they’re working on expanding the menu and creating new discounts that will be exclusive to Ryerson students.

“Many students have a budget for food and they don’t want to spend more money than that, so that’s why we want to do many specials for students,” said Morales.

The next time you need to satisfy a food craving, consider supporting these local businesses as they offer a great variety of food options for affordable prices.  

Winterlicious at Fonda Lola

By Sophie Chong

General Manager Rafael Bastidas said they tried to incorporate things inside Fonda Lola that referenced Mexico. Included in the decorations are also memorabilia of the owner’s late grandmother, whom the name of the restaurant was inspired from. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

General Manager Rafael Bastidas said they tried to incorporate things inside Fonda Lola that referenced Mexico. Included in the decorations are also memorabilia of the owner’s late grandmother, whom the name of the restaurant was inspired from. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Nestled along the edge of Little Portugal in Toronto, Fonda Lola has brought traditional Mexican cuisine to the west end of Toronto for the past five years.

This year, Fonda Lola is participating in one of Toronto’s most anticipated food events, Winterlicious.

Rafael Bastidas, general manager of the restaurant, said Winterlicious has given them the opportunity to explore with their menu based on what their chef has available at the time.

“We want to experiment with our menu in Winterlicious to see how people are reacting to our food and if we have to promote some dishes more than others,” he said.

Rafael Bastidas, who immigrated to Canada from Venezuela, currently works as the general manager of Fonda Lola. He is in charge of the front of house operations, and is also the in-house mixologist. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Rafael Bastidas, who immigrated to Canada from Venezuela, currently works as the general manager of Fonda Lola. He is in charge of the front of house operations, and is also the in-house mixologist. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Fonda Lola serves a plethora of mexican-style alcoholic beverages including fusion cocktails, margaritas, tequila, mojitos, and beers. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Fonda Lola serves a plethora of mexican-style alcoholic beverages including fusion cocktails, margaritas, tequila, mojitos, and beers. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

For a fixed price of $33 plus tax and gratuities, Fonda Lola offers a prix fixe menu of a select number of appetizers, entrées, and desserts.

Fonda Lola offers the staple dish of chips and salsa as an appetizer (usually $12), made with house-made corn tortilla chips, and pico de gallo that is seasoned with red onion, lime, and cilantro. The tomato salsa is tangy but not overly sweet like many store-bought salsas. The tortilla chips are light, not too salty, and adds a great crunch to the house-made salsa.

Fonda Lola boasts house-made and handcrafted ingredients in all of their drinks and food that they serve. All ingredients used in dishes are locally sourced within the Toronto area, and they offer vegan and vegetarian options. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Fonda Lola boasts house-made and handcrafted ingredients in all of their drinks and food that they serve. All ingredients used in dishes are locally sourced within the Toronto area, and they offer vegan and vegetarian options. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

For the main course, they have Carnitas Tacos (usually $16), which contains Mexican pork confit topped with red onion and cilantro. The pork is tender and moist and pairs nicely with red onion and cilantro. Fonda Lola also sources their pork meat from a local Portuguese supermarket in Toronto.

However, if customers are looking for vegan or vegetarian options, they also serve Cauliflower Tacos (usually $16). The dish includes cauliflower sautéed with garlic and guajillo pepper, topped with cilantro, red onion, and house chipotle and aioli.

Bastidas recommended the Cauliflower Tacos, made with sautéed cauliflower with garlic and guajillo sauce, topped with cilantro, red onion, and house chipotle aioli. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Bastidas recommended the Cauliflower Tacos, made with sautéed cauliflower with garlic and guajillo sauce, topped with cilantro, red onion, and house chipotle aioli. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Desserts at Fonda Lola typically range from $8-$15. On their Winterlicious menu, they featured the Tequila Flan (vegetarian), which is not a regular item on their menu. It’s made up of a sweet custard infused with tequila and cream cheese, baked with a layer of house-made caramel. It has a smooth, creamy, light texture with a slight taste of alcohol, the sweetness of the caramel adding depth to the tangy tequila and the cream cheese.

What is Winterlicious?

Winterlicious has made its 16th annual appearance in Toronto this year, with reportedly over 200 participating restaurants. From January 25 to February 7, Torontonians are encouraged to explore the city’s diverse culture through the food scene.

“They showcase diverse cuisine, they’re talented chefs. This is an opportunity for people to dine out and explore Toronto’s food culture,” said Eirine Papaioannou, event support supervisor at the Toronto Office of Partnerships.

Hosted by the city, customers and avid food lovers get a chance to grab a taste of Toronto’s ever-changing restaurant industry. The event allows both newcomers and native Torontonians to expand their taste buds at cuisines for a reasonable price. Fixed prices for three course meals vary from restaurant to restaurant. There are three fixed prices for both lunch and dinner includes: lunch for $23, $28, $33, and dinner for $33, $43, $53.

“The event is open to everyone who lives here, or is visiting here, and because of the price points it is accessible at different levels,” said Papaioannou.

At toronto.ca, interested customers can customize their search for the type of cuisines, neighbourhood, and price point in order to find exactly what they’re looking for. The search engine also allows for visitors to easily find information on which restaurants offer vegan, vegetarian, and accessibility options.

“Toronto has one of the best culinary scenes, such as diversity of food types...this is a way for people to explore the world in their hometown,” she said.

Is it worth it?

Winterlicous can be a way to narrow down possible food options for customers who have a hard time deciding on what to order from a new restaurant. Prix fixe menus give them a taste of the restaurant, and a new culinary experience that can seemingly be five to eight dollars cheaper than ordering from the regular prices. They may also be pleasantly surprised by great hospitality, the atmosphere of the restaurant, and other aspects that could drive them to visit again.

Some customers may be disappointed that even with the set prices, their bill can almost amount to the same price as if customers had ordered from the regular menu. This is because the prix fixe does not cover alcohol, taxes and gratuity.

For students on a budget, Winterlicious would be a great option if they're willing to; spend some money to try something new, go out for a date night, a special family function, or a night out with friends. However, students should be wary that even with the fixed prices, their overall meal can still cost four times more than your everyday Big Mac combo at McDonald’s.