I used to watch the show The Heat with Canadian culinary mogul now Top Chef Canada judge superstar Mark McEwan. The show was all about the challenges of catering. Later it showed the development and creation of his very own fine food store. I absolutely adored watching his dream come true and promised myself if I had the chance to visit it one day, I would.
My friend Michelle joined me on the foodie tour of the store. I had no idea the location of McEwan is actually so very close to where I used to go to my orthodontist appointments, many years ago. Some things looked so familiar but this giant store surrounded by others in a fancy outdoor mall? I was so shocked when I realized his store was what used to be in in my neck of the woods when I was a teenager.
At the front of the huge store on the left-hand side is a cafe where people can pick up coffee and treats and hang out for a bit which Michelle and I did. We were there early on a cold and wet day so we warmed up with hot beverages, checking the place out and watching the cafe lineup get longer and longer. Clearly this place was still popular after being open for four years.
George Bachoumis, the general manager of the The McEwan Group, graciously gave us a tour of the gourmet grocery store. When I asked him about who shops there, he replied their customers are people who want restaurant-style food.
In fact, you can either buy a pizza that was made fresh at Mark’s Italian restaurant Fabbrica located right across the street from the store or pick up one of their made-in-store pizzas.
From prepared salmon to a stunning Cornish hen, you can find so many already prepared dishes to take home with you. George said that they have so many amazing ideas and dishes, the hard part for the store is they run out of room. Did I mention this store was huge?
When I saw this tray of enormous beautiful shrimp I told him I could eat the whole tray! Next thing I knew we were given a sample… Divine! It took me three whole bites to finish just one shrimp, they were that large.
You can find a ton of stunning sushi, prepared hummus, salads, dips… The deli department is packed with lots of food ready-to-go back home with you right now.
As much as I enjoyed seeing prepared food, I loved seeing all the super fresh and varied meat (including Mennonite chicken breasts) even more. It took me back to many episodes of Top Chef Canada, chefs scurry around looking for the best quality meat they can find to wow the judges, including Chef McEwan!
A perfect example? I have never seen wild Ahi tuna in my grocery store before. For me, this was a highlight.
A lot of reviews of the store mention how expensive the store is but for quality ingredients like this? It is perfectly understandable to me. You do not go to McEwan to buy ordinary foods. You go for the specialty foods you can not find anywhere else, especially not in North York, so far from downtown.
George said the regular customers who come want the restaurant feel when it comes to food but the convenience of being able to take it with them.
It is true! How much would you pay for a rack of lamb at a restaurant versus making it at home? Yes, still expensive and more work but much less than going out to dinner all the time.
Here you can actually find Mark’s restaurant burgers, as well as Greek-style lamb burgers with sundried tomatoes and feta made by Mark’s son Eric. There is lots of lamb, fresh chorizo and their steaks come from grain-fed cattle and are aged for 28 days.
Where else can you find vacuum-packed marinated chickens ready for the barbecue and butter poached lobster? There are many seafood kabobs to choose from, already prepped. This store makes a foodie’s life a lot easier.
There are over 500 varieties of cheese from around the world, including Canadian cheddars. You can also find a caviar case, should you be so inclined.
McEwan has many cured meats and they are sold deli style. Instead of packaging them ahead of time, just go to the counter and ask for as much as you want, New York style. I love the idea of just buying a slice of this, a few slices of that… It is a smart way to shop and sell.
The curry bar is the most popular section of the store, at all hours and days of the week, people are picking up food from the bar. The Sri Lankan chef loves preparing the food which profiles staples like butter chicken but also switches up some items here and there.
Bakery & Chocolates
The desserts are brought in from the top bakeries. I was very excited to see a mini version of La Rocca’s Original Caramel Crunch Cake! We had just had the large version a little while ago at a family event. If that is any indication as to the quality of desserts, I am thoroughly impressed.
It was at this point of the tour I kind of lost it. I am absolutely fascinated by the art of chocolate and the work of Laura Slack is astounding. Every truffle unique, special and…
… Yes, this is where I officially “lost it.” I kind of jumped up and down at the sight of Dulce Skulls! I called Michelle, lost whatever “cool” I had and freaked out just a tad. This product is so “me” as a foodie, I wanted to skip! Well no one can say I am not enthusiastic, LOL.
I will admit the produce section surprised me. It was not as big as I thought it was going to be. Lots of amazing food but I just thought it would be… bigger. I mean, this is what it is all about. Fruit and vegetables.
George had mentioned they do and try to buy as much local as possible and will only buy the best quality. If it is not good enough, it is not put on the shelves. One really positive aspect of this attitude is less stressful shopping, customers are assured of buying only the best. I have no idea how many crappy avocados I have bought from basic grocery stores over the years.
The Olive Oil Bar
The store has a wall of olive oil and balsamic vinegars and I must admit, is a tad overwhelming. In order to make it more approachable, they created the olive oil bar a few months ago. Which is absolutely genius!
As a result of our taste testing, Michelle bought the Smoked Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Castillo de Canena and I wish I had too. It was delicious! Through this process, I discovered that I do not enjoy the grassiness of new olive oils.
I did fall in love with Domenica Fiore Olio Reserva which was on display in the store. Turns out that it was judged as the best olive oil in the world for 2013. This is the kind of treat and foodie entertainment/education you will find at McEwan.
Including aged balsamic vinegars that cost hundreds of dollars. McEwan often gets world travellers who are looking for something they had overseas. So, why not have everything?
Including these giant perfume-style olive oils in glass cases. Wild!
Getting My Foodie Geek On
It was hard not getting lost in the store. We were there forever checking everything out but I have to say some of the best food-tainment came from geeking out over some of my favourite foodies’ products. Including Mario Batali‘s pasta sauces.
Christine Cushing‘s various Fired Up spreads.
Guy Fieri‘s salsas.
And Jamie Oliver‘s various specialty salts (among many other products).
That was all a ton of fun but for me, finding Elderflower Presse impressed the hell out of me. It has disappeared from just about every place I shop and finding it here made me feel confident in saying that McEwan really does sell just about every high end product I can think of.
That and finding Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste, a product I normally have to buy online.
After I finished the tour and told my mom about it, she asked if they had any truffles? Good question Mom, as always. I wrote George and this was his response:
“We do carry fresh truffles only when their in season. (Oct-Dec.) There sometimes is a summer truffle but not as intense in flavor as the winter truffle. We also have preserved truffles but really no flavor.”
So they do carry everything!
What We Bought
Michelle went home with many of their meat rubs and you can tell it is authentically made in-house by the little spelling mistakes in the list of ingredients. For me, that added a homemade touch that I found quite charming.
I of course went home with that fabulous Dulce Skull and brought other chocolate truffles home with me too. I also bought a few other fabulous foodie treats that I can not wait to product test and share on my blog.
I know we can not all go to McEwan in person for a tour so I did my best to share what the store is like with you so it felt as though you were there with me. It was absolutely worth being on my foodie bucket list.
Special thanks to George Bachoumis for such a fantastic and thorough tour of the store. It meant the world to me.