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TIFF 2006: Good Food On The Go

It's 6:15, you've just come out of a 3-hour Russian epic at the Paramount, and you've got an hour and 15 minutes before your 7:30 screening at the Varsity. Managing the film festival isn't just about seeing a bunch of movies - it's about getting places fast, using tiny parcels of time to maximum effect, and keeping yourself alive and healthy in the meantime.

Back when TIFF was almost exclusively located around the Bloor Yonge corridor, it was pretty easy to stay fed and watered while darting between the (late) Uptown Cinema, the Varsity 8, and the Cumberland 4. Now with more downtown venues in the mix, knowing where to grab the fastest (and most satisfying) bite is an art form in itself.

Noodle Alley

Not a single restaurant, but rather six of them, all staring angrily at one another from opposing sides of Yonge just south of Bloor: Oja, Zyng, Spring Rolls, Green Mango 1, Green Mango 2, and Saigon Sister. Well the last one doesn't really count, not just because it's not a noodlery, but because Saigon Sister gave me the worst service for mediocre food I've ever had at a professional eating establishment. Stay away.

The other five, on the other hand, are virtually interchangeable and endlessly satisfying. The noodleries are a good place for communal gathering between films, too: make sure you and your friends all have your cell phones, and coordinate an early-evening dinner before back-to-backing two night shows at the Varsity, or congregate after 10:00 before heading down to the Ryerson for Midnight Madness. Noodleries being noodleries, you'll want to stick to the high-carb, high-energy noodle dishes, Phad Thai being my perennial festival favourite. (Oja's Shanghai noodle is also a greasy must for rainy festival nights.) Although, of course, as with all things festival, variety is very, very important.

Burrito Boyz

The conjunction was sublime: Burrito Boyz, Toronto's turbo-hot gourmet burrito dungeon, opened in the same year that the film festival started using the Paramount as a venue. It's perfect. BB's hallucination-inducing burritos - available in steak, chicken, vegetarian, and halibut - take less than ten minutes to order and cook, and can either be enjoyed on the benches outside Burrito Boyz' Peter Street location, or stuffed in your pocket (careful!) to secret into the Paramount for a mid-afternoon show. And since BB is open until the wee hours on the weekend to satisfy that crazy Richmond Street crowd, you'll never be without. Honestly, I eat at Burrito Boyz an average of 8-10 times per festival.

Good Fast Food

We've all been there: that McDonalds at Charles and Yonge seems mighty helpful when it's 9:55 and you've only got five minutes to get to the Cumberland. But think before you leap. Ten minutes after wolfing down a Big Mac and fries you're going to feel like ass, and the distinctive aroma of McD's will never be successfully snuck into a screening room.

The Quizno's at Charles and Bay is a better bet: yeah those subs are hella expensive, but they're damn tasty, and Quizno's occasionally even deigns to put a tiny little patio setup on Charles Street - okay, it's just a pair of tables and some chairs - where you can watch the festival world go by while trying to manage the sheer quantity of shredded lettuce they put on their subs.

Coffee

I'm a man who likes his coffee to be coffee, and not mocha latte frappa frappa caramel whippie dippie doos. That said, I hit Tim Horton's at Bay and Bloor, and little else, during my festival-going. (And the desperate-for-nutrition should be aware that, although they are disgusting, the tightly-packed Timmy Ho's croissants are the Toronto equivalent of elven waybread: they can feed a grown man for a month. Or at least, a three-hour Russian epic.)

For sit-down coffee, though, the Lettieri in Yorkville remains popular, and you're bound to see at least one celeb troll by if you sit there long enough. (It won't be Brad Pitt, so don't even ask.) The Starbucks at the Eaton Centre - facing Yonge Street - is an ideal spot to watch the crowd grow at the Elgin if you're trying to guage your chances in the rush line. Just north of the ROM on Bloor, there are a number of bars, "concept" restaurants and coffee shops that are far more popular with the in crowd... so I avoid them like the plague. But you can't go wrong planting yourself next to the Four Seasons if you're still looking for Brad.

Water

It sounds obvious but it's amazing how often people forget: drink water. Especially if you're seeing multiple films in a row. Especially if you're also drinking coffee. Stay aware of your hydration and your stamina will thank you.

After Midnight a.k.a. breakfast

Maybe it's just a peculiarity among my friends and I, but the Golden Griddle at Carlton and Yonge - open 24 hours - is the perfect landing spot after a midnight movie. It gives you about another hour of lucidity while cramming down pancakes or eggs benedict before the harsh demons of a day spent staring at too many movies come to take you off to bed.

Photo by Matt himself while eating a burrito.


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