Note: This is the second part of a 2-part series about my visit to Toronto, Ontario. Part One can be found here.
"Pass the peas!"
"Pass the chicken!"
"Pass the matzah!"
One thing about visiting family: You eat A LOT.
Trying to work off some of the unnecessary calories that we had ingested at the uncountable number of family meals that we had attended over the previous few days and trying to work up an appetite for that evening's family meal (we were still full from the previous evening), Noshette and I took a stroll along Queen Street, considered by many to be the ultimate downtown street in Toronto, Ontario.
Young, vibrant and bohemian, the Queen Street West neighbourhood around Spadina and Bathurst is often compared to New York’s or London’s Soho districts, but to me it just seemed like a slightly blander version of Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood. I'm sure my opinion has nothing to do with the long-standing rivalry between Montreal and Toronto, because we all know Montreal is way better in every way, with the possible exception of Chinatown.
As we passed trendy clothing boutiques and cute cafes, my interest was piqued by a shop called The Healthy Butcher, even though I wasn't the slightest bit hungry. Luckily, Noshette had a feeling that she had some connection to this shop. This seemed a little strange to me, because she'd been a vegetarian for 16 years before meeting me. After foraging in her mind for a minute or two, Noshette remembered that Nick, the partner of her good friend Wendy, might work at this store. Sure enough, when we entered and asked for him, Nick emerged from the back of the store.
After some hellos and a quick introduction, Noshette caught up with Nick while I perused the offerings that were behind the refrigerated glass. There were a few different types of burgers, various cuts of meat and some prepared foods, all of which looked extremely fresh and tasty, even thought the meat was raw.
After I had asked a few of the right questions, Nick gestured for a small basket to be brought to me, which contained small chunks of meat. This was their Strutto Burger, a specialty which has just been developed and was not yet available for sale – it was slated to be launched the following week. The Strutto Burger contains fresh beef combined with lardo and bresaola, both made in-house.
I saw some stuff hanging from the ceiling in the back room where they do all the butchering, and Nick told me that I was looking at their homemade bresaola and lardo, which I had just tasted in the Strutto Burger. Seeing all this fresh, organic, sustainably-raised meat almost made me envious of Torontonians, but my Montreal pride remained intact, and I will just have to search high and low in Montreal to find a butcher like this one, or I will open one myself.
Even though we weren't hungry, I felt that we needed a snack. We left The Healthy Butcher with a few slices of their smoked ham, which is smoked on the premises with pear and hickory wood, some of which comes from the owners' home outside of the city. We also got some roasted rosemary potatoes and a root salad made with celeriac and carrot matchsticks.
We somehow managed to make room for our yummy snacks while riding the streetcar to our next family meal. A big thank you to Nick, our guide and generous snack-provider.
The Healthy Butcher
565 Queen St. West
* * *
While in Toronto we enjoyed the hospitality of Noshette's sister, who put us up on the 3rd floor of her new home in Seaton Village, a nice little neighbourhood located on the outskirts of the Annex, in Toronto. While walking to and from the subway station each day, we noticed a sign that said "Karma Co-op", and so one day we followed the sign, which pointed us down a laneway and then into what seemed to be the back entrance of a house.
We were suddenly standing in the produce section of a neighbourhood co-op that sells organic and local foods as well as environmentally friendly household products. It had a nice homey feel to it, as the layout wasn't a series of symmetrical aisles in a rectangular box, like most grocery stores. You had to turn a few corners to get from one section to the next, and the heights of the aisles were not all the same, which somehow made us feel more at home than shopping at a big box like Whole Foods.
They seemed to stock just about everything you could need, including organic imported and local produce, dry goods, and fresh and frozen meats. In fact, Karma Co-op carries meat from The Healthy Butcher! It was nice to see connections like this, and it made me feel that there is definitely a sense of community towards sustainable food in Toronto. We grabbed a few bags of nuts and dried fruits, for the train ride home, and walked to the cash.
It turns out that only members of Karma Co-op can shop there, but they do allow one-time trial shops for visitors and people who may be interested in joining. It was a pleasure to shop at Karma and it made me envious that my neighbourhood doesn't have a Co-op like this. Hmmm…
On our way out, I grabbed a copy of The Chronicle (pdf), Karma Co-op's newsletter. This was less of a newsletter and more like a small magazine, and I found it very informative and inspirational. The magazine was filled with articles, essays, and reports from the president, the manager, the grocery manager, and a few member contributors.
One member had written a story about their trip to New York City and a visit to a coop in Brooklyn called Flatbush Food Coop, and most interestingly, another member submitted an informative piece about the raw milk controversy in Toronto. I must admit that Toronto has a great insert appropriate word here (organic? sustainable? whole?) food scene and I look forward to discovering more of it as I visit again and again over the coming years.
739 Palmerston Avenue