Monforte Dairy, Cheddar & Black Pepper Scones, Local Food – The *NEW* Crème Fraîche Market Cafe in The Junction!

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Imagine products from almost all of your favourite farmers’ market vendors and producers under one roof.  Then, imagine this one roof being available to you 6 days a week.  Guess what?  You don’t have to imagine.  This is the real deal: introducing the new Crème Fraîche Market Cafe in The Junction!  Founded and run by “Monforte Dairy ladies” Constance Dykun and Rachel Silva, Crème Fraîche is a local food lover’s dream!  The cafe and local food shop located on Annette Street several blocks west of Runnymede Road in the west end takes everything wonderful and delicious about Toronto’s small food business and local food scene (and some non-Toronto), rolls it into one big ball of food happiness, and presents it all back in a sweet and sunny cafe outfitted in yellow and blue decor with baked goods, bread, cheeses, coffee drinks, ice cream, and so much more.  

At Crème Fraîche you’ll find bread and baked goods from Sara Lapell’s Nice Buns and St. John’s Bakery, sweets and baked goods from More Than Pies Baking Co. Ltd., Evelyn’s Crackers, Mapleton’s ice cream, chocolate and Mayan drinking chocolate from ChocoSol, jarred pickled vegetables, salsa, and preserves from From These Roots, sweets from DeFloured, and of course, LOTS of Monforte Dairy cheese and products!  They have a selection of prepared food and drink (iced teas, yogurt parfaits, and breakfast tarts for example), and they also have a sweet little breakfast, lunch, and midday snack menu that you can order from. 

Now, keep in mind that while Crème Fraîche is a market cafe, it’s a “stop-by-and-pick-up-goodies” type of shop, so their menu items are definitely grab and go fare.  Their menu includes items such as toast and cheese (fresh cheese and jam, $2), grilled cheese and tomato ($5.25), cacciatore and arugula “bun-wich” ($4), and grilled halloumi (fresh cheese with arugula, radish, and tomato salsa, $7.50) among others.  They also serve plenty of fair-trade, organic coffee (americanos, espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes), tea, and Organic Meadow soy and almond milk.

What I love about Crème Fraîche, aside from the great food I can pick up here, is what the shop itself represents.  It’s easy to think, “oh, well, if I want these market products, I can just go to the different farmers’ markets to get them” or “I can just go to the producer’s main shop and location in the city”, but what Crème Fraîche affords everyone in the surrounding neighbourhood and community is an alternative, a place where people can come in the mornings and afternoons to grab a cuppa, a chance to get to learn about some of the local food that’s available in the city and their makers, an opportunity to form new friendships and relationships with locals, and a sweet shop to grab some great eats.  

I may go all over town to visit all the markets I can, but not everyone has the ability or even the desire to do so.  A farmers’ market in one’s area only takes place once a week and they may not be available year-round; Crème Fraîche is open 6 days a week from Tuesday-Sunday from 8am-8pm.  Even though its location certainly caters to those in the west end and in The Junction area in particular, it’s the concept that I am completely in love with.  There should be a Crème Fraîche in EVERY neighbourhood.  This shop is wonderful and I LOVE that so many of my favourite producers and vendors such as More Than Pies Baking Co. Ltd. and St. John’s Bakery sell their products here.

During this first visit, I picked up a giant cheddar and black pepper scone from St. John’s Bakery ($3) to take home, sliced it in half, and slapped it on my little George Foreman grill (don’t laugh, this thing is all sorts of awesome!) to heat up.  OH.MY.GOD.  One of the best, most delicious scones EVER!  You all know love cheese and black pepper so this scone had my name written all over it.  I am telling you, put the scones on the grill and you will be “mmm”ing the entire time you’re eating it.  It was so fluffy and moist and buttery without actually having to put butter on it and I am so happy I bought it because from here on out I’ll be looking out for these cheddar black pepper scones!

I’ve totally fallen in love with this sweet shop and you can bet I’ll be coming back to check up on what eats are available and to try something off their food menu!  It’s a fabulous concept and I’m glad for the vendors, producers, and to those who eat and work here because they truly get to be a part of something special in the community.   

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Crème Fraîche Market Cafe is a cafe and local food shop located in the west end of Toronto in The Junction neighbourhod at 639 Annette Street.  The shop is just several blocks west of Runnymede Road and south of Dundas Street West.  They are open from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays), from 8am-8pm.  Visit their official website HERE.

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Dining Al Fresco – Mushroom Quesadillas, Grilled Cheese, Pies, & Sweets at the Soft Choice Office Market!

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After nearly two months satiating the appetites of office workers and hungry, dedicted foodies, I finally made it out to the Toronto Lunchtime Office Market at the Soft Choice building in Liberty Village!  Yesterday was one of the most glorious, beautiful days so far this year and after missing out on so many great Soft Choice lunchtime markets since its launch back in April, I wasn’t about to pass up the golden opportunity to catch some sunshine and mouthwatering eats.  I had such a fun time snapping photos of the gorgeous outdoor courtyard behind the building where the food market was being held, eating fantastic food, and enjoying a hidden gem of a space for the very first time.  

I couldn’t believe how amazing this outdoor courtyard was.  I was floored.  I felt like I was walking into some secret paradise, separated from the rest of the world and surrounded by food!  The courtyard is beautiful and I’ll be the first to admit that I was completely taken aback by it.  We’re talking about Liberty Village here, an up and coming neighbourhood that continues to grow and thrive as a community, but still very much industrial.  The courtyard is lovely and peaceful, perfect for an outdoor lunch and party and just as perfect for some quiet reading in the shade.  All I could think of was, “boy, this place would look like something out of a fairy tale with some lit up lanterns and tea lights at night!”  Beautiful brick walls surround the space, making it very private and cozy and while much of the space is “open concept”, there are pockets here and there that make the space fun to weave in and out of – it is so much more than just a slab of concrete!

In attendance at the food market: Sara’s Nice Buns (fresh baked bread, buns, and sweet baked goods), The Nut Bakery (gluten-free nut cookies and granola bars), Cookie Martinez (sweets and fruity thirst quenchers), Yorktown Pie Company, Cheesewerks grilled cheese and artisan food shop, and finally, in association with ChocoSol, Gabriela’s Maizal fresh corn tortillas and quesadillas! 

First, let’s do a rundown of some of the baked goods on site.  Sara had her famous herb and onion fougasse on hand as well as her tasty cacao sourdough, white loaf, herb focaccia, and giant apple cinnamon buns; The Nut Bakery with tons of gluten-free samples and cookie jars filled with pecan walnut chocolate macaroons, dark chocolate nut chunk, almond almond, and chocolate pecan macadamia brownie cookies, among others; Cookie Martinez with giant chocolate an dulche de leche brownies and refreshing blended fruit juice made with passionfruit and local Ontario strawberries; and Yorktown Pies with a truckload of sweet and savoury pies including their collard greens and mushroom, chili beef, chicken, apple sour cream, and plenty of turnovers and flaky tarts.

Cheesewerks was firing up their grill with their special Charleston (brie cheese, caramelized onions, and apricot chutney on walnut raisin) and Beijing (asiago cheese, BBQ pork, hoisin sauce, and slivered green onions) grilled cheese varieties hot, buttered, and gooey right off the grill with a selection of cheeses and condiments on hand to purchase and take home.  Finally, Gabriela’s tortilla project gone full-blown quesadilla cafe (her new cafe, Maizal, is now open for business at 133 Jefferson Ave. in Liberty Village!) was bursting with fresh ground corn quesadillas stuffed with mushrooms, spicy guacamole, mashed black beans, shredded, stringy, mouthwatering and to-die-for Oaxaca cheese, and more.             

After picking up a coconut butter tart from Yorktown Pies and inhaling savouring one of Gabriela’s best-in-the-city, fresh ground corn mushroom quesadillas for lunch (and I mean FRESH – her and her team ground the corn in the morning!), I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my lunch time.  I grabbed a copy of Maizal’s menu and I can’t wait to visit her quesadilla cafe and report back to you all with more goods.  It was so exciting for me to finally get to come to this office market (and of course, eat!) and soak in the atmosphere, great company, and beautiful space on such a picture-perfect day.

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The Office Markets currently serve 2 locations in Toronto: CSI Annex at 720 Bathurst Street (just south of Bloor Street) on Tuesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, and Soft Choice IT Soultions at 173 Dufferin Street (south of King Street) in Liberty Village on Wednesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm.  The outdoor local food market is held behind the Soft Choice office in the beautiful outdoor courtyard with patio tables, chairs, and umbrellas.  Perfect for enjoying that lunch in the warm sunshine (or shade) and fresh air!

Lunch Just Became A Whole Lot More Delicious Downtown – Lunchtime Office Markets at ING Direct Cafe!

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The dining selections for lunch in the downtown core just became a whole lot more mouthwatering: a new lunchtime market has made its way into the heart of downtown Toronto and they’re serving up hot and fresh, local food that’s ready to eat!  The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives are expanding beyond their Centre for Social Innovation roots and settling into the hustle and bustle of one of Toronto’s busiest neighbourhoods.  With Yonge-Dundas Square to the north, Eaton Centre to the west, Ryerson University to the east, and the financial district to the south, the newest market location has taken residence at the corner of Yonge and Shuter Street, right inside the new ING Direct Cafe.  The ING Direct Cafe is a special, multi-purpose retail space that functions as an innovative financial and banking space, a community space, and a kitchen space all in one.   

In a nutshell, ING Direct is a Canadian banking and financial institution whose mandate is to provide its clients with financial services and products that are innovative, low-cost, convenient, and in tune with current technologies.  The ING Direct Cafe is one of its newest innovations and its goal is to bring community groups and local businesses together, and to present residents in the area with an open-concept banking space to make financial decisions, to learn more about financial alternatives, and to contribute to local charities and causes through partnerships and cafe sales.  In addition, all cafes have free wi-fi and mobile devices that allow anyone and everyone to test out new products, and do online and mobile banking on the go.

The partnership between ING Direct and the Lunchtime Office Markets makes so much sense because they possess many of the same values and goals.  The Lunchtime Office Markets are expanding to accomodate the growing need for healthy, affordable food options in and around working environments.  Let’s face it: not everyone brings a lunch to work.  Call it personal preference, call it a lack of resources in the work environment (a lack of refridgerator, microwave, or food storage); either way, many purchase their lunch in and around their place of work.  Often, workers are either faced with unhealthy options, unaffordable options, a combination of both, or no options at all.  Thus, the premise behind the Lunchtime Office Market is to fill a void and to provide choices for those who otherwise may not have any. 

How do the office markets base their decision on where to locate?  Let’s be clear about one thing: a worthy working environment is not defined by the number of high-rolling business executives that exist in the area.  The office markets were a pilot project that began in October 2011 at both Centre for Social Innovation locations to gauge the level of interest and response to this new food and farmers’ market model.  Since, the market has taken on a life of its own and has started expanding.  

However, the goal has remained the same: to provide neighbourhoods and institutions with good, wholesome food.  The office markets want to target high-traffic areas, schools, office buildings, and many others that have a dispropriate percentage of people who may lack the resources or the time to get their hands on good food.  The newest location at Yonge & Shuter targets college and university students who need affordable, healthy options, retail workers in and around the area who want a fresh change from the food court selection, and office workers who need something quick and convenient (trying to nab an elevator from the 25th floor during the busy lunch hour could take 10 minutes in and of itself!).

This past Thursday, the market rolled out its first big appearance at its new location at 11:30am and it did not disappoint!  We had Sara’s fresh baked bread from Nice Buns; Earth & City’s savoury raw, vegan delights; vegan dips and organic edible hummus bowls from Luscious Dips; savoury pies and pastries from Yorkton Pies; seafood, samples, and oysters from Hooked; tortillas and raw chocolate from Chocosol; market fruits and vegetables from Fresh City Farms; and Augie’s gourmet soups and stews. 

I was ready to roll for lunch and with camera in hand, I captured many of the delicious eats available for lunch that day.  Augie’s table had jars and jars of premade soup and stew to go (great for reheating at home!) along with a lunch menu of roast parsnip, beet, and green apple soup, and a hearty Ontario pork and beef winter stew over sticky rice.  Fresh City Farms brought bright colour with their crates of oranges, apples, pears, onions, potatoes, kale, tomatoes, shallots, carrots, cranberries, and cauliflower, and Hooked brought the sea with them with a fabulous assortment of packaged seafood, samples, shucked oysters (a buck a shuck!), and a steaming pot of fresh seafood chowder.

Sara’s table was overflowing with her mouthwatering cocoa sourdough buns, herb n’ onion fougasse, fluffy white bread buns, apple walnut cinnamon buns, carrot cake slices with chocolate chips, and gluten-free focaccia, while Jesse had a vibrant display of her edible veggie hummus bowls and vegan hummus dips.  Finally, Eric’s Yorktown Pie Company had trays of the most adorable golden mini pies and pastries, and Cassandra and Lisa’s Earth & City had a beautiful, colourful array of their famous spring roll wraps, nut n’ seed burgers, and flatbread sandwiches and bundles.

What did I end up enjoying for lunch?  You’ll just have to sit tight and wait for those goods tomorrow 😉

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The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The markets are from 11:30am-1:30pm and the newest market is located at the ING Direct Cafe at 221 Yonge Street at the corner of Yonge & Shuter across the street from the Eaton Centre every Thursday.

Soaking In the CSI Markets – Biscotti, Apple Cinnamon Walnuts Buns, and Fresh Bread by Nice Buns

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I can’t believe it’s already been three weeks since my last CSI farmers’ market post!  I don’t know if it’s just the hustle and bustle surrounding Christmas and the upcoming holidays or if I’m losing track of my days (probably a little bit of both), but the days are whipping by and there’s so much to do and see I’m driving myself mad trying to do everything I want to do without making myself sick!  If you can believe it, there are still markets I haven’t been to yet and I am making it my mission to get to them during the winter months. 

I have yet to visit the indoor market at Eglinton Park, the market at Wychwood Barns (I KNOW, it’s one of the biggest, most popular markets in the city!  I did try to get to it once but I showed up late because I got confused with the time and missed the whole thing.  Sigh.), and a few of the markets that have moved indoors are still waiting for me.  Farmers’ marketing during the winter definitely isn’t as easy as it is during the summer, but I enjoy maintaining this part of the blog, even if it means going out of my way to visit a market on a specific day and time.  

It’s been a few weeks since my last CSI market trip and I miss it.  I’m so sad that the market will be coming to an end by mid-December and you can bet your bottom cupcake I’ll be trying my darn hardest to make it out to one of the last lunchtime markets of the year.  At this point, I’m not certain if the CSI lunchtime markets will still be around come the new year, but either way, it’s been one heck of a wonderful ride watching this market grow and I’ve enjoyed growing with it so much.  I love seeing what healthy and delicious food Cassandra and Lisa of Earth & City dish up for every market, and the sight of chubby, pillow-soft bread and baked goods by Sara of Nice Buns makes my mouth water and makes me wish the table was an edible ball pit I could flounce around in while nibbling on said bread buns.  I can dream.

Sara brought in her famous cocoa sourdough and fougasse breads, biscotti, and zucchini loaf and along with those, she had a platter of apple walnut cinnamon buns of monumental proportions and an overflowing basket of fluffy white bread buns!  I tried some of Sara’s white bread and I couldn’t believe how amazingly delicous it was!  I mean, all the baked goods are yummy, but this bread just brought a whole new level of foodgasmness to the ball game (and yes, I said foodgasmness.  If people can make up the word foodgasm, I can make up suffixes to go with it!).  It was so incredibly soft it melted in my mouth.  I enjoy bread the most when I can eat it by itself.  Bread is versatile, but the true test of tastiness is when you can eat it without any meat, any vegetables, or any condiments slathered on it.  And these white bread buns were so good they would entice anyone to grab five and inhale them all in one sitting.

In addition to the apple cinnamon walnut buns and white bread, this particular visit to the CSI market was a new and exciting treat because the market had some new faces and yummies!  Fresh City Farms and Boardwalk Chocolates were right there alongside Earth & City, Nice, Buns, and Chocosol with their fruits, vegetables, and vegan chocolates and it was so great seeing new faces and others joining in on the market action.  There’s so much I want to write, so I’m going to continue my big write-up tomorrow and leave you with a whopping batch of Nice Buns market photos from my last visit.  The market won’t be around for long so enjoy a lunch and grab all the great food while you still can at this wonderful little market.

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Nice Buns is located at 402 Queen Street East, Unit 2, just east of Parliament Street.  Sara’s fresh baked goods can also be enjoyed at the 99MRKT, Red Line Coffee and Espresso Bar, and Depanneur on College Street.  The Lunctime Markets at the Centre for Social Innovation in the Annex and on Spadina take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays respectively from 11:30am-1pm.  The Centre for Social Innovation (Annex) is located at 720 Bathurst Street, just south of Bloor Street West and Lennox.  They also have a location on Spadina at 215 Spadina Ave., 4th floor.

A Cozy Market That’s Fresh and Local – Earth & City, Nice Buns, and More at the CSI Lunchtime Market! Part I

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With fall in full swing and winter approaching, you might be inclined to think that that the farmers’ markets in the city have slowed things down.  Truth?  They haven’t.  Although many markets have recently packed up for the year, there are still plenty that are raring to go every week, offering more amazing food, baked goods, and fresh produce than ever before.  There are so many markets I want to revisit now that they’ve moved indoors for the rest of the season and into the new year, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll have in store for the holidays! 

When I first started going to the markets on a weekly basis in late spring (sometimes visiting more than one in a week), I thought, “what will I do once they’re gone for the season?”  I thought I had exhausted most of my options over the course of the summer and the first month and a half of fall.  I was well aware that some of them operated year-round, but I still wondered how I was going to keep things active on the market front aside from going to one here and there during the winter. 

I had been bitten by the market bug and I wanted more.  I craved for the opportunity to keep learning, to keep growing and, of course, to keep bringing home delicious food!  Lucky for me, the market fairy came knocking on my door last month.  I was finding out about new markets sprouting up and new ways to engage in market culture.  I started reading magazine articles, learning more about circulating petitions and local market events (if I only I had known about Foodstock sooner!), following farms, vendors, and local businesses on Twitter as I came across them, and just immersing myself in whatever literature that was available to me. 

One particular market discovery in October has captured my heart: the Lunctime Market at the Centre for Social Innovation.  I admit it, I’m a devoted groupie.  After my first visit to the market at CSI in the Annex, I’ve become so invested in following this market and finding out as much as I can about the businesses that participate and how the market came to be in the first place as the market didn’t even exist during the spring and summer months.  I’m super excited to share these photos with you all tonight and I can’t wait to talk about the idea behind this growing market, and the wonderful, delicious food from Earth & City and Nice Buns tomorrow!  Be prepared – it’s going make you monstrously hungry.

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The Centre for Social Innovation (Spadina) is located at 215 Spadina Ave. on the 2nd and 4th floors of the Robertson Building.  They also have a location in the Annex at 720 Bathurst Street, just south of Bloor Street West and Lennox.  Nice Buns is located at 402 Queen Street East (visit their Facebook page here) and Earth and City serves several farmers’ markets in the city (most notably the market at Wychwood Barns on Saturday and the Sorauren market on Monday), as well as Pedestrian Sundays at Kensington Market.  They do catering and orders, so visit their site and blog here for more information on their food, mission, and menu.