B ESPRESSO BAR (111 Queen East, at Mutual, 416-866-2111) Complete meals for $13 per person, including all taxes, tip and an espresso. Average main $6. Open Monday to Friday 7:30 am to 5 pm, Saturday 10 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Unlicensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It's difficult to imagine that 25 years ago the same dreary stretch of Queen East between Church and Jarvis that's home to Verity was once a thriving nabe as edgy as early Queen West.
Not only was the long-gone alterna-resto Emilio's located here, but Citytv, the Record Peddlar, several record labels and This Ain't the Rosedale Library were, too.
Other than pawnshops, the only business that remains today is a divey spoon popular with beer-guzzling rounders that locals refer to as the Dead Sea. Cool this ain't.
Now, along with Verity, the just opened B Espresso has returned this most unlikely of blocks to its status as downtown's hippest strip. Step into this low-profile coffee house and be immediately transported to fashionista Milan. Created by design gurus Cecconi Simone, the narrow room is simply stunning. Flaming red tiles flank a long communal marble-topped table set with tall chairs, a plasma TV hangs on the opposite wall, and the latest issues of European magazines lie open to supermodel spreads. Retro Italian pop plays at a discreet volume. You'll want to linger over an Americano forever.
Like Verity, B Espresso's casual card is best when it sticks to sweets and salads. After polishing off several hefty slices of delicious chocolate zucchini loaf ($2.33), I convince myself I'm eating healthy instead of indulging my sweet tooth. The house's Tuscan chocolate brownie ($3.27) and chocolate cherry square ($2.33) are just as addictive. I could make a habit of B's poached pear, frissée and toasted walnut salad followed by its crostini salad tossed with olive oil, fresh basil and ultra-ripe Roma tomatoes (both $3.27 small/$6.04 large).
Rustic sandwiches like the Catullo with chicken breast, thick lengths of grilled zucchini and mild Fontina, or the Crudo of prosciutto, bocconcini, arugula pesto and truffle oil (both $6.08) come pressed on rectangular panini. Nodding to food fashion, an Atkins diet-inspired whole wheat wrap features chunked boneless chicken breast and nutty quinoa ($4.30).
But most importantly, how's the coffee? No idea - I don't drink the stuff. But my team of coffee researchers vouches for it.