I love the intimacy of farmer's markets. You are so close to the origin of your food. You are shaking the hand of the person whose love and hard work went into the very soil that produced the harvest you are keen to seasonally indulge in and you can taste that love in the food. There is a buzz, a bustle that farmer's markets boast - a festival atmosphere full of live music, free samples, groups of people contentedly browsing the goods on display, and cooks from restaurant and home kitchens alike getting inspired for the evening's menu. I had a rare Saturday morning off, so my camera and I went on a pilgrimage to the Evergreen Farmer's Market at the Brick Works. A converted brick factory that originally opened in 1889, the space is now re-purposed and re-imagined as a community-focused environmental centre.
The space is ideal for hosting a farmer's market - in the summer the harvest is displayed outdoors in the pavilions, but in the colder winter season, patrons can wander the stalls inside the old factory. I love anything that interprets something old through a modern approach while maintaining the integrity of its historical roots - the Brick Works was the ideal blend. I loved how the old machinery acted as a backdrop to the vendors' displays. My first stop was the (mandatory) pastry indulgence. The Brick Works has its own cafe - Cafe Belong - and I sourced the butteriest, gooiest, sweetest butter tart of the bunch and sat down at a communal table. Communal tables are ideal for eavesdropping and for bringing people together - photographing my butter tart lead me to a lively discussion about social media with two ladies sitting next to me, and I left with two new friends.
There was also a wall of Le Creuset cookware, which had me at...Le Creuset. I stared for a long time.
After my snack, I meandered in and around the various stalls, stopping to converse with the vendors, like Casey (below) from Forbes Wild Foods. One of my favourite things about food is its ability to unite people, and one of my favourite things about farmer's markets is that they are full of people who care about food. No one is rushing, couponing, choring, or begrudgingly stocking up in the old grocery store routine. Here, people are conversing animatedly about crops and heirloom varieties and recipes handed down through generations. Baskets are bursting with evidence of what care and attention can yield from the earth and create on the hearth. The enthusiasm is contagious.
The fresh produce beckons and menus create themselves effortlessly - each season's bounty boasting flavours that naturally complement one another. An afternoon skate brings a smile and burns off some butter tart.
The architecture uniquely blends old-meets-grafitti-meets-new and the variety of textures are so appealing. In an attempt to capture the outdoor Pavilion, I climbed up onto the wall to get a better shot and heard yelling - I thought I was in trouble from being where I shouldn't be, but instead it was the friendly greeting of the Farmer's Market's Operations Manager, Aaron, who paused for a photo. Being around all that food at the market and sampling some of it was the perfect culinary foreplay for lunch at the much-lauded Pizzeria Libretto's new location on the Danforth, a short walk from where the (free!) market shuttle dropped me off. Voted Toronto's best pizza by a variety of sources, I wanted to see for myself if that was true. It is.
In Italian, Libretto means 'book' and here they make their pizza like a book and by the book. The best way to eat it is to fold the 'pages' of the perfectly fire-blistered crust together to carry the toppings to your eagerly waiting mouth. I went with the classic margherita - fresh San Marzano tomato puree, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella di bufala - all locally sourced. The cheese oozes out in the drippiest, tastiest, most delightful way and you can use the crust, which somehow manages to be crispy and chewy, to sop up some homemade chili oil to add a bit of heat. I say 'by the book,' because they strictly adhere to the 'pizza laws' set by the European Union and are certified by the Vera Pizza Napoletana Association. This is serious pizza that tastes seriously delicious, but is made and served with laughter and warm-heartedness. Maya and Jamie (below) were the most attentive and friendly servers complementing the welcoming atmosphere that was abuzz with a full room of happy late-afternoon lunchers.
Having thoroughly enjoyed my pizza experience, I asked Maya what I should have for dessert. She suggested the Lemon Posset - a dessert that upon my first spoonful I immediately re-named Lemon Sex. Essentially, a posset is heavy cream and sugar stabilized with lemon to form a custard whose silkiness rivals the best crème brûlées I've tried. This is topped with a subtle chamomile granita, supremed orange and grapefruit, and shards of crunchy light meringue. The combination of flavours and textures is blush-inducing, it's so sensual. This dessert and I shared an intimate moment. In public. It was wonderful.
I walked to the back to see what was up in the kitchen and an equally curious little boy and I were treated to the floury aerial stylings of Chef Rocco Agostino.
I was so delighted when Chef Rocco took the time to chat with me during the busy lunch service. His enthusiasm for what he does is clear, and his passion shone through as he talked with me about what's new on his menu (a delicious-sounding breakfast pizza that I'll have to try next time) and what's going on at his other restaurant, Enoteca Sociale (will have to go soon!) while lovingly shaping dough and sprinkling it tenderly with its accompanying sauce and ingredients to meet its hot hot fate in the wood-fired oven (specially imported from Naples). 90 seconds at 900 degrees till blistered bliss. Yes, that's what this pizza is. It's authentic and simple and full of heart, just like the chefs who make it (Chef Rocco, below top left & pizza maker extraordinaire, George, below top right). Pizzeria Libretto's pizza is the kind of book you devour the first time through and want to re-read again and again.
I felt so inspired after this day spent connecting intimately with what I ate as a result of getting to meet and connect with the people who had everything to do with putting it on my plate. It got me excited about planning this year's garden, and eager to get back to my kitchen to make things to bring those I love to the table.