Canada Day Edition: The Veteran and the Rookie

Joe Beef vs Heartbeat

Here on the eve of Canada Day, we wanted to remind everyone that, while we're not a store that's exclusively Canadian, we ARE a store that's dedicated to offering the best the world has to offer and that includes some incredible Canadian products. And what better way to talk about them here than with a hockey metaphor!

On the left side of this photo, three offerings from the veteran, Joe Beef - the Montreal institution that includes the Joe Beef and Liverpool House restaurants as well as a variety of take home sauces and rubs. A great example of Canadian pride is watching Joe Beef's founders, David McMillan and Fred Morin, take the late great Anthony Bourdain ice fishing with foie gras and the "finest wines known to man" and on a culinary trip as they ride by train from Montreal to Quebec City. The ketchup, BBQ Sauce and Reserve Jerk Sauce we're offering are great examples of their commitment to foregrounding bold flavours and great ingredients. The ketchup is a mix of tomato and red pepper with less sugar than you typically find in a grocery-store ketchup. The BBQ sauce AND the jerk sauce are both built around a base of Quebec prunes for a heady, jammy note in each.

If Joe Beef is the Mario Lemieux in this hockey metaphor (the once upstarts are now the establishment and they own the team!), Heartbeat Hot Sauces are not even the Sidney Crosby - more like the Connor McDavid! This is a young team from Thunder Bay Ontario with just two sauces in their line up: fresh jalapeño with fermented serrano peppers bring a bright heat to the table while the fermented red habanero is, curiously, both sweeter and hotter with a bit more depth of flavour. But their undeniable talent has already got them playing in the big leagues. They are featured in the number 2 spot in the line up on season six of Hot Ones - the YouTube show where celebrity guests try to keep it together while host Sean Evans interviews them and leads them through a series of hot sauces ending with the Last Dab - a sauce that comes in at around 2.4 million Scoville units!

Not only is it a very big deal to be featured on the show, Heartbeat is also featured at Heatonist, the hot sauce vendor in Chelsea Market NYC that's behind the Hot Ones show and their own line of hot sauces.

This Canada Day, celebrate this tasty Team Canada at YOUR barbeque!



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Sharpen Your Sense of Flavour

OCNI Flavours

OK, bear with me - this may be our most puzzling post yet. And it comes from a Montreal/France collaboration with an acronym meaning "Unidentified Food Object" (hence the amusing logo) and, like it's namesake, it's something strange and exciting and out of this world.

What you're looking at in the four test tubes above look like double-thick crayons. But instead of being made of wax and pigment, they're made of a careful formulation of agar-agar (the seaweed-based food product that acts as a solidifier) and flavour - in this case basil, soy and porcini mushroom, lemon and salt and hot pepper and garlic respectively. The unidentified object on the right is something perhaps more familiar: a pencil sharpener.

They come in a handy pack that converts neatly into a stand for your countertop:

Now, here's where it gets REALLY interesting:

When it comes to finishing a dish, you're probably used to sprinkling a little salt, grinding a little pepper, crushing a couple of chillies, grating a little parmesan, zesting a little lemon, squeezing a little lime, shaving some truffle.... Well, get ready to add a couple of new verbs to your culinary actions. You're going to really sharpen the accents to your dish by twisting the chosen flavour stick in the sharpener for that final flourish of finishing flavour.

OCNI flavour stick in action

Come into the store to check it out and ask for a demonstration. Then be prepared to welcome these friendly and flavourful aliens into your kitchen!

It's a new frontier in cooking and OCNI is inviting you to boldly go...!

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For the Kid in Dad (or just for the kids)

Assorted Ice Pop Molds

We admit it, we were caught off guard. 

Remember a few weeks ago when there was that heat wave in May? We had put out our stock of various ice pop molds just to remind people we had them, really, but within a week they were mostly gone. So we immediately placed an order for more and of course it turned cold again. Which is fine because there was a delay in the delivery. But as the official start of summer looms, we're glad to report that ice pop molds are back in stock in a variety of shapes and manufacturers.

Choose the Onyx stainless steel models for durability (and for a household where you don't need a lot of them!) or go with the fun shapes and different sizes from Tovolo. There are plenty of choices, now you just need to decide what flavours to make! For a guide to some great flavours and combinations - from kid favourites to healthy alternatives to boozy adults-only versions, check out these recipes.

And don't forget that Father's Day is this weekend. If you don't think he'd like popsicle molds, maybe something in the BBQ or hot sauce department? But don't limit yourself, the options are endless, as always, at the Mercantile.

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Rocking Like Roncy

Kinsip Sampling at Roncy Rocks

We all know that Roncy rocks, generally speaking. But tomorrow is the day when the street puts that sentiment into action (and music) with one of the city's best street festivals, drawing on both visiting talent (like the Conor Gains Band) and neighbourhood heroes (like Lindy Vopnfjord). For a complete rundown of participating musicians, artists and vendors, check out Roncy Rocks online.

Our part in the festivities is pretty low-key - we don't have a BBQ or anything. But we do have lots of treats and refreshments inside and we're anticipating at least SOME Father's Day shoppers who are thinking a week ahead. For those in that category we have some great ideas for bar, barbecue and lots more.

We do also have some wonderful new friends from Kinsip in Prince Edward County. We wrote about them in this space a few weeks ago and we're proud to offer their Whiskey Barrel Aged Maple Syrup and their awesome selection of aromatic bitters (either of which would make a great Father's Day gift, BTW!). Not sure? Kinsip will be set up in front of the store for Roncy Rocks offering samples of both the bitter and the sweet and we'll be offering $1 off any Kinsip product from 11-4 on Saturday.

No, YOU rock!

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Mado's in the Shados

Mado's Pepper Sauce

If you're a regular Mercantile customer, you probably know Mado's Pepper Sauce and it's likely you've heard one of us tell you it's beautiful Toronto origin story: for years Erin Dowse of the Old York Tavern on lower Niagara St. had been buying it by the bucket-load from a Dominican-Canadian named Elizabeth Madonis who made it in her bathtub in Ajax. As word spread and demand grew, Elizabeth had trouble keeping up with the orders so Erin bought the rights to the recipe and commercialized the operation. It has become a legendary condiment, made according to the original recipe with pumpkin, papaya, scotch bonnets and cider vinegar for the perfect balance of sweet and hot and tart and umami.

And we're not the only enthusiasts. People come from various parts of town knowing we're a source for this beloved and versatile local favourite. And those who love it love it a lot - never wanting to be down more than a bottle and a half in the pantry and fridge. We've been saying for ages that if Erin wanted to take Mado's global, it could easily hold its own with HP and Sriracha and the rest of them. 

While most producers struggle to get a minute with the big distributors and grocery chains, lately they've been knocking on Erin's door and Mado's is poised to get a whole new profile. Just remember, you knew Mado's when you could only get it here and a handful of other shops around town.

So in celebration of the success of Mado's so far and the success yet to come, here's a recipe for something we've been doing with it lately:

Mado's Glazed Chicken Thighs

6-10 boneless skinless chicken thighs
6 ounces Mado's Pepper Sauce, divided
1/2 cup yogurt
2 Tbsp honey or sugar
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
flaked salt to finish

Mix the yogurt and half of the Mado's in a bowl and toss in the chicken thighs to coat. Marinate in the fridge for an hour or two - longer if you like.

In a small sauce pan, combine the rest of the Mado's with the honey or sugar, vinegar and salt and simmer until it reduces substantially. You're done when it starts to look like a thick glaze.

Take the thighs out of the marinade mixture and shake off any excess. Lay them on foil or Silpat in a baking sheet and paint with the glaze mixture.

Put the tray on the top shelf of the oven under a hot broiler (or on the hot part of the BBQ grill if you're outdoors) and cook for 5 minutes per side, until you see the sugar in the glaze start to bubble.

Top with a few flakes of Maldon salt and maybe some chopped parsley or coriander and serve with rice and veg or a crispy fruity salad and you are good to go.

You're welcome.

Long Live Mado's!

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Getting THIS part of your house in order

Mako Bar stuff

I have this friend who has this beautiful counter-mounted wine opener that is absolutely effortless and takes about 2 seconds to do its thing. It cost somewhere upwards of $300, as I recall. Now, this friend also had an extensive, climate-controlled wine cellar in the basement stocked with extraordinary vintages (though why you'd wait twenty years to open a bottle and then need it open in two seconds is beyond me!)

I rarely spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine but I do like to have a well-stocked bar for any taste and occasion to satisfy any guest. I don't need to spend a lot on my bar tools but I do need to have dependable quality, stylish design and the right tool for the job. 

Right now, we're offering an array of bar tools - from muddlers and Boston shakers to waiter's corkscrews, wine stoppers, mixing glasses and ice cube trays - by Mako, the same people who make the Wine Rabbit. They're available in convenient sets or as individual items at a great price and they look great too.

And, of course, once you've got your bar in order, you know where to come for tonics, mixes, flavour syrups, aromatic bitters, orgeat, rosewater, Amarena cherries, olives, glass rimmers, spices, cocktail onions.....

It's going to be a summer of entertaining. Be prepared!
You'll find the Mako selection facing you the moment you walk in the store.

It's going to be a summer of entertaining. Be prepared!
You'll find them facing you the moment you walk in the store.

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Thank you.

To those of you recently subscribed to our newsletter, welcome.
And to those of you veteran readers, this is a very rare Tuesday edition!

Typically, the newsletter arrives midmorning on a Thursday or Friday.
We hope that you find it informative and at least mildly entertaining.
There's no hard sell, no pestering, no avalanche of details. It's just a weekly occasion to talk about something in the store that's captured our interest and that we hope might capture yours - whether that's a new product we're carrying or something fun we've discovered to do with products you already know and love.
Occasionally, it's an opportunity to let you know about special sales or calendar events you might need reminding about, a recipe or two, interesting links to share or invitations to events like the one we held in store this past Thursday.

Speaking of which... THANK YOU to all of you who attended. It felt really special to have you in store after hours and to see so many customers, friends and neighbours sharing a drink and a snack. After a decade in the neighbourhood, it really seemed like it was about time we did that and it felt like a warm hug all evening.

Thanks again to our friends at Junction Craft Brewing for providing the beer and April Voth (yes, that April Voth!) for running the bar. Thanks to our stalwart suppliers Salt Gourmet, Neal Brothers and Mad Mexican for contributing edibles for the evening and as part of the prize gift basket.

Our other two prizes were generous gift certificates from our good friends at Pizzeria Defina and Imelda and I guess now is the time to announce the winners of those three prizes, selected at random from the entire list of newsletter subscribers:
[DRUM ROLL.....]
Alison gets the best pizza in the city (and more) at Defina;
Kim ups her fashion footwear game with Imelda; and
Nick gets a feast for the senses with a big basket of tasty treats as well as salt scrub and room and body spray from local heroes Really Great Goods.
By the time you read this they will all have been informed directly.

Thanks again to everyone who attended and sorry to those who couldn't make it on Thursday. We'll try not to make it 10 years before our next get together! And a special thanks to our friends and neighbours at Barque Smokehouse and Willem & Jools for the unexpected gifts and for reminding us of just how special this community is for all of us lucky enough to serve it.

Look for our regular newsletter coming Friday morning.

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The Bitter and the Sweet

Kinsip Bitters and Maple Syrup

Were this good sized chunk of land not clinging to the north shore at Twelve O'Clock Point between Brighton and Trenton, Lake Ontario would have its very own Prince Edward Island. Instead, we have a Prince Edward County - a genuine sweet spot in the province with its very own microclimate to prove it. 

Famous poets, musicians and painters have been drawn to the area over many decades along with some extraordinary farmers, vintners and food artisans. It is the source of wonderful produce, fine cheeses, beers, wines, ciders and now a new distillery called Kinsip making gin, vodka, shochu, whisky, rye, rum, brandy and even a "County Cassis".

Of course, we are not licensed or equipped to carry any of these fine tipples but Kinsip does produce some delicious things we can carry:

Introducing Kinsip Bitters in Sour Cherry, Orange, Ginger, House Recipe, Lavender Lemon and Hibiscus Rosehip - great additions to the toolkit of any pro or amateur mixologist - and Kinsip whisky-barrel-aged Maple Syrup. It's got a really lovely, robust, smoky flavour that pairs as well with pancakes as it does with cocktails.

Find both in store to your left as you come in the store in the bitters and maple syrup sections respectively!

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Come Party with Us!

10 Years on Roncy

It's hard to believe.

Ten years ago we made the move from the bustle of College St. to homey Roncesvalles. And look what's happened since then!

In the midst of the success of this amazing neighbourhood, we're proud to have become your go-to source for everything from gourmet groceries to gorgeous gifts and products that represent the best of our city and the best from around the world. And we'd really like to celebrate this decade long relationship with you.

So maybe it's short notice but if you don't have any plans next Thursday evening... 
Please come by the shop from 7:00-9:00pm for some complimentary snacks and beverages - including beer from our friends at Junction Brewery and samples of some of our favourite products.

If you're already a subscriber to our weekly newsletter you are already entered in our prize draw. We've got three great gift baskets to give away including a generous gift certificate from our friends at Pizzeria Defina tasty treats. If you're not already on our list, sign up the soiree and you'll be eligible for the draw too!

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Me Time for Mom

Fenwick candles

Madonna and George Harrison both said it: we are living in a Material World. 
There are no shortages of opportunities to treat yourself, to make impulse purchases or to have the world delivered to your doorstep. There are even apps for sending gifts!

With Mother's Day next weekend, we know it's easy to continue that cycle with the usual cards and candies. And we DO have a great selection of those things (not to mention some special Mom's Day shortbreads from local institution, Mary MacLeod's!) But, really, the best way to show your appreciation for mom is to give her some time - some of your time and some time for herself. Make her that breakfast, bring her those shortbreads, draw her a bath (with Epsom salts from Roncy start-up Real Great Goods) and light one of these gorgeous scented candles from Toronto-based Fenwick.

We've got them in three scents: Lavender & Eucalyptus, Bergamot & Bay and Fir, Balsam & Cedar (for your outdoorsy mom!). Each hand-poured candle is made from organic coconut wax with pure essential oils and a cotton wick. They contain no harmful or synthetic ingredients - naturally deodorized wax, petroleum free, lead - free, non gmo, cruelty free. They come in a safe, heat-tempered glass jar with a white twist lid packaged with biodegradable tree - free labels and recyclable materials.

Each jar contains 18 hours of burn-time. That's 18 baths or naps or hours curled up with a book. And that's a lot of Me Time for your busy mom!

Find them on the main table with other Mother's Day ideas starting today!

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On Judging a Book by its cover

Yaal & ChocSoleil

We pride ourselves on having a great selection of chocolate from near and far at a variety of price points. Some tout the "raw" chocolate, some elaborate flavour combinations; some are local, some from exotic locations; some organic, some not - but all great quality stuff. So how do you choose?

Once you've decided on a milk or a dark or if you're looking for particular flavours or other qualities, you're really left with the packaging. The packaging always attempts to convey something of the product within - the no-nonsense cardboard of Galérie au Chocolat or the exquisite chiyogami paper wrappers of Laura Slack's bars - but ultimately it comes down to judging a book by its cover; both the design and the information included.

To tell you the truth, we hesitated about carrying these Yaal and ChocoSoleil products from a company (AOG Foods) founded by two Ecuadoran-Canadian brothers and their friend because we didn't like the packaging. We still don't understand the distinction between the product lines. The design is too busy and its graphics too dated-looking. But when we opened these "books" and got to know about the team's mission and the product inside we were sold - and we hope you will be too.

Ecuador has a long history of cacao cultivation and is a top exporter. Its varied geography offers many distinct regional terroir variations of the bean and its flavours and characteristics. AOG supports several small grower cooperatives and pays 20-50% above current market rates in order to support small communities using traditional farming methods and promote agricultural sustainability. They are Canada, US and EU certified organic, exceed fair trade and environmental standards and use purpose-built state of the art processing facilities and traceability procedures.

And then there's the chocolate.
Whether it's blended or single estate origin, you get a smooth, complex, rich flavour and mouthfeel - even the 80% Esmerelda doesn't have the kind of chalkiness you can get with cocoa percentages that high. And the inclusion on the perfectly portioned discs of exotic fruits or the thin layer of maca, quinoa, sesame, amaranth, turmeric, chia and cocoa nibs on the Super 7 bar - never overwhelms the chocolate. And it's all produced bean-to-bar, which means that AOG handles every step in the process: from sourcing to sorting, roasting, cracking, winnowing, grinding, conching, tempering, molding, packaging and getting the bar to us.

You can't really go wrong with any of the chocolate you can get at the Mercantile - whether it's Laura Slack or Chuao or Marou or Vosges or Galérie or Theo or Chocosol or Denman Island. And some will look better in your gift basket than others or appeal to different styles. But if you really want to wow the chocolate aficionados in your life once the wrapping is opened up, give these a try - you won't be disappointed.

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Ancient Wisdom, Modern Snacks

The guy in the image is Gaius Plinius Secundus, though you may know him better as Pliny the Elder, born in Verona around 23 or 24AD. He was an author, a lawyer, a philosopher, a naturalist and a military commander for the ancient Roman Empire. Basically, he was no dummy. And when he led a legion of Centurions off on another conquest he needed to make sure they were well nourished without the benefit of vacuum-sealed K-rations or foil-wrapped protein bars. He provided something simpler, tastier and more nutritious: lupini beans (lupinus albus, since we're doing latin translations today). And in so doing he was merely borrowing on the wisdom of the Egyptian Pharaohs of the 12th Dynasty 2000 years earlier.

Modern science can give us hard data to back up Pliny's thinking - like the graph above, which shows the number of grams of vegetable protein per 100 calories of lupini beans compared to everything from chia seeds to chick peas to soybeans. They've got 35% more fibre than oats, 2.6 times more minerals than coconut water and 80% fewer calories than almonds. But here's the real kicker... they're delicious!

Stop at a sidewalk café after a morning traipsing around Rome these days and  you'll find lightly pickled lupini beans a common accompaniment to a cold bottle of Moretti! But although these are a very common bar snack from Italy to Portugal and Egypt to Ecuador, they've never really caught on in North America. Until now.

BRAMI Snacks of New York is behind the latest effort to popularize this ancient snack and we are now offering three flavours (sea salt, garlic & herb and balsamic vinegar) in their colourful and convenient resealable packages. You can eat them the traditional way - popping the softer interior bean from the shell with your fingers or with your teeth - but these beans are so perfectly pickled that you can go ahead and eat the whole thing (unlike other commercially available lupini beans we've tried). 

We actually looked into making our own pickled lupini beans at home but it's at least a two week process so we're glad that BRAMI has made it easier to eat these things in more ways than one. And, honestly, we are craving these things daily. Great with a beer at the end of the day? Absolutely. But mid-afternoon at the computer and you feel you want to reach for a cookie? Lupini beans fill that gap perfectly. Take it from us... and Pliny.


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