On the advice of a reader I paid a visit to Cataldi Supermarket, along Keele just south of 401. With plenty of Italians in the area it wasn't a surprise that an Italian grocery store would spring up, and as I walked in I immediately noticed the place was packed - in the middle of a weekday - with Italians.
And while everybody was quick to switch from Italian to heavily-accented English, I was content poking around to see what made this particular shop so special. After all, there are plenty of Italian markets around town, so for this one to be packed I figured it must be good.
It was hard to pinpoint, but I think the best thing going here is the selection.
All of the staples and usual suspects of Italian food - pastas, sauces, oils, spreads, cookies and so on - were available, typically at good prices. The meat and cheese counter was not huge, but it was packed with the veal, pork, sausages and cheeses to require you take a number, even in the middle of the workday.
If there's one thing Italians can't seem to live without - and no, I don't mean pasta - it's fresh fruits and veggies. Especially the fruits. No meal is complete without bringing out a fruit platter and Cataldi has every fruit you could want this time of year. The selection of apples and citrus were particularly extensive, but pears, prickly pears and more were tempting.
On the vegetable side everything for the Italian kitchen was prominently displayed, from peppers and tomatoes to fennel and arugula. Little signs indicated if something had just arrived, helping shoppers pick the freshest foods.
A locked case of specialty vinegars and truffle products wasn't getting much attention but piqued my interest. And while small, the fresh bread aisle had a diverse and delicious selection.
I found the selection of "La Bomba" - a spicy antipasto spread - to be the best I've seen in a long time, with brands you can find at No Frills to options I've never seen before. The nuts, beans and favas available in bulk were typically Italian and there were plenty of espresso options on hand. And in these recessionary times, the Cataldi brand olive oil ($6.99/litre) and espresso ($9.99/kg) looked like especially good deals.
My bottom line is that this is a typical - and good - Italian grocer. It won't be my primary destination only because I've got options closer to where I live, but I'd be a regular if it were in my 'hood.