Messina Bakery is as much an area lunch hub as it is a market and bakery. Obviously noon is the hour at this family-run Italian shop at Scarlett Road and St. Clair, when the central hot table is swarmed with hungry neighbourhood workers on their breaks.
I walk into the shop a little overwhelmed at the bustle. I've been in enough Italian bakeries to know not to expect pastel walls, Pottery Barn decor, or a single aproned baker offering petite rolls on a platter, but I'm nevertheless still surprised at the activity at Messina.
The bakery has been in business for over 40 years, and though I don't catch the owners on this visit, I can tell it's one of those places that has made itself integral to the community. Nearly everyone is greeted by staff by first names, and occasional customers are interrupted in their perusals by double-cheek kisses from women emerging from the kitchen.
Messina's pantry shelves are filled with mostly imported products including olive oils, dry pastas, spices, and sauces. The entrance area, however, has been infiltrated by all things Christmas (this being the season, and all), with panforte in boxes of all shapes and sizes. While these items are all clearly labeled with prices, I get to chatting with a regular who tells me the bakery, hot table, and deli counter is not quite as consistent.
Based on the day, the time, the person behind and/or in front of the counter, prices may vary from one purchase to the next. Though by the look of the crowd huddling for penne or veal and cheese, most people don't seem to mind.
The buns for the sandwiches, of course, come form the bakery in the back, and are also available in the self-serve bread section at the north end of the shop. And self-serve, it seems is taken to the extreme. As I admire the racks of calabrese and giabatta, I notice a woman retrieve a loaf and take it over the industrial bread slicer. Not especially one for blood, I turn my attention over to the pastry counter.
After much deliberation over glossy and iced delights, I decide to go with a cannolo since I've heard Messina has some of the best. Indeed, I'm not disappointed. The shell is crunchy and lightly sprinkled with icing sugar, filled to the ends with fresh ricotta filling. It looks more slapped in than delicately piped, though a couple bites in, I forget about aesthetic. And for me, at least, the cannoli at Messina is priced at $1.90.
Photos by Jesse Milns