Over the Easter break, S and I flew to Toronto for a surprise reunion with my family to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. The surprise was a big success! Our gift to her and my Dad was to take them on a food tour, something my Mom and I both love to do. When I learned about Savour Toronto’s Kensington Krawl food tour, I knew it would be perfect since none of us had ever explored Kensington Market before.
Founded in 2013, Savour Toronto is a food and drink start-up company offering delicious and unique culinary experiences in Canada’s largest city. In addition to running culinary events and social dining experiences, they offer specialty food tours around Toronto, such as the Best of the West tour along Dundas West and Ossington and the Feast on St. Clair in Midtown. We were intrigued by the Kensington Krawl which promised to highlight one of Toronto’s most eclectic neighbourhoods.
We met our guide Suzanne and the rest of our tour group on a sunny Saturday morning at Jimmy’s Coffee, a small gourmet coffee shop on Baldwin Street in the heart of Kensington Market. We learned that Suzanne is not only Savour Toronto’s Lead Culinary Ambassador but also its Co-Founder. She gave us all a warm welcome and provided each of us with a reusable Savour Toronto swag bag filled with a guide of our stops in the market, a napkin, a bottle of water and an artisanal Soul Chocolate chocolate bar as a special treat for Easter. What a great way to start the tour!
We learned that Kensington Market is one of the oldest parts of Toronto with some buildings dating as far back as the 1800s. The market emerged in the early 1900s when Jewish immigrants settled in the area and began selling their goods. Over the years, the market evolved and transformed with each new wave of immigrants, namely European Jews, Italians, Portuguese, Chinese, Hungarians, Ukrainians, and Jamaicans. Each new group of immigrants played a role in shaping the neighbourhood and added to its cultural diversity. In 2006, Kensington Market was recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada because of its eclectic variety of architectural styles and dynamic character.
The first stop on our tour was at Blackbird Baking Co., a small bakery owned by a fourth generation bread maker. The bakery specializes in sourdough breads and pastries using heritage grains such as whole rye, spelt, and Red Fife.
Here we sampled a rustic Red Fife sesame sourdough bread and an amazing cherry cheesecake danish. We tried to go back a few days later to get another danish because it was THAT GOOD but unfortunately they were sold out. Go early and eat a danish for me!
After we devoured those bread samples, we were guided right next door to Sanagan’s Meat Locker. Originally opened in 2009, the butcher shop became so popular by 2012 that they needed to expand to a larger location further down the street. Sanagan’s specializes in fresh Ontario-sourced meats, prepared foods and artisan products.
The shop was bustling with locals stocking up on groceries for Easter weekend. We were lucky to sample a few different items from the shop – a little sliver of quiche, a melt-in-your-mouth slice of bresaola (a dry-aged salted beef), a small ball of nduja (an Italian loose salami), an unctuous slice of lardo (an aged and seasoned Italian pork back fat), and a dab of spicy mustard. We were also treated to roasted chicken sandwiches with crispy skin and remoulade sauce on the yummiest buns. Winner winner chicken dinner!
Suzanne then introduced us to Kensington Place, a laneway in Kensington Market that was built in the late 1880s for construction workers and their families. The houses in the laneway have since been transformed and feature disparate, quirky exteriors. I snapped a photo of my favourite house exterior, a tribute to the owner’s Azores roots.
Next up was a stop at Global Cheese, a Kensington Market staple since 1970. This family-run cheese shop is renowned in Toronto for offering the best cheeses from Ontario and around the world. In addition to cheese, they also carry a variety of crackers, olives, jams and mustards. Here we sampled three types of cheese: an applewood smoked cheddar, a goat cheddar and a cow’s milk ‘Five Brothers’ cheese from Gunn’s Hill, an artisan cheese producer in Woodstock, Ontario (my personal favourite).
What is a market without a place to buy spices? We visited Carlos’ House of Spice, another market standby from the 1970s. I was blown away by the variety and quantity of spices, herbs, and specialty products available – curry mixes, fancy salts, chocolate covered fruits and nuts, flavoured oils – you name it. We each got little wrapped bags of dried mango or chocolate covered cranberries as our sample. I could have spent hours looking around and ended up buying some chocolate covered cherries, chocolate covered raisins and a hot smoked paprika mix to bring back with me to Germany.
Right next door was our sit down restaurant stop on the tour at Pizzeria Via Mercanti. This restaurant (which was recently featured on the Food Network Canada show ‘You Gotta Eat Here!’) is known for its authentic Neapolitan pizza made simply and with the best ingredients. We piled in to a large table in the back corner and chowed down on Caprese salads, Margherita pizzas, and fresh focaccia bread dipped in hot chilli oil (so spicy but so incredible – I kept going back for more). I haven’t had pizza that good for a while!
To walk off our big lunch, Suzanne led us to Bellevue Square Park and the Kiever Synagogue, prominent landmarks in Kensington. In the park we visited a bronze tribute statue of Al Waxman, a Canadian actor, director, and Kensington native best known for his role in the TV series ‘King of Kensington’.
Suzanne announced that it was time for a drink so we headed to Maison Close 1888, a funky bar housed inside a renovated Victorian building painted to look like a spooky forest. Definitely unexpected!
We had a choice between two cocktails, a Dark & Stormy (made with rum, ginger beer, and lime) and a homemade hot apple cider with a shot of cinnamon liqueur or bourbon. My Mom raved about her Dark & Stormy, and my Dad, S, and I all loved our ciders with a hint of cinnamon and a skewer of fresh apple.
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We were treated to a bonus stop on our tour at The Witches Brew, a new kombucha shop in Kensington Market. Here we learned about how kombucha is made and its reputed health benefits. We got to sample a few types of fresh kombucha on tap – hibiscus & ginger and jasmine infused green tea. Locals can bring in refillable glass bottles and replenish their kombucha supply – love this idea!
Our penultimate stop on the tour was at the newly opened Toronto Popcorn Company, Toronto’s first branded popcorn company. They feature a mind-boggling 50+ flavours ranging from sweet to savoury such as rocky road, root beer, vanilla cream, bacon and cheddar, honey mustard, cajun, garlic parmesan and more. We were let loose with spoons to sample as many popcorn flavours as we liked. Heaven! My personal favourite flavour was cinnamon toast but a close second was salted caramel, the flavour we got in a little bag to take home. Let me assure you that my bag did not last until the plane ride back to Germany!
Our final stop was next door at Don’t Call Me Cupcake, a small bakery offering sweet treats like cupcakes, brownies, and cookies baked from scratch daily. Their specialty is a moist Jamaican rum cake which we got to sample with fresh strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream. A perfect way to end the tour!
Not only did we get to sample some delicious food along the tour, but we also got to learn a lot about the history and diversity of Kensington Market, a neighbourhood I might never have known about if not for this food tour. Suzanne was a wonderful guide – enthusiastic, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about food. My entire family thoroughly enjoyed the Kensington Krawl food tour and we are all eager to visit our favourite stops again in the future. If you are planning a trip to Toronto and want to discover this awesome neighbourhood, then I can wholeheartedly recommend taking a tour with Savour Toronto.
A big thank you to Savour Toronto for hosting us and many thanks to Suzanne for a delicious food tour!
What are your favourite spots in Kensington Market or Toronto in general? Let me know in the comments below!