words & photos by chris tiessen

Want that big city experience but don’t want to hit up The City? Hamilton’s your perfect option. Next time you find yourself in Steel Town, include one (or all) of these amazing spots to complete a killer daytrip.

328 James St N, Hamilton

There’s a special delight that comes with spontaneously discovering a cozy, nondescript food and drink spot tucked amongst the hustle and bustle of a big city with dishes that blow your mind. Take Synonym, for example – a killer neighbourhood wine bar, café, and bookshop that celebrates art, community, and culture on Hamilton’s uber-hip James Street North. 

From its beautifully pared-down menu (featuring cheese and charcuterie boards, sandwiches on house focaccia, sweets and salads, and a strong coffee and drink game) to its fantastically-minimalist décor (featuring a gorgeous polished stone bar top, awesome tap set-up, ample greenery, white walls, and a cute sidewalk seating setup), Synonym is an exercise in minimalism  perfected. Whether you’re copping a table on the sidewalk for a lingering afternoon lunch date with apps, food, and drinks, or grabbing a coffee and tahini brownie to-go, this spot is a charmed port of call.

Our recommendation: bring a friend or loved one, secure a table on the sidewalk, order something delectable to eat, add a chilled bottle of cider, and settle back for an afternoon or evening of good conversation, hearty laughter, and a span of people watching. 

What to order? When the TOQUE team visited, we grabbed a Smashed Cucumber salad (with cumin, Aleppo pepper, herbs and cashews), Mortadella sandwich (with giardiniera and house focaccia), Spiced Carrot sandwich (with tofu, harissa, dill and house focaccia), a couple of Americanos, and a bottle of Revel Cider’s ‘Ostara’ (made with golden plums and a massive amount of wild dandelions). 

We had an amazing time.

Berkeley North
31 King William St, Hamilton

There’s no shortage of great food and drink spots along Hamilton’s King William Street drag. From The Mule (for tacos) to Hambrgr (for, you guessed it, burgers), to The French (for bistro eats) to Diplomat (for cocktails and private events), this strollable #hamont strip won’t leave your tummy wanting for more. 

Recently my TOQUE Partner Cai and I checked out another King William staple: Berkeley North. And we’re sure glad we did.

From its hip interior (featuring exposed brick walls, distressed furniture, a fully-stocked bar, retractable glass garage door, and an army of green plants) to its intimate street-side patio (including protective umbrellas, strings of lights, and a trellis fence), the place’s aesthetic is definitely on point. And the food? Fantastic. 

We reserved a table for 4:15pm – perfect for late-afternoon snacking and an early dinner. After settling into a cozy two-seater on the trellised patio (there were also tables outside the trellised area, and more on the street which was closed to traffic), we grabbed a couple pints of Hamilton’s own Merit Brewing Young Rival IPAs (a favourite juice bomb every time we’re in town) and perused the user-friendly menu divided into categories that include ‘Salads’, ‘Sandwiches’, ‘Pastas’, and ‘Favourites.’

First up, from ‘Favourites’: ‘Mushroom Dumplings’ (with soy, miso, ginger, garlic and chilli oil) and ‘Shrimp Tempura’ (with old bay seasoning & kewpie mayo). Shareable. Flavourful. (I’ll be back for more of those dumplings soon.)

Then a couple of Berkeley’s mains: the ‘Fried Chicken Sandwich’ (with garlic mayo, pickles, iceberg, hot buffalo sauce) – a perfect combination of soft white bun, crispy chicken, and zesty sauces), and ‘Short Rib & Truffle Butter Pasta’ (with juicy button mushrooms, sour cream and scallions) – beautifully paired and impeccably prepared.We’ve always had ample incentive to hit up King William when we find ourselves in Steel Town. It’s a treat to discover one more reason to stop by. 

Shorty’s Pizza
1099 Cannon St E, Hamilton

I’m a sucker for Munchies’ ‘The Pizza Show’ on YouTube – an online series in which Williamsburg Brooklyn’s pizzeria owner Frank Pinello travels the globe in search of the perfect slice. There’s something about getting a glimpse inside the world’s best pizza joints – from Di Fara and Lucali’s in Brooklyn to the Motor City’s Buddy’s Pizzeria to Lou Malnati’s in Chicago – that can have me waste an afternoon glued to a screen. There’s much to love about a great pizza place. The personalities who run them. The pies these characters craft. The invariably stripped-down décor. 

Imagine my excitement, then, when TOQUE’s Cai Sepulis and I discovered Shorty’s Pizza – a New York-style pizza joint located along Hamilton’s Cannon Street East. The minute you step in the door Shorty’s will have you feeling as though you’ve traveled in space and time to the New York of Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ or Larry Clark’s ‘Kids’. 

Shorty’s is a no-guff establishment – a pizza business that means business. Look around the place and you’ll see what I mean. The stacks of empty pizza boxes ready to be packed and delivered. The massive ovens that dominate the open kitchen. The small army of tattooed pizza folk working the counter, answering phones, weighing dough, topping pies, and generally having a good time joking, laughing, yelling above the din of the pizza-making process. 

During COVID Shorty’s is open for takeout and delivery, and offers full pies only – which isn’t a bad thing since after your first bite it’s awful hard to eat only one slice. From its ‘NY Cheese’ pizza (sauce, mozzarella blend) to its ‘White’ pie (olive oil, mozzarella, garlic ricotta, arugula, lemon zest, pesto, sesame seed crust), Shorty’s projects the New York-style pizza lover’s dream. And with a full array of brew (from Pabst Blue Ribbon to Red Circle’s Iron Horse IPA) and organic wines, the joint’s got everything you want. 

So grab a pie, find the nearest green space, and make the most of these most perfect days.