Summerlicious is back for another amazing season!

As a chef, I’m always excited by food festivals in the city. Food festivals are excellent exposure for local restaurants, cafes and bistros, and allow Torontonians the opportunity to explore all the culinary delights their city has to offer, at lower than usual prices. No food festival excites me more, or has greater popularity, than Summerlicious!
Summerlicious was started in 2003 as an attempt to boost the sales of local restaurants during the slow time of the summer. Its sister event, Winterlicious, was created to nudge customers into restaurants during the slow winter months. Both events were an immediate success. As it turned out, Torontonians whole-heartedly embraced the idea of exploring the extensive list of participating restaurants, while paying a fraction of the price.
The prix-fixe menus provided by participants is a win-win, both for diners and the hosting restaurants. Patrons can enjoy lunches ranging from $15-25, and dinners ranging from $25-45. All meals include an appetizer, entre, and dessert. In return, restaurants see an increase in sales, and the Toronto economy experiences a small boom.
The most obvious benefit to the Torontonian restaurant explorer is the opportunity to discover new local eateries at a lower cost. Toronto offers an array of fabulous, multicultural restaurants, and Summerlicious is the perfect chance for locals to broaden their culinary horizons.
Although Summerlicious has been a celebrated Toronto activity throughout most of the last decade, many Torontonians have yet to experience all that the festival has to offer.
Barbara Crescentini, a born and raised Torontonian who will be attending Summerlicious for the first time this year, had this to say:
“I’m excited for an opportunity to attend Summerlicious. Usually it is pricey to eat out, so you normally tend to stick to what you know and you wouldn’t necessarily get out and experience new foods or places. This is my first year attending Summerlicious, and I’m really excited to try different restaurants and foods in the city.”
While there are some locals who have not yet dined at Summerlicious restaurants, there are also many that are well aquainted with all that this fabulous festival has to offer.
John Baruk, a Toronto resident and fine dining officianado, has been attending the Summerlicious and Winterlicious festivities since their launch. When asked what he thought of the city’s favourite summer culinary event, he couldn’t contain his enthusiam.
“A lot of people don’t want to attempt to go to restaurants because they feel it may be too costly, and this is a way for people to attend who wouldn’t normally go (to Summerlicious participant’s restaurants). The food is amazing, it’s way better than any conventional restaurants, chains and whatnot; it opens up people’s palates to a new world,” Mr. Baruk gushed. “This draws in a new crowd of customers, and it opens up a new world to people who wouldn’t normally attend these smaller restaurants.”
When asked how he decides which of the 259 participating restaurants to choose from, he said, “Usually, I go online and look at the list (of participating restaurants) and menus, and I pick random restaurants that look interesting. I try to go to a different restaurant every time. If I’m into a Greek flavour, or an Indian flavour, I just read the menus provided (by the participating restaurants) and decide which restaurant I would like to try that day.”
He also added, “Everyone likes to eat; it’s a cheaper price and a set menu, you can’t go wrong! Experience what Toronto has to offer, all the cultures and diversities- people are stuck on the mainstream, so this is a good chance to try something different. If you love food, you have to try it!” This last line resonated with me. “If you love food, you have to try it!” Summerlicious should consider this as its slogan! Truly, anyone who loves food is missing out if they have yet to try all the prix-fixe delights offered by Summerlicious restaurants.
Of course, the Summerlicious event would not be the raging success that it is without the help of the dedicated teams of chefs working to provide patrons with unforgettable prix-fixe meals. Chef William Wetmore, who has been a pivotal part of many of the participants’ restaurants over the last 8 years, had this to say:
“Summerlicious is hard on kitchen workers and wait staff, but is a really important event for the food industry in Toronto. We see a huge increase in numbers, and usually experience a different type of clientele…I think the most important aspect of Summerlicious is definitely the fact that people get the chance to get out and try new places, and see all the amazing restaurants in Toronto!”
Of the 259 participating restaurants, my recommendations are:
1. Ame- Japanese fine dining at its best. Located in the heart of the entertainment district, Ame boasts a modern Japanese menu and an inspired cocktail bar. Perfectionism seems to be the underlying theme of this restaurant, with great care put into the selection of seasonal products and flavours used. Although the bar has an extensive scotch and sake selection, my recommendation would be to try one of their house-made cocktails, made with freshly squeezed juices and inspired bitters and infusions.
2. 5th Elementt- Fusion indian dining, done to perfection! This restaurant is a well-known piece of the Queen St. West neighbourhood, and provides perfectly prepared masterpieces fused with Indian flavours. Executive Chef Johnee S., who came to this restaurant from New York City, brings with him many original recipes including an extensive vegetarian menu. This is a definite recommendation for vegetarians, lovers of Indian cooking, and those trying to explore new flavours!
3.Caju- Authentic Brazilian food, with a contemporary twist! Caju is one of the less expensive Summerlicious options, offering $25 prix-fixe dinners. Its casual atmosphere and exquisite Brazilian menu will have you coming back, again and again! Caju provides an inexpensive, perfectly executed Brazilian menu, and a modern atmosphere filled with Brazilian music.
4. The Drake Hotel- A Queen St. West culinary hotspot! Opened in 2004, this unique restaurant provides seasonal market-fresh masterpieces designed by Chef Anthony Rose. The quality of these comfort food menu options has created a massive rapport amongst Queen West diners. The ever-changing menu provides patrons the opportunity to taste all the flavours of the season, and the sheer perfection of every item on the menu leaves customers craving more. I have never had a bad meal at The Drake.
5. Victoria’s at Le Meridien King Edward- Nestled within the financial district, Victoria’s is the house restaurant of the prestigious Meridien King Edward Hotel. This trendy, high-end casual fine dining establishment boasts spectacular brunch, lunch and dinner menus. This fine dining restaurant fuses tradition with the cutting edge, creating contemporary masterpieces made with local ingredients.
There are many fabulous restaurants and flavours to try during this year’s Summerlicious event! Most of the 259 restaurants are well-known and well loved! Why not find a new favourite spot? Take advantage of all that Summerlicious 2011 has to offer!
Happy eating, everyone! Remember, eat well, live well, be well!


**Photo credit: The Drake Hotel


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