Dutch Dreams, Toronto ON

(Honeymoon flashback: In July 2009, Marie and I took a road trip up to Montreal and back, enjoying some really terrific meals over our ten-day expedition. I’ve selected some of those great restaurants, and, once per month, I’ll tell you about them.)

So the second day of our road trip started out somewhere on the south side of Pittsburgh. I had hoped to actually make it into the city for the night, but we lingered too long down in Charleston and couldn’t quite stay awake long enough to get to our destination motel and so we stopped at a Super 8 somewhere south of town. For breakfast, we drove to an Eat n’ Park, possibly the one in the suburb of Bridgeville. This is a small chain based in the Ohio Valley with, according to Wikipedia, 75 stores in the area. While the restaurants started in 1949 as drive-ins with roller skating car hops, it is very similar to a Denny’s today.

The plan was to have lunch up the road in Buffalo with my friend Jennifer at the world-famous Anchor Bar, but we spent the whole day running earlier than planned and arrived in town about an hour and a half before they opened and opted against waiting. So we met up with Jennifer, whom I met a couple of years earlier when she lived in Savannah and would come up to Atlanta for concerts, instead at a coffee shop downtown and just had a small lunch with pastries. I briefly considered catching the Buffalo Bisons, who, as it turned out (I learned much later) were hosting my beloved Toledo Mud Hens, but instead we made our way over to Niagara Falls like six or seven million previous honeymooners. We spent a little while there and then drove over to Toronto to meet up with our good friends Dave and Shaindle. We did some shopping at some Toronto institutions like The Beguiling, Sonic Boom and the now sadly closed Pages, and had supper at Nataraj, an Indian place which has also since closed, and then made our way to the York neighborhood for dessert at Dutch Dreams.

Interestingly enough, throughout the trip, Marie and I ate at only one place where one of us had been previously. In Marie’s case, this would be a popular restaurant in her college town of Middlebury, and in mine, this completely wonderful ice cream parlor that Dave and Shaindle have taken me to visit on each of my three trips to Toronto. Dutch Dreams is a hugely popular place with a really long line almost all of the time, and that’s with only about half of its business wanting to stay and eat among the few, cramped tables in the back. The ice cream here is simply the definition of decadence. If I lived in York, I would weigh 400 pounds. They serve up giant scoops and somehow manage to put gigantic toppings in the cone with them, making it a challenge for anybody to chow one down before it melts all over the place.

Dutch Dreams is a family-owned business. Theo Aben’s father opened the place and put the young man to work serving customers at the age of 12. I don’t know whether Theo has been in the store on the occasions that I’ve visited, and so I did enjoy this interview with him over at Good Food Revolution. There, he describes his upbringing and the great difficulty in predicting what’s going to sell out before they place a reorder from the facility where they buy their ice cream. It’s also completely impossible to predict how the line for dessert is going to work. My personal take is that dozens of drivers who previously had no intention of stopping will pass through, occasionally see the line looking short, screech to a halt, desperately look around the side streets for someplace to park and rush in. The periodic absence of a long line artificially creates demand, but since they don’t close until one in the morning, there’s plenty of time to get your dessert.

I apologize for not having any photos of my own of Dutch Dreams, but it was dark when we went, and since we weren’t writing a food blog then anyway, it didn’t strike either of us as essential to try and shoot it. I also don’t feel right borrowing other folks’ photos for this blog. The store was probably much brighter when it was first cobbled together around 1980, and much of the paint is old and peeling now, but it is nevertheless a beautifully thrown-together collage of kitsch and color, with photos of Dutch royalty next to ancient statues of clowns. The shelves across from the ice cream counter are packed with imported candies and other foods, including homemade stroopwaffels, and there are cows on the ceiling. The whole thing is a feast for guests’ eyes, and you can see some examples of what it looks like with a quick Google search, or just visit Blog TO’s page on the place.

Toronto is really full of good restaurants. The next day, we had an early lunch at the George Street Diner, which was pretty good, before hitting the 401 and heading east. Some other places that I’ve enjoyed on previous visits are Shanghai Cowgirl, a rowdy and silly burger and sandwich place on Queen Street not too far from the Silver Snail comic shop, Fran’s, a classic-style diner right across the street from Massey Hall, and The Ben Wicks, a terrific pub in Cabbagetown opened by the late cartoonist. It’s a shame that baby expenses and other things will almost certainly keep us from Toronto this year, because we’d love to visit Shaindle and Dave again and enjoy all the good eating.