It was 3’oclock in the afternoon on Friday the thirteenth when we started our venture north, way north. I sat in the passenger seat of a tiny pick up truck, ironically dubbed Big Red Jezebel. Next to me manning the wheel was Alexander Herbert, a pseudo-intellectual of Russian culture, my longtime friend, cohort in punk rock and veganism and committed partner in crime. Stretched out in the tiny back seat behind us was Ryan Jackson, another friend of many years who is a full-time front man of life and the stage, and could be described as a Kerouac of the twenty-first century persuasion (excuse the cliché comparison).
Our itinerary spanned four days; it started in Attleboro, Massachusetts, we would visit Toronto first, then on to Montreal and our trip would culminate in Quebec City. The drive from Attleboro to Toronto was nearly ten hours. We took turns at the wheel, each of us battled the precarious weather and near zero visibility made worse by the frozen windshield, weak beams of Big Red Jezebel and haze of American Spirit smoke. At one point I could see only a few feet in front of me and relied solely on the white striped lines to keep me on course. Every bathroom stop and gas-up revealed colder and colder temperatures, but spirits were high and the Ipods were charged, and the border patrol paid us little mind.
We arrived in Toronto a little after twelve and our first stop was Yahn’s apartment. Yahn is a twenty-nine-year-old Canadian/Russian who Alex met last summer while he studied abroad in Russia. Yahn met us with a bottle of whiskey and a smile, in the cold parking lot of his complex. We found a cheap motel on the outskirts of Toronto, on a street that according to Yahn, used to be filled with seedy nightlife, bikers and brawls. He recalled filming scuffles from his apartment window when he was a kid. That night we sat in the cheap motel and gaily plowed through the whiskey Yahn provided. We cheered our plastic cup elixirs of cola and alcohol, free-styled and listened to Yahn’s homegrown jokes that pushed the boundaries of what we American’s deem politically correct.
The next day we plunged into the center of Toronto. We parked the car, paid the meter and walked about. Alex was on a mission for thrift stores and a local passerby obliged us with directions to a nearby street called Kinsington. Kinsington was lined with trendy colorfully painted boutiques that sold second-hand wares. We bounced from shop to shop but barely relinquished our cash.
We did get hungry, so Alex and I decided it was time to find a decent vegan place. On our way to a vegetarian burrito joint that was recommended to us by a lady in a tattoo shop, we stumbled upon a restaurant called, King’s Café. The King’s Café we found in Toronto is one of seven branches, each of which is located in Canada. The atmosphere inside is refined but not too formal and the cuisine is strictly Asian. The menu is fairly extensive, it offers appetizers, dim sum, soup, sushi and entrees like Enoki Mushroom Balls, Schezuan Style Spicy Tofu and “Sweet ‘N’ Sour Bites.”
Inside the regular menu near the center, was a paper booklet that read “Winter Special.” Alex and I looked for the most affordable thing that would fill us up and came across the “Veggie Submarine Fort Bread With Noodles.” It contained, “A delicious fresh bread with spices and sour vegetables, green pepper, red pepper, soy steak mixed with fried noodles,” and it was just under $5 dollars. We couldn’t object.
King’s café is the spot to go for tea enthusiasts. A large portion of the restaurant was used for shelving and selling a brand called Zen Tea. The walls were lined with shelves, and each section had a metal canister that contained a different tea. The array of teas were divided into genres: green tea, white tea, oolong tea, black tea, dark tea, kings pink rosebuds, blood health herbal tea, evergreen herbal tea, longevity herbal tea, pure lotus leaves.
There was a chart that cited the health benefits of each one. For example, “‘Lotus leaf helps to raise up “Yang Qi” (Yang Energy), lower’s one’s blood lipid levels, treat obesity (slimming effect) and dissolve blood clots’…Lotus leaf is also used for treatment of heart stroke…”
As a tea rookie I was fascinated, I never knew how deeply and complicated teas got, and was completely unaware of the subtle differences and seemingly remarkable health benefits that each beverage offered—although I did remain skeptical of their superpowers for fear of turning into a naïve victim of consumerism.
The sandwich itself was excellent and filling. The veggie steak had a great texture and taste, the sandwich was the perfect level of spicy, and it was the first time I have ever eaten noodles in between bread. Midway through the meal the crumbly bread fell apart and I was forced to use my chopsticks to pick up the remains, but there were no complaints. Alex and I decided to go for the organic green tea to accompany our meal and we were pleased with the decent sized pot they gave us, and overall we were satisfied with our meal, from start to finish, from taste to price.
We soon left Toronto, but I will not recount the details of the days that proceeded, partly out of fear of legal reprisal and mortification, but mostly I want to avoid boring you with memories that would mean little to you but much to me. Cheers.