Finding Your Appy Place
The most wonderful time of the year is here. No, it’s not the snow, the gifts, the gingerbread everything, the ugly sweaters, or the equally ugly crowds programmed to spend to Mariah’s “All I Want for Christmas” on repeat. I am not a fan of excessive consumerism, but I am a fan of excessive consumption and the merriment that ensues. The holidays are one of the only times of the year when we are not just invited, but expected, to eat everything.
While feasting with loved ones is arguably the best part of the holidays, it can also be a source of holiday anxiety. The 3 Spoons often host dinners together and, seeing how seriously we take feasting, there have been countless occasions when we have spent the good part of the entire night in the kitchen. With proper conditioning, our guests now know to skip lunch and come hungry. But, while we enjoy cooking and feeding our guests, we also enjoy spending time with them.
We’ve come to realize that maybe trying to make an entire menu from scratch is a little overwhelming. In an attempt to strike a better kitchen/life balance, we’ve learned to delegate snacks and appetizers to some of our favourite local shops, allowing us to focus on our guests and our pièce de résistance - the main course.
Currently, I can count seven holiday events on my calendar and this number is growing by the week. So chances are that you, too, are hosting a holiday event or have been invited to a potluck, with limited time or desire for cooking. You may want to default to the frozen hors d’oeuvres aisle at your local supermarket, or maybe even St. Lawrence Market for a one-stop shop. But, if you want something different, something special, we’ve got you covered. The 3 Spoons have curated a shortlist of gems around the city to help you plan your impending festivities.
As always, this is no “best of” list and our recommendations come with a caveat in the form of geographic boundaries. Being city dwellers with limited mobility, we’ve delineated our reach to between Lansdowne to the west, Dupont to the north, Coxwell to the east, and Lakeshore to the south.
Something Old, Something New, Something Soft, Something Blue
The cheese board is a staple for any gathering; though, perhaps you’ve noticed that your selection has become a little too safe and a little too repetitive. Specialty cheese shops are definitely worth the trip (the expert recommendations often come with free tastings!). When serving cheese, don’t forget that cheese should be served at room temperature; remove from the fridge about one hour ahead. Here are some great shops to help you build your board.
260 Dupont Street
If indecision is as big an issue for you as it is for me, Nancy’s little boutique provides just the right selection for your cheese board. Nancy is extremely knowledgeable and patient, and encourages you to choose with your taste buds. I chose the Ontario-made Celtic Blue, which she later told me is a highly decorated cheese, having more recently won America’s Cheese Society’s Best in Show last year. I served it at a gathering and it received an unusual amount of praise for a blue.
182 Baldwin St.
It was slightly harder for me to find cheese I’ve never had before at Cheese Magic than at Nancy’s Cheese. However, among the much loved classics, there are still a few nice surprises. This is a good place if you want your board to have some familiar crowd pleasers, with one or two more adventurous options. The service is very friendly and they will work with your budget without much ado.
The Pantry Fine Cheese
1620 Gerrard St. E.
I stumbled upon this shop by pure happenstance when it first opened. An unlikely treasure to find on the outskirts of Little India on Gerrard Street East, I went in just to have a look with no intention to buy anything. I let the owner Jeremy Lago know this; I was drawn by the cute storefront and just wanted to peek inside. He was extremely welcoming regardless and had me taste a few cheeses anyway. A Sommelier and a Fromager, Jeremy’s passion for his craft is undeniable. All the cheeses at this small shop are from Canadian small batch producers.
You Say Salami, I Say Salumi
Cheese and charcuterie go hand-in-hand; I rarely offer one without the other. With some bread and wine, this is in fact one of my favourite meals. While finding charcuterie around the city is not difficult, finding good quality, housemade cured meats can be. Many good butchers will cure meats in-house, but the breadth of their selection is usually quite modest.
Sanagan’s Meat Locker
176 Baldwin St.
For many, Sanagan’s is a household name and their charcuterie game is on point. In addition to charcuterie made in-house, they also provide offerings from local producers. Shopping on a budget is easy here; you can go high-low on a well-balanced board with housemade cured sausages as low as $1.60 a pop, to more exclusive meats worth a dollar per slice. I made a trip to Sanagan’s just a couple of weeks ago and was delighted to see a variety of Mangalitsa products from Sylvania Farms. The Mangalitsa Cured Salami is a thing of beauty and, even at $11.13/100 g., it was worth every penny.
“All Sorrows are Less with Bread” - Cervantes
If you’re serving a cheese board (or even a charcuterie board with a pâté for that matter), do yourself a favour and ditch the crackers for some fresh bread. Some breads are so good that they deserve to be served on their own. Bread is the most universal of necessities and, sadly, the quality of the bread is often overlooked. Our household is partial to sourdough breads for their nutritional benefits, so the recommendations below are all bakeries that mostly bake sourdough.
Blackbird Baking Co.
172 Baldwin St.
If you prefer a lighter bread with large air bubbles, go to Blackbird. There is a good variety of loaves, but they mostly gravitate towards more neutral flavours. This makes it easier to pair with cheeses as they won’t be overpowered by strong ingredients. Blackbird is my go-to for a solid French baguette.
609 King St. W.
Italian-style breads are a touch denser and this rustic basement bakery has bolder flavours to go with the bolder texture of its breads. The most interesting, and my personal favourite, is a Cocoa loaf - a savoury dark chocolate loaf with chunks of bittersweet chocolate folded into the dough. This is what I mean by being careful not to choose breads that might overpower or clash with your cheese; be mindful of how you intend to serve the bread and either complement or serve alone with some good olive oil. Forno Cultura is an absolute feast for the senses and you might find plenty to add to your spread here. For instance, their decadent cookies will make for a wonderful dessert.
St. John’s Bakery
153 Broadview Ave.
The sourdough breads at St. John’s Bakery originate from a 300 year-old mother, brought over from Europe. The breads are baked using the traditional French method. I find that St. John’s breads are rather dense in texture and make for a great accompaniment to hearty meals, such as stews or braises. So, if you’re serving anything saucy that needs sopping up, this bread is perfect for just that.
Fit for a Sultan
Sultan of Samosas
1 Oak St.
Being from Mauritius, the samosas I grew up with were made with a thinner crispier skin, much like spring rolls, unlike the thick and crunchy samosas at most of my South Asian friends’ parties. In addition to making their samosas with a lighter shell, the store boasts 10 different internationally-inspired flavours, which include traditional curried vegetables, to spinach and cheese, and even steak and potatoes. While they also sell their samosas frozen, unless you intend to deep-fry these, I suggest you order them ready-made about a day ahead of pick-up (2 days if you have a large order). I’ve tried them both fried and oven-baked, and the oven-baked product is lackluster once you’ve had them freshly fried in-store. If anything, get them already cooked and simply reheat in the oven.
Are Those Falafels? I Love Falafels!
Paramount Fine Foods
Multiple locations (we favour the Yonge/Dundas location)
Yes, Paramount is a chain, but it’s a pretty good one. There are tons of options and you can create an entire spread of pita and dips (hummus, moutabbal, labneh), falafels, kebbeh, grape leaves, and even meat skewers. Again, it’s best to order ahead. Try to avoid going during prime lunch or dinner hours; their pick-up process is not the most sophisticated and you might find yourself waiting for quite some time.
My mother has worked with a primarily-Jewish accounting firm for over 25 years; her exposure to the culture meant occasional visits to the local Jewish deli for some lox, chopped liver, and latkes. Thinking between the lines of our geographic boundaries, I can only think of one place to satisfy my craving for chopped liver...
141 Dupont St.
The name says it all. The 3 Spoons are fans of everything Chef Anthony Rose. And with Rose & Sons, Big Crow, and Fat Pasha all within a stone’s throw from each other, it’s easy to overlook Schmaltz, tucked away behind Fat Pasha. Nick and I discovered it thanks to a sandwich board on the sidewalk, walking home after dinner at Rose & Sons. The offerings were too good to pass, so we grabbed some chopped liver and lox to take home for brunch the next day. The store can create platters with two-days notice for a minimum of 8 people, but if you’re looking for something more informal or don’t have two days, they have some great grab-and-go options you can take away. We recently had some friends over and got some chopped liver and delicious charred eggplants. They also have an array of delectable smoked fish and bagel crisps to complete your spread. Oh yeah, and did I mention how much I like their chopped liver?
How About a Joulupöytä?
Joulupöytä is Finnish for “yule table”; the assortment of food served at Christmas time in Finland. Having studied in Norway for 6 months, Nick has an affinity for certain Scandinavian foods. My experience, however, was limited to the Scandinavian breakfast option on a Holland America Cruise and Ikea. To our knowledge, it’s slim pickings in downtown Toronto, but luckily, there is one solid choice...
194 Bloor St. W.
To broaden my horizons on Scandinavian cuisine, Nick took me to Karelia Kitchen and I’ve loved it ever since. In addition to being a fantastic restaurant, Karelia is also a smokehouse that smokes chicken, pork, different kinds of fish, and even cheese. While their takeaway options are a little modest (almost everything is pre-portioned and sealed), there’s enough there for a good board. Their Beet Cured Salmon Gravlax is delightful and if you have difficulty choosing, they have a sampler platter.
Let us know what your go-to spots are in the comments below!
Words by Kimberley Kwo. Photos by Abhishek Dekate.