Osgoode Hall & the Distillery District: Toronto, day 2

Osgoode Hall

Osgoode Hall and the Distillery District were not originally on the itinerary for our second day in Toronto two weeks ago.  But, as fate would have it, as we started talking and doing some research that morning, this was what we came up with: lunch at Osgoode Hall restaurant, one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets, and a walking tour of the Distillery District.

The day before, while on our walking tour of downtown Toronto, I had noticed Osgoode Hall, and found myself wondering: could it be visited?  was there a gate where you could access the grounds?  This day, we looked intently, and found that there was a small gate in the middle of the block, one with hardly enough space for a person to slip through.  Once through, we walked across the grass and there was the magnificent law building right in front of us.

Osgoode Hall gate

Osgoode Hall plaque

Osgoode Hall close up

The answer to our question about whether it could be visited and so forth was a little complicated.  Osgoode Hall is a series of legal buildings owned by the Law Society of Upper Canada with courtrooms and lawyers’ and judges’ offices and a library where law students (and fellows of the Law Society) can study.  The full complex of buildings can be visited by guided tour only, and only in the summer when the courts are not in use.

Osgoode Hall complex

Osgoode Hall’s main building contains the library and a well-regarded restaurant that serves lunch only, and only Monday through Friday.  The restaurant serves the lawyers and judges primarily, but they do set aside 20 tables in the restaurant for the general public for noon to 2pm, available by reservation and then on a first-come, first-serve basis.  We had called to make a reservation and just got a machine – after checking, the maitre d’, Minh Luu, confirmed that we were on the list.  You can come before your reservation if you’d like to have a look around the main building, an after going through security, you are left on your own to wander around.

We took advantage of the looseness of the situation and explored the building’s courtyard and library before heading to the restaurant.

Osgoode Hall courtyard

Osgoode Hall courtyard from above

Osgoode Hall Library entrance

Osgoode Hall Library

Osgoode Library fireplace

Osgoode Library ceiling

The library is quite remarkable.  I did graduate work at Columbia University and regularly studied at Butler Library which has very comfortable sumptuous study halls, and Osgoode’s library puts Butler to shame.  At one end of the library was a door that led into a hallway and the restaurant was just around the corner.  We opened the door to the restaurant and felt like we had been let into some special secret wonderful place.

Osgoode restaurant dining room

Our waitress was very informative, and told us all about Chef Adam Foley and the local cuisine that he weaves into marvelous bits of culinary wonder.  When I told her about my allergy she didn’t bat an eyelash – she encouraged me to tell her what I wanted to order, and she was sure that the chef would be able to alter it if need be to make the dish dairy free and still execute his vision.  She brought us some olive oil to dip my bread in that was fruity and a bit sweet.

I ordered a salmon burger with fries and a glass of a locally-made Riesling that was very nice.  Before the burger came I was presented with handmade condiments.  I’ve had handmade mayonnaise before, but handmade ketchup?  It was wonderful – there was some kind of mildly tangy fruit like plumb added to the tomato.  Oh, and I suppose the mustard was from a jar – but I was too impressed by the ketchup to worry about that.

handmade condiments

Salmon burger

The burger was also incredibly satisfying.  It was fairly simple, just some ground up salmon and spices, on a roll with some watercress, spinach, corn and red onion, with handmade tartar sauce.  But it was very good.

The dining room itself is, as I already mentioned, quite special.  Rows of law books line the sides, there are chandeliers and stained glass windows, paintings of imposing looking men hang on the walls, and the fixtures between the windows are made to look like torches, giving the room a classy but also rustic feeling.

Osgoode dining room features

Osgoode restaurant stained glass

After having such a singularly extraordinary lunch experience, we didn’t know how anything else we did that day could hope to measure up.  But we did have our first tram ride ahead of us, so that helped.  We rode down King Street to Parliament Street with the general idea that the Distillery District was near Parliament and Front Streets.  When we got off the tram, we went into a rental car office and asked the clerk, and he pointed us in the right direction.  We walked a block south and there it was, its location announced by a huge piece of public sculpture.

Public sculpture at entrance to distillery district

We hoped to take a walking tour of the district, and found Segway of Ontario not far from the entrance.  The next tour was at 3pm, so we explored the district a bit.  Our guide, Aaron, was a gregarious sort.  He told us all about the checkered history of the company, Gooderham & Worts, that had built the distillery and how it became the largest distiller of whiskey in the world at one time.  He also told us a good deal about the district and how it has become a haven for a variety of businesses, from clothing stores to chocolatiers to restaurants to brewpubs.

Distillery District

old distillery building

old millstone

old barrels

Selection of old whiskeys made on sight

We passed a number of pieces of public sculpture.

public sculpture in center of district

more public sculpture

Aaron took us to Soma Chocolates, where we sampled some great dark chocolate, and to Mill Street Brewpub, where we had tastings of their four varieties on tap, leaving us feeling like we had had a very good afternoon indeed.

Tasting at Mill Street Brewpub

Before leaving the district, we made one last stop, at Izumi Sake Brewery, to pick up a bottle of sake to go with our dinner (or to take home with us).

Izumi sake store

sake selection at Izumi

Izumi had a number of sakes that we enjoyed tasting.  In the end, Therese let me pick which one we liked the best.  We left Izumi, and the Distillery District, and walked north to King Street and then west toward the St. Lawrence Market.  We had seen the market building from the outside the day before, and today we hoped to experience it on the inside, and maybe even buy some things to put together for a quiet dinner in our hotel room.

About Karl Peterson

Karl Peterson is an avid traveler, passionate about food and food-related entertainment, completely allergic to dairy. He is founder, owner and principle contributor to “The Dairy Free Traveler” blog. The Dairy Free Traveler perfectly dovetails two of his greatest areas of interest: traveling near and far, and searching for great cuisine (especially dairy free!)

The Dairy Free Traveler publishes original material about the dairy free lifestyle, eating the best food in the most interesting destinations around the world. Karl’s tours take him from thriving New York City, to exotic Marrakesh, to elegant Paris bistros — (yes! even Parisians have gotten on the dairy free bandwagon.)

The Dairy Free Traveler himself also engages with independent dairy free food producers, highlighting new dairy free product launches and events that support dairy free entrepreneurs.

Peterson is among the top 7 most widely read TripAdvisor reviewers in New York City and is repeatedly cited as a Top Contributor at TripAdvisor.com. His reviews have garnered more than 542,000 readers — half in the U.S., and half among the many countries he has visited around the world.

Beyond writing this blog, Peterson is a published author, with contributions to “Savoring Gotham” edited by Andrew F. Smith (published 2015 by Oxford University) and the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Cheese (a bit ironic, yes, but a professional is often asked to stretch beyond their comfort zone!).

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2 Responses to Osgoode Hall & the Distillery District: Toronto, day 2

  1. Pingback: St. Lawrence Market, Toronto, Canada | The Dairy Free Traveler

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