This Scarborough store's pork schnitzel sandwich has earned a loyal following
Little Imbiss at Vienna Fine Foods is at 1050 Birchmount Rd. in Scarborough
The idea of going to one place for all your international grocery needs — plus, getting takeout from there during the same visit — is a ubiquitous concept in Scarborough.
There are mom and pop convenience stores of many shapes, sizes and cultural backgrounds. It's pretty to easy to find a well-stocked West Indian shop or Sri Lankan grocery. European stores though — not so much. At least not in Scarborough.
Decades ago, it was easy to spot a neighbourhood German, Polish or Austrian convenience store. With changing demographics, these shops have moved or in some cases, they've disappeared entirely due to a lack of interest from the younger generation within those families.
Vienna Fine Foods has a longstanding reputation as being one of the oldest Euro delis in the Greater Toronto Area, and it is one of a few still operating in Scarborough.
I remember visiting it was while I was in my last few years of high school. In arguably what is the longest stretch of a food wasteland in Scarborough, Birchmount Road between Lawrence and Eglinton avenues was a place that had the best pork schnitzel sandwiches and cured meats.
We got lost a few times trying to find the industrial single-storey building with barely a sign in the front. Inside, there is a sprawling meat counter with an endless display of cured meats, a baked goods section and entire racks dedicated to imported jams, pickles and spreads. These were items you couldn't find anywhere else, especially the imported European chocolates.
The foodstuffs were great, but what was most memorable was the tiny hot counter tucked in the corner, serving up large bowls of goulash, and pork schnitzel sandwiches with deep fried pork cutlets that had a crisp exterior stacked to the brim with sauerkraut and hot peppers.
"The sauerkraut is the most popular topping here," said co-owner Ken Brandes. His family has owned the business for the last 25 years.
"Vienna Fine Foods is 65 years old. It started off as a meat factory doing wholesale stuff. My parents bought it in 1993 and it has slowly evolved."
"Today, it's part butcher shop, deli and hot counter."
Brandes says the store is a one-stop place for anyone that is interested in European ingredients, whether it's plum jelly doughnuts or cured meats and bottled spreads.
When his parents took over the store in the '90s, his father was keen on adding a meat counter.
"Dad is a trained chef. He worked at the Granite Club. He wanted to expand the lunch menu to give people a taste of Europe," Brandes said.
Little Imbiss, the hot counter at the back of the convenience store, draws a steady crowd that drive in for its daily lunch specials. The lunch following is as loyal as it comes in Scarborough. Trades people drive from across the city for soups and sandwiches, and for the hospitality.
"Many of the employees have been working here for over 20 years," Brandes said.
Little Imbiss serves up plates of rosti-style potato pancakes with sour cream and apple sauce and bratwurst and leberkase (meat loaf) on a bun.
The standout item for me is the pork schnitzel. It's how I was introduced to the place, and to this day, I haven't found a better version anywhere else.
"We butcher all our own meats in house. That's the important part; that's how it starts," Brandes says, as he portions out butterflied cuts of lean pork tenderloin. The cutlets are made daily.
The portioned cuts are smacked with a meat tenderizer before being coated in a wet mixture and covered in bread crumbs. It's then deep fried and stuck into a kaiser bun. You pick the toppings.
"Everyone has a specific order. Some love sauerkraut, some love extra peppers," Brandes said. For me, a little bit of sauerkraut, hot peppers, a thick coating of mustard and a little bit of sour cream. The sour cream softens the crunch of the pork cutlet and brings it all together.
The menu hasn't changed much since Little Imbiss first opened, and Brandes says they like to keep it this way.
The European delicatessen is a dying breed in parts of the GTA, notably Scarborough, as immigrant populations move out of the city. Vienna Fine Foods is one of the last remaining stalwarts, sticking to tradition with very little change or trend jumping.
"We are the last ones standing after 25 years," Brandes said.
Little Imbiss at Vienna Fine Foods is at 1050 Birchmount Rd. in Scarborough.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
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