A Portuguese grocery's low-key facade conceals a buffet of hard-to-find treats.
I was surprised to receive an email from one of my Spice City tipsters about a grocery store in my old neighbourhood with a hot food buffet inside. I must have passed by the place, M&M Fruit & Grocery, a million times. It’s located at 1263 Dundas Street West, just across from the 7-11 at Dovercourt.
From outside, it looks just like your run-of-the-mill corner grocery, but inside, it’s a different story. The shop sells a good selection of Portuguese breads and cheeses, and there’s a full meat counter in the back. More unusual is the large hot food buffet right inside an aisle, packed with dozens of southern European specialties.
While Portuguese take-out barbecue joints aren’t hard to find in this part of town, M&M is unique, as you can serve yourself. Food is sold for $14.99 a kilo; fish is $21.99 a kilo.
“Customers can choose whatever they like,” says the owner, Joel Morais (shown below), a native of Portugal’s Azores islands. “I got the idea to do this when I was on a trip to Florida 18 years ago. In the plazas people buy everything by the pound and it’s amazing.”
Hot food has been served at this 34-year-old grocery for a long time, but Joel says his offerings have expanded considerably in the last couple of years. The food is grilled in the shop’s basement.
While the buffet is a hit with the Portuguese grandma crowd, it’s a great opportunity for non-Portuguese people to sample a wide range of the country’s dishes that go well beyond the standard barbecue chicken and potatoes. The dishes aren’t labelled, but if you ask what they are, you might be in for some surprises.
You can try alcatra, an Azores dish of beef marinated in wine and garlic. There is a wide variety of tasty fish: plump mackerel stuffed with cornbread, good quality tuna steaks in tomato sauce, grilled stickleback and sole filets. Moray eel, another Portuguese delicacy, is served up fried.
The chicarron (fried pork rinds) is a trashy treat, and the blood pudding and blood sausage are undeniably tasty. Another surprisingly pleasant dish are the cow’s feet, which are stewed with sausage and chick peas and served extremely tender.
However, you can never be sure of what you will find here. “The food here is always changing,” says Jorge, who works at the meat counter (shown below). “It’s never the same twice.”
And the final bill? On my first visit I piled in a piece of chicken, those lovely round Portuguese potatoes, and two long grilled fish and it came to $5.55. On a second visit, taking a solid chunk of tuna steak, a large mackerel and a sampling of half a dozen other dishes and it came to around $10. The meal was easily enough to feed two people.
M&M Fruit & Grocery is located at 1263 Dundas Street West, at Dovercourt. Tel: 416-533-9017. Hot food is served from 9:30 a.m. until 4 or 5 p.m.
Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world.
Photos by Sarah Efron.