Toronto’s Foodie Landmark: The St. Lawrence Market

St. Lawrence Market, Toronto (Source: iStock / typhoonski)

When in Toronto, do as the locals do and beat a path to the city’s famous St. Lawrence Market. A beloved landmark for over 200 years, the Market houses over 100 vendors offering a wide range of locally sourced produce, meats, poultry, fish, dairy, specialty foods, crafts, and restaurants. Situated adjacent to Toronto’s popular Regent Park, the St. Lawrence Market is a historic gem that imbues the area with an Old World charm — part Wall Street, part Dickens, and 100% Canadian. Whether you’re looking for that perfect snack, indulging in a foodie tour, or procuring dinner party essentials, great food is on the offing at St. Lawrence.

First established in 1803 and later rebuilt and expanded in 1904, the Market complex includes three buildings: the South Market (previously Toronto’s city hall and jail), the North Market, and St. Lawrence Hall, a historic public meeting hall now used for events and retail shopping. Most of the food shopping is in the South Market, so we’ll focus here on this marketplace highlight.

When to go to St. Lawrence

Tuesday through Friday, the South Market’s main and lower floors are open from 8 am to 6 pm (Friday until 7 pm). Saturday’s hours are from 5 am to 5 pm. Crowds tend to build throughout the day, so arriving earlier is preferable. The North Market is primarily open on Saturdays only (5 am to 5 pm) and features a weekly farmer’s market featuring seasonal produce and artisanal products. On Sundays, antique vendors set up shop in the North Market from 5 am to 5 pm. Admission to the Market complex is always free.

How to get there

The Market complex is easily reached via the TTC (subway). Exit at the King Street East Station and take the 504 King streetcar east to Jarvis Street. From there, walk south a block to Front Street. Alternatively, you can exit at Union Station and walk three blocks east to the Esplanade.

If you’re driving, exit the Gardiner Expressway at the Jarvis Street exit or the York/Yonge/Bay exit. Head north to Front Street. There are city parking lots behind the South Market Building and a parking garage adjacent to it just below Front Street.

What to do

You’ll need your strength to shop, so start with a visit to St. Urbain’s Bakery for a bagel on the South Market’s main floor. Slightly sweeter than your average New York fare, St. Urbain’s bagels are boiled in honey and water (no salt) and baked in a wood-fired oven. They’re perfectly crispy on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside.

Seafront Fish Market (source: iStock / typhoonski)
Seafront Fish Market (source: iStock / typhoonski)

For fresh fish, try the Seafront Fish Market, one of several that offers a comprehensive line of seafood, sourced locally and from waters beyond. It’s a dazzling display of whole fresh red snapper, silvery bronzini, striped bass, and spotty pickerel. You can even get your live lobster here, too.

For a change of pace, head over to Chris’ Cheesemongers. Here, the pace is slightly slower as patrons idle in front of the glass counters, surveying the slightly sweet Allegretto, nutty Danish Fontina, and creamy white Robiola. These guys know their cheese and can also make recommendations for complementary wines and cured meats.

By now, you’ll be feeling a little thirsty from that bagel. Head to Scheffler’s Delicatessen & Cheese for a refreshing Italian soda or sparkling water. While you’re there, check out the vast array of prepared antipasti and finger foods, including spiced stuffed peppers, tomatoes, grape leaves, pesto, and olives.

Fruit and vegetable stall (Source: iStock / typhoonski)
Fruit and vegetable stall (Source: iStock / typhoonski)

Scattered throughout the market are stalls overflowing with colorful seasonal fruit and veggies, flowers, and specialty foods – gourmet mushrooms, exotic peppers, honey, and cold-pressed olive oil among them. Local and naturally raised game, including venison and wild boar, as well as traditional meats, such as beef, pork, lamb, veal, and poultry, are in abundant supply.

For lunch, try the uniquely Canadian Peameal Bacon Sandwich from Carousel Bakery. This hearty delight is made from center-cut pork loin cured in a salt-and-sugar brine and rolled in cornmeal (or, originally, ground peameal). The meat is fried and served on a freshly made bun with your choice of mustard.

At this point, you may want to pick up a few items for dinner. Stop by Churrasco’s, a popular takeout restaurant that sells whole barbecued chickens with a superb Portuguese hot sauce, along with a selection of sides. Kozlik’s Canadian Mustard is a few steps away and features handmade mustards with locally sourced ingredients that make great gifts. If you’re starting to lag, a quick trip downstairs to the lower level for a visit at Everyday Gourmet’s coffee bar should provide some needed pep before you head out.

Insider tips

While the food is plentiful at St. Lawrence Market, the seating is not. If you’re coming to eat, be prepared to stand or head to a park bench in St. James Park across the street. Also, keep in mind: Many vendors will provide samples if you ask, so don’t miss out by filling up at any one place.

When it comes time to pay, keep in mind that some stalls only accept cash. There are several ATMs available throughout the South Market, but you may want to cash up ahead of time at your preferred cashpoint to avoid ATM fees.

Outside guided tours of the Market are available. The cost per person is roughly $60, and tours last about three hours. Preferred tour guides include culinaryadventureco.com and tofoodtours.com.

For more information, visit St. Lawrence Market online.

Finally, if indoor farmer’s markets are your cup of tea, check out our piece on indoor farmer’s markets in the U.S.