St. Lawrence Market
St. Lawrence Market remains one of Toronto's most fun food shopping experiences. I rank it right up there with a visit to Kensington Market, cruising the streets of Chinatown (east or west) or popping into stores along Gerrard in Little India. And while sometimes it gets criticized for fruit and vegetables that are a little bit more expensive than elsewhere in the city, the quality is always good and it's still one of my weekly destinations for fresh fish, cheese, rice, bulk food and other specialty items.
On Saturday the market comes alive. On that day, the North Market (otherwise abandoned or rented for special events) is filled with local farmers selling all things organic, natural and, above else, local. For those who prescribe to the eat-local movement, there's probably not a better place to stock up than here. I shop here specifically for Ontario grown fruit and vegetables but it's also a good source for fresh homemade pies, cinammon buns, bread, bacon, elk and venison, cheese, nuts and a whole lot more.
Across the street in the main building (known as the South Market), fruit and vegetables are sadly more likely to be from California. But produce shops like Ponesse Foods, Phil's Place, Golden Orchard Fine Foods and Harbourfront Organic Foods all generally have a good selection of organic and non-organic items, many of which can't be grown in Canada anyway. I shop often at Family Foods where I get my regular fill of big Rivas avocados (usually two for $3.50).
The basement of the South Market was once home to the city's jail cells. This was when the whole building itself was the site of Toronto's first City Hall. In 1850 there were reports that flooding in the basement forced prisoners to be knee deep in water. Today, the lower level draws crowds of hungry lunch-goers who fill up on chicken and eggplant sandwiches from Mustachio, take-out chinese food from Chinese Deli Food, souvlaki and greek salad from Yanni's Kitchen or tasty tempura and ready-made sushi from Quik Sushi.
One of my favourite spots is Rube's Rice. If there's a better place to buy rice in the city, I don't know where it is. Rube's has endless varieties, from basic brown basmati to Jade Pearl with bamboo extract. Rube is always in the mood to recommend something new and he'll take the time to explain how to cook it. A second Rube's outpost, just further down the hall is also a good bet for bulk flours, quinoa and other baking ingredients.
Domino's Foods, in the north west corner of the lower level is one of the best bulk stores in the city. If you're looking for an item in bulk they probably have it. There are endless varities of chocolate, candies, nuts, dried fruit, coffee, teas, olive oils, canned goods....I could go on. And prices are very reasonable. The owners are nice and helpful too.
Back on the main floor, hordes of shoppers can often be found crowding around the various cheese shops. While Alex Farm Products and Chris' Cheesemongers both have their fans, I tend to favour Olympic Cheese Mart for their good selection of goat cheeses and feta. Someone behind the counter is always ready to provide me with a sample of something new they're recommending. Prices here also tend to be very reasonable.
In the south end of the market are the three fish stores. At first glance they all seem to have the same stuff - good looking fillets of salmon, snapper, haddock, tuna and swordfish, as well as tanks and crates overflowing with live lobster, oysters and mussels. But spend some time there and you'll start to notice the subtleties of each. Mike's Fish Market stocks a refrigerator full of caviar. They're also probably the most ethical of the bunch, boldly proclaiming they don't carry over-fished Chilean sea bass. Domenic's Fish Market has a ready supply of prepared fish kebabs. And Seafront Fish Market, my favourite among the three, usually has the best selection of smoked fish, nice fillets of salmon-trout and good-looking shrimp. Like the rest of the market, all three stores heavily discount their inventory on Saturday starting at around 3pm.
What else is in St. Lawrence Market? Everything! Here's a rundown of the rest of the shops:
It's the battle of latke supremecy on the lower level between European Delight and Unique Fine Foods. Who's got the best Eastern European fare? You be the judge. Also not to be missed are the sweet and savoury crepes at Crepe It Up, the calamari at Buster's Sea Cove or pizza slices at St. Lawrence Ice Cream and Pizza.
While Starbucks, Letteri and Second Cup dot the streetscape outside, the best cup of joe around is at Everyday Gourmet. They also have the Market's largest selection of beans, many of which are fair trade. Pasta Mia also has a little cafe although they're better known for their fresh pasta and sauces.
There's only one place in the market for fresh juice and smoothies and that's St. Lawrence Market Juice Bar on the lower level.
The market is Toronto's epicentre for peameal bacon and a good source for venision, steaks, huge chicken breasts, sausages, homemade burger patties and other meat products. There's plenty of choice to be had. Butchers include La Boucherie, Brown Brothers, St. Lawrence Uppercut Meats, Diliso's Fine Meats, WhiteHouse Meats, Witteveen Meats, Mano's Meats, and Sausage King.
Scheffler's Deli is a wonder onto itself. Not only are they another good source for cheese and cured meats, they also have a never-ending supply of prepared dips and highly snackable items like roasted artichokes. Other great specialty stores include The Mustard Emporium, Honey World, A Bisket A Basket, Ying Ying Soy Food, Uncle George's Food, The Instant Caterer and Caviar Direct.
Police Station Number One used to be located on the main floor of the market, in the centre of the building probably not too far from Future Bakery. Instead of lining up for mug shots, these days people regularly line up for Future's fresh out of the oven breads, cakes and baked goods. Also not to be missed are Eve's Temptations, Stonemill Bakehouse and St. Urbain Bagels.
We're not sure who has the best peameal sandwiches in the market, but you can take a test for yourself at Carousel Bakery, Mano's Deli and Paddington's Pump. Churrasco's Chicken doesn't try to compete and intead gets to be the lone purveyor of fresh off the spit roast chicken.
St. Lawrence Market is open everyday except for Sunday and Monday. Check the market's web site for hours and more details.
Here are some links that might be useful: