Reason to Love Toronto: because there’s a new crop of old-fashioned food shops in Kensington
A decade after “locavore” and “foodie” entered the lexicon, Toronto has reached a fever pitch of $10 jams infused with Prince Edward County lavender, blood orange ales brewed on Ossington and heritage capons slow-smoked over Muskoka cherry wood. “Small,” “slow” and “by hand” are now the ultimate points of pride. Along with your quaintly packaged $9 chutney, you’re also buying the good karma associated with supporting local craftspeople and fostering the dream of simpler times.
The epicentre of it all is Kensington Market, where for decades the only hand-crafted goods have been Bob Marley beanies and bongs. In the span of a year, the area has returned to its roots, becoming a village of food artisans. Sanagan’s Meat Locker, the ethical butcher, became so popular that its owner, Peter Sanagan, moved a few doors down the street into a 5,000-square-foot storefront that’s a microcosm of modern carnivore culture. The walls are lined with barn board, and the young staff wear Ts printed with cleavers and offer samples of water buffalo yogurt or house-made mint-and-beef-tongue terrine. Lineups form at the sandwich bar for slow-roasted bo ssäm buns.
In the space Sanagan left behind, there’s now Hooked, Kensington Market’s first sustainable fishmonger, staffed by beautifully be-toqued 20-somethings who can eyeball the perfect halibut cheek portion for a six-person taco night.
In Kensington’s urban fantasy of independent butchers and bakers, no store radiates contemporary quaintness quite like Thomas Lavers Cannery and Delicatessen. A pig-tailed young staffer, posed in the front window like a culinary mannequin, seals roasted beet and blue cheese ravioli with her thumbs. Inside, the small shop is a reverential imitation of a New York Prohibition-era deli, complete with subway tiles and a decorative vintage meat scale. The owners, two restaurant industry veterans named Bryan Lavers and Tye Thomas, are mascots for the artisanal movement with their beards, tattooed arms and striped aprons. They pour keg-conditioned root beer into environmentally friendly cornstarch cups, or slice their house-smoked vegan pastrami for Reuben sandwiches. One wall is devoted to preserves made in the back kitchen, and arranged like a Pantone spectrum of wild blueberry jams and rhubarb-raisin relishes.
When the pair talk pickling and preserving, it’s about reviving a dying art. But, judging by the proliferation of similar food shops, competition is a more imminent threat than extinction. Wandering the market or any of the city’s many foodie strips, it’s hard to believe made-in-Toronto food once meant Maple Leaf bologna and Weston’s sliced bread. We’re a city spoiled with fresh, healthy, delicious food, and the creative people who make it—by hand.
Sanagan’s Meat Locker
176 Baldwin St., 416-593-9747
Peter Sanagan (above) opened his first sustainable butcher shop in 2009 in a closet-sized space. The place was so popular that, in 2012, he moved his team of meat-loving hipsters (the staff sport toques and cleaver-emblazoned Ts) a few doors west into the 5,000-square-foot deli where European Quality Meats and Sausages had operated for 50 years.
Thomas Lavers Cannery and Delicatessen
193 Baldwin St., 647-351-1959
Last December, Bryan Lavers (left), a former cook at Grace, partnered with Tye Thomas, who owns Ronnie’s Local 069 on Nassau, to open an old-school deli. The room is modelled on black and white photos of classic New York bars, and Lavers cures his own meats, cans things like wild blueberry jam and dill pickles in the summer, and hand-cranks fresh pasta daily for the after-work crowd.
206 Baldwin St., 647-925-1835
Kensington’s fishmonger row lacked a sustainable, ethical, ultra-virtuous option until last October, when Dan and Kristin Donovan, owners of Hooked in Leslieville, opened another location in the tiny space left behind by the original Sanagan’s. The fish is pristine and pricey, the pickles house-made.
240 Augusta Ave., 647-748-4488
In January, Roberto Iglicki and Juan Hernandez, a pair of Venezuelan expats, opened a Montreal-style bagel shop scattered with nods to Kensington’s history as Toronto’s Jewish market. When installing a 20,000-pound wood-burning oven (manned by baker Khuram Shahzad) they discovered the space once housed a clothing factory—its signage (right) buried behind layers of drywall.