What’s Good Neighbourhood: Kensington Market
Welcome to the famous Kensington Market! With its vast array of shops, juice bars, butchers, bakers, vegetable markets, cafes, and bars it’s pretty difficult to leave once you enter. Having trouble getting there? Just follow your nose to Chinatown (Dundas St. & Spadina Ave.) and then go west. College St. is as far north as you wanna go and Bathurst is the end to the west. Now you’re in it.
Kensingon has always been a working class and multicultural community. In the 1920s Jews from Europe emmigrated to Toronto to form what was once dubbed “The Jewish Market”. In Post-War Toronto, throughout the 1950s, many immigrants from the Caribbean and Vietnam settled in Kensington and helped define the area. Through the 80s and 90s, Kensington became even more diverse seeing immigrants from Central America, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iran, Vietnam, and Chile. This cultural diversity has created what we know as Kensington today, offering pretty much anything from all parts of the world.
Kensington Market was almost demolished, and would be nonexistent today if it wasn’t for Mayor David Crombie (1960s). The city wanted to put in high rise apartment buildings and remove many of the small houses, since apparently it was super chic to do so at the time. An example of this that has failed (depends how you look at it…nevermind, total failure) is the West Lodge building in Parkdale. #NOTCHIC
Another fun Kensington fact: George Brown College was originally located in what is now the Kensington Lofts. These would cost far too much now, but during the recession of the 80s, they housed the student body that helped the local shops stay afloat. Students: great at spending money.
Also, what’s nice about the market is how it hasn’t gentrified. I wish I was around for this, but in 2002 Nike tried to open a store and basically got boo’d out. Protests ensued, and eventually the store closed up shop and ran away. Truly a sign of how unified a neighbourhood can be. Most recently, the FreshMart on Augusta had lots of push back from the community when it first opened because the chain is owned by Loblaws. Luckily it’s completely sub-par in comparison to pretty much every butcher, bread maker and produce seller in the market, and is mostly used to buy cleaning products you can’t buy anywhere else. In 2006, Kensington Market was recognized as a historical site.
With so much history and vibrance, if you can look past the hippyness of it (or maybe that’s your Will Forte) Kensington Market will provide you with everything you’re missing from your condo on Blue Jays Way. Let’s take a look!
Quite possibly what makes Kensington Market so amazing. You’ll be able to get the best local and organic produce or those hard to find specialty cheeses. From the hot and fresh loafs of tasty bread to the freshest seafood and perfect cuts of meat, Kensington is your one-stop shop to a pure life.
While it may look new, Sanagan has been around for a couple of years, in a smaller shop located on the corner of Augusta and Baldwin, which recently expanded to what used to be European Quality Meats and Sausages. Some people in the area were worried that the loss of a butcher over 5 decades old would greatly impact the community, but because of the high standards Peter Sanagan holds and his love of Kensington Market he continues to serve the area only the best of what Ontario has to offer; all sorts of meats including duck, chicken, wild boar, lamb, and quail to in-house specialties such as pates and terrines. Sanagan’s also offers an in-house lunch menu that is always changing. For all those who are anti-meat, Sanagan’s offers meat-free lunches including soups and salads, and is very ethical with a strong mindset on offering meat that is local and free range.
Located at 176 Baldwin. Check out their blog for updates and delicous recipes.
The Good Eats
Because Kensington is home to immigrants from all over the world, there’s no limit to the food available. With an array of choices, the hardest part is deciding where to start (you can’t eat at them all in one day). In Kensington, if you’re feeling spicy, they’ve got it. If you have major dietary restrictions, don’t worry they’ve got you too. If you’re just looking for a place with a nice patio and wanna chill with the classics like burgers and tacos, well guess what? Kensington has you covered.
***new Kensington joint and our fave from Summer 2012***
Offering a vegetarian and fish menu, this French- Caribbean restaurant serves up a completely authentic cuisine. The beautiful quaint back patio has you feeling you’re ocean side thousands of miles away from the city. Also, don’t expect to be spending a lot of $$$ at Le Ti Colibri. The price is just as authentic as the food.
Located at College St. & Augusta Ave.
What makes this Mexican restaurant very special is the Trompo – translating to ‘spinning meat’ – which creates a very flavour rich tasting meat (whether its pork, chicken or lamb). The meat is marinated for a couple of days, followed by an entire day of slow roasting…you can only imagine the flavours it’s absorbing. YUM.
Located at 277 Augusta Ave.
From tasty meat to delicious meat subsitutes, Hot Beans, located just west of Spadina Ave. on Baldwin, offers tasty tacos, burritos, nachos, and other Mexican treats, sans meat. Hot Beans is very eco-friendly, serving everything in biodegradable containers. If that’s not enough to warm your hearts then here’s the best part: they also serve fresh doughnuts.
Huge patio, cozy decor, tasty soups, and the perfect quick and easy lunch: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. So many gooey cheeses to choose from and mix and match the veggies you do (or don’t) wanna add, this greasy snack will do wonders on those extreme hangover days. After you’ve finished your sandwich, head right across the street for a pint at the ever so friendly, Ronnie’s.
With three locations in the city, Urban Herbavore is proving itself a staple in offering delicious, meat-free organic lunches and snacks. The only downfall to this place…the price.
What’s a local market without its cafes? Kensington can provide you with your favourite brew, be it coffee or tea, and also toss in some tasty treats.
Wanda’s a pretty chill lady, and I have it on good authority that the cherry pie is amawwwwwwwwwwwwzing. Actually everything at Wanda’s is delicious because of their tasty tasty pie shortening. Also, the open patio really let’s you take in everything happening in Kensington.
The infamous cafe, where you can smoke all the weed you want, but please don’t go in trying to find any. Having been around for over 11 years, Hot Box is on a fine line in terms of legality, but it’s always open regardless of the law. The food is pretty simple (soups, sandwhiches, smoothies, coffee, etc) and all from within Kensington. If you do decide to visit be prepared to pay the steep $4.20 minimum order during the day, or if you’re passing through at night there’s usually a $5 cover but features comedy shoes, jazz shows, live music and the like for Hot Box After Dark. Happy smoking.
Obviously, we’re not going to forget the juice bars. 100% organic and, if possible, local.
While we’re on the topic of drinking, let’s move into more grown-up territory. Don’t expect any insane club night in Kensington (unless you find yourself down some alley, up some stairs, into a raging loft) but do expect great patios, cheap drinks, and some of the best places to hang with your pals in the city.
There’s a special place in my black heart for Ronnie’s, mainly because the man who owns and operates it is from my hometown (Sudbury), and when I used to visit the ‘Big City’ as a young lad, my big sis would take me here. I felt super cool because I wasn’t yet old enough to drink, and to this day every time I’m at Ronnie’s so many memories start rushing back.
Cheap drinks. Good music. Cozy Patio.
If you’ve never been here before you’ll probably never find it. Inside the dark hallway of Kensington Mall (Kensington & Baldwin) you would swear you’re headed to a really sketch area to buy drugs, but once you’re in, it opens up and the patio is MASSIVE. Always good music and everyone’s having a great time. You can really feel a sense of community. P.S.> Remember to pick up some dumplings from the dim sum cart out front.
The Boat is a party venue now, but at one time it was a restaurant (think fried chicken and cold tea) and a Karaoke bar. It has the feel of the inside of a ship upon arrival, and could quite possibly be the epitome of Kensington market. the bartenders aren’t the fastest, yet they serve large numbers of weekend revelers for all kinds of tongue in cheek parties (Read: white kids + 90s rap). There’s an underground, negotiable quality to the rules, and a coziness that’s good year-round. See also: Augusta House for a more upscale version of the same. Oh and click here to see some oldies but good pics from a Halloween party we threw there in the mid 2000s.
Kensington is not all eat, drink and smoke. There are plenty of places that will gladly take your money for something substantial.
VERY Kensington. This artisan shop offers art, jewellery, pottery, nick knacks, from hundreds of local artists. Reminiscent of the French River Trading Post.
Need an idea about what you’re going to make for dinner? Need to liven up the kitchen? Good Egg has it and has all of it. The best cookbooks, great cookwear and decorations. Basically the best housewares items Urban Outfitters will never carry.
Ok, so this could have gone into the Restaurants section, but what makes this place even better than just another Mexican restaurant is its fresh tortillas (made daily!) and extremely cheap coffee. The closest taste to Mexico you’ll get without actually having to leave the city.
See all those men with very nice, tailored hair? This is where they get it from.
If you want some of the best vintage clothes, well, you’re in the right spot. With so many vintage stores, you can spend $50 and walk away with a whole new wardrobe (maybe, but you get the idea).
Kensington, as much as we made it sound, is not all consumerism. It’s a beautiful neighbourhood where the second you walk in you can feel yourself being accepted into a community. Kensington is a great place to chill, especially in Bellevue Park where you can feel at home without the chaos of Toronto. Thinking about living in the Market? Well make sure you either have or are planning on getting a cat, and if you can handle the hippy vibes, then Kensington is great. You have all the best local and organic produce at your doorstep, you’re equal distance to the east-end as you are to the west, and if you’re somewhat eco-friendly, in less than a year, you’ll feel more connected to Gaia with no motorized vehicles on the 3 Sundays of the summer (until September 30). Truly Blissful.