On recent trips to Toronto, I’ve discovered that gluten-free grocery-store choices have multiplied. There’s Whole Foods in Hazelton Lanes (though its Gluten-Free Bakehouse options are more limited than what I encounter in the chain’s New York branches). Grocery giant Loblaws now has a specialty-food aisle in its shops that includes celiac-safe options. There’s also Noah’s Natural Foods, a small, health-oriented local chain, and Ambrosia Natural Foods just north of Toronto in Thornhill. However, my favorite in the city — the Specialty Food Shop — is located downtown at the southeast corner of University Avenue and Gerrard Street.
If you know Toronto at all, that location might have sent up a red flag. Right now, you’re asking yourself, Isn’t that where the Hospital for Sick Children is? Yes, and that’s exactly where the Specialty Food Shop is. I know that going into a hospital to shop for food isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but if you can get past that obstacle, this is a real find. There are aisles filled with gluten-free treats — cookies of all descriptions, ice-cream cones, snack bars — as well as aisles filled with healthier fare, including pastas, cereals, breads, soup bases and mixes, baking products, and frozen dinners.
The Specialty Food Shop carries brands many North American celiacs know, including Glutino, Mi-Del, and Enjoy Life, but there are some surprises, too. Who knew that there’s a fantastic Swiss-style dedicated gluten-free bakery called El Peto in Ontario that makes divine butter tarts and pecan tarts? An Alberta company, Kinnikinnick, produces Oreo-like cookies called K-Toos. There are also international brands such as Australia’s Orgran (which makes buckwheat pasta) and Germany’s Glutano.
The store isn’t just for celiacs, and not all of its products are gluten-free. There are also groceries for the lactose-intolerant and the food-allergic, people on low-protein diets, and people with cystic fibrosis. If you live in Canada but can’t make it to the store in person, you can place your order online or by phone instead (shipping is not available to the U.S.). If you do have the opportunity to visit, enter the building through the Elizabeth Street entrance (the Hospital for Sick Children is a massive complex; this offers the clearest route to the store). The store is open seven days a week; check the website for the most up-to-date hours. Its website also features extensive nutritional information and gluten-free recipes.
The Specialty Food Shop [address] At the Hospital for Sick Children (main floor), 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada [tel] 1-800-737-7976 or 416-813-5294 [web] www.sickkids.on.ca/specialtyfoodshop