Move over, big box: the neighbourhood grocery store renaissance is in full swing. These small grocerants pack a mighty punch, with dining counters, in–house cafés and homemade takeout made to meet the needs of home chefs, nostalgia seekers and multitaskers who like to shop for dinner over a delicious lunch.
More than a grocery store but not quite a restaurant, these hybrid food spots entice shoppers to stick around for a meal and more.
Épicerie Conserva, Montreal
John Barros and Massimo Vincelli opened Épicerie Conserva in 2018 with a vision of shelves stocked with their own preserved condiments, salsas, jams, pastas and house–cured meats. Conserva is now an indispensable chef–driven hub at the newly revitalized Plaza Saint–Hubert. Their seasonal creations are real pleasers: cold asparagus soup with a choice of pesto in the summer; duck confit in winter, fresh focaccia and tarts and the plumpest tortelli imaginable. Grab a stool to munch on sky–high sandwiches and pick up some local beers and ciders on the way out.
J’ai Feng, Montreal
The aromas of red chili and peppercorns waft through Anita Feng’s minimalist grocery on the increasingly hip Beaubien strip: Pandemic baby J’ai Feng is a meeting place for those who love the tingle of Szechuan food. At lunchtime, squeeze in at the four–seat counter for rice noodles or squeeze out and take them to go. Housemade grab–and–go appetizers are always in the fridge. (The smashed cucumbers and the eggplant in Feng’s own hot oil concoction are irresistible.) Questions? Feng and her sister Amy happily share advice on how to use the carefully curated products that line the shelves.
Speducci, North York, Ontario
What started as a hot sandwich and porchetta–heavy lunch counter catering to nearby blue–collar workers in 2014 is now a destination for Torontonians and suburbanites who love Italian food. Over the past two years, co–owner Rosie Scavuzzo and fellow co–owner and chef Gabriele Paganelli expanded the Speducci dining area and set up a mercatto (market) for Italian imports, local vegetables and cheeses. Don’t miss the salumeria (deli counter) where housemade prosciutto and their famous wild boar ragu, prepared on Paganelli’s farm, are always safe bets. The real draw, though, is the eponymous speducci: morsels of skewered meat that can be enjoyed on–site or taken home and grilled on the barbeque.
Maeli Market, North York, Ontario
Alice and Angel Chung’s newly opened ode to contemporary Taiwanese culture and traditional cuisine is an immersive experience. Peaceful wall motifs highlight Taiwanese landscapes, hanging bamboo lanterns are symbolic of the pineapples the island is famous for, and freshly made bento boxes evoke savoury dishes from Taipei night markets (like braised pork on rice and popcorn chicken). On the shelves, all goods – from pantry staples, fruit juices and vinegars, teas and organic soaps – are sourced from brands that value sustainability and social impact. Pop in for fresh produce, stick around for a pork belly bao or a marble tea egg and a red guava tea.
Pepper’s Food & Drink, Toronto
At this takeout and delivery restaurant with market offerings, shelves are replete with Japanese candies, Kewpie mayonnaise and the Asian ingredients that Bloor West Village locals can’t get without hopping on a streetcar. Co–owner Leemo Han’s Korean mom makes banchan dishes and kimchi, while chef Julian Ochangco channels his Filipino roots and some Hawaiian inspiration to create weekend specials like pork shoulder braised in pineapple and beef kaldereta, a stew with vegetables and a rich tomato sauce. From local school kids on the prowl for snacks to new–to–the–neighbourhood families in search of instant noodles, this new spot is a hit with everyone.
Mottola Grocery, Winnipeg
In Hargrave St. Market, Mottola Grocery shows just what makes owner Bobby Mottola tick: culinary excellence, hospitality, function and design. Where else could you find a sleek foosball table that doubles as the stage for private seven–course tasting meals? Stroll down the aisles with a spritz in hand and fill your cart with goods such as house–smoked olives, DanDan dressing and hot honey sauce, while checking bread (fresh sourdough) eggs (free run omega 3) and milk (almond, oat, and then some) off your weekly grocery list. Cool Smeg housewares, Swedish perfumes and a local vendor pop–up series give locals more than a few reasons to become regulars.
Oh Carolina, Vancouver
It’s all about community at this Mount Pleasant grocery store and café. Gooseneck Hospitality founder and owner James Iranzad wanted to create a feel–good spot where friends could meet over a coffee, sit down for breakfast or lunch, pick up their farm–fresh produce and stay in the neighbourhood. International groceries and snacks (Iranzad’s fave is Brets potato chips) and locally sourced staples are part of the comfort here, too. In the summer, a big cozy table gives way to outdoor seating and Sunday afternoon garden party pop–ups that give you the chance to snack and quaff a glass ‘til nightfall.
Niche Grocerant, Victoria
“Farm to table” isn’t just a slogan for co–owners Ceri Barlow and Jami Wood, who walk the walk at this grocerant on the edge of Victoria. The island’s producers are the stars here, with handcrafted cheeses from Haltwhistle Cheese Company in the Cowichan Valley, fresh duck eggs from Hayward Farms and heirloom tomatoes from Sleeping Dog & Mermaid Farm, among others. Ready–made samosas, tortillas and even the napkins are all sourced from nearby purveyors — something that Niche is proud of. An outdoor space invites a leisurely lunch with inventive cocktails or selections from the shop’s extensive wine list. “Meet local, eat local,” Wood and Barlow like to say, and we’re listening.