SEVEN LIVES PALETERIA
72 Kensington, at Baldwin
What do you do after spending 20 sweaty minutes waiting for your lunch in Toronto’s most popular and least spacious taqueria? Head promptly across the street to its brand new ice cream shop, where you can chase your fish tacos with frozen Mexican desserts (and luxuriate in the AC and wealth of elbow room).
Yep, Seven Lives has turned to frozen desserts, seemingly following in the footsteps of that other taco shop turned ice cream purveyor. But Seven Lives’ Sean Riehl mentions the spot has been in the works for a year and, while La Carnita offshoot Sweet Jesus is cranking out outlandish cotton-candy sculptures, Riehl keeps things simple and refreshing, hewing strongly to the original sweets he ate growing up in SoCal or on trips to Mexico. For the most part, that is – the menu of paletas (Mexican popsicles) does include a cereal-milk version studded with Froot Loops.
Toronto’s already pretty familiar with paletas, but this kind of selection is rare. Riehl stocks the freezer case with more than a dozen rotating flavours, from hibiscus and kiwi-watermelon to blueberry cheesecake and dulce de leche. Most of them are vegan, including the aforementioned Froot Loop number.
The soft-serve and sorbet-based treats, however, are more novel in these parts – and some of them, like the pineapple-based Dole Whip and the horchata con tuna, are sure to become signatures. The former blends creamy, sunny vegan pineapple soft-serve with a splash of pineapple juice, while the latter (and, no, it involves zero fish of any kind) tops a scoop of fruity magenta prickly pear (“tuna” in Spanish) sorbet with a generous pour of Seven Lives’ spiced rice milk for deliciously slushy results. They’ll sell you the sorbet solo, too – and Seven Lives recently experimented with a tequila-spiked version.
For those who can’t do without dairy, there’s marshmallowy-tasting vanilla soft-serve ready to be topped with dulce de leche or spiced Mexican chocolate syrup. If Instagram appeal is what you go for in your desserts, there’s a spicy-sweet mango sundae topped off with a tamarind-coated straw.
Bar Ape’s gelato pays homage to St. Clair West’s Italian traditions.
283 Rushton, at St. Clair West
There’s already stiff competition for ice cream on St. Clair West (thanks to Dutch Dreams and Booyah, home of the ice cream taco), but the co-owners of Bar Ape didn’t want to locate anywhere else. Convenience played a part for James Carnevale and Nick Genova, who grew up and still live nearby, but it has more to do with the fact that Bar Ape, like the St. Clair strip, was built on all things Italian.
For the past couple of years, Carnevale has been selling gelato while crouched in the back of a little blue Ape (say it “AH-pay”), a putt-putting, three-wheeled flatbed mini-truck built on a Vespa engine. The Ape is being overhauled for the season, but the permanent shop – an indoor/outdoor gelato counter swathed in varnished wood and Ape-blue paint – borrows those vintage Italian design cues. “You’re on the beach in Italy, you walk to the gelateria, it’s outside – same concept,” Carnevale says.
Across the way, there’s a 21-year-old Italian barbershop. Peer past Bar Ape’s counter and a framed illustration of a couch wrapped in plastic, Nonna-style, hangs over the soft-serve machine.
Carnevale’s methods, too, are tried and true Italian. He honed his craft at Il Gelatiere Artigianale and Simply Italian, but when he struck out on his own, he froze flavours like lemon, pistachio and chocolate-hazelnut into easily packable, transportable bars coated in dark or white chocolate. They’re still here – available five or so flavours at a time, with ever-changing specials based on whatever’s in season.
The extra room now allows Carnevale to play with new options like soft-serve. He keeps one dairy-free flavour on at all times when I visit, it’s a stupendously rich, flavourful mango. All of Bar Ape’s fruit flavours are dairy-free, he notes, but the bar coatings aren’t – so he makes gelato pints, sans chocolate, for folks to take home.
“A lot of vegan things are made with substitutes, heavy stabilizers, starches to make them thicker, but it defeats the purpose of it being vegan,” he says. “The difference is taking the time and effort, sourcing the ingredients – and not being cheap. We use a high concentration of fruit, and you can taste it.”
On top of all that, there are little freezer-style sundae cups full of gelato and syrup – just to make sure they hit the non-Italians right in the nostalgia, too.
Nanashake’s spiced date bar is all-natural and vegan.
4750 Yonge, at Bogert
As you might have noticed by now, Toronto’s recent ice cream boom means great things for vegans with a sweet tooth. But if you’d prefer your sweet treats gluten-free, all-natural and fair trade, you’ll go – ahem – bananas for Nanashake, a cheery little takeout counter just steps from Sheppard station.
The husband-and-wife-run spot deals in soft-serve made from puréed frozen bananas (fair trade only, natch!) and dressed up with other wholesome ingredients.
“I love ice cream – I just hated the way I felt after I ate it,” says owner Yazeed Yasin, who recruited his wife, Tamara Khazer, an avid cook, to figure out some lighter alternatives. “I tried some nuts with that, some milk with that – and we came up with the perfect ingredients,” she says.
Now they’ve got a lineup of six or so permanent flavours of not-too-sweet soft-serve, all built on their classic banana flavour. Their chocolate gets a dose of cocoa powder, while the strawberry is full of crushed organic berries. The duo’s Middle Eastern heritage comes out in what might be their two best flavours: cardamom-laced spiced date and pale green pistachio blended with crushed nuts and rosewater. For on-the-go eating, you can get ’em all frozen on a stick as Nanapops.
So, does banana-based soft-serve leave you missing dairy? A little, if you’re thinking about that perfectly smooth curlicue-in-a-cone from your childhood – but what it lacks in sugary smoothness it makes up for in satisfying bulk that makes it a perfect afternoon snack. That’s especially true if you throw on a dose of almond biscotti crumbs, ginger cookie bits or even breakfast cereal – all gluten-free, of course.
GET BRAIN FREEZE AT THESE OTHER ICE CREAM HOT SPOTS
Grk Ygrt291 Augusta, Toronto, Ontario
If you’re thinking, “You know what’s missing from this list? Probiotics,” then this Kensington shop is the spot for you. Inside the former home of Le Ti Colibri (R.I.P.), you can get fresh or frozen yogurt (or chia seed pudding, if dairy isn’t your jam) done up with fresh, wholesome toppings like nut butters, honey, preserves, fresh fruit and granola.
Eva’s Original ChimneysUnion Station, Toronto, Ontario
Did you see those big, melty cones on last week’s NOW Hot Summer Guide? They’re coming to a neighbourhood near you thanks to this food truck, which specializes in Hungarian-style “chimney cakes.” The dough-based snack has been making inroads in Toronto, but Eva’s had the brilliant idea to pack them full of cream-based soft-serve (or coconut whipped cream), then smother them with toppings like berry compote or salted caramel brownie. From June 27 to Sept. 5, 2016, find Eva’s at Union Station. Otherwise, go to originalchimneys.com to find out where their truck will be next
Sweet Olenka’s1056 Queen W, Toronto, Ontario
This Etobicoke-based ice creamery shuttered its popular Queen West location – then moved it two doors down. The former auto garage is now a spacious, gloriously gleaming-white shrine to its array of over 1,000 dairy-based and vegan flavours (roasted marshmallow, red velvet, Guinness, maple bacon, whiskey and on and on).
Sleepy Baker7 Coxwell, Toronto, Ontario
They make everything down at this unassuming little Beaches bakery – cakes, eclairs, donut-topped cupcakes, squares, the works – all with love and metric tons of butter. And now, thanks to a freezer full of Kawartha Dairy flavours, they’re putting ice cream on pretty much all of it. A small slice of what’s available: Turn donuts or Skor-stuffed cookies into an ice cream sandwich, or stack scoops onto their Nutella cookie pie or brownies into a sundae.
Sweet Bliss1304 Queen E, Toronto, Ontario
Thanks to the runaway success of La Carnita’s ice cream joint and its comically large soft-serve cones (48.5K Instagram followers can’t be wrong!), there are now two locations. The front edifice of Carnita’s Riverdale resto has been converted into a soft-serve counter. A third is on the way near Yonge and Eglinton.