Food & Drink

50 Crazy Good Things to Eat and Drink: the ultimate guide to Toronto’s thriving artisanal food scene

50 Crazy Good Things to Eat and Drink: the ultimate guide to Toronto’s thriving artisanal food scene

A movement is afoot in Toronto: a modern guild of craftspeople has emerged, and they’re so devoted to the quality, aesthetic perfection and utmost delectability of food that they make it by hand. In microscopic batches. From single-origin, organic, ethically grown ingredients. With custom-built equipment designed to precise pre-industrial specifications—hand cranks, wood-burning ovens and reclaimed barrels. There are so many of these artisans now, from Etobicoke to Leslieville to Richmond Hill, that the whole city seems caught in a game of culinary one-upmanship. The IPAs are getting hoppier, the doughnuts weirder and the cheeses funkier. And so, at this, the zenith of the city’s artisanal boom, Toronto Life dispatched its experts on a GTA-wide adventure to find the most outrageous, painstakingly made, drop-dead delicious things you have to try right now. Here, our top 50.

50 Crazy Good Things to Eat and Drink: Condiments, Herbs & Spices
Condiments, Herbs and Spices »

By Chantal Braganza, Andrew D’Cruz, Matthew Fox, Matthew Hague, Rachel Heinrichs, Emily Landau, Peter Saltsman, Renée Suen and Caroline Youdan

50 Crazy Good Things to Eat and Drink: Condiments, Herbs & Spices
Pickles and Preserves: Manning Canning, Stasis and Bumpercrop (Image: Ryan Szulc)
Manning Canning, Stasis and Bumpercrop

Artisanal pickling is a farmers’ market oddity gone absurdly mainstream, a fairly time-consuming endeavour falling somewhere between butter churning and soap crafting on the urban homesteading difficulty spectrum. In Toronto,we’re spoiled with an abundance of canned and bottled goods, mostly made by mom-and-pop operations. Christine Manning, of Manning Canning, does big business selling small-batch pickled green tomatoes and peach-brandy jam at farmers’ markets all over the GTA. The trend has also spawned dedicated shops, like Stasis on Roncesvalles, where owner Julian Katz—who abandoned the prep line at posh restaurants C5 and Lucien—bottles Ontario black walnuts in honey. And then there are the lucky pickle purveyors, like ­Bumpercrop, a small Scarborough ­operation whose preserves—such as pickled pears and garlic scapes—were picked up by grocery giant Whole Foods. Manning Canning available at Withrow Park Farmers’ Market, Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 725 Logan Ave.; Stasis Preserves, 476 Roncesvalles Ave., 647-766-5267; Bumpercrop available at Whole Foods, 87 Avenue Rd., 416-944-0500.

french-style butter
Stirling Creamery

This creamery just outside Belleville opened in 1925, and master butter maker (yes, that’s his real title) Chet Blair has been there for the last three decades. He recently perfected a barrel-churned, 84 per cent sweet cream butter—a first in Ontario—called Churn 84. Standard butter has 80 per cent butterfat, and pastry chefs believe that extra four per cent is the secret to the flakiest croissants and crumbliest cookies. There’s also a version flecked with sea salt, which makes the ultimate baguette smear. $9 for half a pound. Olliffe, 1097 Yonge St., 416-928-0296.

Rooftop honey

While Melanie Coates was public relations person for Fairmont Hotels, she started North America’s first hotel-top apiary. After a year, she gave up the PR gig to tend bees fulltime. She now takes care of several GTA hives and sells her honey every Saturday from her Junction home, where she leads each visitor through a tasting, highlighting the differences in terroir between, say, Downsview Park (super-sweet) and Singhampton (thick and deliciously complex). $7–$9. 2003 Dundas St. W.,; Ruby Eats, 730 Queen St. E., 416-901-3355.

Secret barbecue sauce
Buster Rhino’s

Darryl Koster, the pitmaster who lures downtowners to his three 905 barbecue joints with juicy chicken and ribs, bottles the sauce that makes it all taste so good. It’s a brown sugar–sweetened three-chili blend that goes with just about everything off the grill and has a proper face-kicking heat. The recipe has won him several barbecue competitions in South Carolina and Georgia, which is how it got the name Buster Rhino’s Championship Hot BBQ Sauce. $4. 2001 Thickson Rd. S., Whitby, 905-436-6986.

Chef-made Mexican sauces
Mad Mexican

Jose Hadad, the chef at midtown’s excellent Mexican restaurant Frida, bottles all-natural salsas and dips. They’re way fresher than anything you’ll find in the supermarket, and their spicy, sweet and smoky flavours are perfectly balanced. His creamy black bean dip, which he makes with fire-roasted jalapeños for incredible smokiness, instantly upgrades a homemade taco or burrito. $6.50. Rowe Farms, 468 Bloor St. W., plus six other GTA locations.

haute hot dog relish
Spade and Spoon Preserves

Blythe Weber and her partner, Adam Smith, run a small cannery in Ayton where they can grow and preserve enough fruit and veggies to supply Toronto farmers’ markets. They make luscious strawberry-vanilla jelly and rhubarb-orange chutney that’s ideal for grilled-cheese dipping, but it’s the corn relish that’ll hook you: peak-season sweet corn, cabbage, red onion and red peppers hit with turmeric and mustard seed, then slow-cooked into tangy, pickly heaven. It’s the ultimate hot dog topper. $7. Sorauren Park Farmers’ Market, Monday 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., 40 Wabash Ave.

Foraged chokecherry jelly
Forbes Wild Foods

Father-and-son forager-chefs Jonathan and Dyson Forbes launched their eponymous line of wild pickles, syrups and preserves in 1998—well over a decade before Noma’s Rene Redzepi spurred the current obsession with foraging. Their chokecherry jelly, made with the exceptionally bitter scarlet berries that grow in Niagara, is a sublimely summery toast topper with just enough sugar to take the edge off the tongue-smacking fruit. $9.

Backyard-bartered herbs
Sage Rising

Jessica Lemieux and Caitlin Langlois Greenham work out of three backyards (and one front yard) in the Annex and Parkdale, growing herbs and edible flowers. They colonize growing space by ­offering to tend their neighbours’ gardens. In addition to the usual staples—basil, cilantro, parsley and, of course, sage—Lemieux and Langlois Greenham also grow garlic, chilies, bergamot, lavender and unusual herbs you won’t easily find elsewhere in the city, like anise hyssop, a cousin of mint with bright purple flowers, which tastes like minty honeysuckle. $2.75 for 20 grams. Junction Farmers’ ­Market, Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2960 Dundas St. W.

bespoke spice blends
The Spice Trader

At the Spice Trader, a mahogany-lined Trinity Bellwoods shop, owners Allison Johnston and Neil Bougourd create their own spice blends from organic ingredients. Our favourite is the panch phoron, an Indian five-spice that hits every spoke on the Southeast Asian flavour wheel: earthy cumin, bitter fenugreek, peppery nigella, sharp mustard seed and licorice-sweet fennel. The spices are cooked whole to preserve their fragrances. When sprinkled in a pan with hot oil or ghee, they puff up like popcorn and make an exceptional pairing for strong-tasting meats like lamb, which comes alive with eau de Calcutta. $8.25. 877 Queen St. W., 647-430-7085.

50 Crazy Good Things to Eat and Drink: Meat, Fish & Tofu
Prime rib from a seventh-generation Meaford farmer (Image: Ryan Szulc)
Halal beef Bacon
Paramount Butcher Shop

Mohamad Fakih, the man behind Toronto’s many Paramount shawarma restaurants, opened the GTA’s most ­extravagant halal butcher last year. The gleaming 3,300-square-foot shop offers excellent prepared Middle Eastern food, ultra-fresh, hand-slaughtered beef, chicken and lamb from local Ontario farms, along with incredible halal bacon—slabs of Orangeville-raised beef brisket cured just like pork, baked for 16 hours and sliced thick. Marbled with salty fat, it has the rich umami taste of smoky beef, but it fries and crisps up just like (dare we say better than?) the real thing. $2.89 for 100 grams. 4646 Heritage Hills Blvd., Mississauga, 905-890-1700.

Fruit-filled sausages
Medium Rare

This Etobicoke butcher has, quite possibly, the city’s largest house-made sausage selection: 60 different varieties, including sweet-savoury combos not often found on a hot dog bun. Rich pork links are dotted with tart chunks of green apple, and Berkshire pork is paired with fig in a sweet casing that splits open on the grill to unleash geysers of juice. $9–$11 a pound. 5241 Dundas St. W., 416-231-1500.

bradford beef boxes
West Side Beef Co.

Ryan Donovan and Carl Heinrich, the butcher and chef, respectively, behind the farm-to-table restaurant Richmond Station, run a meat box side business. They buy pasture-raised beef from Dingo Farms just outside Bradford, where the meat is aged for around a month to bring out the intense beefy flavour. When they have 15 subscribers, Donovon butchers the beast and packs it into 15 boxes that include a variety of steaks, briskets, roasts and the short rib–stuffed burger patties the restaurant is known for. $150.

roasted suckling pigs
Bernard’s Pilipino Specialties

Backyard barbecuing has become a competitive sport in Toronto, with prizes for the biggest slab of meat. There is an easy way to win: a full pig, perfectly roasted by the octogenarian Parkdale butcher Bernard Farrol. In the back of his humble shop, there’s an ancient oven where he roasts them to order, stuffed with lemon grass and garlic. When the beasts come out, they’re crackling, brown and tender—and he’ll even carve the whole thing for you. $150 for a 40-pound pig. 1534 Queen St. W., 416-534-3640.

Creative cold cuts
Crown Salumi, Sanagan’s Meat Locker, Côte de Boeuf

The great Toronto charcuterie boom, which Grant van Gameren and Jen Agg kicked off at the Black Hoof in 2008, has made its way to food shops. Van Gameren now runs Crown Salumi, a Belleville operation that supplies stores around town, including the Cheese Boutique, and he’s inspired a new crop of meat aesthetes, too. There’s Sanagan’s Meat Locker in Kensington Market, which has moved into an enormous new space. The extra square footage allowed the genial owner, Peter Sanagan, to install a case full of terrines, like the one made with duck, prunes and collard greens, or the venison, bacon and rosemary version. Over on Ossington, Côte de Boeuf—a spinoff of the farm-to-table bistro Union—is like a high-end boutique for carnivores, with glistening foie gras patés, spatchcocked chickens and house-made lamb sausages all displayed in quaint reclaimed kitchen cabinets turned into refrigerators. In the window, a pig’s head looks out at the street’s revellers like a declaration of intent. Crown Salumi meats available at the Cheese Boutique, 45 Ripley Ave., 416-762-6292; Sanagan’s Meat Locker, 176 Baldwin Ave., 416-593-9747; Côte de Boeuf, 130 Ossington Ave., 416-532-2333.

Potted shrimp

Other than shaking martinis and stirring women, James Bond’s favourite indulgence is potted shrimp—Britain’s sherry-soaked take on fish paté. Hooked makes a kingly version with sweet B.C. side stripe shrimp, unbridled amounts of butter (it’s used to sauté the shallots and shellfish) and tangy chopped cornichons. $10. 206 Baldwin St., 647-925-1835; 888 Queen St. E., 416-828-1861.

hand-pressed organic tofu
Ying Ying Soy Foods

Ming Yu, a Chinese expat, and his wife, Christine, use organic soybeans from Klondike Farms in Dashwood, Ontario, and ocean-derived nigari as a coagulant (rather than the usual calcium sulfate, also found in drywall) to make tofu just like you’d get in delis in China. They arduously soak, grind and boil the beans before hand-wrapping, pressing and cutting the curd. The gloriously soft stuff is sold to more than 50 GTA grocery stores and restaurants, where it’s usually used in stir-fries. But loyal customers know the best way to eat it is straight up, cold and with a bit of soy sauce. $4.50. Fiesta Farms, 200 Christie St., 416-537-1235.

Singaporean Bak Kwa
Oriental Recipes

Bak kwa is an Asian meat jerky, but there’s no comparing it to the convenience store shoe leather we know and loathe. It’s supple, almost like ­charcuterie but with a pleasant pull. At this Asian grocer in Markham, you can find chemical-free, Singapore-style bak kwa made with Ontario pork, beef, chicken, turkey or duck. The meat is soaked in fish sauce and cayenne, cold-smoked on ­bamboo mats (which let the air circulate), then grilled (to order) until a caramelized crust develops. It’s carnivore candy. $5.30 for 100 grams. First Markham Pl., 3225 Highway 7 E., Unit 36, 905-604-3880.

Wild boar burgers
The Butcher’s Son

Every week, this gourmet meat shop at Yonge and Davisville makes a limited batch of specialty burgers—venison and blueberry, for instance, or lamb and havarti. The most luscious and popular creation is the wild boar burger. Butcher Matthew Kumphrey brings in the beasts from Perth Farms and hand-forms ground shoulder into ample patties flecked with diced red pepper and garlic. The meat is milder and leaner than pork, and plumps up with savoury juices on the barbecue. $5 a patty. 2055 Yonge St., 416-901-9414.

Elk salami
Second Wind Farm

Stolid Hungarian salami, often passed over for gauzy varieties like soppressata, is getting its artisanal due. John Rietkerk raises Rocky Mountain elk in Rockwood. Dry-cured shoulder is ground into tubes with garlic and pepper, then smoked for six hours over cherry wood. The resulting sausage is as hard and marbled as a hunk of Muskoka granite, and rippled through with potent smoke, garlic and game flavours. $8. St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market, Saturdays 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., 92 Front St. E., 416-392-7219.

hickory-smoked salmon

Ann and Michelle Marsolais sold their killer smoked salmon at the Summerhill Market and Pusateri’s until they earned enough money to open their own shop at Pape and O’Connor. Their sushi-grade Atlantic fish—caught in New Brunswick only 12 hours before it reaches Toronto—undergoes a three-day cure that culminates in a cold smoke during which they have to replenish the hickory every 13 minutes (to avoid ash, which turns the fish bitter). The deep coral fish emerges with a buttery texture and a trace of hickory. During the high season (December), they make and hand-slice 500 pounds every week. $36.50 per pound. 140 O’Connor Dr., 416-425-3425.

50 Crazy Good Things to Eat and Drink: Bread & Pasta
Sour cherry–chocolate levain: Cliffside Bakery (Image: Carlo Mendoza)
wood-fired bagels
Nu Bügel

Bagels are the finicky prima donnas of the bread world: even minute fluctuations in temperature and timing can spell the difference between pleasantly dense and hockey-puck hard. This new Kensington Market bakery boils them in honey water and bakes them in a custom-built 20,000-pound wood-burning oven that gets stoked at first light and burns until nightfall. The bagels have glossy crusts and smoky insides with just the right amount of chew. $9 a dozen. 240 Augusta Ave., 647-748-4488.

Udon noodles
Bushi Udon Kappo

Unlike the skinny ramen noodles that are so popular right now, Japanese udon is shoestring-thick and stays firm in the hottest broths. Koki Mimoguchi cuts the chewy strands daily on a Japanese machine and serves them at his midtown noodle shop, where they’re also available to take home, cooked or uncooked, in little bundles. Use them in soups, both Chinese and Japanese, or in a cold salad with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and any leftovers from the fridge. $2.50. 1404 Yonge St., 416-323-9988.

Freshly cranked square spaghetti
Farina Plus

Domenic Giambattista used to cook at Tutti Matti, a restaurant known for its fresh pasta. He now makes his own at this year-old Vaughan shop. On an imported Italian crank, he cuts square spaghetti alla chitarra, which is thicker and chewier than regular noodles, with more surface area to soak up sauce. The pasta is eggy, toothsome perfection, especially when topped with Giambattista’s slow-cooked wild boar ragù. $1.90 for 140 grams. 2563 Major Mackenzie Dr., Vaughan, 905-553-6500.

Afghan flatbread
Saleem Caravan Farm

At this tiny storefront, you can have your passport photo taken, exchange money, get your computer fixed and rent a new apartment in Kabul. But the best reason to visit is the wonderful Afghan bread, which is like metre-long Indian naan, only fluffier. The dough is cooked at 560 degrees for just five or six minutes, creating puffy blankets with a gold crust. Customers often bite off warm, chewy chunks before they get to the cash register. $1. 565 Markham Road, 416-269-6600.

Fresh corn tortillas
La Tortilleria

Tortillas are dead simple. The traditional Mexican version is just corn soaked in lime water, ground and pressed into dough, then cooked flat on a griddle. Nothing to it. And yet some are so much better than others. At this mini-chain, which started in Kensington Market in 2008, the secret is freshness. The corn is brined and rolled every day. We suggest devouring them within hours of purchase. $3.75 per kilo. 198 Augusta Ave., 416-205-9227; plus two other GTA locations.

Feather-light pierogies
Hot Oven Bakery

High Park’s 57-year-old bakery serves potato-cheddar pierogies so light and cloud-like, they overturn the dumpling’s starchy reputation. They’re sold pre-boiled and quickly turn golden in a buttered pan (we suggest adding bacon and onion). They freeze perfectly as well, rendering their supermarket counterparts obsolete. $6 a dozen. 2974 Bloor St. W., 416-236-3629, plus three other GTA locations.

50 Crazy Good Things to Eat and Drink: Cheese & Veggies
Gnarly Tomatoes: Country Meadows Organics (Image: Vicky Lam)
gnarly tomatoes
Country Meadows Organics

Heirloom tomatoes, the ugly darlings of the veggie world, are surging in popularity largely because they taste, unlike the mealy grocery store varieties, like real, juicy, ripe fruit. This small farm in Queensville grows over 90 different types, from the creamy, sweet Great White to the dense, smoky Cherokee Purple. They also sell cool and unusual cucumbers (lemon, white, Chinese and Armenian), blue ­potatoes and purple carrots, each a small vote in favour of the small-scale and the eccentric. Prices vary. Evergreen Brick Works Farmers’ Market, Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., 550 Bayview Ave.

Cucumber kimchee

Fermented cabbage is the trendiest condiment of the year, and York Mills’s wonderland of Korean food has a whole section devoted to the stuff. Our favourite is, surprisingly, cabbage-free: the crisp, addictive cucumber and chive variety. A close second is a napa version laced with shiso leaves, which taste like minty, citusy basil with a spicy fermented edge. $4–$8. 865 York Mills Rd., 647-352-5004.

Chufa Nuts
Fresh City Farms

Connor Desjardins discovered chufa last year, when a friend slipped him six bulbs. That’s how chufa works: the nuts are passed around by horticulturalists in the know. The Spanish nuts, which taste like a cross between an almond and a coconut, are most often blended into horchata, but we like them toasted on their own. Sorauren Park Farmers’ Market, Monday 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., 40 Wabash Ave.

Maple sheep’s milk yogurt
Best Baa Dairy

At this Fergus dairy, Elisabeth Bzikot transforms thick sheep’s milk into a transcendently smooth yogurt that puts the Greek stuff to shame. First, she spikes the culture with a few drops of the darkest Ontario maple syrup for sweetness, then thickens the blend in a pot until it’s so rich you’d swear it was custard. It would all be a bit too heavy if it weren’t for that sharp yogurt bite. $6 for a 500 mL tub. St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market, Saturday 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., 92 Front St. E., 416-392-7219.

Ontario water buffalo mozzarella
Quality Cheese

Many cheeses improve with age, but buffalo mozzarella is at its luscious, mild peak the minute it’s churned. This family-run dairy uses milk from free-range water buffalo raised in Stirling and Stratford to create insanely tender spheres that melt like custard. Pair it with the season’s last tomatoes. $8. Whole Foods, 87 Avenue Rd., 416-944-0500.

craft cheese
Monforte Dairy

Ruth Klahsen had a mid-life crisis 10 years ago when she quit her chef’s job to follow her dream of becoming a cheese maker. At 46, she had no cash and no clue how to make curds, yet she ­refinanced her Stratford house to rent a workspace and bought a how-to guide on French fromage. Klahsen now runs three stores, including her newest in Liberty Village, and has garnered a cultish following. Back in 2009, she sold cheese futures online, raising $500,000 to refurbish her Stratford dairy. Her fanatical commitment to quality means she uses field-fresh milk from Mennonite farmers and seasonal flavourings, like garlic scapes in the spring and quince in the fall. She often spends months tweaking a recipe before she deems it worthy to sell. Her aptly named Bliss brie is made from a mix of sheep’s milk and cow’s cream for a texture that’s as thick and gooey as a Lindor truffle. $10 a wheel. 125 Jefferson Ave., 647-700-8598.

50 Crazy Good Things to Eat and Drink: Drinks
Sommelier-blended tea: Sloane Teas (Image: Anya Chibis)
Small-batch root beer
Nickel Brook Brewery

Babbling Brooke’s Root Beer ­contains only ingredients our grandmothers would recognize: ­cinnamon bark, star anise, orange peel and water. The soda has a strong licorice bite, a hint of vanilla and a minty finish. $2. 864 Drury Lane, Burlington, 905-681-2739.

Leslieville-roasted coffee beans
Pilot Roasters

Andy Wilkin moved to Toronto from Wellington, New Zealand, bringing with him his native city’s coffee mania. He founded a pair of cafés (Te Aro and Crafted) and a roasting business, which supplies dozens of espresso bars with his blends. He makes trips to Central ­America to establish direct trade relationships and adjusts the roasting process with each new bag of beans. His Burnout Dark Roast is smooth and chocolatey, and his Ethiopian Sidama is bright with an uncanny hit of blueberry. $13–$16 a pound. Te Aro, 983 Queen St. E., 416-546-4006.

Pineapple beer
Spearhead Brewing Company

This two-year-old Etobicoke brewery makes an unusual Hawaiian-style pale ale that’s infused with pineapple juice. It has a hazy copper colour and a faint caramel sweetness. The finish is hoppy but not as bitter as a heavy IPA, making it an excellent early autumn sipper. $14 for six bottles. LCBO 294520.

Raspberry Milk
Moo Milk Bar

Danielle Oron, who trained at New York’s French Culinary Institute, opened Toronto’s only milk bar last year. She stirs add-ins like vanilla bean paste and house-made fruit preserves into creamy two per cent from Hewitt’s Dairy in Hagersville. The raspberry version has only a touch of sugar, which makes it a tart cereal soaker or light milkshake alternative. $3.50. 1918A Queen St. E., 647-343-4272.

Sommelier-blended tea
Sloane Teas

Hoda Paripoush, one of a handful of certified tea sommeliers in Canada, imports some of the world’s highest-quality and rarest leaves, like a single-estate Darjeeling dubbed the Cristal of teas for its pedigree. She mixes them with natural spices, scents and blossoms, creating tea so unusual and layered, it’s easy to get geeky over, with talk of top notes, balance and finish. Case in point: the Persian Palace is a perfect blend of malty Assam black teas, intensely aromatic cardamom and Jaipur roses. $26.

Micro-distilled hooch
Still Waters, 66 Gilead, Dillon’s, Toronto Distillery

Ontario spirit distilling is poised to become a mini-movement. Concord’s Still Waters recently released a micro-distilled whisky called Stalk and Barrel. Because whisky takes at least three years to age, however, most of the new breed of hooch artisans are focusing on spirits they can bottle and sell more rapidly. For Dillon’s, a family-run operation in the Niagara fruit belt, that means a fearsome un-aged white rye made from 100 per cent Ontario rye (most big brands are supplemented with corn). In Prince Edward County, 66 Gilead infuses whole wheat vodka with fresh Canadian pine needles grown on the property, and makes gin that tastes like lavender and cucumber that even compares to Hendrick’s in smooth drinkability. Closer to home, the fledgling Toronto Distillery Company has set up shop in the Junction; its organic grain liquor (a.k.a. moonshine) will definitely put hair on your chest. It’s available both neat and in cocktails at the Queen West hipster bar Happy Child. Still Waters whisky,; Dillon’s The White Rye, LCBO 337600; 66 Gilead Pine Flavoured Vodka, LCBO 288464; Toronto Distillery Company, 90 Cawthra Ave., 416-558-5523.

Royal Paan

After a taste of the royal falooda, bubble tea seems as staid as a cup of orange pekoe. The rose-scented Indian milkshake is made with soft serve, puréed cashews and almonds, soaked basil seeds, a healthy splash of rose syrup and a fistful of chewy vermicelli noodles. The disparate components are suspended in the thick goo and come up helter-skelter through the straw. The mix of sweet and flowery flavours is very nearly overpowering, yet irresistible—an acquired taste that’s worth acquiring. Take-home tubs $3.50–$5. 2654 Islington Ave., 416-743-7226; plus three other GTA locations.

50 Crazy Good Things to Eat and Drink: Sweets
Booze-spiked, chip-topped, bacon-chunked doughnuts: Glory Hole, Jelly Modern Doughnuts, Dough by Rachelle and Paulette’s (Image: Ryan Szulc)
El Chinito Pops

The owners of Thor Espresso make super-saturated Latin American–style popsicles from Ontario fruit. The best of the jewel-hued bunch is the anjou pear and jasmine, a combo that manages to taste like pear crumble and jasmine tea frozen on a stick. $3.50. 35 Bathurst St., 416-451-8736.

Black garlic chocolates
Laura Slack Chocolates

Every batch of Laura Slack’s chocolates takes four hours to create. She fills the baubles with decadent centres like dulce de leche or black tea ganache and paints them with edible lustres using fine-tipped brushes. The menacing, bitter skull is filled with salted caramel that’s infused with pungent black garlic, which leaves a strangely pleasant fermented pong on the tongue. $2.50 each. McEwan Foods, 38 Karl Fraser Rd, 416-444-6262.

Frozen custard
Jedd’s Frozen Custard

Frozen custard looks like ice cream and comes in a cone like ice cream, but it’s about five times richer and smoother from extra golden yolks. This Yonge and Eg shop makes just five litres a day (small volumes means it’s always fresh) for scooping, blending into thick milkshakes or dropping into tiny cups of strong, crema-thick espresso. $4. 2470 Yonge St., 647-349-2121.

Booze-spiked, chip-topped, bacon-chunked doughnuts
Glory Hole, Jelly Modern Doughnuts, Dough by Rachelle and Paulette’s

The fancy doughnut is celebrated all over the city—at posh restaurants, festivals, food trucks and a slew of new doughnut shops. Hell, there’s even a show called Donut Showdown in which bakers compete for doughnut dominance. Glory Hole is the poster child for the movement. They make their yeast doughnuts from scratch in outrageous flavours, like chocolate with Hickory Sticks, and margarita with a tequila-lime glaze and Maldon salt ­sprinkle. Paulette’s, an online doughnut service started by Cordon ­­­Bleu–trained pastry chef Devin Connell, serves denser and sweeter cake-style doughnuts in equally creative flavours: root beer float, candy apple, mojito. But wait! There’s more! Dough by Rachelle provides rings like the Spicy Mexican, glazed with chili chocolate and topped with crushed corn nuts, to restaurants and cafés, while Jelly Modern Doughnuts serves its dough filled with s’mores or heaped with Skor bars. Glory Hole, 1596 Queen St. W., 647-352-4848; Paulette’s,; Dough by Rachelle available weekends at Sam James Café, 297 Harbord St., 647-341-2572; Jelly Modern Doughnuts, 376 College St., 416-962-2053.

Old World cannoli
Irene’s Celebrity Cakes

Irene Chito, who has been making fondant-frosted wedding cakes for 35 years, runs a humble cake shop in Mississauga where she sells, hands down, the best cannoli we’ve tasted. The recipe comes from Chito’s southern Italian grandmother and involves infusing the buttery dough with cocoa, for a toasty colour, and white wine, which creates crunch. She wraps the dough around little metal pipes for frying—a laborious process that few bakeries bother with these days—and makes at least 10 batches a day of the freshest, flakiest flutes that crackle when you break into the sweet, orange-zested ricotta centres. $1.20. 1258 Eglinton Ave. E., Mississauga, 905-624-5545.

gin and tonic marshmallows

As bakers are crafting ever-more absurd cronuts, crookies and crimbits, the elegant French guimauve is daring in its simplicity, especially at this patisserie where Nadège Nourian infuses hers with essence of gin, which releases a whisper of juniper as the dense fluff melts. $6 for nine. 1099 Yonge St., 416-968-2011.

Gold-flecked, sugar-free vegan truffles
Belmonte Raw

This raw food boutique, known for organic juice cleanses, recently opened a new location in a Yorkville yoga studio, where it sells peanut butter–filled chocolates that shouldn’t be good—they’re devoid of dairy, sugar or anything associated with decadence. But, through a miracle of whipped cashews and peanuts, and premium cocoa, they’re creamier than Häagen-Dazs and more satisfying. Just one sates a chocolate craving. Gold flecks on top crank up the indulgence. $4.50 each. 889 Yonge St.; 1022 Queen St. E., 647-340-1218.

daily made granola

Every morning, Lorraine Hawley bakes 10 kilos of sticky, honey-coated oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and flaked coconut for 30 minutes, stirring twice for optimal cluster size and crunch. The mix is dense, nutty and just a little bit sweet. Scoop it by the handful. $17 per kilo. 1156 Queen St. W., 647-748-4700; 323 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-534-2333.

Sour cherry–chocolate levain
Cliffside Bakery

David Aplin and Camelia Proulx built a brick oven in their backyard eight years ago to make bread for themselves. Following the sweet scent of yeasty baking bread, neighbours would stop in to ask if they could buy a few thick-crusted loaves. Soon the couple was turning out so many, they quit their jobs (she managed a restaurant, he worked at an industrial bakery) and set up a proper shop on Kingston Road where they make extraordinary sourdough, including a version laced with tiny bricks of semi-sweet chocolate and plump sour cherries. When toasted, the slices dress themselves with melting chocolate: no butter necessary. $6.50. 3047 Kingston Rd., 416-261-1010.

Dragon’s beard candy
Jimmy Poon

Biting into a piece of dragon’s beard candy is an unnerving experience. The Chinese cotton candy looks like a butterfly’s cocoon, with delicate strands of spun sugar encasing a sticky, sweet core of peanuts, sesame and coconut. It’s a rarity in Toronto, requiring a trip out to Markham’s massive Chinese market, where candy man Jimmy Poon kneads, stretches and spins sugar at his roving cart. If you can’t find him, just look for the guy ringed with sticky-fingered kids. $5.50 for 10. Pacific Mall, 4300 Steeles Ave. E., 905-470-8785.


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