Where the Cheese Boutique’s Afrim Pristine eats comfort food on the west side of the city
We're going on the road with some of the city's top chefs and restaurateurs to explore their favourite suburban restaurants. Afrim Pristine tells us what's good in Bloor West Village and the Queensway
Afrim Pristine’s parents and grandfather moved from Belgium to Bloor West Village in 1968. After operating a Becker’s in the west-end neighbourhood for a couple years, they opened the much-loved Cheese Boutique in 1970 at 2286 Bloor Street W. Now 36, Pristine recalls spending his early years behind the cash register. “Back then, the store just had a cheese and deli counter, some grocery items and a bakery, but we cultivated a following,” he says. “I used to walk down Bloor with my grandpa, and it would take us 45 minutes to walk three blocks—everyone stopped to talk to each other back then,” Pristine says.
In 2000, when rent skyrocketed to a whopping $25,000 a month, Pristine’s dad decided to move the shop to its current location on Ripley Avenue, just south of Bloor West Village. Today, Pristine and his older brother, Agim, own and operate the epicurean boutique. “The store is 10 times what it used to be,” Pristine says. “We import over 16,000 items, make 600 deliveries a week and supply over 140 restaurants across the GTA.”
After living near Humber Bay for a number of years, Pristine moved back to Bloor West Village earlier this spring. “I missed the neighbourhood,” he says. “It’s not what it used to be, but I think it’s gonna come back.”
2342 Bloor St. W., 416-762-5365, kingswaymeats.com
Pristine and his parents frequented many of Bloor West’s butcher shops for meat. One of his favourite places for things like dried porcinis, sausages and pickles, was—and still is—Kingsway Deli. “You don’t see it like this anymore,” Pristine says, pointing to the curtains of sausages hanging throughout the store. “Public Health would have a field day.”
Go-to item #1: Goralska sausage.
Tasting notes: “Goralska is a beautiful smoked sausage. You can butterfly it and grill it on a pan. It’s beautifully smokey and goes with anything.”
Go-to item #2: Paczki (Polish doughnuts).
Tasting notes: “I used to eat paczki all the time—especially the ones covered in a thin layer of icing and stuffed with plum jam.”
Anna’s Bakery and Deli
2394 Bloor St. W., 416-769-8065, no website
“I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I can’t leave this place without getting at least a dozen things,” Pristine says of the 20-year-old bakery. “These guys are here every day, all day, baking.” Pristine sticks to the classics, like raspberry turnovers and doughnuts—the same treats he’s been eating for over 30 years.
Go-to item #1: Raspberry turnovers.
Tasting notes: “They’re just sinfully good. Nothing about them is overly sweet, and the dough is always perfect.”
Go-to item #2: Frozen pierogies.
Tasting notes: “I grew up eating these pierogies. They’re some of the best I’ve ever had.”
Bloor Jane Restaurant
2434 Bloor St. W., 416-766-5383, bloorjane.blogspot.ca
Pristine was introduced to this Bloor West institution when he was 14 years old. “My dad took me to the dentist to get braces. I was in so much pain afterwards, but I was also very hungry,” Pristine says, sliding into one of the creaky booths. “I couldn’t eat anything hard, so he brought me here for a breakfast of soft food: eggs, sausage, home fries.” The restaurant is equal parts old-school diner and a shrine to the Leafs. “The owner is a huge hockey fan—all the players have been here.”
Go-to item #1: The all-day breakfast of eggs (sunny-side up), sausages and fries.
Tasting notes: “There’s nothing pretentious about this breakfast; it’s very simple, and for me, it’s very nostalgic. I’ve dined at all the fancy restaurants in the city, but sometimes I just want to eat here.”
Tom’s Dairy Freeze
630 The Queensway, 416-259-1846, tomsdairyfreeze.ca
“I remember a time when it was illegal to have your store open on Sundays, so on Sundays when the shop was closed, we went out as a family to eat,” Pristine says. Many times after a meal, they’d end up at this Queensway dairy bar. “It always felt like a third of Etobicoke was here—the lineup was so long. It was a magical experience every time.”
Go-to item #1: Soft serve and grape soda.
Tasting notes: “There’s nothing fancy about this place, but I worshipped it—I didn’t do Dairy Queen. Tom’s is as old school as it gets. Today, ice cream has become so over-the-top. Tom’s brings me right back to when I was six years old.”