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Passover Shopping - Most Interesting Options

So every year, I post something along these lines but this year, I'm determined to make more of an effort. Passover is coming up and I'd like to know if it's worth it for me to shlep up to Thornhill or wherever to buy my groceries or if I'm really not going to find anything more interesting than I would at No Frills or Fortino's (on Lawrence) or the Eglinton strip. Every year, I think - maybe they'll have come up with something new and interesting for the holidays - but invariably find they've just added yet another type of matzoh (spelt, whole wheat, egg-free, oy!) into the mix.

I'm mostly interested in a one-shop (or proximate shop) experience with the basics plus a great selection of dairy products and perhaps some interesting prepared foods - bonus points if they don't gouge quite as much as the others on holiday pricing. Oh yes, and where are your favourite Passover bagels? I used to love the ones at Forest Hill Bakery on Eglinton (not the doughy kind but the ones with lots of air bubbles in them) but it's no longer there. Thx.

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  1. peppermint pate, you might want to head over to Kosher City Plus on Bathurst between Lawrence and Wilson. I've also shlepped up to Sobey's on Clark and have regretted it every time. Kosher City Plus has everything you need, and I picked up some lovely kosher for Passover cheeses from France last year that I hadn't seen elsewhere.

    You can also try out the Loblaws Superstore at Dufferin and Steeles; they carry kosher baked goods, gefilte fish and the like from Montreal, as does Ely's opposite Baycrest.

    As for Passover bagels, I think Hermes (the only kosher bakery in Toronto that bakes on Passover, I believe) has the airy type of bagels. I've actually made these -- it's basically a choux dough (as in eclairs) made with cake meal instead of flour. (I don't "trust" the chewy, doughy bagels that are sold by non-kosher establishments; there's got to be something not quite kosher about them.)

    For prepared foods, Toronto Kosher is quite good -- their potato kugel and gefilte fish pass muster (although I do miss Perl's for these items; can't wait for them to reopen!). Some of Ely's prepared foods are good, but their prices are outrageous.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Tatai

      I would place Sobey's well ahead of Kosher City Plus unless there have been recent major changes. I have found KCP to be chaotic and and more oriented toward the kashrut than to the food. Perhaps I'm just being unfair, since they told me last year that they didn't have any Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup because Nesquick was now KP. I had to schlep all the way to Clark avenue to get my year's supply. There IS no substitute.

      While Sobey's isn't exactly a relaxing shopping experience, they come closer than any store outside of Brooklyn to having everything in one place. Their baking isn't any good, but they carry stuff from a bunch of kosher bakeries, including several in Montreal and New York. Their kitchen isn't very good either, but they have stuff from some of the local kosher takeout places (including Toronto Kosher) plus from places in Montreal and New York. They also bring in merchandise that is not available at any other Toronto store (e.g., my NY egg cream syrup).

      I also find the Clark Av Sobey's kinda fun, though I wouldn't want to go there regularly. I'd describe the experience as shopping in Brooklyn circa 1965, with some South Africa, Israel, and Russia thrown in as homage to Toronto's diversity. I get a chuckle watching the Chasidic men, with brood in tow, walking down the aisles with cellphones glued to their ears for shopping instructions.

      As to not "trusting" the bagels sold by non-kosher establishments, Tatai, there's a simple solution. An extra set of dishes for Pesach chometz ;-)

        1. re: embee

          I just wannna echo all of Embee's comments.
          Firstly, because my dad is from NYC so I've learned to stock up on U-Bet at pesach for my yearly egg cream needs. Nesquick, Hershey etc. is just not the same.

          I also find Sobey's bakery amazingly mediocre. You'd think the biggest kosher store in the GTA could make an edible challah, but no dice.

          If you go shopping there, say, next Sunday it will be unpleasant and crazy-busy but if you go when it's tolerable it ain't so bad. rbc is right about going on Saturday though, as Embee points out, the prepared foods won't be out. For staples you should be fine. I can't swear to it but I think the meat and cheese etc are not cleared out , they just aren't refreshed after Friday afternoon or whatever.

          It actually seems there is a bit less of a selection this year...they don't have the lunch-size instant soups and mashed potatoes (ick, I know) which they have in past years.

          Nyleve - you're right about the Bat/wilson No Frill's but the one on Centre Street in Thornhill is much better. The selection isn't quite as good at Sobey's but it can also serve as a one-stop-shop, I think.

          1. re: fleisch

            Tomorrow I shop. I will make sure I am well-fortified with a nutritious breakfast, plenty of coffee and my husband's volleyball elbow pads. With luck, I'll get out of there alive and in possession of all my Passover needs which, to be perfectly honest, aren't all that complicated. I have finally come to the conclusion that I don't need a whole lot of special stuff. As long as I have matzoh, matzoh ball mix (sorry, purists, but it was good enough for my mother so it's good enough for me) and enough fish to make a triple-recipe of gefilte fish, we'll survive the week.

            Heck, I'm not even kosher. But on Passover, it all comes flooding back.

            1. re: fleisch

              Okay, okay, I don't even know where Clark is (I'm guessing around Hwy. 7?) but you've convinced me to head up there, if only to buy the special chocolate syrup and try making me an egg cream (I'm an egg cream virgin).

              Since I do want to gander over their prepared foods and since I don't want to save it for next Sunday, I'm going to hope that one day this week in the middle of the day will be the lesser of my so-so options. I'll deal with baked goods at Hermes next week.

              So while I'm up in the northern regions of this city, is there any place near the Sobey's I should go to - either for Passover related food or a tasty lunch to fortify myself for the drive back home? Actually, on a related note, is there a good KLP-stocked LCBO up there or am I better off heading over to Summerhill or the one on Avenue Road?

              1. re: peppermint pate

                Clark is much closer to Steeles than to Hwy 7. West on Steeles from Yonge, turn north on Hilda. It's at Clark and Hilda.

                There's a kosher LCBO in the same plaza, but be warned that it is VERY small (perhaps "tiny" is more appropriate). Since most people want sweet wine, you have at least some chance of scoring something good. If they are cleaned out, your best bet would probably be Bayview Village.

                The Miami Grill in that plaza isn't bad, but you'll be paying the exorbitant price of COR supervised food. There's also a place with edible pizza slices.

                Cookoo's on Bathurst has fabulous chicken (or did a few years ago). It's also COR-supervised expensive, but much better than Swiss Chalet.

                Amadeus on Bathurst is the antithesis of Passover, but they have some wonderful European pastries - comparable to Rahier but cheaper.

                1. re: embee

                  Actually, that LCBO is gone.
                  They just opened one of their new huge outlets just a 2 min drive west at the Promenade. It has a very large kosher wine selection - I'd guess larger than any other store in the province. They have a lot of new (albeit more expensive) wines in for the season.

                  And Cookoo's is awesome...it's just south on Bathurst at Chabad Gate.

                  1. re: embee

                    Hum... Very good but not as good as Dufflet, Rahier or Celestin (IMO)

                  2. re: peppermint pate

                    On Steeles, east of Bathurst, in the corner of a dinky little plaza is Sababa - home of my favourite cheap and delicious falafel. Get it from the takeout counter of the grocery store, not from the restaurant next door. Unless, of course, you want to sit down...

                    Also there's Kiva's, if you're in the mood for a stereotypical noisy Jewish-style deli lunch in the fashion of Bagel World. The usual eggs, tuna salad, lox and cream cheese stuff - bagels are ok but not my favourite ones. But the ambiance is, er, formica-ish.

            2. I live about an hour away from Toronto, so I am only ever going to make ONE trip to the city to do Passover shopping. It is, without fail, an exhausting and horrible experience. I finally swore, a couple of years ago, that I would do ALL my shopping at one store, no matter how much they price-gouge. This store, alas, has turned out to be Sobeys on Clark. because they really do have just about everything - including kosher meat and fish for gefilte fish. I do not like the vibe - it's hysterical and obnoxious. But then, none of the other places is much better, vibewise. My very least favourite is the No Frills on Bathurst at Wilson - a huge mess, with piles of stuff and incredibly rude customers and staff. One time an old man banged angrily on the hood of my car as I was trying to find a parking spot in the out-of-control lot.

              Argh. Next Tuesday I go. I will make sure I have painkillers in my purse for the inevitable headache at the end of the day.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Nyleve

                I know what you mean about that No Frills at Bathurst and Wilson. It's the most chaotic supermarket I've ever found myself in. No civilized person without disability insurance would enter it more than once, Passover or not. You almost need a brace of bodyguards to get you in and out safely, and always be ready to use your elbows or you'll be abruptly shunted aside by others who don't hesitate to bodycheck you. A less dangerous nearby No Frills alternative is the one on the east side of Avenue Road north of Lawrence Ave. It's the one where neighborhood shoppers, aghast at the close-by Pusateri's produce prices, go to pick up fruits and veggies. The quality's not as good as Pusateri's, but it's often mighty close (and often half the price). Not as much Passover stuff, though, as that madhouse at Bathurst and Wilson.

                1. re: juno

                  My favourite Bathurst/Wilson No Frills story. A few years ago, I arrive to do my annual Passover shop. There were guards posted at the door and a sign that said that there had been a bomb threat at that site. When I went inside (I am an idiot, I know) I asked the butcher (they still had a separate butcher section) what was up with the bomb business. He said it was a competitor who was trying to scare customers away from the store. At the time, I remember thinking that just the store itself was enough to scare customers away! Hilarious.

                  1. re: juno

                    I agree with Juno 100%. I would add: the place is not as clean as it should be. The one on Centre St. (close to The Promenade) is a bit better.

                2. Thanks for the responses - totally laughing about the various No Frills stories. I was there a couple of years ago and vowed never to return again. My cart and I were bumped many a time by scowling customers - sort of like the dark side of Bagel World on a busy morning. Kosher City Plus sounds like an interesting option (KLP cheese from France - wow!!) and not too far out of the way - I can't bear the thought of emptying my gas tank on a long-distance trek to the northerly Sobey's and finding the same ol', same ol'. And yes, Tatai, it is definitely a choux pastry type bagel that I'm looking for - I'll try Hermes this year or maybe even try baking my own. Do you literally use a choux recipe and then sub cake flour in the same proportion as the regular flour?

                  I usually end up getting a few things from Ely's - they're the ones that do a bunch of Chinese dishes, right? - it's never particularly great, just okay, but I like to have at least a few short-cut options on hand and it's the only spot I've ever come across like that.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: peppermint pate

                    I have made Passover bagels and, really, nothing could be easier. If I get a minute, I will post a recipe on the home cooking forum. But if I don't get around to it - or forget - almost any decent kosher cookbook will have a basic recipe for this. Look in the Passover section. There's nothing complicated about making them and freshly homemade ones are the best.

                    1. re: peppermint pate

                      Here's the recipe I've used, peppermint pate. www.gourmania.com/pageturner/shplease... It's matzo meal, not cake meal -- my mistake. This recipe is from Norene Gilletz's Second Helpings Please, and was downloaded from her website, www.gourmania.com.

                      Just be warned that these bagels are light and crisp the day they're baked, but by the next day they're quite soggy. Blech.

                      1. re: Tatai

                        Sobey's on Clark..seems to have an incredible selection of passover items.
                        I use to shlep to Buffalo but in the end..we have a pretty good selection of passover items here in Toronto. I try to stick to the basics that week and eat a lot of fruit and veggies...lol.
                        I also use to leave it to the last minute and no longer do that - after I discovered that when it "runs out" it runs out.

                        Happy Shopping.

                        1. re: domesticgodess

                          The trick to shopping at Sobeys is to go on Saturday! As crazy as it sounds, if you are not shomer shabbat, you can get everything done very quickly - and rather painlessly too... Or go right after Shabbat starts on Friday night - say 9:00.

                          Goooood Luck!

                          1. re: rbc

                            However, all of the service counters are closed on Saturday. Do you know whether they clear out the self service meat, deli, and other COR supervised fresh foods as well?

                            1. re: embee

                              Yes, they still clear out/package all the self service and fresh COR stuff...not like the good ol' days when it was Food City (although now, the selection is much better).

                      2. I like to do Passover shopping at the Metro at Bathurst and Lawerence. Also, for desserts, at nearby Pusiteri, there are amazing passover desserts, specifically the brownies. As for the debate about Passover bagels? The concept of Passover bagels itself isn't kosher, the idea is to not eat leavened items. I have consulted with religious relatives from NY and Passover bagels are unheard of. That being said, the best ones are from What a Bagel on Bathurst. They are definately not Kosher for Passover, though, as there are regular bagels being baked in there at the same time, and that is a major no-no, but who cares, since the concept itself is unkosher.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Toronto Fastfoodie

                          You know the old saying "if it's too good to be true.....".

                          The good tasting passover bagels that are sold in the bakeries all contain yeast - the only difference from "regular" bagels is that they contain matza meal instead of only baking flour.

                          As for anyone that tries to tell you they are kosher for Passover, please have them email me as I have for sale some land in Florida as well as a beautiful bridge with a great view in New York City.

                          1. re: Pizza Lover

                            Passover bagels are only bagels in the remotest visual sense of the word. You basically make a choux paste, but instead of using flour you use matzoh meal (or cake meal - I can't remember right now). Then you form a ball of this stuff with wet hands, place it on a cookie sheet and poke a wet finger into the middle to form a hole. It's SO not a bagel, but after a few days of eating matzoh with butter for breakfast, it does the trick.

                            I do understand, of course, that there are some Jews who do not consider anything made with matzoh crumbs to be kosher for Passover - thereby ruling out recipes that use matzoh meal or cake meal. This is an entirely different matter and depends totally on your level of observance.

                            Ok, now I'm really going to have to find my Passover bagel recipe and post it.

                            1. re: Nyleve

                              Nyleve, I've already posted Norene Gilletz's Passover bagel recipe, which uses a pate a choux method.

                              The bagels that others are referring to look like, and have the same texture as, regular bagels, but are supposedly made with matzo meal. As I suspected, and as Pizza Lover has confirmed, these "kosher" for Passover bagels contain yeast, the ultimate leavening agent!

                              1. re: Tatai

                                Oh good! That's what I would have posted myself.

                                I've never seen these so-called Passover bagels you speak of. How weird is that concept?

                                1. re: Nyleve

                                  Very weird. And they fly off the shelves at Nortown, What a Bagel, etc.

                        2. I'm always amazed at the quantity of pop/soda at Jewish family meals, especially that diet stuff that leaves you thirstier after drinking it than before. I'm more a wine or water guy.. But I did get sent out to do some shopping since my wife always makes her fantastic chicken soup for the family Passover meals. I first went to Highland Farms on Dufferin north of Finch, my goto 'produce' supermarket. First I couldn't find any whole wheat matzo among a dozen different varieties and secondly the kosher chicken bones/backs where all within 1 day of expiry and didn't look particularly attractive. I ended up making another trip to the Metro at Sheppard/Bathurst where I found fresher chicken and the elusive whole wheat matzo.