Pantry offers prepared kosher food made a little bit trendier than at its North York neighbours. And it's not just the decor - though the bright green walls, wooden accents, and wheatgrass "accessories" do suggest the space might work with an Avenue Road or Queen Street address. But it's also the menu here at Bathurst and Ranee, which is a far cry from bubbie's indulgent fatty chicken soup.
The emphasis here is on natural, healthy, and meat-free, perhaps enough so to speak to a Kensington crowd. The house specialty, for instance, is a tofu steak salad with crispy potatoes, onion, tomato, and romaine ($9), which is just one of a number of diet-friendly soups and salads.
"I wanted to open a place that really focuses on healthier kosher food," owner Sam Kanner tells me as we take a seat by the east-facing window. Kanner has worked in the industry for over 10 years, recently ending a stint just up the street at Hartman's Kosher Meats. "We're vegetarian here (dairy) but we also try to make foods that are a bit better for you."
The shop is multi-faceted, serving customers looking for a quick meal, pop-ins jiving for a latte ($3/$4) or espresso ($1.50/$2) made with Reunion Island beans, and regular nine-to-fivers wanting to pick up dinner or sides to serve at home. It also offers (kosher) catering for parties and corporate events.
The recipes, Kanner says, come from a variety of sources including family hand-me downs, ideas developed throughout his years in the industry, and recipes that came with chefs now working on his team. Opened last fall, Pantry has a total open-kitchen concept, meaning you can watch the garden veggie soup being prepared as you pull a container ($11.99) from the fridge.
Soup is not all, of course, though there are usually a good number of veggie varieties ready to take home each day. Pantry pickles its own vegetables ($3.99), which are jarred and stacked on shelving on the south wall, makes sauces and marinades, and also mixes up a number of salads including corn and chickpea ($7.99), all made with fresh ingredients and adorned with homemade vinaigrettes and spice combinations.
In terms of complete meals, Kanner says he has stuck with the basics; cheese lasagnas, blintzes, quiches, completely from scratch. I ask him if he had considered moving away from the Bathurst strip to offer his prepared kosher goods to a different market.
"Not really," he admits. "It's hard enough to start a business, and that would be a whole other obstacle to take on." So well Kensington might have to continue to wait for its next kosher gem, Pantry will continue to serve its BBQ tofu, grilled pear, and fresh quinoa salads.
Photos by Irina No