This is one of those times when writing a review tests your moral mettle. I don't want to tell you about La Merceria, because I don't really want you to go, because I don't like sharing. I only just found it, and I want it all for myself. But if you don't go, they won't do as well, and I want them to do well, so I can keep going there. Curse these catch-22 situations.
La Merceria is a home design store slash tasty nibbles and espresso bar. Sitting on Adelaide St W at Portland (just a bit east of Bathurst), it is bright, clean-lined and beautiful. Up front are the espresso drinks and munchies, and some well-displayed household items (square plates, glassware, linens).
Seating consists of three tables for two up against the wall and some plushly pillowed benches, and a few tall chairs by the window. The further you step back into the long store, the more domestic it becomes, moving from the food and things food-related, into gifts and soaps and sweet-smelling beautifully packaged sundries, and finally to a mock bedroom, filled with decadent bed and bathroom-y things.
Pull back to the front of the store though, and that's where the best bit is -- the coffee. The first time I went, I had an espresso macchiato. The second time, I ordered the cafe con leche. And do you know what happened? He asked me how I'd like it prepared.
I drink more than my (and a couple other people's) fair share of coffee. But I honestly can't remember the last time I was asked how I'd like a latte prepared. Just by asking the question, it was a reminder that there's a deeper coffee culture out there than we in Toronto are usually exposed to -- the near infinite variety and preferences to be found in coffee, not based on which flavour of sugar syrup is added.
My coffee came strong as ordered, and deliciously well prepared. Oh, and with a bonus cookie. Attention to quality and detail are what really set La Merceria apart. Take, for instance, the cup and saucer. As you can see in the picture below, the cup indent on this saucer is offset. So the cookie sits neatly in its own space on the plate. Genius.
Take sugar? Look inside this porcelain gizmo.
I bulked out my snack with one of their sandwich tostado, ham and cheese. A bit on the bland side of simple, plain brown bread with a slice of ham and a slice of cheese. Sort of a sandwichlette. Like what McDonald's is trying to do with their afternoon chicken snack wrap thing. Except not disgusting. As the ham was actual ham, which tasted like...wait for it... ham. Not like the ham in some ham and cheese that tastes like soft.
La Merceria has some quiet Argentinian twists. Like the $0.50 side of dulce de leche, the empanadas ($2.50), and Submarino de Chocolate ($2.58 regular, $3.05 large). Or the delicious alfajores (small $1.00 (2), and large $1.50) at the counter. An alfajor is a South American specialty: one cookie made out of two cookies, held together with a generous dollop of dulce de leche, covered with powdered sugar. There's nothing about that which isn't good.
Because La Merceria is an espresso bar and a boutique store, you can also buy a jar of La Salamandra dulce de leche for home ($12). Once they have you good and addicted to it.
I'm not a recreational shopper, so I like to source out a select number of independent places which feature well-chosen things. And then go back to them again and again. La Merceria only opened three months ago, and besides the food, they're already also stocking my favourite file folders from the paper store I go to, my favourite writing knick-knacks, and the flour sack tea towels that I can't live without. It's as though La Merceria has taken your best secret gift stash, and made a store out of it.
So I don't have to go hunting for beautiful things anymore, because they've done it for me. I can just go there, drink great coffee and eat alfajores. Fat and lazy. Oh yeah.
Seriously, I'm moving in. But I'll move over and make room for you too.
Open Monday to Friday 8am-6pm, Saturdays 10am-6pm.
Gift certificates are available.