Grub Hub

Twenty Toronto-made treats to give and get this holiday season

Blue-ribbon brownies

1 After stints at restaurants in New York and London, chef Marchelle McKenzie returned home to give brownies a glow-up with her new baked goods business, Butter and Spice. Her gooey Earl Grey squares—dark chocolate brownies layered with tea-infused custard and topped with crackling brulée sugar crust—are bursting with bergamot. It’s one of six flavours featured in her Christmas Brownie Box, along with a candy cane creation awesomely named Brace Your Elf. $25.

Michelada must-haves

2 Tangy, citrusy and spicy, the Mexican michelada may smack of summer, but it’s ideal for any festive fiesta. Recreate the savoury cocktail with Fonda Balam’s mix and rimmer set, or use the rimmer to flavour-boost soups, fruit and snacks—some piquant popcorn, perhaps? $14 for the mix, $9 for the rimmer.

A grab-bag of goodies

3 Perfect for the insatiable nosher on your list, Snack Town’s mystery boxes—which range in size from small (eight items) to massive (45 items)—are stuffed with a mix of sweet and savoury snacks and drinks. Imported munchies include Japanese Cheetos, British Cadbury bars and US brands like Rap Snacks. Also: familiar treats in hard-to-find flavours, like strawberry-matcha Oreos, Haribo french fries, blueberry-muffin Kit Kats and banana-flavoured Fanta. $50 to $200.

A loose-leaf legend

4 Even the fussiest Hong Kong milk tea fans can’t deny that the house brew from Great Fountain Fast Food, a much-loved family-run restaurant in the food court at Scarborough’s Dynasty Centre, is truly exceptional. The good news: they recently started selling their secret tea blend by the bag. The bad: it takes 20 minutes to steep—but that’s still way faster than delivery. $6 for 60 grams.

A peck of pickles

5 If Peter Piper picked a pickle provider, chances are he’d pick Zaz. There are a multitude of vinegary varieties to choose from, including brine-soaked cucumbers, tangy turnips, and petite and punchy yellow peppers. They add flair to a charcuterie board, brighten up a salad or make for a nice nibble on their own. The Holiday Bundle, which features three kinds of pickles, two kinds of hummus and baba ghanouj, is a grazer’s dream basket. $11 a jar, $40 for the bundle.

A pretty-in-pink princess cake

6 During the pandemic, the window display at College Street café and bakery Coco’s—piled high with dreamy desserts—was a constant source of sidewalk rubbernecking. Passersby were particularly mesmerized by the Swedish princess cakes: petite pastel-pink, marzipan-wrapped domes. Filled with sponge cake, whipped cream, raspberry jam and vanilla pastry cream, the twee treats are at once light and decadent. And, for the holiday season, Coco’s is making a special macro version (pictured) with rosemary whipped cream, raspberry-cranberry jam and pistachio pastry cream. Move over, fruitcake. $7.50 small, $55 large.

Booze-free bubbles

7 Straight from the can, Barbet’s lip-smacking sparkling water hits all the right notes. Best of all? There’s not a hint of aspartame or any other artificial additives. Instead, these effervescent cocktail-like (but alcohol-free) concoctions use all-natural, plant-based ingredients. Wild Card, which combines tangy blood orange and calamansi with gentle jalapeno heat, offers a complex kick to the taste buds. $34.20 for a 12-pack.

A mail-order charcuterie kit

8 Seed to Sausage, an 11-year-old Ottawa-based charcuterie company, is most famous for porcine products such as its award-winning fermented salami made with hormone- and antibiotic-free pork. Loaded with almost a kilo of cured meats, these made-for-mail-delivery boxes are brimming with the brand’s flagship products as well as rarer offerings like duck prosciutto. $85.

Artisanal oil

9 Light and nutty, Pristine Gourmet’s sunflower oil is a far cry from the bland supermarket-­sized jugs of the pantry standard. The bright, golden oil comes from several local Ontario farms. Cold-pressed and GMO free, it’s a sunshiny, delicate drizzle. (And, with prices being what they are for the mass-produced stuff these days, it’s barely a jump to go the artisanal route.) $10.

Top-shelf schmear

10 In the wake of the Western Creamery closure (RIP), many dreaded a schmear shortage. But cream cheese connoisseurs needn’t worry: Oakwood Village’s Primrose Bagel Co. sells spreads that are way better than the stuff named after a certain city in Pennsylvania. Options range from deli classics (scallion-chive, roasted garlic and herb) to far-out flavours like wasabi tobiko. $8.50 and up.

Petite and sweet pastries

11 Canelés may be from Bordeaux, but the pastries are big in Japan. Ichibake is bringing Torontonians a taste of how Japanese patissiers have expanded the humble three-bite delight’s horizons. The fundamentals are still the same—cylindrical custard-centred treats with caramelized crusts—but the flavours are expansive: uji matcha red bean, caramel walnut, strawberry chocolate crunch, black sesame, orange chocolate, kinako and hojicha. $35 for a box of eight.

Double-chocolate delight

12 Avant-garde on the outside but classic at its core, this buttercream-heavy double chocolate four layer cake from The Grand Order of Divine Sweets on Queen West is a showstopper to bring to a holiday dinner party. The host, whose main course has essentially been usurped, may be upset at having their thunder stolen—but not for long. Who can be mad while indulging in the Platonic ideal of chocolate cake? $58 and up.

A better nut butter

13 This spreadable staple has been given an international passport. Wander’s recipe, infused with lemongrass, lime leaf and ginger, makes for a bold peanut butter that’s perfect for experimenting with satay sauce, smoothies, stews, noodles or—Dare we say?—the OG PB&J. The Toronto-made nut butters also come in Indian- and Moroccan-inspired flavours. $9.

A set of salsas

14 Colibrí taqueria chef-owner Elia Herrera and her sister, Marlene, recently launched Tecolote, a new Mexican restaurant and—starting in late November—sauce company.Their salsa quartet, each made with a different pepper (chipotle, habanero, árbol, morita), is the antithesis of Old El Paso. The spice-forward, pepper-packed potions will enliven any plate—be it piled with tacos or scrambled eggs. Price TBD.

Umami dearest

15 The Korean expression sohn mat translates to “hand taste,” the idea being that each person brings their own spin to a recipe—it’s commonly used to describe how no one makes food better than Mom. Kimchi Korea House owner Michelle “Mama” Lee has published her kimchi recipe online for anyone who wants to get funky—but it’s best to buy it straight from the source. Piquant with just the right crunch, packed with umami and garlic, Lee’s kimchi is sure to delight fermentation fanatics everywhere. $17.50 and up.

A smoked salmon alternative

16 Ex–Schmaltz Appetizing chef Josh Charbonneau’s fishy new business inside the Hamilton Farmers’
Market, Joshy’s Good Eats, specializes in Scandinavian-­style cured fish. The five-day process for our favourite recipe, the pastrami gravlax, starts with a gin bath and a 72-hour cure in sugar and kosher salt. The filets from the farmed New Brunswick salmon are then washed, coated in a pastrami spice blend (black pepper, coriander, mustard seed, maple syrup) and left to sit for two more days before being sliced. $12.50.

Cuckoo for cocoa beans

17 If mass-market chocolate tastes the way beige looks, then Chachalate’s is completely kaleidoscopic. These single-origin bars are made with just two ingredients: lightly roasted cocoa beans and organic cane sugar. Stripped of all the additives, the bars show the breadth of fruity flavours that different bean origins yield. Can’t decide? A tasting bundle includes three different chocolate bars, cocoa beans, nibs and a helpful guide. $45.

Spice spice baby

18 In late 2020, Rachel Adjei started the Abibiman Project to celebrate foods from Africa and the Black diaspora. Her inventory has grown to represent 12 nations, including trad­itional spice blends (South African braai salt, Senegal­ese yassa, Nigerian suya) and mixes inspired by iconic dishes. Kelewele spice, for example, is based on the flavours of a Ghanaian plantain dish Adjei grew up eating. $4 per blend.

Scandi candy

19 Move over Maynards: there’s more to Swedish candy than berries and fish. Thanks to Sukker Baby, bonbon buffs can enjoy treats like lip-puckering sour candies and herbaceous Finnish licorice. As an added bonus, the imported sweets use natural flavours and real sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. The sweet tooth who can’t decide between Banana Caramel Bubs or Percy Pigs can opt for a custom tray of confections instead. $70 and up for trays.

Not-so-sweet syrup

20 Sweet and sticky with a kick, this chili-infused maple syrup from Dript is Canada’s answer to Mike’s Hot Honey. The crowd-pleasing condiment goes with just about everything: it’s a pizza topper, a chicken wing dip, a meat marinade and a cheese board accoutrement all in one. Locavores will appreciate that it’s made using organic syrup sourced from the Grey Highlands. $15.