As a young boy, nothing sounded less appealing to me
than a trip to the local grocery store. Picking out produce, making choices on cheese and even selecting seafood might be inviting
alliterations, but as a chore, they do not merit the same reaction, especially as a kid.
Everything changed one day when I went to
the St. Lawrence Market for the very first time. I was immediately immersed in an unparalleled culinary world where it seemed like
all of Toronto
had congregated to not only shop, but to savour the value of family and food.
The “market”, as I fondly refer to it, is a
landmark and a perfect place to spend a day, an hour or even a minute.
If you want to buy the best though, you have to know where to go. If a trip to the St. Lawrence Market was a game of Monopoly, your first card would read “Go Directly to Jail”.
You start your journey at the
Market Street entrance, which until 1901 was the gateway to jail for
the city’s most dangerous criminals. The felons have since been moved elsewhere, now the basement of the St. Lawrence Market holds some of the most fascinating vendors in the market. Even outside the market, you can feel the bustle as people scramble to return to their illegally parked cars, and families try to figure out how to carry 25 bags to
their car without losing their newly purchased treasures.
Once you enter,
your first stop is immediately in front of you at Stonemill Bakehouse, noticed not only by
the constant queue, but also by the incredible aromas that emerge from its ovens. It is well
known for its fresh, organic and whole grain breads, buns, rolls and muffins, and delicious pastries and other treats – made fresh daily.
If you are hungry, take a hot-cross bun to go and munch on it as you move to your next destination.
With your hot-cross bun considerably smaller than it was only two minutes ago, you feel
thirsty and need something to drink.
You see a number of people with large juice bottles, yet you haven’t found the juice
bar. What you are looking for is Freshly Squeezed, the official market juice bar. Simple orange juice just does not cut it here.
From guava juice to the trendy Acai berry beverage, this bar has something for even the most experienced juice steward. For people like me
who are not as adventurous, the $3.99 strawberry-banana smoothie special is clearly the fuel I need as I venture to the upper level.
Before you go upstairs though, you have a choice to make. Actually, two. First,
are you hungry enough to need another quick snack? (If you answered no, you might want to get your smell checked.) The second decision is between two famous take-out vendors that have been filling the stomachs of
frantic shoppers for almost 30 years.
Your first choice, on the lower level, is Mustachio. This family-owned business brings the taste of
a true Italian family meal to your tray in no time at all. Their specialties are generous sandwiches of veal with fried eggplant, grilled chicken breast,
veal parmigiano (all served in the Italian tradition with tomato sauce), fried onions and peppers on warm foccacia bread. For less than ten
dollars, you can finish your adventure in the basement with a meal and a half.
Your second option in this dilemma is Carousel Bakery, the home of the “world’s best peameal bacon on a bun sandwich” which has been “often
replicated but never duplicated”. To the cynical food critic, this is just an empty boast, but to an empty stomach, it certainly does satisfy. There are
lineups at their counter every day for this Canadian breakfast tradition and for good reason. Not only are you there for the sandwich, but you also
have the opportunity to purchase one of the many artisan breads and cakes that Carousel is famous for. For a quintessential made-in-Canada moment, the peameal
sandwich is the way to go.You’ve probably eaten enough for the whole day, so you
should now start actually shopping for some food. No meal is complete without a nice cheese pairing. Your next meal after your visit to the market will
certainly not be lacking.
For the most exotic cheeses from across Canada and Europe, Chris’
Cheesemongers is "the" place. Beyond their vast supply of rare cheese, they also carry the largest choice of goats-milk cheeses from all
parts of Europe. Ask for a sample (there
you go, eating again) of the Migneron de Charlevoix. Ektor Stroutzas, an experienced lecturer, demonstrator and menu builder of cheeses has often worked in co-operation with the LCBO, to showcase their products and his cheeses at restaurant demonstrations and private parties.
After experiencing cheeses from across the land, it is time to dive into the sea of
There are several choices, but the biggest fish in the sea is Seafront Fish Market. It has recently undergone
significant renovations and now has the façade to match the impressive breadth of seafood offered. Seafront is another family owned
business, many of their products are based on old family recipes, prepared and ready to cook and serve. Some of these specialties include a lovely sea bass
roast, a whole sole stuffed with salmon and of course, bacon-wrapped scallops. Whatever your seafood needs, Seafront is the way to go for fresh ingredients and
To complete the extravagant feast that
you have been slowly building, you will need to satisfy the carnivores at your table – not a problem. “Carnivore’s Alley” is a stretch of butcher shops where meat is the only currency. The oldest butcher shop is Brown Brothers Meats, which has been at the market since 1895. The Brown family ran a wholesale butcher shop for over 60 years before
Anthony Gasparro bought the business in the 1970s. Gasparro’s family had been in the meat business for over 50 years and owned several businesses throughout the city. He modernized the business and was the first meat vendor in the market to sell directly to the public on a daily basis, and to display various
cuts of meat in cases for the public to purchase. Whether you are getting veal chops or a good Ontario
rack of lamb, the orange sign of Brown Brothers tells you that you are at the right place.
Let’s face it, you’re tired and no one even likes vegetables. Suddenly however, you are stuck in a
battle of nutritious proportion. On your left, Family Foods; on your
right, Ponesse Foods. Your palms start to get sweaty, you can’t decide where to get that perfect vegetable to complete your meal. The
solution: choose one, either is excellent. Most of the produce at
these two retailers is locally grown and both have their niches.
For Ponesse, their imported Italian chestnuts will excite you during the holiday season, while
at Family, the large selection of gourmet mushrooms will be a nice addition to your meal. After handing over your final bills of the day, you exit the market
filled with the ingredients that will light up your dinner table for a long time to come.
The St. Lawrence Market is far more than just a big grocery store. It is an historic
Toronto landmark that is a perfect model of our city’s
diversity and passion for the culinary arts. For many families, a trip there is a normal occurrence; the way it should be. If you
are in town and in need of a quick bite to eat or goods for an incredible meal, the St. Lawrence Market is where to be.