A Tour of St. Lawrence Market, Part 1


Recently in a Market Basket column, we explored the north section of St. Lawrence Market which hosts the weekly farmers market. But there’s a whole array of tasty stuff in the south building where vendors are set up at permanent kiosks and shops.

Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, the south market building, located at 92 Front Street East at Jarvis, is like the high street in a small town, with a selection of butchers, bakers, cheesemongers, greengrocers and bulk and dried goods stores. Many vendors have been at St. Lawrence since the 70s and 80s, making them a longstanding tradition for shoppers here.

slmsouthcandyThe building itself was Toronto’s first city hall, built in 1844. While the building was designed to accommodate market vendors at the back, it also housed council chambers and a police station. The basement of the front of the building (currently where Domino’s and the market carts craft vendors area is located) were jail cells for prisoners.

Generally, if you’re looking for an unusual ingredient, the best place to start is at St. Lawrence Market. With only a few exceptions, it you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist.

slmsouthriceBaked Goods
Many of the bakeries in the market also offer sandwiches and prepared items besides the loaves of multigrain and sourdough bread. Carousel Bakery (upper level 42) is one of a few places in the market where customers can try a peameal bacon sandwich, while Future Bakery (upper level 17 & 28) offers their own line of cream cheese and dairy products in addition to European-style breads, cakes and pastries. Bagel lovers will enjoy watching the process at St. Urbain (upper level 11) where Montreal-style bagels are baked onsite. Downstairs, Stonemill Bakehouse (lower level B31) offers 40 kinds of organic bread, as well as coffee cakes, danishes, croissants, muffins and more. Eve’s Temptations (lower level B11) took over what used to be the Chudleigh’s counter and continues to carry some Chudleigh’s baked goods in addition to the many desserts, truffles and chocolates they make themselves.

slmsouthguavaBulk Goods and Grocery Products
One of my favourite ways to spend a quiet Tuesday afternoon is to poke through the tightly packed aisles of Domino’s Foods (lower level B8 & B17). There is just so much to look at here, from bulk nuts, dried fruit and baking supplies to rows of olive oils, fancy salts, and candy of all kinds. It can be quite overwhelming – which is why I come on a weekday if I really want to look around; Saturday mornings are packed and crazy. Domino’s also stocks an impressive selection of imported chocolate bars that include some single-origin and estate bars – probably the best array of chocolate in the city. Lively Life Fine Foods (lower level B9), which used to be more Italian-oriented, is now better known for its foods of the world, and on a recent visit we found everything from Iranian pomegranate molasses to huge cans of guava paste, and a shelf of Greaves jams from Niagara on the Lake. Across the way, Rube’s ( lower level B12 & B15) has reportedly the largest selection of gourmet rice in the world, and a separate shop full of grains galore (quinoa, cous cous, rye and buckwheat flour), as well as specialty pasta. Upstairs, Peter’s Natural Health Foods (upper level  43) specializes in bulk snack foods and candy.

I often joke that if I ever win the lottery, the first thing I’m going to buy is a whole 2.5 kilo ball of the French cheese, Mimolette. If I go to Alex Farms (upper level 23) to get that cheese, there’s no doubt I’ll come home with 20 other cheeses as well, as the nice gentlemen behind the counter here keep feeding me samples of their rare and imported cheeses until I’ve tried everything in the store. They also keep a supply of real buffalo mozzarella on hand. Associated with Alex Farms is Chris’ Cheesemongers (upper level 40) where they specialize in Canadian cheese, specifically boutique cheese from Quebec. A selection of Quebec cheese can also be found at Olympic Cheese Mart (upper level 5), along with deli items, condiments, pickles and olives.

Scheffler’s Deli and Cheese (upper level 7) is the place to hang out on Saturday mornings for free samples of prosciutto, of which they have the largest selection in the city. They were also the first in the city to bring in the famous Iberico ham from Spain, and the first in the market to offer a selection of antipasti. Still want more? Diehard chocoholics know to check near the register for a display of the hard to find Michel Cluizel single-origin chocolate bars. Down in the basement, Ukrainian Store Dnister (lower level B16) offers freshly made kobassa sausages, prepared foods and Ukrainian delicacies. I love coming here and talking to owner Maria Pityk and trying her latkes or something from the shelf of jams and pickles. Also specializing in prepared Ukrainian foods is European Delight (lower level B6).

While most visitors to the market on Saturdays head across the street to visit the farmers, the south market has a number of fruit and vegetable vendors. In the basement Harbourfront Organic Foods (lower level B3) offers organic food with a focus on local and seasonal items. Phil’s Place (lower level B10) is the place to go for rarities and oriental specialities such as lemongrass. They also usually have an impressive selection of mushrooms on hand. Upstairs, it is easy to get confused at the northeast corner where Family Foods (upper level 1) and Ponesse Foods (upper level 20) are situated directly across from one another. This close proximity keeps the competition strong, variety high (yes, that is a sign for fresh figs in the photo) and prices low, but Ponesse wins the longevity award, having been vending at the market since 1900! More organic produce can be found at the back end of the market at Golden Orchard Fine Foods (upper level 38). And sprout fans shouldn’t forget to stop by Uncle George’s Place (lower level B24) for all manner of organic sprouts, bean salads and condiments and dips.

Our tour of St Lawrence Market isn’t done yet, and next week we’ll explore all of the butchers, fishmongers, specialty food shops and places to eat while at the market.