You can get Korean, Lebanese, Japanese and Jamaican at this downtown food court
The Village by the Grange is located at 109 McCaul St. in Toronto
Walking through The Village by the Grange feels like stepping into a time machine and ending up in a forgotten world of single level malls, replete with faded wallpaper and floor tiles.
Built in the late 1970s, it has undergone very few changes and that's a good thing — especially for the many customers who come to its food court to sample Korean, Lebanese, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Ukrainian-Polish, and Jamaican dishes all under one roof
In a city moving at the speed of a spinning top, "The Grange" as its colloquially referred to, has managed to operate in its own ecosystem. Within the food court's aged look, vendors have managed to buck the trend of high-priced real estate, while maintaining a tone of authenticity that is rarely found in the city.
My first meals at the village were plates of West Indian-style stuffed roti with curried goat, heaping bowls of pho, and the occasional plate of shawarma. This was nearly two decades ago.
A group of us would lunch there frequently. Not all of the vendors survived, but I'm happy to say that the spirit of the village is still intact.
"We've been here for three years now; it's a special place," said Peter Lee, who runs the Wow K Food stand with his wife and daughters, Angela and Jenna.
The family's stand specializes in home-style Korean food in one of the smallest footprints in the food court. There's barely room for two in the cubicle-sized kitchen. From this stand, expect slightly chewy rice known as tteokbokki coated in a thick spicy sauce. My favourite dishes here rotate between the bulgogi pork and the jap chae. Always ask for a serving of the house hot sauce.
Then there's Helena's Magic Kitchen. Sean and Sunny Lee took over the Ukrainian-Polish stand a little over a decade ago, and to everyone's surprise left the menu intact.
"We didn't want to change anything. We decided to honour Helena's culture, " Sean Lee said.
Lee is being modest. Over the years I've come to learn that while the composition of the latkes and quiches on the menu are the same, he has worked on the pastry and the filling.
"I tried to give it more of a texture," he explained.
At Helena's, you'll find an assortment of quiches, the most popular being the spinach and ham. My current obsession is the sweet potato quiche, which tastes almost like a dessert. The latkes are some of the best you'll find in the city.
The location benefits from having the Art Gallery of Ontario and OCAD University right across from it on McCaul Street and Toronto Police's 52 Division not far away on Dundas Street West near University Avenue.
"It's a unique food court in the city for sure. We've been here for 12 years. We've seen a few vendors close but most have managed to survive, thanks [to] OCAD, AGO and the police station next door," said Maggie Kay, co-owner of Karine's Kitchen.
It's a vegan/vegetarian shop known for its extensive breakfast, salad and platter options. Kay runs it with her two daughters, Stephanie and Karine.
Manpuku is one of the long-standing staples in the food court. It's a Japanese restaurant styled after the raucous izakaya-style eateries in Tokyo.
Long before Japanese cuisine became fashionable in Toronto, regulars would sit at the restaurant's counter to enjoy bowls of curry don, a rice bowl topped with a meat or vegetable curry sauce, and takoyaki, grilled ball-shaped crepes filled with octopus. The beef curry don is my favourite bowl here and the yaki onigiri, a rice ball that is stuffed with an assortment of fillings and then grilled with a miso and soy sauce.