Food festivals tend to have two possible purposes: to bring together food enthusiasts to share in their love of stuffing their faces and pickling their livers, or to bring together food enthusiasts to share in the love of stuffing their faces and pickling their livers while supporting a good cause – the latter simply enhances the former.
Springing close to 3,500 die hard food lovers to their computers, crashing their ticketing site, and subsequently selling out their 800 available spots in under 2 hours, The Stop’s Night Market was perhaps the most sought after food festival of the summer season (so far, at least). Perhaps it was because they assembled some of the top restaurants, chefs, and pop-up pros in Toronto? Perhaps it was because at 50 bucks a pop, one had an all you can eat, all you can drink ticket to flavour town (see Guy Fieri, I can use stupid hyperbole, too). Perhaps it was most importantly because, aside from getting all of the aforementioned awesomeness, The Stop’s Night Market also raises a butt-ton of cashola to support community food programs across the city. Who doesn’t enjoy a feel-good night of feasting!
Working to increase access to healthy and fresh food within some of Toronto’s most in-need communities, The Stop Community Food Centre has championed local food initiatives since the 1970s. One of the first food banks in Canada, through The Stop’s community cooking projects, urban agriculture initiatives, after school programs and more, they’ve developed into one of the most innovative and interactive food support services in Ontario.
Ticket sales from this year’s Night Market raised over $80,000 for The Stop Community Food Centre before the doors even opened. Ran over two nights, on June 18th and 19th, The Stop’s Night Market made magic happen in the Honest Ed’s parking lot and alleyway. As strings of lights glimmered overhead as dusk set in, the soundscape was a mix of satisfied “mmm’s” and impressed “ahh’s” mixed with the more calculated auditory accompaniments of performers Maria Bonita, Martin Reis, and special secret guests, The Lemon Bucket Orchestra.
There was a full-scale vendor swap from night one to night two, and though I was a little bummed about missing out on some goodies from 2nd-nighters like Yours Truly, Valdez, The Grove, and Farmhouse Tavern (amongst many others) it wasn’t as though the first night left anything to be desired. The simple fact that all monetary exchange took place before the night-of made this one of the smoothest and most savoury food festivals I’ve attended this year. Despite being rammed with hungry patrons, the mood, as well as the mowables, was positively contagious.
I tore through the gargantuan n’duja and mozzarella sandwich with fried eggplant by Bestellen. I downed Rose and Sons’ smoked ham and pimento cheese sandwich on cornbread. I savoured the elegant little arpège egg by Esé. Then washed it all down with pints of Lake of Bays Lager, or a nice swig of sweet Rosewood Estates Mead.
I cleansed my palate with Beau Soleil and Village Bay oysters at Neptuno, and raised it with a ball of fried Anson Mills grits with sharp cheddar cheese and pimento dipping sauce by Acadia. I found comfort in a warm bite of rabbit Bolognese by The Paintbox Bistro and rich Monforte Dairy cheese stuffed perogies with braised apple and cabbage by Brockton General. I revitalized it with citrusy beef tartare on a shrimp chip by Chantecler and the smooth salt cod inari from A-OK Foods. I filled it to the popping-point with the choux à la crème with caramel by the Tempered Chef, and went overboard with the beaver tail bites by Goodyear/Barry with decadent foie gras and Niagara strawberry compote.
The night ran on, but it didn’t feel long. The organizers, vendors and attendees were all in fine form. The air grew cool, but it only helped to sooth my food sweats. And as if nothing else had done it, my heart was warmed by the knowledge that this year’s event raised over $115,000 in the end – a 3-day supply of healthy food for over 9,000 hungry Torontonians. That’s one way to justify the food coma… one really good way!