Story by Sandra Williams-Herve
TORONTO, ONTARIO — “Where’s Market Street?” I ask in a slightly panicked state. I’ve been walking for what feels like miles in four-inch black patent leather heels in search of a Spanish-fusion restaurant called Barsa. I ask many people in earnest. One person after the other gives me a befuddled stare, woeful shoulder shrug … until I bump into one knowledgeable stranger.
A woman dressed in a camel-coloured pantsuit making her way home from a long day at the office is very acquainted with the St. Lawrence Market area. She tells me I’m on the right path, just a couple more blocks straight ahead and I’m there. My weary foot arches thank her.
Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market Revitalization Project
There’s a small landing strip of new food boutiques, a café and a handful of eateries and chances are you won’t even noticed this place — even if you live in the area. If you have managed to accidentally walk down this street, you probably didn’t pay much attention to it because you were en route to what, at the time, was a trendier destination.
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Market Street, situated just south of Front Street and west of Lower Jarvis Street, has survived the wave of urban renewal that swept over North American cities like Toronto throughout the 1960s. During that time, 20,000 buildings were destroyed to make way for modern structures. It’s hard now to believe that Toronto’s beloved 200-year-old St. Lawrence Market was on the chopping block.
Fortunately, locals banded together and fought to keep St. Lawrence Market alive and undid the damage caused by 70 years of neglect. It was worth the effort. In 2012, National Geographic named St. Lawrence as one of the Top 10 Food Markets in the World, beating out big names such as New York City’s Union Square Greenmarket, St. Lucia’s Castries Market and Ver-o-Peso, Belém in Brazil. Flash forward to 2014, a collection of Toronto business owners are jazzing up historic Market Street — no cutthroat competitors are in sight.
Evolving Toronto’s Historic Neighbourhood
“Market Street has a great mix of the present, past and future,” says Ian Paech who opened the quick-service restaurant Evolution Food Co. last year. Paech, a triathelete and former portfolio manager, got hooked on the taste of cold-pressed juices and turned his kitchen into a mad scientist experimentation lab to come up with tasty and healthy food combinations. Here, spicy broccoli shares the stage with edamame and a protein of your choice.
The inspiration behind Bindia is just as sweet as the mango lassi in my glass. Owner Michael Kapil tells me that in India, a married woman isn’t complete without her bindi. For Kapil he isn’t complete without his six-year-old daughter, Bindia. A motif of his wife’s sari adorns the walls of Bindia, which is the only sit-down Indian restaurant south of Front Street between Bathurst and Parliament, a stretch of about 10 kilometres (6.2 miles). The dishes come in beautiful hues of orange, red, yellow and green. The taste: rich and flavourful.
Nearby is Market Street Catch, a spin-off of the St. Lawrence Market favourite Buster’s Sea Cove. The fish sourced here is fresh and comes from all over the world via the market, of course. Inside this nautical-themed resto I enjoy delicious calamari (with fries: $11.50, with salad: $12.50). Owner Tom Antonarakis even has a food truck, which stays indoors for most of the year.
Opportunities to People Watch
If you need a premium coffee fix and want to throw people watching in the mix, Balzac’s is conveniently placed in the middle of the street. And to help patrons feed their sweet tooth there is also an assortment of sinfully good desserts.
Located at the bottom on Market Street is Patizza. When I step inside I’m in awe of the wine rack, er, I mean wine tower that spirals up towards the second floor. If you’re a wine lover you have two choices: house wine and house wine. That’s really not a choice but the Napa-based Canadian owner wanted to open a restaurant where he could showcase wines from his Californian vineyard. Fortunately, the wine is good and so is the pasta, which is all freshly made in-house.