Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Bagels & Bread, and Glorious Dips & Spreads at the Leslieville Cheese Market!

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I have a wee bit of an obsession problem at the moment.  Let it be known that I am all over dips and spreads like a bad rash and that because of 1) the scrumptious homemade beet hummus from Luscious Dips (which, to my heartbreak, has relocated to Niagara Falls) during my blogging run at the Toronto Lunchtime Office Markets, 2) the fabulous spinach basil pesto and sprouted chickpea hummuses I purchased from my girls at Earth & City, and 3) the black bean and roasted avocado with tomatillo dips I bought from Mad Mexican at Evergreen Brick Works, I am hunting dips and spreads down the same way I hunt for lip gloss.  Oh yes, it’s THAT bad.  Granted, I don’t have a deep sliding drawer full of the stuff like I do lip gloss, but let’s just say that if these condiments didn’t have a shelf life and if my fridge was bigger, I would have swept Leslieville Cheese Market clean!  And this, my dear friends, is the long-awaited introduction to the Leslieville Cheese Market! 

It’s about darn time.  Considering how much I love cheese it’s any wonder I haven’t been here every week since I found out about its existence last year.  I finally stepped inside this glorious little gourmet food shop and market for the first time this month though, after pining over their grilled cheese sandwiches for months.  And now I almost wish I hadn’t.  Gone to the shop I mean.  There is way too much food I love here!  Not only is the shop teeming with fresh cheese, it also carries Fred’s Bread, St. Urbain bagels, smoked fish and cured meats , jams and jellies, fruit and nut bread loaves, crostini and crackers, a whole menu of grilled cheese sandwiches and soups, and dips!  Loads and loads of fantastical dips!  I’m positive most people come here for the bread, cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches.  I will come back because I want several containers of dip and spreads.  And a grilled cheese and soup.  But not before I buy a dip.  I can’t help it.  The second I slathered on my beet hummus dip from Luscious Dips onto my veggie sandwich back in March, it was all downhill from there.  I had been bitten by the homemade dip and spread bug and as a result, I have had a bad case of, “I just dip and dunk and spread this stuff on everything!”        

  

Leslieville Cheese Market, located at 891 Queen Street East (with 2 other locations in Toronto and 1 outside of the GTA), has an entire refrigerated section dedicated to spreads brimming with savoury flavours such as smoked salmon, roasted red pepper and white bean, basil pesto, red lentil dahl, baba ganoush, sundried tomato and tapenade, and artichoke blue cheese and walnut among numerous others.  It’s a little pricier than what I normally pay for (most of my spreads and dips have come in at around $5 with a few for $6) with most of the ones at Leslieville Cheese Market priced at $6.75, but the containers are relatively big and many of flavours are really unique so they just might be worth the extra $1 or $2 to check out and try.  My absolute favourite thing to do with my dips and spreads is to spread them on a tortilla, fill it with spinach and other vegetables, shredded cheese, and maybe some smoked turkey or tofu, and fold it over in half to make a quesadilla on the grill.  So, so delicious.

Another highlight of the Leslieville Cheese Market is their fresh bread.  I’m not even that much of a bread head (that would be my mum), but I LOVE fruit and nut breads and I’m a sucker for anything with herbs, so I was super excited to see that they had breads like pecan and fruit, and rosemary and olive oil.  Loaves of bread are also priced around the $5 to $6 range depending on the loaf.      

 

And of course, no discussion of the shop would be complete without a thorough breakdown of their grilled cheese!  I wanted to feature them during the month of April (read: National Grilled Cheese Month) but just wasn’t able to get around to it.  Even though I don’t have any photos of grilled cheese for you all in this post, I promise I will and in the meantime I figure we can drool over their menu.  Their grilled cheese sandwiches ($7.91 including tax) are made on light rye bread with your choice of the following grilled cheese filling combinations: provolone and beef summer sausage, ham and gruyere, chipotle tuna swiss melt, sundried tomat, artichoke, and chevre (goat cheese), a combo of white cheddar and a cheese called muenster, and cheddar cheese and bacon. 

And, there are dipping sauces!  There are 3 to choose from (balsamic ketchup, sweet thai chili, and piri piri which is a spicy blend) and if that’s not enough to get the motor running, there are also soups to accompany your grilled cheese such as corn chowder and potato leek.  Finally (I know, there’s more!), the cheese market also hosts cheese and wine night classes!  I may not drink, but learning about cheeses and pairings and nuances and regional differences and specifics sounds like a lot of fun and maybe in the future I’ll spring for something like it.  Right now though, I’m just feeling excited at the thought of sitting out on bench in the neighbourhood with a yummy grilled cheese and soup on a nice fall day and I can’t wait to do that sometime soon.

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Leslieville Cheese Market in Leslieville is located at 891 Queen Street East, east of Broadview Ave., with 3 other locations including a brand new one on Donlands Ave. just south of O’Connor Dr.

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The Little Black Dress of Italian – Meats, Cheeses, Antipasti, and Learning Italian Food at Black Skirt, Part I

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Even though I love Italian food, I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about the cultural nuances and regional differences in Italian cuisine.  I can rave on and on about how much I love mozzarella di bufala and pappardelle but I can’t tell you what specific region they originated from or where these delights are most commonly produced – and no, Googling doesn’t solve everything!  Yes, much of this information can be looked up with a few keyboard taps, but that’s not the same as really knowing your craft because you’ve genuinely examined those nuances. 

This lack of regional knowledge is something that I want to change very much, not only because learning about food is good in general but also because I’m genuinely fascinated by differences in cuisine within the same country.  I would quiz my dad for hours about the regional cuisines of China and I would dig into my childhood memories, recalling everything I could about the different types of Chinese food I would eat with my grandparents and my aunt and uncle.

        

It’s so easy to lump food under one monolithic, ethnic umbrella to “simplify” things.  I know Italian cuisine can be one of those misnomers in the restaurant industry where any place that serves spaghetti is considered Italian and I’m sure this drives many Italians and foodies absolutely crazy.  I know it drives me up the wall when people associate fried rice and chop suey with Chinese food and nothing but.  Thus, we end up rendering the most interesting, fascinating aspects of a regional cuisine invisible and inaccesible when this happens.  Just think, we have the regional cuisines of Tuscany, Sicily, Bologna, Naples, and so many others to explore and I really hope I’ll be able to flush some of this knowledge out within the city and learn as I go along.  This is learning experience and curve for me so if you know it all, humour me, and if you don’t, join me!  We can learn on this food journey together and it’ll be jolly good and delicious fun!

Black Skirt, located on College Street in the west end, is a lovely Sicilian restaurant that is part rustic, part shabby chic, and part bistro and wine bar all rolled into one.  While the back end is much more conducive to intimate dining, the front half of Black Skirt exudes that warm, comforting, homey glow that makes you feel so happy and relaxed when you eat.  You can see yourself sitting by the front table bar by the sunny window with the newspaper, sipping a coffee drink and enjoying a crunchy, grilled panini or crostini; you envision yourself having a lunch date with a friend, admiring the exposed brick wall and the mouthwatering salads and sandwiches; and you imagine sharing forkfuls of antipasto and steaming plates of fresh pasta with your loving significant other on a wonderful night out.  This is what I think of when I think about going back to Black Skirt.

I loved my first time here – so much so that I wanted to come back the next day so I could down a delicious plate of pasta!  That, or a panini.  Or another antipasto plate.  There’s a lot of wonderful food here.  And there are daily specials every day for both lunch and dinner to switch things up, including special Italian meat and cheese paninis and pasta dishes that aren’t offered on their permanent menu.  In hindsight, I should have taken advantage of one of the daily special pastas (pistachios!) because it sounded amazing, but there will always be future meals here (you can count on it) and I’ll just have to cross my fingers that I’ll come across it again.

Continue reading about my Black Skirt experience in my Part II post here where I discuss their all-over-the-Italy map menu, and their wild mushroom crostini and Sicilian muffaleta sandwich among Italian eats!

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Black Skirt is located at 974 College Street in the west end of Toronto, in between Dufferin Street and Ossington Ave.  The Italian eatery is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-10pm.  Along with their permanent menu, Black Skirt offers a dinner menu for 5pm onward and daily specials every day including a daily soup, daily special Italian meat and cheese panini sandwiches, and pasta.