Whether you’re shopping for savoury spreads, rare bottles of wine, or ethically-raised meats, the best new place to seek out the finest groceries isn’t a supermarket or specialty shop: it’s your local restaurant.
Toronto restaurants have started selling their fresh produce, high-end liquor, and artisanal, housemade goods directly to customers for the first time. Initially, it was a strategy to clear out excess inventory and generate new revenue when dining rooms shut down amid the pandemic. But many restaurants are continuing to operate these makeshift markets even as they reopen their doors to diners. It’s giving everyday home cooks access to products and ingredients that were previously only available to restaurants, creating a new genre of food market worth discovering.
Chef-restaurateur Grant van Gameren’s intimate Queen West wine bar has become one of the city’s best spots to stock up on unusual wines you won’t find on LCBO shelves. Like the restaurant’s dine-in selection, Bar Piquette’s take-home inventory spans from affordable bottles that will appeal to wine newbies to pricier vinos that show-off the expertise of the restaurant’s sommeliers. On the food side, there’s cheese, meat, and other snacks ideal for pairing with wine, along with basics like dried pasta and olive oil.
Oliver & Bonacini, the restaurant group behind top Toronto restaurants like Canoe and Auberge du Pommier, debuted its new grocery offshoot on the heels of the pandemic. The online shop’s broad collection includes fancy versions of staples, such as European-style churned butter, as well as kits for every occasion, from BBQ to brunch. The long list of wines, beers, and liquors includes some of O&B’s custom spirits, such as Maison Selby Cucumber Gin and Canoe Dill Pickle Vodka, which are produced in partnership with Dillon’s distillery.
This tiny snack bar in Toronto’s west end has transformed into a self-proclaimed Korean bodega. Uncle Mikey’s small but varied selection includes eclectic snacks imported from Korea, such as Earl Grey and grapefruit-flavoured cookies, as well as pantry basics and housemade items like kimchi and smashed cucumber sauce. The restaurant also stocks an array of natural wines and sake for those looking to branch out from their go-to bottles.
Ascari Hospitality Group’s online shop features meal kits and ingredients influenced by the French and Italian flavours of the brand’s restaurants, which include Gare de L’Est Brasserie and Ascari Enoteca. Meal kits guide shoppers in recreating popular restaurant dishes at home, such as Carbonara featuring housemade bucatini pasta. Single grocery items include meats sourced from small-scale Ontario farmers, as well as a solid list of interesting, approachably-priced wines.
Acclaimed Queen West restaurant Montgomery’s is bringing its locavore philosophy to a “grassroot food box” program. Subscribers to the restaurant’s newsletter receive a weekly list of available ingredients, which can be selected to create a customized grocery box. The selection reflects products Mongomery’s typically uses in its own kitchen, including a rotating array of meat, fish, and produce sourced from nearby growers and farmers, along with local beers and natural wines. The list also typically features some of Montgomery’s housemade products, such as fermented hot sauce and sauerkraut.
David Mattachioni’s Junction Triangle trattoria has long been known as a prime spot for grabbing wood-fired pizzas and top-notch Italian sandwiches, but the restaurant has recently upped its to-go game with added grocery offerings. Mattachioni is now stocked with everything needed to build the Italian pantry of your dreams, including fresh pasta and bread, along with ever-changing housemade items like chicken liver mascarpone patê. They also carry some excellent local treats like Linda Lee Chocolates and gelato bars from Bar Ape.
Much-loved downtown restaurant Beast has rebranded as Beast Bodega, dubbing itself an artisan grocery store and bottle shop. As you might expect for a restaurant known for its nose-to-tail cooking, the meat collection at Beast Bodega is a far cry from your typical grocery store offerings, featuring meats like ground venison and escargot. The eclectic but thoughtfully curated selection also includes cult foodie products like Martin’s potato rolls, local goods like jams from Stasis Preserves, and housemade items such as lime leaf salad dressing.