When a heritage building like Maple Leaf Gardens is renovated, there’s always a concern that whatever goes inside will gut the building’s soul, with, at best, a commemorative plaque to mark what used to be. Thankfully, Galen Weston and his Loblaws crew chose to retain the charm of the iconic arena, except that instead of stadium seating and the aroma of beer nuts, the impressively large space is now home to fresh bread (from Ace Bakery), a café (with the original Gardens gold seats), a wide selection of organic produce (fans of Portlandia will be pleased to know that images of the farmers responsible abound), a sushi bar, an LCBO, a walk-in clinic, a Joe Fresh, a wall of cheese (seriously, a whole wall), a wall of cupcakes (seriously, a whole wall) and a wall of aging meat (yes, a whole wall). That’s just the tip of the chocolate-by-the-chunk iceberg (of which there is one—it weighs 250 pounds and required a mechanical lift to drop into place). Tour the brand new grocery mega-store in a gallery after the jump.
Before we were admitted to the supermarket-cum-coliseum for the grand opening, Weston gave a speech, followed by a baguette-cutting ceremony (the purpose-baked Ace baguette was a good five feet long). We entered and hung a left to find a red-subway-tiled café selling bagels (69 cents each), espresso-based drinks ($1.79–$3.19) and house-made gelato ($2.99–$10.99). Much of the prepared food in the store, from stocks and soups to baked goods, is made in-house by executive chef Mark Russell and his team of nine Red Seal chefs. According to senior VP André Fortier, who was responsible for the “concept rollout,” there will be no day-old goods at this location (leftovers will be donated to Second Harvest).
There’s a lot to see and touch, but some of the most appealing items in-store right now include Malpeque oysters ($1.20 each), live market lobsters ($9.99), dry-aged Wagyu strip loin steaks ($88.16 per kilogram), a Cropwell Bishop Stilton ($4.59 per 100 grams) and a dried mushroom bar that’s home to dried morels ($113.39 per pound), black trumpets ($31.75 per pound) and porcinis ($45.36 per pound). We even found a pretty decent-looking PC Santoku knife ($22) in the home section and some beautiful Phalaenopsis orchids ($14.99), bred in the Niagara Peninsula, in the large flower shop. We do warn that shoppers should heed the old adage “never shop hungry” at this place, lest they find themselves needing to be pried off the gigantic cheese wall (or the 12-foot cupcake wall).