Winterlicious adds flavour to bland season

Sub-zero temperatures in the city force those who can’t stand frigid weather into hibernation.

But with the arrival of Toronto’s Winterlicious, there’s no excuse for staying inside.

The annual event highlights diversity in 150 of Toronto’s best restaurants and will be satisfying hunger until Feb. 10.

“A lot of our regulars look forward to Winterlicious,” said Tom Kelly, a waiter at Joey Bravo’s Ristorante. “We provide different pairings we don’t regularly have on the [menu].”

The Sheppard Avenue East restaurant has a cozy dining area and set menu ready for the two-week event, serving pan-fried tilapia in white wine sauce or rigatoni in meat sauce. The small eatery is a local hot-spot for Winterlicious in Scarborough.

“The event infuses a lot of customers to come out and try different things,” Kelly said. “It also infuses the industry and [gives]something for people to look forward to.”

Restaurants like Joey Bravo’s are expected to serve more than 1,000 new customers during Winterlicious. Half of those will return within the year, participants at the Jan. 28 Winterlicious launch at city hall were told.

Scarborough resident Malcolm Wong took part in the festivities, ordering roasted Cuban lobster tail in garlic butter at King Street restaurant Fred’s Not Here.

“If there were more Winterlicious options in Scarborough, I believe people would be willing to try them just because they are closer to home,” Wong said.

Some residents are not aware of the participating Scarborough restaurants.

“I think there should be more,” Toronto resident Kiki Serdaridis said. “This would help Scarborough because people who generally don’t live [there], like myself, may go try a new restaurant outside the downtown core.

“I maintain that it’s all about the food, and if there are kitchens in Scarborough up for the challenge, by all means join the fun.”

Presented by American Express, each restaurant offers Winterlicious prixe fixe menus.

Dinner choices at Joe Maggiano’s on Sheppard Avenue, for example, include zuppa di pesce, gnocchi pesto or panko crusted pork loin sandwich.

“The goal is to support the restaurant industry,” said Shannon Carr, director of marketing for AMEX Bank of Canada. “It’s exciting how the program has grown over the years as it starts to stimulate excitement for restaurants during historically slower times.”

Since 2003, Winterlicious has generated $116 million in direct spending and 2.7 million meals served.

“Winterlicious is vital for Toronto’s economic development,” Ward 37 councillor Michael Thompson said. “It has put Toronto on the culinary map. I’m going to be getting out. I’m going to be eating, dining and having a great time. Are you?”