There is an area made up of a dozen city blocks centered around West Queen West St. dotted with graffiti. A lot of it looks like it has been commissioned, making up part of the brand and decoration of local independent stores that dominate this area. A lot of it has been tagged or is a colourful tag itself. The rest is a mix of interesting bits and pieces, multicoloured shapes running west from Spadina Ave. to Portland St and spreading out across the surrounding laneways.
When you pop out of the magic hole at the end of Grafitti alley, and take a bit of a turn to the left and then another little turn to the right, you will find yourself La Merceria. The store looks and feels like a work of love. Is it a design store? Is it a kitchen store? Is it a café? As it turns out, it’s all of these things, all perfectly arranged into a very small space. The tables and chairs fit into the spaces between display cases, and a few tiny hidden rooms in the back provide a sort of bubble from the outside world for visitors. But it doesn’t feel cramped at all. Despite its compact size and the number of things fit into the space, the whole place feels airy and bright.
La Merceria is Argentinian at its core which means that they also, not surprisingly, offer the traditional Argentinian Submarino hot chocolate, a bar of chocolate that you stir into a glass of hot milk. When we were travelling around Argentina (just before I started writing this blog), we had so many Submarinos I lost count. But here they have a second slightly less Argentinian hot chocolate offerings that had all my attention, their peppermint hot chocolate.
Apparently a few years back an Australian woman working here suggested that they add peppermint to their hot chocolate. They did and not only did it work but it became their best selling hot chocolate during the cold Toronto winter months. Intrigued, I watched the man at the counter, I suspect one of the owners based on his Argentinian accent, as he placed a handful of pieces of dark chocolate at the bottom of the mug and then drowned them in hot milk. A peppermint tea bag was then added to the mix and left to infuse. The longer it stays there, the more peppermint you get. This is such a nice hot chocolate. Really it is a no brainer! Peppermint and chocolate are a winning combination, but beautiful dark chocolate with a subtle natural hint of refreshing peppermint (rather than a syrup or candy), mixed with milk and heated up. Yum.
Being lunchtime, we also ordered one of each of the three empanadas they had on offer today (traditional Argentinian pastries filled with meats and vegetables), the beef, spinach and chicken. They were beautifully presented on a plate with a fork and knife wrapped in a paper napkin and itself all tied together with a little piece of green string. A small container of fresh salsa verde was added to each plate to accompany the pastry. A glass container on the counter was filled with water that tastes just like cucumbers (and then I realized the container was filled with them! No wonder!). Rich tells me to write in my notes that the espresso is the best one he has had yet in Toronto. As if on cue, a women passed by the door walking 7 dogs at once and slows down as a couple of the dogs try to enter the café, exactly the kind of thing we saw when we were in Buenos Aires enjoying our hot chocolates and empanadas there! What are the chances…
Verdict: If I lived in Toronto this would be one of my locals. A delicious hot chocolate, and if you are interested in trying something else a little different they offer a yerbe mate lemonade. La Merceria, 506 Adelaide St. Toronto, Ontario, Canada