Congee Queen Downtown
Congee Queen Toronto is the downtown location of a well-loved chain of restaurants across the GTA that serves gigantic bowls of their namesake rice porridge and other classic Cantonese dishes.
The first location opened in Markham almost 20 years ago and was initially known as Congee Wong. It was here that Kenneth Chen started working as a server at 18 years old.
Chen worked his way up through the company, eventually becoming a franchise owner, running the brand's eight GTA locations.
The ninth location opened near Yonge and Dundas in September. It was Congee Queen's first downtown location outside of the suburbs.
The sprawling new space has two floors of seating that's split among tables seating two, family-style booths and large round tables that can seat up to eight people.
Modern finishes define this space in contrast to the other space. Panels of wood and LED lighting form the giant circular fixture that hovers above the main dining room and branches towards the kitchen area.
Beside the kitchen is a window showcasing the hanging Chinese barbecue meats like pork, duck and chicken that are served.
Upon seating, a warm pot of steeped tea is brought to the table for the dining party. Known for its family-style portions, the dishes on Congee Queen's menu are meant to be shared between those at the table.
I ordered the House Super Bowl Congee ($22.95) which comes in a choice of large or small.
The rice porridge has a smooth consistency which is made from boiling rice with gallons of water for almost three hours.
The seafood found in this succulent, savoury course includes tiger shrimp, crab, scallops, salmon, sliced grouper fish and arctic surf clams.
There was the B.B.Q. Duck ($25.50 for half, or $49.50 for whole) that arrives with the meat still attached to the bone.
Besides crispy skin that glistens, the roasted bird is finished with a soy sauce blend that adds saltiness to the flesh of the meat.
The Fried Chilli Turnip Patties ($12.50) is a popular dish that also pairs well as a side to any of the dishes.
The turnip cakes are made from a batter using daikon radish and rice flour that's steamed and then wok-fried to create these spongy, crispy cake-like pieces that have a mildly spicy bite.
The Cantonese Chow Mein ($20.25) is a giant steaming dish of crispy noodles topped with assorted ingredients including seafood like shrimp, scallops, and squid, meats like beef and pork, plus Chinese mushroom and broccoli.
Be sure to dig deep into the dish to enjoy the contrast of textures between the softer noodles near the top due to the saucy mountain of stir-fried toppings and the crispy drier ones below.
My mouth starts to water in anticipation when I see the Beef with Mushrooms ($21.50) come to the table on a hot sizzling plate.
Here, thin slices of beef burst from the beautiful blend of ginger, garlic and sliced onion it's stir-fried with. Fried green onions and chunky mushroom bits help pull together this classic dish.
For dessert, I'd recommend the Mango Slush ($8.50) which is a refreshing blend of milk, ice and chunks of fresh mango.
Drink it fast since the icy fruit drink starts to melt as soon as it arrives to your table.
Congee Queen's elaborate signage can be seen along the length of its Yonge Street storefront that's located between Dundas Street and College Street.