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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Interesting People: Culture Snap

Pioneer loves the Danforth East Arts Fair (DEAF) - and not just because we can shop for sparkly things or hand-crafted art pieces. We had the pleasure of meeting yet another interesting person in our fabric of life on Danforth East: one of the photographers exhibiting at DEAF13 this coming weekend, who just happens to live a stone's throw from Pioneer HQ. A front porch interview was in order!

Henry Vanderspek is the face behind Culture Snap Photography, and as you will see, his magical lens captures moments in time that are definitely a perfect fit for a gallery wall, Joni Mitchell's house (true story!) or your own. Here's a little bit about the man behind the curtain:

Q. You've captured some amazing photography from around the world. How did you get started behind the lens?

A. I grew up watching my father do a lot of travel photography and was always interested in it as a medium. I worked for World Vision, promoting youth advocacy and education, and travelled around East Africa for many years. There was a lot of great natural subject matter and I found myself taking photos for work more and more. I became sort of the unofficial official photographer on my team for awhile which was gratifying. As I explored photography further, I found my niche. I won a photography contest with a photo I took in Tanzania and that gave me a lot of confidence in my art. 

Q. What's your most recent photographic adventure?

A. I had the chance to travel to Uganda with Photographers Without Borders. I was documenting Raising Voices, a program that helps prevent violence against women and children. It was really an amazing experience to be part of. 

Q. We love the bicycle pedal photo. What was the story behind that?

A. This photo was taken in Rwanda and I just thought it was so touching to make the connection visually between a nation struggling and working hard to overcome some terrible history with this young man riding a bike emblazoned with the word Pheonix. It was a symbol of the future (and the importance of the bicycle to developing economies). 

Q. Can you talk about Joni Mitchell?

A. I loved the irony of that street photo. I tried to track down the street artist that made that sign, but no luck. Last year when Luminato invited Joni Mitchell to be a special guest, I contacted them and asked if this photo could be given to her somehow. They agreed, so I sent a framed photo to them. I didn't hear from them for awhile, but they eventually confirmed that yes, she had been personally given the photo. So who knows! I'm hoping that she's framed it and has it on a wall somewhere, but I'll never know. 

Q. Why do you love living on Danforth East? What brought you here? 

A. I love neighbourhoods with a sense of possibility. As time goes by, there are more and more bright spots popping up along the Danforth and it's exciting to watch the street scenes coming to life. I love cultural diversity and it's so evident that we are a "mosaic" here, with the Ethiopian and Moroccan restaurants and other ethnicities. There's a real sense of community and community support. 

Q. What's your favourite spot around here? 

A. Well, you can usually find me at Red Rocket or Caketown Cafe working on my photo editing. Or S. Walter Stewart library. Lots of peace and quiet there!

You can get your hands on your very own Henry Vanderspek at the Danforth East Arts Fair this weekend. He also takes orders via email and his website. The arts fair is happening Saturday and Sunday at East Lynn Park. Our advice is to get there early before the crowds scoop up all the treasures!

More information can be found at - or feel free to drool over their Pinterest page!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Saucy & Sassy

If you're anything like Pioneer and don't have a cottage (or campsite) to get away to for the long weekend, then it's time for a strategic plan of how we are all going to spend our long weekend on Danforth East.

Our first pick for your "cottage away from the cottage" experience is Jawny Bakers at St Clair & O'Connor. We blogged about their patio oasis and cottage charm last summer and have been regulars ever since. 

If you don't have children to worry about, a sunny afternoon on Sauce's new Courtyard patio will have you humming Oh When The Saints under your breath. It is definitely Pioneer's misfortune to have missed out on this gem almost all summer long. Owners Johnny & Michelle are New Orleans passionistas and have created a perfect Louisiana oasis (and with the humidity this weekend, it will almost feel like February in nu or-linz). We tried our best to get their secret hurricane recipe, but Johnny (who fancies a Pimms Cup on any given day) says the only secret is to put more booze in than juice. Hip hip Hooray! This coming long weekend, Michelle will be on the back patio making margaritas and blender drinks, so don't miss out. 

One thing synonymous with cottage country is quaint shops and browsing for antiques, both of which you can actually accomplish along Danforth East. We love LEN, first and foremost but Pioneer has also discovered (at long last!) the mini fashion district in our hood - east of McDonalds on the south side of Danforth (and even one new shop on the north side). Hours have been spent pouring over racks at pop-up shop In This Closet, which literally has some of the best vintage retail in the city. Although we didn't quite fit into the sassy Black Halo seductress dress, there was so much more to choose from. You can see it all on their Instagram page here. In This Closet, Cheap Thrills and (SALES!) are all open this weekend, so reacquant yourself with your wallet and support our high street.

On the antiques side of things - Treasure Land (2038 Danforth) has an odd assortment of kitsch and crap, but sometimes you can actually find buried treasure. Happy hunting!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Arts Fair Shopping

Gorgeous necklace by Pikay Creations.
Now that school is almost back in session, Pioneer has been spending the last few lazy days of summer getting into fall shopping mode. Of course the priority is kitting out the JPs (Junior Pioneers) with back to school duds, but sometimes we need to take a break from school uniforms and drool over some delicious local arts and crafts. Lucky for us, it's only a few weeks until the Danforth East Arts Fair (DEAF) on Sept 14 - 15 and we've already been scoping out our juicy finds in advance thanks to Pinterest! You can get your crafty fix here:

Don't forget to follow Pioneer on Pinterest here! Stay tuned for more #DEAF13 sneak peaks and artist previews.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Last Friday Night

One complaint we've heard often from other pioneers in the 'hood is about the sheer number of dingy dives along the Danforth. We've passed by the dirty dozen hundreds of times, but to our surprise a recent adventure revealed that you can't judge a book by its cover!

We know that secretly everyone likes to belt out their favourite tunes, a la Katie Perry, in the car with the windows rolled up so no-one can hear. Not everyone is like Pioneer, who always gladly accepts karaoke invitations. Last Friday night was one of those nights, and to our delight, we didn't have to walk far to get down and diva.

There's a tiny bar just east of Monarch Park called Sportster's, and from the outside, it looks kind of grungy and is mostly overshadowed by the patio at Sarah's (not much better if you ask Pioneer!). Inside though is a clean and cozy watering hole that offers up a great atmosphere for group karaoke every Friday night. Pioneer and some party animal neighbours (ok, a bunch of mom and dads who don't get out much) rocked out on the microphone for at least a few hours, revealing more than a few secret divas in the 'hood. A group ensemble of Dancing Queen was probably the highlight, much to the amusement of every passersby and patio patrons a few doors down. 

The wine selection is awful, and the bar rail nothing fabulous, but really - if you're in a legitimate sports bar, just order some beer (not on tap!). If you're not into karaoke, the owner Lily says that they have soccer games on all the time which packs the room during a good match. But hey, anyone up for a round of Danforth's Got Talent?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Beautiful Things

Pioneer has returned from a very lazy summer hiatus, and back to discovering all the hidden gems that have popped up over the last few months - and literally, this hidden gem was actually a DECA pop-up shop before becoming a beautiful, permanent space at the corner of Coxwell and Danforth. You may remember Pioneer blogged about 698 Coxwell back here, when it was another small retail niche called S Sense In Design. We heard rumours that a new shop had opened up here, and kept noticing the cute red chairs out front so we had to check it out (on the way, we finally picked up our handmade indigo pillows on hold at the Pillow Shoppe, much to Daddy Pioneer's dismay....)

The gorgeous, light-filled space has since been taken over by LEN - democratic purveyors of fine art & beautiful things. Warning: If you don't like beautiful things, or fine art or anything made by local artisans and crafters, please do not read any further. Thank goodness Pioneer likes democratically purveyed baubles of delight since this is what LEN is filled to the brim with: irresistible finds of all shapes and sizes.

Pioneer is always drawn to jewelry first, so of course we had to get a full tour of the display case by proprietor Christal Pshyk. Beautiful silver earrings from Janet Stein are mixed with Rimanchik leather bracelets from Montreal and bohemian crystal bead necklaces by local jeweller Csilla Marki. All things that are perfect for BFF birthday gifts, or kicking stocking stuffers up a notch (yah...with two Junior Pioneers around, we're already prepping for Christmas....).

We really want to stress the uniqueness of everything at LEN. It's reminiscent of the Drake General
Store - for those of you who remember a time when shopping for curated cool was combined with a leisurely Sunday brunch along Queen West..... At LEN, their stationary is not just stationary, their fine art is not mass-produced and their well-priced glassware is shipped from France.

Once you discover the handmade Canadiana cards by local artists Sarah Deacon (Grade Eh Designs) & Wendy Tancock, you'll be looking for occasions to send greeting cards far and wide. The Duralex glassware was brought in specifically for young families looking for non-breakable glassware for their kids (anyone else sick of plastic IKEA tumblers cluttering up your cupboards??). And if those things are not appealing, the yummy aroma of all their lotions and potions will surely pique your curiousity.

Proprietors David and Christal are newly native to Toronto, and they bring a delectable dose of their west coast style, cool curation and eye for detail to this little bohemian but modern space that would belong on the High Street anywhere in the world.

Check out all our beautiful finds on Pinterest!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Raising The Roof

Pioneer has spent many an hour describing the good eats here in the east, but something that we've focused too little on is live music. The reasons why are pretty obvious - there just aren't a lot of live music venues that can house the reverb of a full band. Pioneer is a believer though, as we've just experienced what can only be described as the tipping point....

The story begins this past Friday. Every year, we've looked askance at the sign that gets put up at St. Brigid's School advertising their Last Day Music Fest. Another well-connected Danforthista got our attention when she mentioned that a familiar face on Danforth organizes the festival and it's open to everyone - not just St. Brigid's kids. Chris Biagini owns Studio CPB, a punk-rock hair salon where all the cool kids go tucked in behind Sarah's Cafe. We had to get the scoop.

The scene of our impromptu live music chat.
Chris has been around the neighbourhood for 30 years and has seen it all. The door to his salon never stays closed for long and the phone rings off the hook. We could write this whole post just about him (beauty school, working the clients at Leone's back when it was THE place to get a 'permanent'....), but we digress! Chris started the Last Day Music Fest seven years ago, as a place to showcase young musicians including his daughter who plays a mean set of drums. Over the years, Chris has used his connections in the music industry to book legitimate bands like Done With Dolls, who play right alongside your neighbours kids, to make the event a real rock n' roll street party with about a dozen acts. Chris himself steps up to the mic with his own band Chasing Sand. It's happening this Thursday, June 27 from 6 - 10p.m. at St. Brigid's school yard and we wouldn't miss it. Come's $2!!

But that's not quite the tipping point we mentioned above. Weeks ago, an invite came in to check out a band at the Linsmore on Saturday night. As we blogged about here, the Linsmore is actually a decent (but small) place to hear live music - and as we were chatting with Chris he happened to mention the very same event. We got to talking about the Linsmore and Chris says he's sure it's destined for greatness with the new owners interested in music. So, as Saturday evening approached, Pioneer heard more and more buzz about this event around the neighbourhood. This was something new - a fever pitch usually reserved for new restaurants! We had to check it out.

Things really hit home when we pulled open the door of the Linsmore Tavern to see a jam-packed room and a packed bar of 20- and 30-somethings yelling for a drink. The band was called Train Wreck and they rose the roof on this ancient tavern of questionable origins.  Later on in the evening someone said to us "This is the new hipster bar..." and we really couldn't hide our look of glee. Ok, so we don't all need to run out and buy American Apparel, and there won't be a "General Store" attached, but this is the start of something new.

Disclaimer: we don't think it's a coincidence that a few of the members of Train Wreck are neighbourhood dads, as is Chris and his connections to the music fest!

We shouldn't end this post without giving a shout out to Red Rocket Coffee, who has a stellar line-up of smaller musical acts on Friday nights, and of course Relish and their almost daily line-up of entertainment.

We kind of like this new look that Danforth East is trying on.....good restaurants, amazing bars, and a growing selection of evening entertainment that won't bankrupt even the house-poorest of us all!

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Wren is In Flight

We're hoping no-one has noticed that Pioneer took a hiatus for a few weeks - not because there isn't anything going on along Danforth East. Nope, we were waiting for the juiciest scoop, the hottest news in town and now we have it: The Wren (1382 Danforth) is finally open. No more paper on the windows, no more guessing games or secret stalking. The space that once housed a hair salon has finally been transformed into a cozy local that you won't want to leave (and trust us, we almost didn't....!).

The Wren is an enviable space - a vintage exposed brick wall, a handcrafted wooden bar, communal tresel tables, and elegant robin's egg-blue brushed wallpaper with framed needlepoints of the Alps hung over cozy tables of four. A look at what's on tap says it all - Beau's Lug Tread is numero uno on the list, followed by a stellar selection of craft beer and interesting picks like Watermelon Wheat Beer.

The wagon wheel chandelier is the first, and really the only, sign that there's going to be some southwestern food on the menu. The very simple list is a mashup of pub grub, tex-mex and southern comfort food with things like slow roasted pork belly sandwiches, wings and of course - you gotta have  the guac and chips.

News of The Wren's beef brisket sandwich has already started to spread. It's so good, that when Pioneer finally moseyed over to our new favourite spot for some grub, the brisket was sold out. Too bad, so sad, but the back up choice was nothing short of yummo! A deep fried pulled pork chimichanga was mouthwatering (but the lacklustre side salad is nothing to write home about). After hearing only grunts of pleasure from our dining partner, Pioneer stole a bite from their delicious Wren Burger to see what the fuss was all about. One bite, and you'll be drifting back in time to the kitchen of your childhood. The meat is spiced just perfectly and has a pleasant, home-cooking flavour too it - our mom's meatloaf is the best comparison.

Needless to say, The Wren was packed to the rafters when we visited - a major success for a resto-bar-pub that was only a week old. This weekend, they're kicking it up a notch with an official hootenany on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so get in early and keep a shine on that bar!

The Wren on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lights Out for Earth Day

This coming Monday is Earth Day and Pioneer has decided to commemorate this day of action with just a little bit of inaction (in a good way!). What could be better than walking somewhere local for a candlelight dinner made with locally sourced food inspired by local hops?

Two of our favourite people have joined forces to create an Earth Day event everyone will want to attend. Anne Sorrenti, executive chef at Morgan's and Troy Burtch at Great Lakes Brewery, teamed up for Lights Out - an candlelight evening of local beer and local food.

Great Lakes Brewery is Toronto's original craft brewery, and so Sorrenti has created a four-course local menu that integrates their famous ales - including dessert (think coffee and cake...mmmm). The four courses will be paired, of course, with tasters of some new brews and old classics. If you've never been to a beer dinner before, they are great fun.

Tickets are a measly $50 - which is great value for a four course dinner with drinks especially from the Morgan's kitchen. Event starts at 6:30 with some apps and a pint.

For more info, there are lots of options! Call Morgan's and make a reservation (416 461-3020), check out details on Facebook here, or head to GLB's website here.

See you there!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Trip to the Big House

Okay, got you there! Pioneer has not had a run in with the law, just a run in with some good law-abiding pizza. That's right, we couldn't resist trying out a hot juicy slice from Big House Pizza, the hot new kid in town at 962 Danforth. We always call Fridays 'pizza day' and even though it was Good Friday, we didn't quite feel like the requisite fish dinner since we were entertaining small children pre-wired to throw fish sticks at the wall. A good excuse for take out!

Perusing the online menu, we had to laugh at the creative naming protocol they've used: Rob 'the jerk' Ford for a spicy jerk chicken pie, the John A. Macdonald (think a Big Mac with pickles) and the I'm Watching My Weight So I'll Just Have the Veggie Pizza. We ordered a small cheese pizza for the young 'uns from the Penny Pinchin Menu and a large Hot Pig In The City for the adult kids.

We're not going to lie - the prices are higher than your standard takeout, but guess what?

Friday, March 29, 2013

One a penny, two a penny.....

One of Pioneer's favourite places on Danforth is Morgans and so we jumped at the opportunity to keep the shine on the bar this week when an invitation came from Great Lakes Brewery to chat about an upcoming @DanforthEast event. We'll get to that in a second, but while we were there we got to chatting with Executive Chef Anne Sorrenti about what's up for Easter and it had our mouths watering!

First thing first: put down the oven mitts and the frozen Pillsbury crescent rolls. If you call Morgans and order by Saturday, you can have fresh baked hot cross buns for your Easter feast. Forget the orange currant-y spiced variety of old. Sorrenti has come up with two delectable flavours to choose from: white chocolate apricot, and chocolate nutmeg spice. Delicious and one more item you can cross off your list of things to prep. The phone number is 416.461.3020, so call and order some now!

If you're not locked into family festivities on Sunday, Morgans has an Easter brunch with live

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shiny and New

Pioneer was waltzing down Danforth, just west of Woodbine on the south side, when a beautiful window display leapt out at us. A few steps on, this was followed by a wave from two friendly faces lounging in the window of the brand new community hub Artisans At Work (2071 Danforth Ave). It was local jeweller Tara Shelton and neighbourhood event planner Susan, ensconced in the cozy nook at the front of the shop that we quickly discovered is the best place in the neighbourhood for people watching. It was our first visit to the art space, but it won’t be our last.

This endeavor is a fine addition to the ground swell happening around Danforth East – to get people shopping local. Shelton is the proprietor of the ethereal space, which takes pride of place as the first community art studio and artisan market in this neck of the woods. She says that it's a dream come true for her to provide exhibit space, work space, and retail space for local artisans in the Danforth East area – and a place for affordable, unique gifts.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Wren - Finally!

They bought a fixer-upper along Danforth East, have been through renovation insanity and along the way have held down jobs and had two kids - and are still crazy in love. They're a couple exactly like almost everyone Pioneer knows in the 'hood. That's why it was such a pleasure for us to meet Dennis and Rhonda, the owners of the much anticipated new space called The Wren at 1382 Danforth. This isn't just a story about a new business opening in a vacant store front, this is a story all about two people who are investing in their community: They came, they saw, they loved it, they opened a restaurant.....

When Pioneer popped by for a sneak peak this weekend, the place was still a construction site so it was hard to envision what its going to look like when it opens around St. Patty's Day, but there were some glimmers of what's to come. Although there have been rumours that this was going to be a southwestern themed-resto, Dennis was clear that it won't be a theme restaurant. It's going to be a local. A really great local, with some southern- and southwestern-inspired comfort food (you're seriously not going to find a mangy caeser salad at this place). And maybe a little bit of exposed wood. He says more importantly though, he and his wife are envisioning a place where they would want to hang out - comfortable and friendly (we know some people around here like to hang out at the Linsmore, and that's ok too!).

The cozy space will hold 60 seats, with a long harvest table down the middle designed to really get neighbours chatting. Pioneer's hard hitting question to Dennis was about junior east-enders. Are they welcome? Are there highchairs? Will new parents feel comfortable coming for a pint of Ontario craft beer with their screaming monster? Dennis was lukewarm on his answer - they can come (oh, and COME they will!) but there really isn't room for even the smallest umbrella stroller. However, he admits the need for a solution on that front.

A highlight of the tour was definitely the building-height vintage painted Coca Cola advertisement they uncovered while tearing down the east wall of the interior. It was once an exterior sign on what used to be an exterior wall of the building next door. It's created an interesting focal point and a must-see feature wall in the new space.

Now, as for the real exterior, that still sports the zany Studio CPB punk yellow. We're thinking that if West Lodge on Queen West can get away with a big yellow door, Pioneer thinks they should keep the funky facade. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Interesting People: Mary Stewart

'Where everybody knows your name...' is a tune that has been on repeat since Pioneer first became an official Danforth-easter, and discovered how close knit this neighbourhood really is. This is ironic, since this post is about music and in particular about a musician who writes better lyrics than that but who does actually know everybody's name.

If you've ever stopped by relish Bar & Grill on any given Sunday you may have met Mary Stewart, who by our account, is only a temp at the local tapas joint since she is a rising star in the music world and our very own secret local celebrity. We sat down to chat with Mary, after being blown away by one of her Friday night performances, to get the dirt on this east end diva.

Q. How did you end up here along the Danforth?

A. I came to Toronto a few years ago from Halifax, and ended up in the east end sort of by fluke. I’m a musician so we were looking for a place that would have enough storage space for our musical gear and the house was just perfect. We’ve since moved from that place, but just around the corner since I really didn’t want to leave the neighbourhood.

Q. How long have you worked at relish?

A. Well, ironically, I’ve only worked there for about a year, but it was places like relish that really kept me here in the east end. My first moment at relish when I was just a customer, made me feel like I was home – it was a place I could come and have a glass of wine at the bar and not feel out of place for being alone.

Q. What makes you love living along Danforth East?

A. Running into people I know is the best. I feel at home here. I love that I go out to do some shopping for instance and run into five people I know while I’m out. It’s a real community. Very welcoming. And I love the farmer’s market!

Q. As a musician, do you think there’s an opportunity here for more live music? Does this neighbourhood support live music or are we too family oriented?

A. Since I’ve been here, I’ve watched the musical scene really flourish. There is a definitely a huge audience for live music. The community is hungry for it. Our Sunday night open mic event is all local musicians from the neighbourhood, and the lineup is always packed with performers. Joanne, the owner of relish, has really nurtured the music scene here – she pretty much has live music seven days a week.

Q. When you’re not working at relish or performing, do you have your own favourite watering hole?

A. The Rusty Nail just down the street is my favourite place to go. It’s a total dive bar, but it’s great. They have a pretty good live music line-up.

The sensational Ms. Stewart has already made some mega-watt appearances on the stage, released a CD or two and made a few music videos. She sounds a little like Lisa Loeb, a little like Feist but a lot like herself (particularly when she sings her haunting acoustic version of Salt & Pepper’s 1989 hit Shoop). She’s launching her new album Chances Are I Like You this Thursday, Feb 21 at the Rivoli (9 p.m. $10 at the door). If you want to hear more of our local rising star check her out at

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Retail Therapy

Pioneer has always been a little intimidated by the idea of "personal shopping" or having a "wardrobe consultant", and we have a sneaking suspicion that we are not alone. However, if there was ever a time to repeat the mantra "be not afraid" - this is it! Pioneer popped by one of the newest DECA Pop-Up Shops by Krystle Lee today, and asked the hard hitting question we all want to know: is it possible to have a stylist on a budget?? We were surprised to find out that the answer is yes.

But first, a little bit about this sugar-sweet confection on a grimy bit of boulevard! Krystle Lee has been in the fashion biz for years, and has a pedigree to show. She's worked for Smythe (drool!!!), Kenneth Cole and has Kim Newport-Mimran on speed dial. This savvy entrepreneur has been hosting personal shopping events for six years and has a dedicated and loyal client list of both hard-working everyday women and A-listers. According to her friends in high places she is a "custom curator of high-end fashion". Score for Danforth East!

Her pop-up shop at 1801 Danforth is tastefully decorated with both high-end and low-end merchandise and is a welcome retail oasis, right next to Repetitions Fitness (another pop-up shop!). She is open for the entire month of February, and for all of you maternity leave moms out there, this is the first stop for a stunning back to work wardrobe. 

Of course Pioneer had her eye on the cobalt blue Tahari sheath dress, and the houndstooth equestrian multi-purpose clutch (hint hint, Valentine's Day is coming Daddy Pioneer!), and given time could have found lots more to love. However, Pioneer was there to demystify personal wardrobe styling. Easily put, Krystle's primary function is to honestly show you what looks good on you within your budget so you don't have to do the searching and wondering. She showed us a whole range of pants, sweaters and dresses that are affordable and low maintenance (ie. they don't need to be dry cleaned). She explained that the key is getting to know a woman's style - it may not be a home run on your first visit, but over time she builds on what you've already purchased from her to create a stellar wardrobe. 

Pioneer did not hesitate to get onto Krystle Lee's list for future events, and a little bird also told us that many people we know in the nabe have already made private appointments with her, so don't be afraid to stop by. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Tunisian Dream

It was one of those frigid mid-winter evenings when Pioneer and some friends set out on our culinary adventure to steamy Northern Africa. We were visiting Tunisia, a sliver of a country with a tourist-friendly Mediterranean coastline, stuffed in between Algeria and Libya and a shadowy participant in last year's violent Arab Spring.

Tunisian cuisine, like the country itself, has rarely been in the spotlight, which might be the reason why a lot of neighbours walk right by Taste of Tunisia at 1475 Danforth without blinking. But they shouldn't! Why? Well, sometimes something really special comes along, and its hard to keep it to yourself, and this is one of those instances.

It is unbelievable that we have a gem like this so close to home. It is THE ONLY Tunisian restaurant in Toronto. It seems unbelievable that a country of 10.7 million is rep'd by only one restaurant in our "multi-cultural" city (as opposed to Montreal that has at least five or six) and on the Friday evening we were there, the restaurant was sadly empty.

Peeking into the window street-side does not reveal a glossy, highly designed interior, but never judge a book by its cover. It was definitely love at first bite. The collegial host Hatem brought us plates of delicate Mediterranean appetizers to start - soft calamari simmered in a light and tangy tomato sauce, a plate full of fresh salads, and the winner of them all, the Tunisian 'brik'. Potatoes, egg, tuna, parsley and capers pureed and stuffed into a phyllo roll. Although Hatem admits that real Tunisian brik is not made with phyllo, it doesn't matter because it's the melt-in-your mouth savoury interior that is worth coming back for ($5.95).

The requisite mint tea was poured for Pioneer and friends while we waited for our mains, so we had a chance to chat with Hatem. He took over the restaurant in November 2011, when it used to be called Djerba. He explained that unlike neighbouring Ethiopian and Moroccan restaurants, there isn't a huge Tunisian clientele in Toronto because most expats settle in Montreal due to the French language connection. This means there is no existing customer base to tap into, so he has to work extremely hard to market to the populace. By default, he often has to describe Tunisian cuisine as Moroccan which has some vague similarities.

The main courses when they arrived were worth waiting for. We ordered the Merguez, which is a lamb sausage similar to Italian veal sausage and simmered in a zuchini and eggplant tomato sauce with potatoes. It was so savoury, that Pioneer went back for thirds (sorry guys!!)  and so filling that getting around to the chicken couscous was hard. Pioneer began to have serious doubts about being able to walk home with such a full belly.

The three of us ate for under $60, and although a foodie or food writer Pioneer is not, our opinion is that this is a great local gem for an evening out if you're looking for something new and interesting. It will be up to us to keep places like this in our neighbourhood, which in turn keep our neighbourhood interesting and worth living in. So our final word is to take a chance! This place will not disappoint.

Bon appetit!

P.S. They are family friendly, have booster seats for kids AND do take out - menu on their website. So really, there is no excuse....

Taste Of Tunisia on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Danforth Ink

Artists and our little community seem to go hand in hand, so it was no surprise to Pioneer to find out that not only is Jesse Sherman of Red9ine Studios a great artist but he’s also a long-time Danforth resident. You probably wouldn’t know it when walking by his custom tattoo studio at 1974 Danforth (which he also lives above with his new family), but Sherman has a sterling reputation around Toronto as one of the best. This isn’t just a shop you pop into for a quick tattoo: to get inked by Jesse, and most of his co-artists, takes time and planning.  Pioneer had a chance to sit down and talk with Sherman and his wife Victoria about life, work and the Danforth.

Q. How did you end up here at the sweetspot of Danforth East?
A. We’ve been open since 2007, but I’ve lived in the area for 15 years. I used to have a space at the barbers across the street but I really wanted to create my own artistic space to work in. We liked this neighbourhood, so we invested and built this space literally from the ground up.

Q. Is your clientele mainly from the neighbourhood or elsewhere?
A. No, only about 5% of our clients are from around here. We are definitely a destination studio. People seek us out. Sometimes we get customers walking in and looking for something immediately, so I send them down to my friend at the other tattoo shop at Danforth and Bastedo.

Q. Do you think it hurts to have two tattoo shops on the same stretch?
A. No, we complement each other for sure. Everyone is looking for something different when they are thinking about getting a tattoo. Our process is about creativity and it's just a lot slower. There's more thought put into the end result.

Q. How did you get into tattooing?
A. I started out as a graffiti artist and I had always been really interested in tattooing as art. It wasn’t about getting tattoos, but about the artistry and process behind putting ink to skin. A tattoo is like a badge, a memory of a time in your life. It’s sort of sentimental. I like to step back now and look at the tattoos as a whole, not so much as the tattoo artist but to appreciate the art of the actual design.

Q. Victoria, when do you think tattoos became so mainstream?
A. I don’t think it was all because of Miami Ink/L.A. Ink. It’s such a generational thing. There are a lot of people our age who have tribal tattoos because they were popular in the 90’s, you know?

Q. Do you guys feel a change in the neighbourhood since you’ve been here?
A. Definitely! When we first moved into this location, there was nothing to eat around here. But now we’ve got so many more restaurants and bakeries. We’re partial to Celena’s, because they also have a young family, so we like to support our own!

Q. What’s the best thing about Danforth East?
Jesse: The subway – I love being on the subway line.
Victoria: For me it’s the sense of community. You see your children starting to go to school or daycare and you start getting more involved. You see families at the park or parents you know at ballet class and you feel like your part of a community.

If you want to check out more of Jesse and Victoria's beautiful art, you can find them here or visit the shop and flip through some of Jesse's books. You might even see Pioneer there, getting a permanent piece of Monarch Park Ave on her ankle... (but that'll be our secret!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Daddy Pioneer just had a birthday, and his big wish was some oysters on the half shell, but where to go on Danforth East that has great oysters? Unfortunately, one of the first things going on our upcoming list of #ThingsDanforthEastNeeds will be an oyster bar/seafood shack to call our own. So, where did we end up? A little outside the turf, but hey, as we always say: we live here, but sometimes we like to leave!

Without the two screaming JPs in tow, we gleefully skipped all the way over to Broadview and settled in at The Auld Spot pub just east of Chester subway on Danforth. Although we feel a little bit like a traitor, a visit to this local is definitely worth it: nothing on the wine list is over $9/glass, the food is great for a pub, and the tartan banquettes and cozy lighting suck you in until you almost forget that your babysitter has a curfew.

Pioneer ordered the soft and flaky salt cod cakes which were just perfect for a starter while watching Daddy Pioneer devour a dozen PEI oysters. The salads that followed were enormous and refreshing - something we did not expect for a house green salad and a basic Caesar. We were tempted by some dessert, but Daddy Pioneer thought it was probably a wise choice to stay away from mixing shellfish, chardonnay and creamy dessert confections, so we called it a night.

As a side note - although we partook in the birthday celebrations on Monday eve, the BEST day to have oysters at the Auld Spot is on Tuesdays when they are half price ($1.50/half shell). Surfs up!

(check out more here on The Auld Spot Pub on Urbanspoon)

As a secondary side note, we should mention that owners Nathan and Nicole are actually Danforth East-ers and live a stone's throw from Pioneer HQ. As we always knew, we are at the centre of the Universe!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Getting To Our Fighting Weight

Pioneer has been bemoaning the winter weather lately, not because sledding down the "big hill" at East Lynn Park on a superwaxed retro wooden sled is not fun. Because it is!!! What's eating us is the misery of being a runner during a Canadian winter. While it's always super fun to head out for a run after a light dusting of snow, what's even more fun is to run in the snow during a snowstorm. It dawned on us the other day (while doing the aforementioned cursed activity) that there is no need to be tortured like this. There are three AMAZING local fitness facilities within reach of most Pioneers out there.

The first I want to mention is Legacy Spinning. During that last, long cold winter run, Pioneer was reminiscing about those early days of discovering Legacy and remembering that although we don't love riding a stationary bike for an hour, we definitely love being indoors and love Andy's brand of motivation. If one thing can be said for owner Andy D., he knows how to get you on your seat and keep you there for as long as you can stand it. A lot of women and men that we've talked to are disciples of his fast-paced, loud and intense spin classes and people are often lined up out the door to take part. Pioneer hopes we still have the inside "track" so we can burn off some of that holiday cheer.

We do want to talk more about Tidal CrossFit, as our second option, but unfortunately all we know is that it's a gym and it's next to Legacy. The basic premise of CrossFit is full body conditioning through high intensity, functional movement (ie weightlifting). Pioneer will get back to that one further on in the New Year.

And, last but NOT LEAST:

Winston is the official BOMB Wellness Life Coach.
BOMB Wellness has changed Pioneer's life, and we are so excited to be able to announce that they are celebrating their first birthday this upcoming weekend. As any of us yummy mummies know, it is really really hard to actually LOOK like a yummy mummy while wrangling babies, pre-schoolers and puppies. With the help and support of Kevin and Victoria at BOMB, this mummy-tummy has lost 4 inches and gained a whole new wardrobe of clothes we haven't worn since we were actually young and hip (woot, woot skinny jeans!!). Kevin might not seem like the scary bootcamp drill sergeant, but he gets the results without the yelling. He's there during the last ten seconds of suicides to push you to the end, or there when your form needs to be corrected for maximum impact. From beginner to advanced, this is a bootcamp no-one should be afraid to come to.

So, this weekend you have no excuse to not try this place out. They are offering free classes from 12 - 3 on both Saturday and Sunday with an half hour class of each of their core offerings: slosh pipe, TRX, strider, Fighting Fit and the infamous bootcamp. Activities for kids will take place in the basement yoga studio on both days, so don't be afraid to come with the little ones in tow....we can attest that they will be well taken care of!

Click here for more info on the BOMB anniversary events.

Let's sweat!