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Grocery Stores

Kristapsons

Posted by Robyn Urback / Posted on February 16, 2011

KristapsonsKristapsons is known as the place to go for some of the best smoked salmon in Toronto. Prepared fresh and cold-smoked to boost omega-3 oils, this Leslieville shop has been a Toronto fixture since 1953.

"Right out there," owner Andris Grinbergs says, sticking his head out the front door. He points across the street. "Right where that Holy Cow store is; you see, that was a dairy back then. And the cows would graze behind where those houses are." Grinbergs has a bit of a "great uncle" vibe about him, friendly and forthright in a pale ivory sweater and parted grey hair. "With the dairy right there and the streetcars going along, Kristapson thought this would be the place for his butcher shop."

KristapsonsAdolfs Kristapson was a master butcher, Grinbergs tells me. Originally from Latvia, Kristapson made everything from his sausages and salamis to, yes, his smoked salmon, all by hand after opening in this space on Queen East in 1953. When mechanizing took hold, Kristapson couldn't compete with the diving prices, so he eventually narrowed his offerings to just summer salamis and smoked salmon. Then, in 1964 when he decided to get out of the business, Grinbergs' uncle, who was a real estate agent at the time, took it over.

Kristapsons"In the late '60s," Grinbergs says as we stand in Kristapsons' storefront, "people were beginning to realize the health benefits of fish." It seems Grinbergs has also realized the decorative possibilities of fish, as his entrance is decked out with fish clocks, an origami fish mobile, a fish bell, fish sculpture, and countless fish figurines. "Of course, then they didn't know much about omega-3 fatty acids," he says, snapping me back to reality. "Or the benefits for the brain, but they started realizing it was a healthy choice, so more and more people began buying it."

It wasn't until 1988, after being stationed in Germany with the army in his younger years, then living in Florida and raising a family, that Grinbergs decided to move to Toronto to take over Kristapsons from his retiring uncle.

"I was getting divorced and my son was going to university, so that was the right time for me to move up here," he says. Now he's on his 23rd year and it's clear he's immensely proud of the Kristapsons product.

Kristapsons"All the work is done back here," he says, leading me to the back of the shop. I braced myself for the unknowns of gutting fish, but to my surprise (and relief) it was all clean and orderly. No stray, outside-of-body beating hearts, in other words.

"We take a fish," Grinbergs says, gesturing towards about 30 large salmon sitting on a stainless steel table, "and cut them in half."

KristapsonsKristapsons"Then we remove the backbone, and add a coat of sugar which acts as an adhesive for the salt. Then the salt." After curing for 24 hours, the fish is suspended on stockings in the flameless smoker, which Grinbergs opened to let me take a peak inside.

KristapsonsAlong with this store, Kristapsons sells its 150g, 250g, and 500g parcels ($10, $18, $34 respectively) as well as its 1kg side ($60) at its Yonge Street location and outlet in Markham. It's best enjoyed, at least according to Grinbergs, "on sliced baguette, with a little bit of yogurt or sour cream, some horse radish, a little honey, then capers, and the fish on top. That's my favourite hors d'oeuvre."

KristapsonsKristapsonsKristapsonsPhotos by Dennis Marciniak

Discussion

19 Comments

rexdale / February 16, 2011 at 09:41 am
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So neat!
rexdale / February 16, 2011 at 09:42 am
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So cool!
Turdle Jacque / February 16, 2011 at 09:43 am
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RIP Viking Deli
The Shakes / February 16, 2011 at 09:47 am
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I grew up close to this store and have been getting my haircut a few doors down for over 20 years. Even after walking by it hundreds of times, i never knew they actually made all the product on site. You would never know it, as there isn't the slightest smell of fish or smoke.
APOW / February 16, 2011 at 11:10 am
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WENT THERE ONCE, SMELLED LIKE THE INSIDE OF MY THIGH.
Jay Palter / February 16, 2011 at 11:39 am
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Of all the things I miss after moving to Edmonton from Toronto, Kristapson's salmon is at the top of the list. Oh, and Gryfe's bagels - which go very nicely together with a good, low-fat cream cheese. Thanks for the fond memories and the insider view.
dr jin / February 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm
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Causes cancer.
Jen C / February 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm
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I like Kristapson's, but they keep very irregular hours. In the 3 years I've lived in Leslieville, they've only been open a handful of times that I've walked by.

P.S. Love the history in this article, I had no idea they'd been in that same location since 1953.
Chris replying to a comment from Jen C / February 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm
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I hear you on that. I live near there as well. They are open on Saturdays (or at least they were, last time I went), but they close pretty early. I think that a large chunk of their business is with restaurants and cafes, not as much retail, at least at the Leslieville location, hence the shorter hours.
Chris replying to a comment from Jen C / February 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm
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I hear you on that. I live near there as well. They are open on Saturdays (or at least they were, last time I went), but they close pretty early. I think that a large chunk of their business is with restaurants and cafes, not as much retail, at least at the Leslieville location, hence the shorter hours.
Joel / February 16, 2011 at 01:19 pm
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To the editors: having to click twice to get to a vast number of articles on your site is becoming a major irritant.

What exactly is the point of this Announcement page: http://www.blogto.com/announcements/2011/02/behind_the_scenes_at_torontos_smoked_salmon_king/
Jamie / February 16, 2011 at 03:43 pm
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Agree with this: "To the editors: having to click twice to get to a vast number of articles on your site is becoming a major irritant."

Kristapsons = Best smoked salmon in Toronto.
jeff / February 16, 2011 at 04:42 pm
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This is the best I've had anywhere in the world. The texture and flavor are unique.

Nothing like 'lox'. Not salty, fishy or leathery.

It's also great added the very last second to pasta or eggs.
irina / February 18, 2011 at 11:23 am
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@ Joel & Jamie: for those of us that subscribe to RSS feeds, it works fine. Probably because the announce page is a news article, and this one is a listing? I dunno. It's one extra click...

This smoked salmon is ok. Not the best I've had but not the worst. Nothing about it made me want to get more. I'm guessing the fish they start off with isn't that good quality to begin with. Pretty decent flavour though.

Thanks for the refresher on this place. If I'm in the area I'll probably pick some up again.
pat / February 21, 2011 at 12:58 pm
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Kristapson's has their hours posted on their front window (front and centre: pretty hard to miss). I took a photo on my way past after I read this, just so you can know when it's open (would be great for all articles about places to include relevant info like address and hours, btw).
Monday: 9am to 2pm
Tuesday - Friday 9am to 4pm
Saturday - 9am to noon
Sunday - closed
If you want to call them to make sure you get something, their phone number's also on the sign. 416-466-5152
Peter V / February 21, 2011 at 07:33 pm
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Just tried the salmon, and it was fantastic. Amongst the best that I ever had. Light, delicate and absolutely no need for capers or anything else. I am now a customer for life.
Nick / September 6, 2011 at 04:11 pm
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Interesting article, I will have to investigate further ;-)
Linda / October 4, 2012 at 10:32 pm
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Spent the summer in Cape Breton and saw what salmon farms do. Not good. There is no wild Atlantic salmon left for sale--it is too rare, has been that way for many years. Is all our salmon raised in pens in the ocean, either Atlantic or Pacific?
JonasOfToronto / June 2, 2013 at 02:13 am
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Very good enjoyed simply with a light squeeze of lemon and wisp of fresh ground pepper, and some razor thin curls of snappy fresh red onion.

Just slap this succulent sultry-smoky treat on any crusty white bread, and forget that it's probably not wild-caught Irish salmon you are paying thirty bucks a precious pound to enjoy.

Operative word: treat. I would not chow this salmon down every day unless I was assured of the source fish's PCB or heavy-metal content.. but then - who does?

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