Follow Me Foodie to Kensington Market!
As a “foodie” it was one of my favourite parts of town to explore in Follow Me Foodie to Toronto! Kensington Market is just one component of the Kensington neighbourhood, but it is the heart of it. It is one of the oldest and most multicultural districts in downtown Toronto.
Being from Vancouver, BC where Latin eateries and specialty Latin grocery stores are severely limited, I found that part alone worth the visit.
The area has almost some of everything. It is culturally satisfying and inspiring especially for those with a culinary curiosity. It’s a multicultural and hippie area frequented by locals, but it is great for tourists looking for an unique and ethnic experience. It would be a shame to visit Toronto and miss out on this. The city prides itself on diversity and it feels celebrated here.
Over the last few years many of the older businesses have retired and new business that are more stylized or upscale are taking over. The area still has charm and character, but I did see and feel the “newcomers”, although many are still independently owned and operated. There was a hippie–hipster vibe to it, but it wasn’t pretentious and still very approachable. I could feel it was in the process of a makeover, but I hope it doesn’t lose its rawness and authenticity. It is what makes it special.
The neighbourhood used to be predominantly Jewish, but after they moved to more wealthier areas of Toronto, new immigrants moved in. These immigrants were from the Caribbean or East Asia and many have stayed or settled in Chinatown which is only east of Kensington. I didn’t get to explore the entire area as thoroughly as I would have liked, but I got a feel for it and I was infatuated.
There was one point when I was hesitant because the streets are narrow, a lot of the buildings look run down, and it can feel quite shady. It was broad daylight and the area is safe, but when I suddenly heard “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothin’ left…” (“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio) blaring from a boom box with a heavy base, I couldn’t help but to question the situation. Was I still in Toronto? Yes, very much so. I got over it quickly, but it really made for an ultimate Kensington Market experience. It was almost like it was meant to happen and it added a strange, but very appropriate auditory component to my whole experience.
I had just come from lunch at Banh Mi Boys and Arepa Cafe, so I wasn’t necessarily hungry… but who are we kidding? When has that ever really stopped me? Especially when I’m traveling! You make room because you don’t know when you’ll be back. So where was my first stop in Kensington Market?
Patty King! I don’t really know why, but it felt authentic and legit and it looked like one of the older places in the market. It looked like an original and I had to try something that has always been there.
It’s a grab ‘n go take out place specializing in Jamaican sweet and savoury baked goods, lunch specials, and rotis at incredibly budget friendly prices. It was certainly a local favourite and everyone seemed to be coming for the food, but also for…
George! Hmm. Not exactly who I was expecting to be running this Jamaican patty shop; although Jamaica does have a Chinese population, and Jamaican patties were invented by a Chinese-Jamaican family. Anyhow, George is the owner and operator of Patty Shop and yes, he has the full Jamaican accent. It was a legit “yeah man” and not a “yeah mon“. I started talking to him about Follow Me Foodie to Jamaica and it is where he was originally from.
I ended up ordering a Curry Goat Pattie ($1.45) and a Sweet Potato Pudding ($1.99). I wanted something sweet because I hadn’t had dessert yet and I saw two guys chomping away at these. Sweet Potato Pudding is a popular Jamaican dessert made from sweet potatoes, flour, sugar, coconut milk, and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s very dense and a bit rubbery. It’s a bit acquired and not really my thing yet, but I doubt this is the best it gets and I just have to find some way to get my hands on a “Jamaican grandmother’s home made version”.
The Goat Curry Pattie was the recommended pattie although not as popular with those unfamiliar with Jamaican food or goat. A few Jamaicans who frequent the place recommended it to me, so it was an easy decision. There wasn’t much filling it in, but that’s how they are in Jamaica too – see my posts for Juici Patties and Tastee Patties which are the two most popular and famous Jamaican patty places in Jamaica. The Goat Curry Pattie was okay, but perhaps I’d feel more passionate about it if I were a local.
187 Baldwin St
$ – Cheap eats/Budget friendly
Next stop! Thomas Lavers Cannery & Delicatessen. I was so happy to come across this. It was on my original Follow Me Foodie to Toronto itinerary, but every Toronto “foodie” I mentioned it to had no idea what I was talking about.
Really?! Have I, a tourist, found something locals don’t even know about yet?! Yes, there’s a childish satisfaction in that. I didn’t even know it was located in Kensington Market, but it was and I found it unexpectedly. It was fate.
Yup, it was definitely in tune with the Top 10 Food Trends of 2013 and the only reason locals don’t know about it yet is because it only opened December 2012. The owners are restaurateurs Brian Lavers and Tye Thomas, and Thomas Lavers Cannery & Delicatessen is supposed to be a revamped ode to the area.
They specialize in house cured, brined, smoked, and roasted deli meats, hand crafted fresh pastas, home made ready-to-go meals, house made artisan sodas, and a variety of pickles and preserves made from local Ontario produce where possible. If you didn’t notice the theme, everything is made in house. They also have vegan options to cater to those in the area, so it’s a nice neighbourhood gem.
They welcome you to sample their preserves before purchasing too. They offer smoked ketchup, house mustard, tomato butter, mushroom walnut pâté and many other condiments. The kimchi jam was one I particularly liked and they make great gifts ranging from about $5-8.
It’s not a restaurant, but a grab n’ go place and their deli sandwiches are their ready to eat feature. All condiments are made in house and you can choose from: roast beef, corned beef, roast turkey, smoked ham, Muffuletta, vegan reuben, and a vegan banh mi. Meat sandwiches $8-9 and vegan sandwiches are $7. Get one alongside a house made artisan soda – root beer or ginger beer ($3).
I know it’s not “ethnic”, but it’s nostalgic food and it was cold outside – nothing like cheese to warm you up. This is a sit down restaurant and it’s one of the newer, hip, “next generation” places that opened in the Kensington neighbourhood.
I know. Is it really necessary to have a sit down restaurant serving just grilled cheese sandwiches?! Isn’t that something we can all make at home? Yes, but it’s also important to note that it opened right across the street from a pub. Great business opportunity. Late night grilled cheese sandwiches anyone? Sing me up. It is classic comfort food, and every non-lactose intolerant person has a soft spot for it. I even doubt you cheese haters… try it in a sandwich.
I ordered the Mushroom Madness Grilled Cheese Sandwich – Cheddar, Swiss, Portobello and Cremini Mushrooms ($6) with added egg (+$2) and added avocado (+$2). I would have added these items if I didn’t come from Banh Mi Boys, Arepa Cafe, Patty King, Thomas Lavers Cannery & Delicatessen… and basically 4 lunches. It came with a side of chips which tasted like regular Ruffles chips and a pickle. I think they should eventually source the pickles from Thomas Lavers especially since the area feels so community based.
Are you convinced yet? A grilled cheese is a grilled cheese, but this was still a very good and affordable one. For Vancouverites, Mom’s Grilled Cheese wins the grilled cheese match, but I wouldn’t say no to this.
Nu Bügel opened late January this year and just like Thomas Lavers it’s a throwback shop. It is an ode to Jewish tradition being brought back to Kensington Market in a modern and exciting way.
In North America the bagel rivalry is between the Montreal style bagel and the New York style bagel, although European and Asian style bagels exist. Well to be more exact, the bagel was invented in Poland (some argue Austria or Germany) and it was later introduced to America by a Jewish immigrant. The recipe was slightly altered according to area, but there are many different styles of bagels. Nu Bügel follows the traditions of a Montreal style bagel (boiled in honey water and baked in a wood fired oven), but the name bügel is Austrian-German. I won’t get into German-Polish history because I don’t know enough about it, but I’ll thank them both for inventing the bügel.
I ordered one of each ($1 each/$5 half dozen/$9 dozen), but sesame is the “purist” flavour followed by poppyseed and that’s how I usually “judge” bagels. As a tourist in Toronto for a limited time I wasn’t going to search the city for “the best bagel” although this article highlights all the places for one.
I’ve done the St-Viateur Bagel & Café VS Fairmount Bagel in Follow Me Foodie to Montreal where bagels are actually their specialty, so I didn’t feel it was necessary to do in Toronto. These ones were not as sweet as the Montreal style bagels from Fairmount which I personally like best, but they were still very good. They were served warm, a bit dense and chewy with a moist interior and a crisp exterior.
As a tourist I wouldn’t say it is a “must try” if you’ve had the Montreal bagels from the bagel institutions in Montreal, but if I were a local I would come back to Nu Bügel. It’s already a local favourite with line ups in the morning and it’s a casual breakfast spot with affordable prices.
240 Augusta Ave
$ – Cheap eats/Budget friendly