Where chef Chris Locke gets breakfast sandwiches, burgers and beer on the Danforth
Chris Locke’s heart is always in the right place. As executive chef of Marben and its speakeasy-ish Cloak Bar downstairs, he hosted a Farmer’s Appreciation Dinner at the end of 2019, where he welcomed 80 people from the industry for a thank you dinner. “It was just our way of expressing gratitude towards the individuals who I feel are often the least celebrated.” And very recently, he helped raise $11,000 at a dinner in support of the Australian wildfire recovery efforts. “Everyone was so wonderful and we all pulled together so quickly. The food and drinks were donated, and all of the proceeds went to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.”
When not rallying for a noble cause, you can find Locke musing over micro-organisms. “Over the last 18 months, our team’s been very focused on fermentation and preservation. Last year, we spent a lot of our time building a pantry of ingredients for use in the winter months—miso and pickles, vinegars and even XO sauce—and we’re now finally able to taste the fruits of our labour. It’s a win-win situation for guests and the environment: our homemade sourdough miso contains a bacteria that’s really good for the gut, and fermenting and preserving food often uses up ingredients that would otherwise be discarded. The beauty of all of this is that fermented and preserved food can keep for extended periods of time—kind of like aging a fine wine. It’s quite magical to see and taste how everything transforms.”
The English expat moved to Toronto in 2014, and for the last five-and-a-half years, he’s lived in Greektown with his wife, Roisin, and two cats Baloo and Marmite. “I used to live in a City Place condo, but it was too much of a party scene. When I moved to this neighbourhood, it just felt like home. Greektown is peaceful and relaxing, but there are also a bunch of tasty food spots. I still enjoy working downtown, but now I feel like I get the best of both worlds.”
463 Danforth Ave., 416-855-4240, fiorentinarestaurant.ca
“My days off are Sunday and Monday, so my wife and I come here for brunch. We both love Fiorentina because owners and chefs Tina Leckie and Alex Chong have a wonderful farm-to-table approach to their neighbourhood grub. There’s always a chalkboard that lists their suppliers. We actually use a lot of the same companies they do, including 100km Foods, Cookstown Greens and Soiled Reputation.
Go-to item 1: Duck eggs Benny with pork shoulder and potatoes.
Tasting notes: “This is beautiful. I just love how cushiony and plush their house-made English muffins are. And they use heritage duck eggs from Murray’s Farm. Duck eggs are so much better than chicken eggs because they’re so rich.”
Go-to item 2: Lamb’s head terrine with sunny-side-up eggs, and choucroute with apple butter and potatoes.
Tasting notes: “This is part of the animal that isn’t always eaten—it’s definitely underrated and yet so delicious. It takes a bit of effort to make this but I just love it because, again, it’s a testament to the quality of this spot and their desire to use every part of the animal. And every element on the plate is there for a reason. It’s such a thoughtfully composed, comforting winter dish.”
Go-to item 3: Butter tart.
Tasting notes: “This reminds me of home as we have a similar treat called a treacle tart, which uses golden syrup held with breadcrumbs. This tart has a beautiful butter crust, a chewy-squishy filling with just the right amount of runny, and it’s topped with crisp pecans. Overall, it’s well-balanced and doesn’t hurt your teeth because it’s not cloyingly sweet.”
173 Danforth Ave., 416-465-2253, doughbakeshop.ca
“My wife introduced me to this spot. She’s a web developer now, but back in Northern Ireland she ran a cake baking and decorating business. She actually worked at Dough for a little while and got me hooked on their squares and sandwiches,” says Locke. Dough is owned and operated by Tracy O’Hara who opened up shop around 10 years ago. Also 10 years old: their three wild yeast starters. Each one is named after a Hollywood martial artist: Chuck Norris (rye), Jackie Chan (whole wheat) and Bruce Lee (white).
Go-to item 1: Breakfast sandwich on a challah bun.
Tasting notes: “This is the perfect hangover cure, but it’s also just a killer sandwich—and the only thing they serve that isn’t typical bakery fare. I always get it on their beautiful challah bun. My go-to is peameal, which is cooked on a flat-top, but you can get tomato or avocado instead. The Murray’s Farm egg is cooked over-easy so the yolk won’t run onto your clothes, and it’s topped with St. Albert cheddar. I always ask them to add hot sauce. Look at the beautiful crunchy cheese skirt—that’s all thanks to the flat-top.”
Go-to item 2: Hello Dolly bar.
Tasting notes: When I worked at Auld Spot Pub, one of the cooks was obsessed with this bar. He said it was one of his favourite things ever.” The bar’s thick graham cracker crust base is loaded with unsweetened shredded coconut, chocolate chips and butterscotch chips, all suspended in sweetened condensed milk. “It has this baked brûlée top to it. It kind of reminds me of the density of baked cheesecake without the cheesecake filling.”
Go-to item 3: Cheese scone.
Tasting notes: “It’s as big as your head and made with a ton of butter and cheddar cheese—that’s why it’s so good. My dad always used to make these. He was the baker of the family, and would rotate between scones, bread, or pizza.”
The Auld Spot Pub
347 Danforth Ave., 416-406-4688, auldspot.ca
“This was one of the first places I worked at in Toronto. I still visit—as a customer now—because it’s definitely not your average pub. Chef Jonathan Viau is all about making quality food and using local ingredients when possible. They also have a great selection of local beers, wines, and spirits. They’ve been open since 1998, and there’s a reason to pop-by every day: half-priced oysters on Tuesdays, trivia on Thursdays, Sunday roasts and happy hour every day.”
Go-to item 1: Fish and chips.
Tasting notes: “This is the closest thing I’ve found in the city to the stuff back home. It’s done properly with thick-cut chips. In the U.K. we’d use Maris Piper, but that type of potato isn’t easily found here. Yukon Gold or Russets are good substitutes. The batter on the fish is super crispy and the haddock is flaky tender and just glistening.” The order comes with two pieces, one is the belly or tail, and the other is the loin. “I appreciate both. The tail and belly are always nice and crispy, while the loin is flaky and super moist. Both have their place—in my stomach.”
Go-to item 2: A half-dozen East Coast oysters from Diana’s Seafood.
Tasting notes: “I prefer East Coast oysters because of their briny salinity. The west coast ones are a bit sweet and they offer less oyster liquor. Locke squirts some lemon juice on the oysters but forgoes the mignonette, which he says there’s no need for, and turns the empty shells over. “This is oyster etiquette. It’s like saying ‘that one’s done, next’.”
Go-to item 3: Double cheeseburger with poutine upgrade.
Tasting notes: “It’s hefty! For me, if a burger bun is mediocre, that’s not okay and the overall burger will be lacking. Fortunately, Auld Spot uses my favourite challah buns from Dough Bakeshop.” The double-decker burger is made with two short rib–brisket patties, cheddar, bacon, pickles, iceberg lettuce and a Big Mac–style sauce that’s a mix of mayo, ketchup and pickle brine. “As for the poutine, the squeaky cheese curds just do it for me. And this gravy, the viscosity is perfect. It’s thick enough so that it drapes over the chips and clings to it—not like the runny variety that just soaks through everything, leaving you with mush.”
Go-to item 4: Bellwood’s Brewery’s Jelly King Plum sour.
Tasting notes: “I love the colour, the sour tang, the peach notes you get on the nose and the grapefruit flavours on the palate. I don’t pair beers with food, I just order my favourite brews based on their drinkability factor.”
Go-to item 5: Avling IPA.
Tasting notes: “It’s refreshing, bold and not too hoppy. It has a nice, biscuit-y warmth and notes of honey. This is a very fitting end to my day, actually, because I started my day with a visit to Avling’s brewery.”