St. Lawrence Market: Peameal Bacon Sandwich Indulgence
95 Front Street East Toronto, ON
St. Lawrence Market is an institution in downtown Toronto. Housed in a big wooden building that basically looks like a big barn, the market is rich with history and is the location of one of my biggest Toronto addictions: the peameal bacon sandwich. It’s rumoured that famed bad boy chef, Anthony Bourdain stopped by St. Lawrence Market earlier this summer while filming his hit show, Layover. I wonder if he’s addicted to the peameal bacon sandwich too.
St. Lawrence Market is over 200 years old. It’s located at a site proclaimed as “the Market Block” in 1803 by Lt. Governor Peter Hunter. It reminds me of ancient roads in London, England that were named for their function: Bread Street, Milk Street or Honey Lane. A cool interactive timeline on the St. Lawrence Market’s website reveals its intricate history that involves the Great Fire of Toronto in 1849, numerous reconstructions and renovations (some federally and provincially funded) and the community that was created around the market.
My love for public markets is an extension of my love for food carts and street food. I love food stories as much as I love eating. And picking and choosing a variety of different food items from a public market brings dining back to its roots, where diners can talk directly with chefs behind the counter, ask about ingredients, and recipes and dine communally on picnic tables right in the middle of the bustling market. You can smell the food, hear the sizzle of the grill and sample countless types of food all under one roof, it beats the restaurant experience any day.
Dining aside, I also love going to public markets for inspiration, not just to create new dishes but also to re-energize, explore and soak in the dynamic atmosphere that fuels creativity and innovation. I think of public markets as giant hubs of hidden gems.
Situated right near one of the entrances to St. Lawrence Market is Uno Mustachio, a homey Italian deli that makes killer sandwiches. We ordered the veal parma eggplant sandwich. You can see from the picture, it is bursting full of ingredients. How the heck did they ever close this sandwich? I loved that the veal was still crispy on the outside and so succulent, tender and moist on the inside, it was not lost under all the other ingredients. I don’t even like eggplant but I can’t believe how much I appreciated it in this sandwich, it added an earthy dimension and another level of juiciness to the sandwich without making the bun soggy.
The cheese and tomato sauce was totally over the top, the tomato sauce tasted fresh and perfectly spiced. The cheese was gooey and salty and literally glued all the other ingredients together in this sandwich. I totally recommend this mammoth of a sandwich – you probably won’t go hungry for days after eating it.
Buster’s Sea Cove
Next stop: seafood. One of the longest queues at St. Lawrence Market was at Buster’s. We got the halibut sandwich with fries. The portion size was almost as huge as our veal parma eggplant sandwich. The fish was juicy and fresh. To confess though, whenever I eat fried fish, I’m more attracted to the batter than the actual fish. And the light and fluffy batter from Buster’s passed the test, crispy and not too oily.
The fries were average. They were a little dark and sort of soggy. Since it was late in the day, I suspect the oil that they were fried in must have been old.
Now for the main reason we came to St. Lawrence Market: the Peameal Bacon Sandwich! It’s touted as being ‘World Famous,’ and their booth is plastered with all sorts of celebrity endorsements including a blown up letter from Chef Emeril Lagasse.
The sandwich literally just consists of bread and bacon. And it’s still massive. The juicy bacon is just piled on like there’s no tomorrow. I had to use both hands to hold this sandwich as I was eating it.
Peameal bacon is different from the ubiquitous American bacon that has found its way into everything from ice cream to cupcakes over the past year. Peameal bacon or Canadian bacon is actually more of a hybrid between ham and bacon. It’s not smoked like American bacon, it’s rolled in cornmeal and pickled in brine. Peameal bacon comes from the pork loin as opposed to the fatty pork belly that American bacon is cut from. The result is a meatier and more moist meat. It’s addictive. Take my word for it.
The bun that Carousel Bakery uses for its peameal bacon sandwich is soft and fluffy but it’s only the sidekick to the star of the show: that incredible peameal bacon. Each bite is an explosion of sweet, salty flavour, the texture of the meat is both crispy (from the cornmeal crust) and amazingly moist. Since the sandwich is so stuffed to the max with bacon, each bite is filled with meat. I hate those sandwiches where the patty just squirts to the edge after the first bite.
We also picked up a few of these scrumptious little Portuguese dumplings called Rissois. They were two-bite deep fried pockets filled with shrimp and bechamel sauce. They were incredible. Crispy on the outside and creamy and rich on the inside, the filling bursting forth as soon as I bit in. It’s hard to eat just one.
I can’t wait for my next St. Lawrence Market trip for peameal bacon and other goodies!