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The Best of St. Clair West

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By Cheryl Young

Most Torontonians are aware of the “St. Clair West Transit Improvement Project”, a plan to turn the existing St. Clair streetcar line into a dedicated transit line. Whether you agree with the plan or not, it is inevitable that construction will disrupt the broad, bustling avenue that is St. Clair. What most Torontonians don’t know, except those who live near the Avenue, is that there a number of food gems on this in the ‘hood. I set out one beautiful fall morning to discover the unique and the delicious before construction grinds the Avenue to a dusty halt.

A great way to start a food exploratory is at the World Class Bakers, just north of that leafy private enclave of Arts & Crafts homes, Wychwood Park. It is a warm and welcoming space, full of singles with noses in papers, families with strollers and chatting couples. The owner, Lisa Guluzieh, offers up reasonably priced full breakfasts, many plays on cookies, muffins and a very popular banana bread. The café serves Seattle's Best Coffee, which has been written up by many as being among the world’s best brews – and it certainly provided the necessary caffeine jolt to get me on my way.

Next up is a small (only 10 tables) well regarded café and bakery called Pain Perdu. The bakery boasts one of the most popular French toasts in town – and the fruit laden confection certainly looked appealing. From my perspective, Pain Perdu would be a wonderful source for an impromptu small luncheon with a French theme. Guests with the most refined Gallic tastes would enjoy a meal of a whole leek and Roquefort quiche ($18.95) Confit du Canard ($15.95), a house vinaigrette ($4.50) (to top greens sourced from one of the many small Italian grocery stores) and a baguette or two. And not to forget the delicate looking fruit tarts for dessert.

Moving further west, and continuing on the bakery theme, I found myself in the St. Clair branch of Patachou. The manager Nichole, informed me that this small café is the front for the main baking and cooking facility that supplies all of their locations. By far and away, their croissant was the best (as in closest to the French ideal) that I sampled that morning – light golden brown, buttery and rich without being cloying. The café has an appealing selection of fresh salads which could round out an evening meal or form the basis of a satisfying luncheon. With the cold weather coming, I was drawn to their single servings of frozen entrees, including coq au vin ($9.95), boeuf bourguignon ($9.95) and lamb shank ($12.95). I had the lamb for dinner and the combination of properly falling off the bone meat, still toothsome root vegetables and flageolets was extremely satisfying on a crisp fall evening.

On the north side of the street, I fell upon The St. Clair Delicatessen, which is a little piece of Hungary in a predominately Italian and Portuguese neighbourhood. If you are seeking genuine Hungarian ingredients and are not in the usual spot (aka Bloor West Village) this is a great source. Sour cherry juice and sirop, poppy seeds and paprika, and every manner of smoked meat is available. The deli does a brisk trade in its own homemade csabai smoked sausage, slightly spicy in hot & mild varieties. I served both types, lightly grilled as part of a tapas menu later that weekend to positive reviews.

Moving west I found The North American Fish Depot, owned for over 20 years by 2 helpful Italian brothers, Tom and Enzo Greco. Their slogan is that “Anything Fresher is Still Swimming”, and judging by their product, they do not lie. The shop is covered in blindly white tiles, with Mediterranean blue accents. It smells exactly like a good fishmonger should – of absolutely nothing except the briny sea. Enzo still offers the traditional whole fish such as porgy and whiting for his Italian and Portuguese customers. Whole tilapia (which I had never seen – apparently tilapia does not come from the sea already filleted!) is popular among his African and Phillipino clients. Business was steady this Saturday afternoon, ensuring the freshness of the catch. Oh, and he offers very delectable looking skate wing which he will clean for you – and having tried it myself, I would advise taking him up on that offer.

Enzo has responded to the changing face of his neighbourhood by offering a
“Products Latino” section in his fish store. If you have had difficulty sourcing ingredients for a recipe from Argentina, Brazil or frankly anywhere in Central America, you may well find it here. Cactus, hominy, danca pepper, duche de leche, date palm, and several varieties of salsa, seasoning and maize are just some of the products available.

My last stop of the day was at a traditional Italian grocery store, called Diana’s Grocery. (I was actually on my way to an Italian bakery, called Tre Maris on the advice of Enzo – it must be good because there was virtually nothing left on the large bread shelves but individual dinner rolls by 2 pm!) Diana’s Grocery is worth a trip to St. Clair West just to see the wide range of gourmet Italian products available. There is a fine selection of dried pastas – I counted 11 different brands) including the premium brands such as rustichello d’abruzzo at a reasonable $3.99 to 4.99 per package There were almost an equal number of canned tomato brands, none over $1.69 for 28 oz. The selection of fine Italian olive oils, balsamic vinegar, risotto rice and even anchovies was impressive. The affable owner, Nick Babaro, invited me to join him in his snack of torta al gorgonzola and crackers behind the butchers counter as he told me of his special products. In business for 42 years, he prides himself on bringing in the best and the unusual for his customers. He was soon expecting a shipment of fresh black sweet olives from Bari in the Puglia region of Southern Italy, fresh snails from Morocco, and he already had fresh black truffles for sale at $9.99 per gram. Really, the store has it all for a lover of Italian food and cooking; all manner of Italian cheeses, cured meats fresh fruits and vegetables and well stocked meat counter with a house made coiled veal and pork sausage for grilling or ragu which looked really delicious.

At mid October, construction had been abruptly halted on the St. Clair dedicated transit line. Bring your appetite and take this opportunity to explore this vibrant and varied Avenue before the tractors start rolling again.

World Class Bakers
690 St. Clair Ave. West
416 654 - 0606

Pain Perdu
736 St. Clair Ave. West
416 656 PAIN (7246)

833 St. Clair Ave. West
416 927 1105

St. Clair Delicatessen
748 St. Clair Ave. West
416 656-3980

North American Fish Depot Ltd
1032 St. Clair Ave. West
416 561-FISH (3474)

Diana’s Grocery
1299 St. Clair Ave. West
416 654-8222


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