The Many Flavours of Riverside

Greg tells many great stories of the time he lived at Queen and Broadview in the late 80s, upstairs from one of the guys from  Skinny Puppy. Those stories almost always come back to the fact that there was a dearth of restaurants in the area back then, and save for but a few greasy spoons, you pretty much had to leave the neighbourhood to find a decent place to eat.

What a difference a couple of decades makes, with the recently-named Riverside District having become a magnet for young families, boutiques and galleries as well as hip restaurants, cafes and food shops. A stroll along Queen Street East from the Don River over to Carlaw offers up any number of great places to eat and shop for food. And let’s not forget the coffee.

This weekend’s Riverdale Art Walk will undoubtedly draw thousands of people into the area, and once they’re done looking at art, they’ll be wanting a bite to eat. Here then, is a primer of all the tasty things Riverside has to offer.

With a nod to the old skool inhabitants first, Coyote Willie (689 Queen Street East) has always been the place to grab a quick bite before a show at The Opera House. It’s brightly lit and not much to look at, but it’s good honest grub in the form of burritos, chicken and ribs and chili. The Real Jerk (709 Queen Street East) has also been around for years, serving up authentic Caribbean food, and Reliable Fish and Chips (954 Queen Street East) has been frying some of the best in the city since 1934. Greg also wants a nod directed to Jim’s Restaurant (897 Queen Street East) where they do, apparently, serve up the city’s best western sandwich. Dangerous Dan’s (714 Queen Street East), home of the coronary burger, has seen some competition from newcomers The Burger Shoppe (688 Queen Street East), but they’re different enough that each has its own customer base.

Even with new shops and new blood, Riverside sticks to its working class roots, so there aren’t any super high-end places here, but visitors will find plenty of comfortable and laid back bistros. POP Bistro (686 Queen Street East) offers French and Italian classics, while Chef Rodney Bowers’ Citizen (730 Queen Street East) is sure to have favourites like Berkshire pork or Digby scallops on the menu. Joy Bistro (884 Queen Street East) has been in the area for many years and offers two spectacular patios. Table 17 (782 Queen Street East) offers a seasonal and local menu, while Lil’Baci (892 Queen Street East) features southern Italian style pizzas. Barrio Lounge (896 Queen Street East) serves up plenty of cocktails, but also offers extensive menus for dinner, lunch and brunch.

There’s only a couple of Asian restaurants in Riverside – The Wokker (763 Queen Street East) serves up Thai cuisine, while Chinese restaurant Lucky Star (739 Queen Street East) is famous for its spicy peanut chicken. The neighbourhood is also about to get its first sushi restaurant; Sushi District (806 Queen Street East) will be opening soon.

The pub scene is covered in Riverside as well. Blue Moon (725 Queen Street East) has plenty of beer on tap and live music or DJs in the evenings. Prohibition (696 Queen Street East) bills itself as a British-style gastropub with half-price specials on wings and ribs throughout the week. Further east, The Roy Public House (894 Queen Street East) offers a touch of the emerald isle, with great menu items like curry and chips and pot pies made in-house.

Also in the “Drinks” column, Riverside is accumulating plenty of fancy bars. The Comrade (758 Queen Street West) has the coolest decor on the strip, while Rasputin Vodka Bar (780 Queen Street East) serves Russian delicacies chased by shots of Russia’s greatest export. For wine, there’s Pic Nic Wine Bar (747 Queen Street East).

If coffee has more appeal than alcohol, there’s plenty to choose from along Queen East. Dark Horse Espresso (682 Queen Street East) has been around for a few years now, as has Mercury Espresso Bar (915 Queen Street East). F’Coffee (641 Queen Street East) offers coffee, beer and sandwiches, while LuCaffe (798 Queen Street East) uses a fancy pod system to ensure freshness. Of course, a quick detour to Merchant’s of Green Coffee (2 Matilda Street) could have you roasting and brewing your own.

Finally, when it comes to shops, the area is doing well for itself when it comes to fine foods. Leslieville Cheese Shop (891 Queen Street East), Sunnybrook Meats (738 Queen Street East) and Rowe Farms (912 Queen Street East) are favourite spots for local foodies to pick up ingredients for dinner. And now locals don’t have to cook at all – they can pick up prepared dishes at Loic Gourmet (722 Queen Street East) and take them home to reheat.

And because life is boring without a little bit of sweetness, I’ve saved the best category for last. Newcomer LPK’s Culinary Groove (718 Queen Street East) offers fabulous fair-trade, organic and even gluten-free cookies, cakes and chocolates, while longtime Riverside icon Mary McLeod Shortbread(639 Queen Street East) specializes in nothing but shortbread cookies. Also new to the area is a new location of Brick Street Bakery (969 Queen Street East) which provides the neighbourhood with lovely breads, tarts and British specialties. Ed’s Real Scoop (922 Queen Street East) opened their doors recently as well, and are sure to keep locals and visitors alike cool and refreshed with their many flavours of ice cream and gelato. Chocolate lovers will find their way to Ambiance Chocolat (753-A Queen Street East) where truffles and chocolates are made on the premises. And last but not least, we can’t forget Bonjour Brioche (812 Queen Street East) where line-ups out the door and down the street attest to the popularity of this bakery/cafe’s pastries and brunch delights.