Finally, it seems Torontonians have warmed up to the idea that the east really does beat the west. Once a barren industrial neighbourhood, with aesthetics comparable to a New York slum, Leslieville has emerged as a Toronto hub of culture, style, art and food. Similar to what Queen Street West used to be before it hipsterized and (oh-so-ironically) commercialized, Leslieville has evolved of late into an accessible centre for independent cafés, furniture shops, restaurants, boutiques and art galleries, with nary an American Apparel or McDonald’s in sight. We had a hard time keeping this list short, so here is a very condensed, all-Queen Street neighbourhood guide to Toronto’s newest shopping and eating Mecca.
Leslievillers love their coffee, and are oftentimes in a rush. Skip that ridiculous line at (also ridiculous) Starbucks and head across the street to Mercury Espresso Bar, 915 Queen Street East, 647 435 4779, where the espresso is better and the line is a fraction of the size. Their cozy and simple interior is the perfect warm escape from the frigid January weather. Your second coffee break should take you to Voulez-Vous Café, 1560 Queen Street East, 416-801-668, a fairly new establishment in Leslieville’s east end. The décor is an eclectic gathering of elementary school classroom-meets-indie café, with unique local art on the walls, wooden school-chairs, and designer furniture (all of which you can purchase right at the café). Be sure to try their fresh baked banana bread and any espresso-based beverage made using the centrepiece of the café, a baby blue Elektra espresso machine.
For this section, I debated on just writing a 300-word list of all the spectacular brunch spots in the area, and have you test them ALL out for yourselves. The options are that good, and that bountiful. Still, I condensed to a mere three places that cannot be missed. Bonjour Brioche Bakery Cafe, 12 Queen Street East, 416-406-1250, a small French restaurant serving fluffy baked French Toast ($9.50) and a arguably perfect Croque Madam, a rich tender pastry layered with ham & gruyère and topped with a fried egg ($9.50). If you can get there early enough to avoid their lines, Lady Marmalade ,898 Queen Street East, 647.351.7645, and The Burger’s Priest [pictured],1636 Queen Street East, 647-346-0617, are other must trys. The former is a haven of organic and local breakfast fare, with numerous delicious vegetarian and vegan options. The latter is but a tiny burger joint serving what could be Toronto’s best burger. The classic beef cheeseburger is a no-brainer, but the joint also offers “the option” ($7.99), a veggie burger made of Portobello mushrooms, cheese and breading. If you’re really hungry, try the Priest ($9.99), one regular beef burger with “the option” slapped on top. Made to order.
Leslieville boasts a plethora of independent boutiques and markets selling original art, jewelry, clothing and furniture. In the west end, Zenporium, 998 Queen Street East, 416-778-8ZEN, sells all kinds of unique wood hand-crafted rustic-style furniture, like their bookcase made from an old canoe. A mere 100 steps east you can find Art’s Market, 1114 Queen St East, 647-997-7616, an independent store that rents space to artisans to sell their wares, including necklaces made from old watches, refinished antiques, photography from around the world, paintings and more. Don’t end a day of shopping without visiting the neighbourhood’s most acclaimed boutique shop, Leslieville Cheese Market, 891 Queen Street East, 416-465-7143, which carries an array of local and global cheeses, cured meats and gourmet foods.
Image courtesy of Paul Henman.