Great Gourmet Shops in Toronto

Toronto is home to several incredible gourmet food stores and while I began shopping at a handful some time ago, quarantine prompted a significant change to my delivery habits (see more in this post). I used to do most of my shopping at big box stores, however since March, the percentage of food that I buy from the big guys versus small shops has completely flipped. In part, it’s because I want to avoid busy grocery store aisles but it’s also an effort to support local businesses and to quell my restaurant withdrawl by eating great prepared foods and incorporating delicious ingredients into my weekly meals.

Counter to my original thinking that gourmet shops are expensive, I’ve found several products that are on par with what I’d spend elsewhere (condiments, salsas, olive oil). And while there are products that are more expensive, the quality is almost always well beyond what you would find in a big box store. Recently, you may have seen the Middle of Somewhere Sneak Peek into Stock T.C. or watched the @mdlofsomewhere Instagram stories about my visit to Roncesvalles. If so, you’ll know that my love for gourmet food stores only continues to grow.

Below, you’ll find interviews with some of Toronto’s best gourmet grocery shops, with some of my other favourites listed at the bottom. Many offer online shopping or curbside pickup and I strongly encourage you to try them out! I’ve found the offerings of gourmet shops especially valuable during this time when I am missing dining out – the shops have lots of great alternatives to restaurant dining, giving you a away to elevate your at-home meals.

Alimentari Italian Grocery

Responses by Sarah Terpstra, Owner of Alimentari Italian Grocery. Alimentari is located at 325 Roncesvalles Ave. You can also shop online for curbside pickup or delivery within 5km of the store.

Questions:

Tell me a bit about your background. When and how did your business start?

ST: With Christopher’s experience in kitchens, working as a butcher, baker, and fresh pasta-maker, and my love of being bossy, we knew we had a good start. After running other people’s businesses for several years, then having a baby, we made the crazy sleep-deprived decision to quit our jobs and start selling fresh pasta at farmers’ markets. In a matter of months, we realized that breaking even wasn’t going to be sustainable, so we launched head-first into applying for a business loan and purchasing an existing restaurant, in which we would open a retail shop meets lunch spot on Roncesvalles in Toronto. We knew we had the right neighborhood and a great location, but we never expected to be so successful from day one. We’ve been open just 3.5 years now, but it feels like much longer, and we often hear from our customers that they don’t remember what they ate or where they shopped before we opened.

Where do your products come from? How do you find these producers?

ST: We want our shop and its products to reflect the Italian way of life, as much as possible. Most would think this means that all of our products would be imported from Italy, but – in fact – it is way more ‘Italian’ to eat only what is local and seasonal. So, when sourcing products, we always think about this. We look to Ontario first, then we look for quality. Obviously, some things just can’t be beat, like Parmigiano Reggiano and San Marzano tomatoes. Since the pandemic hit, we have branched out of the Italian-only theme to carry some much loved products like Martin’s Potato Rolls for our local burgers and all-beef hot dogs. (Italians love hot dogs too!)

1-5 products you carry that you are currently obsessed with?

ST:
1) Wine – With the new allowances for licensees to sell unopened bottles of alcohol, we have been able to grow a pretty nice selection of local and Italian wines. I just had a baby in March, so I am making up for lost drinks!
2) ‘Alimentari At Home’ takeout dinners – We closed our ‘hot table’ prepared foods bar in March, when we didn’t feel comfortable serving unpackaged products. When schools opened up and people started heading back to the office, we began offering Friday night takeout dinners, including some of our favorite dishes that we had been missing. We don’t pay for it, but it doesn’t get much better than a four-course dinner for $30 a pop! One less dinner to cook and clean up after is a win in my book…
Shop online here.

Your favourite place to eat in the city?

ST: We don’t get out much, as we love to be at home when we aren’t at work or running around with the kids. When we do find the chance, we want our meal to be simple, reliable, and affordable, so we always end up at Enoteca Sociale. We usually end up ordering a bottle of wine, the chicken liver pate, a couple of simple pasta dishes and sides.

Favourite shop or neighbourhood?

ST: We both always end up at Saudade on Dundas near Ossington. All of the products they carry are made in Portugal, from home wares to handbags and some pantry goods. We love the stackable wine vinegars and tinned seafood, and I love their woven cotton rugs that can be machine washed!

Tell me about where you grew up and how you met: 

ST: My husband, Christopher, and I met while working at an agri-turismo (working farm & hotel) in Tuscany. After our city-kid guards came down, we realized that we shared values and the dream of bringing as much of our life on the farm to the city, in the form of our own food business. We also happened to fall in love and live the first few months of our relationship in that idyllic setting. Christopher grew up in Regina, with spurts of time spent in Italy while his father taught and researched Renaissance history. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit but had the opportunity to travel to Europe a few times with my family and in university. When we met, we were both escaping big cities (Toronto for Christopher, and New York for me), as we both felt that life in the city had gotten to be too much to process and sought a slower, simpler life for a change. The opportunity to work on this farm in Tuscany was the way we could live cheaply and to the fullest, while being able to travel around Europe a bit.

How does someone go about picking a great olive oil?

ST: First, look at the bottle. Never buy an olive oil that is packaged in a clear bottle, as light has already likely disturbed it. Second, it really depends on your preference for taste. Because I have spent most of my time in Tuscany while in Italy, I feel nostalgic when tasting oils with high polyphenols that make me cough a bit from their ‘spice.’ The olive varietals grown in Tuscany – and the point in their ripening process in which they are picked and pressed – lends to the flavour. If you like a more subtle olive flavour, look for an oil from Calabria, where the olives are traditionally left to ripen longer before pressing, so the polyphenol content is lower. 

If you were to make a meal with ingredients from your shop – what would that meal and associated products be?

ST: We make A LOT of pizza at home. It is far better than anything we could order for delivery, and it is one of the few dinners that we all can get involved in making together. We use the following ingredients, all from our shop:

1) Pizza dough – The 500g balls of dough – that we make everyday because they are one of our best-selling items – make a pizza big enough for our family. Often we make two because we want a couple of different types, and the leftovers are great cold!
2) Whole San Marzano tomatoes – We crush them, add some salt, olive oil, and crushed garlic, and you have a fresh and delicious sauce in a matter of minutes.
3) Pizza mozzarella – This is a locally-made fresh mozzarella that has been pressed to remove moisture, so you can put it on your pizza before you cook it, and it melts well, unlike Fior di Latte which is too wet.
4) Anchovy-stuffed olives – This is the only other ingredient on a pizza that our 4-year-old can stand, so we call it the ‘Hugo’ pizza, after him. These olives are pitted, stuffed with anchovies, and are just the right salty addition to a cheese pizza.

Are San Marzano tomatoes really the best? 

ST: We do like San Marzano tomatoes in certain contexts. Because their acidity is lower than other varietals, their flavour is slightly sweeter and well-rounded. For this reason, we use them in dishes where we aren’t cooking them for very long, so we can appreciate their flavour to the fullest. We like them best when hand-crushed on a pizza!

Name a traditional Italian product that you carry, that may be less familiar to Canadians.

ST: Lasagna Bolognese. I know it doesn’t sound unfamiliar, but we often have customers expect something different when they try it. Traditional Bolognese, originating in Bologna in the north of Italy, is a meat sauce that is made without tomatoes, and it cooks for hours in white wine and milk! It is very meaty in flavour and, when layered with besciamella (Italian for ‘bechamel’) and some cooked greens, it makes for the most heart-warming lasagna. No stretchy mozzarella or overly sweet tomato sauce in our lasagne here!

Note: Be sure to follow Alimentari Italian Grocery on Instagram and Facebook. Also find them in the September edition of Somewhere Spotlight & find out what my new favourite olive oil is (recommended by their chef!). Photos are a mix of personal & courtesy of Alimentari.

Alimentari Gourmet Store Toronto
Alimentari Gourmet Grocery Toronto
Alimentari Gourmet Grocery Toronto
Alimentari Gourmet Grocery Toronto
Alimentari Gourmet Grocery Fresh Pasta Delivery Toronto
Alimentari Gourmet Grocery Toronto

Toronto Market Co

Responses by Melissa Zuker, Co-Founder of Toronto Market Co. You can shop from Toronto Market Co.’s virtual market here.

Questions:

Tell me a bit about your background. When and how did your business start?

MZ: Toronto Market Company started in 2014, creating artisan and food markets in the city. We loved to discover and showcase local small businesses in urban spaces and eventually grew to have many markets throughout the city of Toronto each year. When COVID-19 hit, our outdoor markets for the summer were cancelled and we shifted to creating a marketplace for our vendors online. We currently have a website that features 70+ vendors. It’s an amazing shopping experience because you discover all sorts of new local products and can purchase from businesses located all over the city with one easy checkout. We also offer pick up and delivery.

We have had an amazing response so far and we are excited to grow this online avenue. (Shop online here).

Where do your products come from? How do you find these producers?

MZ: We work with a lot of different small businesses, and we are always focused on supporting local. Many of the vendors on the site are ones we’ve worked with for years at our food markets or farmers markets around the city. Some of them are ones we’ve always admired, but haven’t been able to work with in a conventional market environment due to timing, distance or other factors. We’re always on the lookout for new and interesting businesses.

1-5 products you carry that you are currently obsessed with?

MZ: My five favorite things right now are:
1) Desmond and Beatrice assorted cookies – they have such creative flavours and the cookies are super-soft, which I love.

2) The Margherita Pizza by Pizzeria Libretto – it’s honestly as good as eating it in the restaurant, maybe even better?!
3) The Family Pack of Cold Pressed Juice by La Presserie. I love that the flavours are assorted, and that there are a mix of adult and kid flavours – because I have young kids that love them too!
4) Mumgry Chocolate Peanut Butter spread. Who doesn’t love chocolate peanut butter!
5) Hummus and Pita from Parallel – this is classic Middle Eastern food. It;s fresh and hits the spot whenever I need a quick snack

Your favourite place to eat in the city?

MZ: My favorite restaurant in the city is Playa Cabana. Can always count on them for high-quality, super tasty food and good vibes. They have an adorable patio in front too!

Favourite shop or neighbourhood?

MZ: I have always loved Kensington Market. I’ve always seen it as a little incubator for young businesses and food entrepreneurs. So many great food concepts are launched in Kensington. It has such a great vibe and it is a great place to and support local.

The Toronto Market Co. is pretty unique – tell us a bit about the current concept: 

MZ: Thank you. TorontoMarket.co is a place to discover new local businesses and some of the city’s best eats. We currently work with 70+ local vendors in the city and offer shoppers a chance to purchase from vendors with one easy checkout. Delivery and or Pick up is every Thursday. It is designed to feel like you are at a market, where you can buy from various vendors and try lots of different things. There is something for everyone on the site!

Walk us through how you had to change your concept during COVID-19. Do you expect any of the new elements to stay long-term?

MZ: Going online WAS the pivot for our business due to COVID-19. We had an entire summer of outdoor in-person markets and events planned, and when these were postponed/cancelled, we wanted to find an alternative way to support our vendors, keep our business alive and help Torontonians engage with local brands. We did not really have plans to venture online prior to COVID-19, but I do expect our online marketplace to stick around once we are back doing in-person markets.

Your best sellers include a lot of sweet treats – what’s your favourite?

MZ: This is such a tough one, because I LOVE sweets (I guess you can tell from the website’s assortment) and there are so many great options to choose from. My current favorite item is the Desmond and Beatrice assorted cookies!

You carry everything bagel spice blend, which I’ve seen gain popularity lately. What are a few uses you’ve seen for it?

MZ: This is such a versatile item. It adds a lot of flavour (and a nice look) sprinkled on top of eggs or on an avocado toast, but I also top crackers and cream cheese with it, or sprinkle on hummus before dipping pita in it. It’s also great for adding to the breading mix when making homemade chicken fingers – adults and kids both love it! If you’ve turned into a pandemic baker, this is obviously the ideal topping for fresh, homemade bagels!

Of the products you carry, what are some of your favourites for a socially distanced dinner party?

MZ: The Cheese Boutique makes these great charcuterie/cheese or all-cheese boxes, that are compact versions of a board. Perfect for a couple to snack on with their wine.

For mains, I’d probably serve some of the pre-marinated meats from Toben. Their brisket is pre-cooked and easy to heat and serve onto smaller plates for everyone. Toben is one of Toronto’s premiere caterers and we are so excited to have them on the site! They have incredible salad dressings too, so you can mix up a delicious salad with a chef-made dressing and knock your guests socks off with it.

Another great option for dinner is the fresh pasta and sauces from Pasta Tucci – especially if your friends are vegan or gluten-free (because she has chickpea-based pastas too!). It’s quick to make and delicious, so you can spend more time catching up with your guests – which is always important to me!

As for dessert, make a dessert spread that is off the charts! I would include the Heirloom’s Cheesecake (depending on the number of people, you can get individual chocolate-dipped slices on a stick that come in an adorable box, or a full 10-slice cake of assorted flavours), butter tarts from Carla’s Cookie Box (there are so many unique toppings and flavours of these in assorted packs, which are really fun), fresh-filled cannoli from Holy Cannoli which you pipe yourself. We have some great gluten-free and vegan options from Heartsease Bakery and mini vegan cheesecakes from Lana’s Smart Cakes if you are entertaining guests with food sensitivities too. There’s a lot of that available on the site actually. Check it out at torontomarket.co – more stuff being added each week!

Note: Be sure to follow Toronto Market Co. on Instagram and Facebook. All photos courtesy of Toronto Market Co.

Toronto Market Co.
Pizzeria Libretto Toronto Mushroom Pizza
Cold Pressed Juice Delivery La Presserie
Desmond and Beatrice Cookies Toronto
Pasta Tucci Fresh Pasta Delivery Toronto
Heirloom Cheesecake Delivery Toronto

Salt Gourmet Foods

Responses by Alex Agnoluzzi, Owner of Salt Gourmet Foods. You can shop from Salt Gourmet Foods’ online marketplace here.

Questions:

Tell me a bit about your background. When and how did your business start?

AA: I’ve been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years now. My professional career started with illy caffe North America. After living the corporate on-a-plane, off-a-plane life for 12 years I decided to start Salt Gourmet Foods 9 years ago. Illy taught me that consumers are willing to pay for quality and in return our customers (restaurants, cafes, bars) expect premium service and support. The concept of Salt Gourmet Foods was to be a niche/boutique style food distributor focusing on premium products and service. Differentiating ourselves from the larger quantity over quality suppliers. 

Where do your products come from? How do you find these producers?

AA: We try to follow trends and frequently attended food shows in North America and Europe looking for products that not only have a story to tell but have lovely packaging (consumers purchase first with their eyes) and quality of course (consumers will purchase multiple times). In the past we used have several imported lines from Europe and US however lately we’ve been discovering more and more local and Canadian brands and try to support them as much as possible.

1-5 products you carry that you are currently obsessed with?

AA: It’s like choosing one kid over another lol. I have to say we are extremely passionate about every brand we partner with and proud to be working with them.

Your favourite place to eat in the city?

AA: I enjoy different spots and am blessed to be in a city like Toronto that offers an incredible mix of authentic cuisines. It truly depends what I’m in the mood for, however, I feel like I always need to hit Forno Cultura on King Street once a week for a panino or slice of pizza.

Favourite shop or neighbourhood?

AA: The Spice Trader on Queen West and The Mercantile on Roncesvalles. Two of my favourite small independent stores. Both offering unique food selections.

You’ve been donating a meal to the Daily Bread Food Bank for every mask purchased. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with Daily Bread, and why the organization resonates with you?

AA: We are going through some hard times and there are so many people that are in need. Although there are many organizations that are doing a great job and helping/assisting those in need The Daily Food Bank was one of the first ones that seemed to be affected by COVID-19 so we decided in our own little way to try and help. It’s sad that in 2020 so many people are struggling to put food in their stomach. 

Your Restaurants @ Home initiative is so fun, and such a great way for people to access restaurant meals at home during this time. When did you start this and what drove the launch?

AA: Our online store started as a new business channel in April once the first shutdown occurred. In a flash, restaurants found themselves with no revenue and trying to survive. Talking to some chefs we decided to come up with some signature dishes that consumers can enjoy at home experiencing their favourite restaurant meals. Libretto, Fusaro’s, Daily Dumpling and Mercatto were the first to come on board but we are working with others and soon the list will expand offering a variety for consumers to choose from. I really hope one day soon we can all go back to sitting down at our favourite restaurants but for now hopefully this is a way for people to still enjoy their favourite meals.

If you could go for dinner at any Canadian chef’s house, who would you dine with?

AA: Ha! This is another one tough to choose from. I’ve been blessed to have worked with some extremely talented Canadian chefs throughout the years. Some are no longer active and some are just emerging now. To pick one wouldn’t be fair. My mom is Italian/Canadian living in Italy. Due to timing and now travel restrictions I haven’t seen her in over a year. She’s an amazing cook. A meal at her house would just be perfect. How’s that for a mammas boy answer lol.

Now that we’re moving into winter, looking back, what’s your favourite summer meal or drink?

AA: A simple margherita pizza with local craft beer is a perfect summer match.

You recently started carrying Pizzeria Libretto’s partially cooked frozen pizzas – how much better are they than a standard grocery store frozen pizza? How do you cook them? Favourite flavour?

AA: We carry Libretto and Mercatto pizzas. Both establishments have created outstanding products! Everyone raves about them. It’s as close as you can get to restaurant dining quality. The ingredients are top quality and so easy to make (5-8 minutes in the oven or on the grill). Nothing against grocery frozen pizzas (definitely had my share lol) but honestly there’s no comparison. Mercatto just launched their gluten free line and it’s simply outstanding. Can’t tell the difference.

Note: Be sure to follow Salt Gourmet Foods on Instagram.

Salt Gourmet Foods Toronto
Salt Gourmet Foods Toronto Cake Delivery
Salt Gourmet Foods Toronto Bread Delivery
Salt Gourmet Foods Rosewood Honey Toronto
Salt Gourmet Mercatto Gluten Free Pizza Toronto

The Mercantile

Responses by Shannon Doyle, Owner of The Mercantile. Visit them in person at 297 Roncesvalles Ave or shop for gift baskets online here.

Questions:

When and how did The Mercantile start?

Shannon’s years of hospitality and entertaining experience, discriminating palate, and established network of suppliers and fine local producers all come together in her casually intimate shop. She first opened The Mercantile in 1999 on College Street, in the heart of Little Italy, and it quickly became the go-to spot for customers interested in specialty food items they couldn’t get anywhere else. In 2008, she moved The Mercantile to its current location in the heart of Roncesvalles Village, where it is now a local favourite for gourmet gifts, treats, spices, all manner of dips and spreads, kitchen accessories – and that soon-to-be-favourite food item that you will love but just haven’t discovered yet.

Where do your products come from? How do you find these producers?

SD: I discover many of my products online and through distributors that I have worked with for decades. After so many years, many producers also come to me with new exciting products. We carry many, many local products as well as products from all over Canada, Italy, Spain, the UK.

1-5 products you carry that you are currently obsessed with?

SD:
1) Mados Hot Sauce – always!
2) Laura Slack Chocolate Bars
3) InessenceTruffle Chips
4) The Graeme Foers Co. honey and honey comb
5) Prosyro Cocktail and Mocktail syrups – amazing!
6) Scout!  Sustainable Canadian canned fish, mussels and lobster.

Your favourite place to eat in the city?

SD: I’ve always been a fan of Foxley’s on Ossington. In my hood, it would be Pizzeria Defina.

Favourite shop or neighbourhood?

SD: Hoi Bo, The Cheese Boutique, Horses Atelier, FloorPlay Socks, Imelda Shoes ….

You carry a lot of premium salt brands – can you tell me a bit about how to use them effectively and what the purpose is?

SD: So many salts in stock! My ultimate finishing salt (and I do cook with it sometimes) is Maldon. I love Crystal Diamond kosher salt for cooking, and I also love the infused salts from Kanel Spices. We have pretty much their whole line! Their truffle salt is really lovely.

A favourite fall/winter recipe that includes products from your shop? What are the products?

SD: This time of year I like to make a healthy turkey chilli.  I use the Muir Glen roasted tomatoes, kidney beans and spices from the shop. A little trick is to add a table spoon of cocoa powder. All available here!

You mentioned Mados Hot Sauce is one of your favourite products – what do you do with it?

SD: Mados Hot Sauce is so versatile! I add it to all my marinades! A great use is to add it to greek yogurt for a wing of veggie dip!!

What’s a great gift, from the products you carry, what is a perfect product(s) to gift to friends/family over the holidays (maybe do a low and high budget gift)?

SD: We have so much in the shop to much to choose from! I love the Discovery Box from Kanel Spices as well as their salt gift set. Other great ideas are: the Smoke Show Gift Box, Lots in The Sauce gift pack, Rogers Chocolate from BC, cute holiday ornaments. Alternatively, we have lots of fun tea towels that are great when you are mailing gifts. We also have many items to add to a great charcuterie board. The shop is packed!! 🙂

Favourite guilty pleasure food?

SD: Every once in a while a need a chicken wing fix from my local pub 🙂

Note: Be sure to follow The Mercantile on Instagram and Facebook.

The Mercantile Toronto
Laura Chocolate The Mercantile Toronto
Prosyro Cocktail Syrup Toronto The Mercantile
Kanel Salts The Mercantile Toronto

A Few Additional Favourites

  • Stock T.C.: collaboration between two popular Toronto institutions – Terroni & Cumbrae’s (see the sneak peek here – Located at Yonge & Eglinton)
  • Cumbrae’s: a butcher shop at it’s core, but also great for prepared foods, made-to-order sandwiches, soups, specialty condiments, and more. (Locations in Leaside, Queen & Bathurst and Dundas, ON)
  • Tutto Pronto: Traditionally an Italian restaurant, they also offer excellent prepared foods, soups and fresh pasta (Locations in Leaside and Avenue & Lawrence)
  • De La Mer: an excellent fish market serving fresh and frozen fish and seafood, and pre-made products. Some of my favourite products: crab cakes, salmon burgers, crab dip, and clam chowder. (Locations include Leaside, Roncesvalles, St. Clair West, and Danforth)
  • Pasta Pantry: go for fresh-pastas and soups, all at reasonable prices (the lasagna is one of my favourites). The owner Carlo, who has been at the helm for over 25 years, is incredibly kind and will often cut you fresh pasta on the spot! (Located north of Yonge & Davisville)
  • Spaccio (otherwise known as Terroni Sud Forno Produzione e Spaccio): Spaccio is a 16,000 SQFT production facility for Terroni restaurants. At the front of the production area, they also serve fresh products – fresh pasta, sauce, desserts, sandwiches, bread, frozen pizza, and more. You can even get frozen croissants to bake at home! It doesn’t get much better than that. (Located in Corktown)

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