Last Updated: November 11, 2020.
Update: Sadly, Karelia Kitchen closed its doors for good in April 2018. This post is to cement that memory.
Address: 1194 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON
Neighbourhood: Bloordale Village
Food type: Scandinavian fare
If you’re looking for an experience that’s far different from your ordinary restaurant experience, check out Karelia Kitchen.
Karelia Kitchen is surprisingly inexpensive, amazingly friendly and has all sorts of culinary delights that you won’t see every day on the streets of Toronto!
The story’s a good one:
Karelia was founded in 1959 by a young, Latvian born, architect, Janis Kravis in order to make available contemporary design products from Scandinavia, and in particular from Finland, to the Toronto and Canadian marketplace.
Karelia was born from a personal desire and passion to experience life and environment and to share this experience.
Karelia was a retail leader in the 1960′s and 70′s and greatly influenced the awareness and appreciation of contemporary design in Canada. Karelia had a section for cookware and tools which was called “karelia kitchen”.
We have now reinvented this iconic brand and opened karelia kitchen as a Scandinavian inspired café, serving innovative open-faced sandwiches featuring smoked meats and fish from “Leif’s Smokehouse”.
Leif Kravis and Donna Ashley are the two main shareholders and operating chefs and the son and daughter-in-law of the two original Karelia founders Janis and Helga Kravis. Both Leif and Donna are seasoned chefs with years of experience working in top Toronto kitchens.
Karelia kitchen features open-faced sandwiches, pastries and modern interpretations of classic Scandinavian entrees.
Using locally sourced and organic ingredients, new ideas and traditional techniques chefs Leif Kravis and Donna Ashley bring a passion for food, flavour and design which sets karelia kitchen apart. By emphasizing simplicity, quality, craftsmanship and innovation they pay homage to their namesake and to the fundamental principles of Scandinavian cuisine.
The Karelia Kitchen Experience
With Donna behind the counter and Leif in the back kitchen (which, while I have no shots of it, was just as cleanly designed as the rest of the restaurant), they made sure that our dining experience was in good hands — in fact, to quote Donna, all their food’s made with “hands, butter and love”.
We settled in, got some drinks, and took a look around. At first, the wealth of options can be utterly confusing, but when someone’s truly passionate about the food they’re offering you, it really shines through — and Donna Alexander shows passion in spades.
Donna gave us a solid tour of Karelia, explaining that our food would come from a few different stations:
- the smørrebrød area, which offered a number of Scandinavian selections like duck eggs, wheatberry and gravlax
- the hot table with soups, sides and other hot meat dishes
- the dessert counter with cakes, pastries and cookies that won’t break the bank
With our minds blown from all the delicious, there was still a clear winner for me when it came to which option would fill my belly with a bit of everything that Karelia Kitchen had to offer — the Smokehouse Platter.
The Smokehouse Platter — A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That, A Little Bit of This and A Little Bit of That
If you tell me that I can spend $16 in Toronto and get four meat dishes plus a whole heap of other foods, you know I’m gonna do it — and the Smokehouse Platter lived up to the hype! While I’m a huge fan of chicken (which was on my plate anyway), a little-known fact is that I love salmon, and the smoked Atlantic salmon at Karelia Kitchen was great. For those of you who avoid fish dishes because of the “fishy” taste often accompanying them, hot tip — it’s often because the fish you’re eating isn’t fresh!
Karelia Kitchen doesn’t suffer from this, though — the fish was delish! And it wasn’t only the fish — what struck me most about the food at Karelia Kitchen was how fresh everything tasted. With far more vegetables than your standard North American meal, for someone like me who’s generally (and unashamedly) carnivorous, I was sceptical on whether I’d enjoy what was on my plate. But the pickled vegetables were deliciously tart; the fruits and veggies thinly sliced and baked into chips surprisingly crisp, and everything else on the plate that wasn’t meat complemented their once-breathing companions on the plate very well!
Karelia Kitchen, for me, represents a departure from a comfort zone and getting something that’s not already prevalent in Toronto. It’s 2013 — you can get Indian, Chinese, sushi, meat and potatoes or fast food almost anywhere you look.
Expand your horizons. Try something new. Your taste buds will thank you.