Comparison Shopper: Toronto east-end olive stores
Toronto, it seems, is a gourmand's dream in everything, from cheeses and meats to the lowly olive. Given the east-end's growing notoriety for catering to foodies, its unsurprising that two of the city's finest olive emporiums are located in the area. The first, Danforth's Uzel Olives and Olive Oil, is a purveyor of the Uzel brand of Turkish olives, while the second, Olive and Olives, brings Spain's finest olive oils to Riverside. I'll say it now: they're both fine stores, but each offers different things and ultimately proves that you can't compare olives--but I'll try.
In this, Olive and Olives wins out for being a boutique in the true sense of the word. Designed by a Montreal architect, the shop is open and lined with wooden shelves. Curved, pinpricked metal panels let in the optimal amount of light for the preservation of the olive oils. A sleek kitchen hides in the back of the store, where educational and cooking classes are held. Conversely, Uzel is family owned and operated, and the space is unpretentious. Display counters hold the selection of fresh olives, and shelves display the bottled wares.
The Products - Taste
In terms of olives alone, Uzel is the clear winner. Uzel's olive-based products originate in Turkey and to those who haven't yet tasted Turkish olives, you must. They're larger and meatier than traditional Greek olives, but also less salty. They yield themselves beautifully to the array of flavours that Uzel adorns them with--green and black olives come pitted and un-pitted, then stuffed with almonds, figs or oranges. During my brief visit, I immediately find a favorite: green olives stuffed with red pepper and tossed in paprika. The fresh sesame buns on display in the window are recommended accompaniments to any olive purchase. Huge fan of walnuts or capers? Put in a custom order to have your choice of olive stuffed with your choice of filling. As for Olive and Olives, their eponymous item is only available canned or bottled, and not in as great supply or variety.
The Products - Stock
When it comes to olive oil and other accoutrements, Olive and Olives takes the crown. They carry an in-house brand of olive oil alongside a wealth of other exclusive brands. Like fine wines, the bottles carry an expiration date. There's a wall of spices sourced from Spice Trader and an overwhelming variety of balsamic vinegars litter the store. The salespeople are almost intimidatingly knowledgeable about their product, and eager to help. When I visit, they're creating gift baskets, of which there are many to choose from. Uzel has a small selection of smoked sausages, white cheeses, spices and figs, adding to its deli sensibilities (and warming my cockles), but it doesn't compare to the variety of Olive and Olives.
On average, Olive and Olives' olive oils and balsamic vinegars check out at $12 to $40, where Uzel's only offers their own brand, ranging from $11 to $22. Olives at Olive and Olives' come out to around $3, stuffed with standbys such as anchovies, red peppers, and lemon and a selection of tapenades rings in at $7. Uzel's olives are weighted at $2.75 per 200 g. All of which is to say they're neck in neck, and the tiebreaker comes down to sheer taste--whether you prefer the unusual earthy tinge of Turkish olives or the tightly packed flavor of small, green Spanish olives.
I'm torn. Having grown up on juicy kalamatas, the entry of a Greek olive might've settled the score, but as it stands, I'll say it comes down to what you're looking for: Uzel's fresh spiced olives are to die for, but Olive and Olives' selection and knowledge can't be beat. Walk in to Uzel's and you're marauded by the scent of fresh olives, whereas all you get at Olive and Olives' is the faint whiff of polish. I'll side with Uzel on the simple basis of having been able to taste the olives, and the fact that the cheeky elderly woman who joined us in the store asked for a sample, and then immediately, seconds.
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