Between holiday gifts and boxing week Amazon sales I’m willing to bet that many of you are spending January plowing through recipes from new cookbooks. In many cases you’ll be looking for ingredients that almost never make it on to your regular lists. If you find yourself with a car and outside downtown you’ll be well-served if you end up a place like the uptown Pusateri’s, Highland Farms, or the west-end’s Cheese Boutique.
But in the past year two options have opened for the subway-bound searchers for esoteric ingredients. Longo’s has a location in Maple Leaf Square that is quite close to Union Station and Loblaws has just opened a store in what used to be Maple Leaf Gardens a couple blocks east of College station.
I thought it would be a good idea to compare the selection at these two stores. Between off-the-top-of-my-head ideas, surveying Twitter followers, and recent ISO (in search of) posts on Chowhound I came up with a list of twenty-one items. The table below shows how the two stores compare.
|Ingredient||Loblaws (Maple Leaf Gardens)||Longo’s (Maple Leaf Square)|
|Wildcards||Cork’s wine bar with food deals|
|Totals||10 Yes, 11 No||5 Yes, 16 No|
|Buddha hand citrus||X||X|
|Diamond Crystal kosher salt||X||X|
|Instant ramen||Good selection||X (only Mr. Noodles)|
|Flageolet beans||X (Great Northern closest)||X (navy closest)|
|Clear corn syrup||Crown||X|
|Cocktail bitters||Only angostura||X|
|Natural (non-Dutch) cocoa||X||Ghirardelli|
|Reese’s peanut butter bars||X||X|
|Almond flour||Bob’s Red Mill||X|
|GF baking powder||X||X|
|Quinoa flour||Bob’s Red Mill||Bob’s Red Mill|
|Brown rice flour||Bob’s Red Mill||Bob’s Red Mill|
Update: It has been pointed out to me in the comment section that Bulk Barn is not owned by Loblaws. My apologies for perpetuating this piece of Internet misinformation. It is still worth considering the Bulk Barn’s location when deciding which subway station to head for.
Where I thought it mattered I listed the brands being offered. Note that for many of the items where both scored an “X” I’ve seen them at other Toronto grocery stores so I don’t think they’re total curve balls. (e.g. the Loblaws-owned T&T has steamed buns and pork belly; Highland Farms has curing salt; Pusateri’s at Bayview Village has orange bitters; No Frills has Diamond Crystal, and the Spadina Dollarama has those addictive-like-crack Reese’s bars)
Generally, I was pretty disappointed with both. It looks like Longo’s did worse but pork belly is a category I consider pretty crucial and I’ve found myself enjoying their craft beer and VQA wine selection in Cork’s on an alarmingly frequent basis. Mind you, Bulk Barn,
which is owned by Loblaws and even closer to the subway is a great resource for baking ingredients in bulk, esoteric British candy, and novelty cake pans (for sale or rent).
Except for the pork belly and steamed buns most of these items would keep well in the pantry so the lesson may be to maintain a list and stock up when you come across them.
Why didn’t I consider non-grocery store options? In the case of St. Lawrence Market you could check most of the boxes but you would pay more and either have to fight crowds on the weekend or beat the early-closing hours on weekdays. Kensington is a good option (especially for the meat items which I have always found in-stock at Sanagan’s for a good price) but it’s less accessible and will involve knowing which store to look at for particular items.
These results were based on at least two visits to each store in December and January. I hope that Loblaws and Longo’s improve their selections and makes this post out-of-date. As it is now, they’re both not making full use of perfectly-located, very large spaces.