The St. Lawrence Market: An Overview
Update: This post was written right before the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. As of March 15, 2021, the St. Lawrence Market has continued to maintain their old hours with significant restrictions until further notice.
The St. Lawrence Market is one of the biggest covered food markets in the world, and one of Toronto’s most visited tourist destinations. After years of municipal debate and surveys, the Market will finally start to implement new hours as of March 15, 2020 as part of a one-year pilot project. The Farmer’s Market (currently located in the big white tent) will keep their same hours of 5:00 AM to 3:00 PM. (Note: This space is an antiques market on Sundays). The change will really be affecting the opening hours of the South Market (the main building), which will go from:
Sundays and Mondays: closed
Tuesdays to Thursdays: 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Fridays: 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Saturdays: 5:00 AM to 5:00 PM
To the new hours of:
Tuesday to Friday: 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Saturdays: 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Sundays: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
This new schedule may change things up a little, but for now, I think there are three ideal itineraries for visiting the St. Lawrence Market:
- The best option to avoid crowds: come on your own or meet a friend at a coffeeshop near the Market in the early afternoon, and stop by the Market in the late afternoon buy your groceries before heading home to cook dinner.
- The best way to maximize the Market’s offerings: start your day with early Saturday brunch in the area (the surrounding restaurant options are frankly more comfortable and enjoyable than the options in the Market itself), then come around noon or 1:00 PM and buy groceries (with a focus on visiting the Farmer’s Market) to take home.
- The best way to see the Market as a tourist: come early to the Market on Saturday (or Sunday). Have a little bite and coffee before going somewhere else in the neighbourhood in the area for late brunch or lunch and exploring the rest of the city (great to pair with a visit to the Distillery District).
Things to Eat in the St. Lawrence Market
If you’re coming in the morning, head to the lower level and join the line of locals outside Everyday Gourmet Roasters for a cup of coffee. Pro tip: if you just want a brewed cup of coffee rather than a handcrafted drink, feel free to cut the line, drop off the required amount of change ($1.50 or $2, depending on size), and they will hand you a cup to fill up yourself.
On Saturdays only (I will update if things change): Go to Kozliks located near the Front St. entrance on the main level of the Market for some rich, flaky “mustard sticks” (pictured above) made with your choice of Cheddar or Gruyère (my favourite). Their mustards also make great Toronto gifts. Another carb option is St. Urbain Bagel especially since they started introducing the cragel (croissant-bagels) on Saturdays. If you’re heading over to the Farmer’s Market, pick up some pastries and sourdough from De La Terre Bakery. You will not be disappointed.
For a full meal, check out Buster’s Sea Cove on the main level for fish and chips (although the seating is limited and frantic), or Uno Mustachio on the lower level if you’re feeling up for a satisfying veal parm Italian sandwich.
A controversial opinion: I think the peameal bacon sandwich (at least the ones offered here) is an overrated relic of the past, largely popularized by 90’s celebrities such as Emeril Lagasse. If you absolutely must have one, go ahead, but just know that you will be eating a plain piece of ham served in a country bun. It is not at all representative of the fantastic food that Toronto has to offer.
Coffeeshops around the St. Lawrence Market
If you want a proper sit-down café, the best choice in the immediate area is Balzac’s, directly across the street from the St. Lawrence Market on Market St. If you walk a little bit east, the most elegant coffeeshop in the neighbourhood is NEO COFFEE BAR, which is all about the Japanese minimalist vibes. Be warned, however, that there is no wifi and you are discouraged to do “work” in here. Rooster Coffee House is loud, but more laid back with traditional Persian rugs and sofas. If you walk north to Church and King Street, the new Third Wave Coffee features high-quality Yemeni coffee (try their croissants!). Walk up one more block to Adelaide Street, and you will find Versus Coffee and XO Bisous, which are both cute, independently-owned spots I like to support.
Brunch and Lunch
The Poet Cafe (Saturday and Sunday brunch options are different, so look online and make reservations!), True True Diner (this place just opened a few months ago, pictured above), and Bodega Henriette King (simple, wholesome eggs, smoked salmon, salad and potatoes) are the top three brunch places I would recommend in the area. HOTHOUSE is a great place to come if you’ve got the big family in tow (lots of space for strollers, walkers, and lounging). Fresh on Front is a nice spot for vegetarian options.
Dinner and Drinks
If you find yourself in the neighbourhood later in the evening, my favourite Italian restaurants are Ardo Restaurant (Sicilian) and Terroni (Southern Italian). Carisma and Don Alfonso are both fancier Italian establishments that you should probably be dressed up (and budget accordingly) for. Woods is a lovely Canadian restaurant for business dinners and Hogtown Smoke BBQ is a fun one for beer, fried chicken and brisket. The two are located right beside each other on Colborne St. The main campus of George Brown College is also located in this neighbourhood, and visiting the student-run Chef’s House is fun way to support them. SukhoThai is also a pretty good classic Thai restaurant (avoid Friday night insanity if you can).
D.W. Alexander is a hidden-in-the-open speakeasy that so few people seen to know about. It’s right underneath the Second Cup at Church and Front, and has a very nice vibe for drinks with coworkers, or a laid-back date. If you want something a little bit more lively, check out the Resevoir Lounge for jazz and Pravda Vodka Bar for all things Russian-themed. Think fur coats and hats, gold, red, and vodka freezers.
A Few Final Notes
Old Town is a historical Toronto neighbourhood that technically extends all the way from Union Station and The Fairmont Royal York to the Distillery District. However, I would argue that Old Town, in spirit, is the downtown-ish area of Toronto where you feel like you have left the Financial District and are East of Yonge St. but have not quite gone into the Distillery District (from Front Street up to Queen Street). The St. Lawrence Market is in the heart of it. The Market is also much more than just the food vendors; it’s an excellent event space and community hub, and has tons of events worth checking out.
As for the surrounding area, Berczy Park (aka the “Dog Fountain” Park) is literally my favourite thing to talk about in this neighbourhood. It’s such a good place for gathering and for having a picnic on nicer days. The Gooderham Flatiron Building is great for photos (but not much else). Toronto’s first Post Office is also here. Finally, the little movie theatre Imagine Cinemas in Market Square is also a special gem. This theatre is a little older, but they recently put in luxury recliners (you can reserve your seats in advance!) that make the seats basically the equivalent of Cineplex VIP at sometimes half the price and half the crowd.