Since the recession first hit, Toronto fine dining has swung decidedly downscale, with the city’s trendy eaters instead becoming enamored with “upscale” versions of traditionally unfussy, economical standbys like eggs, grilled cheese and hamburgers. A curious corollary is that middle class types are more than willing to pay inflated prices for (here’s a buzzword that we really wish would go away) affordable luxuries, if the terms “organic,” “artisan” or “gourmet” are involved. Why stop at restaurants, though? In the past couple of years, savvy restaurateurs have been expanding their menus beyond full-service, and opening grocery stores that peddle similar high-quality spins on what was once the mundane. Here are a few.
Petite Thuet started as low-key expansion of Marc Thuet and Biana Zorich’s Toronto empire, a place to sell their fresh baked goods patisserie-style and operate their thriving catering business. Ironically, since the closing of their reality TV experiment/flagship restaurant Conviction (with a new restaurant in development stage for at least a few months), Petite Thuet has become the city’s only Thuet. Good thing there are three of them. They’re also popular enough to have inspired other big-name chefs to follow suit. For proof, just keep reading. 1 King St. W., 416-867-7977; 1162 Yonge St., 416-924-2777; 244 King. St. E., 416-519-4847
Another of Toronto’s most recognizable chefs, Mark McEwan decided to get into the retail game with this opening at the Shops at Don Mills. Though the spot’s name is lower-case, at 22,000 square feet it’s more “gargantuan” than “boutique,” and a hell of a lot bigger than most places on this roundup. Still, with a packed house of high-calibre (and high-priced) signature prepared goods, ingredients, treats and foods, it represents the chef’s brand as much as any restaurant. 38 Karl Fraser Rd., 416-444-6212
The Lakeview Storehouse
When Ossington Avenue went through its rapid-fire gentrification between Dundas and Queen, many decried the fact that they could easily get a $10 shot of tequila but couldn’t find a place to buy a dozen eggs. The owners of the Lakeview Restaurant, Fadi Hakim and Alex Sengupta, addressed this shortcoming by opening The Lakeview Storehouse, an affixed offshoot that, like the diner, offers a hipsterfied update of old-school culinary staples. Bulk bins, fresh vegetables, and a few oddball products offer an easy way for neighbourhood residents to get their shopping done, but a service counter with takeout items from the restaurant also services the cooking-phobic. 1134 Dundas St. W., 416-546-8889
Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watchco has been a hit on the once-dilapidated stretch of Queen East ever since it opened, and she’s found a way to build off of it with the adjacent Ruby Eats. The celebrity chef’s focus, both in her restaurant and on Food Network shows like Restaurant Makeover and Pitchin’ In, has always been on fresh, local ingredients, and Ruby Eats offers her a chance to get the ingredients straight to the customers. With a snazzy layout by fellow Restaurant Makeover’er Cherie Stinson, the spot is a peek into the pantry of Crawford (and her partners Joey Skeir and Lora Kirk), featuring fresh vegetables, jarred homemade jams and marinades, plus cheeses, prepared goods and kitchenware. 742 Queen St. E., 416-901-3355
Image courtesy of McEwan.