Give ’em a shot: Toronto’s newest batch of indie cafes

ROOSTER COFFEE HOUSE 568 Jarvis, at Charles, 416-995-1530, roostercoffeehouse.comThree Rooster cafes between Broadview and Yonge might seem like overkill, until.


ROOSTER COFFEE HOUSE 568 Jarvis, at Charles, 416-995-1530, roostercoffeehouse.com

Three Rooster cafes between Broadview and Yonge might seem like overkill, until you consider that with the opening of their new shop on Jarvis, the Riverdale-based coffee chain has parked itself just steps away from a whole campus full of caffeine-starved Rogers office workers. The winning Rooster formula is reproduced here – beans from Pilot, endlessly cheerful baristas, a communal crossword posted by the pickup area, at least five wacky antiques – with the addition of a loft seating area and a cozy reading nook just big enough for a single armchair. Just think of all the responsibilities you could hide from in there!

QUANTUM COFFEE 460 King West, at Spadina, 647-494-4429, quantumcoffee.io

Because the start-up crowd hasn’t totally abandoned coffee for Soylent, the first floor of the new “innovation hub” at King and Spadina is now devoted to Quantum Coffee, which doubles in the evening as a sprawling event space. Place your order at one end of the open-concept cafe and it’s zapped electronically to the baristas at the other side. If pour-overs are your poison, you can watch a mesmerizing automated machine (the only one of its kind in Canada) crank out your cup, or get the human baristas to brulee the top of your cappuccino with a blowtorch.

THE STRONG ONE 68 Wales, at Leonard, 647-351-7722. instagram.com/empirelovesyou

Opening in one of Toronto’s biggest neighbourhoods for coffee shops might seem like a risky move, but Lisa Young-Kutsukake pulled off a similar feat when sister cafe Empire Espresso opened on College. (Plus, despite its brawny-sounding name, The Strong One is actually downright adorable.) Along with signature drinks like lavender honey lattes and the vanilla/coconut milk “perfect storm,” expect the unexpected in house-made snacks like “spaghetti muffins” and toad-in-the-hole.

THE COFFEE LAB 333 Bloor West, at St. George, 647-212-8817, instagram.com/the.coffee.lab

Picture the lab of a Victorian-era mad scientist strapped for rent cash and you might envision something like to Joshua Campos’s 50-square-foot cafe, which occupies a tiny counter space inside Willow Books. With a chem lab’s worth of test tubes, beakers and pour-over stations rigged up from copper pipes, Campos serves a rotating roster of beans from various roasteries.

NUGATEAU 717 Queen West, at Palmerston, 647-748-7001, nugateau.com

The dozens of flavours of eclairs, each with a different candy-coloured topping, at this brand-new Queen West patisserie are almost too pretty to eat (but you and I both know that’s not a real problem). Former Jelly Modern Doughnuts chef Atul Palghadmal pipes airy pastries with flavours like mango-passion fruit, Persian pistachio and salted caramel in small batches throughout the day, so you’re always getting a fresh one. If you’re in the mood to try a real European delicacy, savoury versions like foie gras and tomato or smoked salmon with wasabi cream are available on weekends. There’s no salt-and-pepper flavour, but they’ll still make you want to choux.

PILOT COFFEE (UNION) 65 Front West, at Bay, pilotcoffeeroasters.com

With cafes in Leslieville and on Ossington, a roasting facility and a catering division, the company behind Te Aro is ready to steal some commuter market share from the big chains with this stand in Union’s Great Hall. The sinuously shaped bar offers a simplified menu of espresso drinks and drip, plus easily stowable snacks like cookies, muffins and scones.

CONSTANTINOPLE 536 Queen West, at Bathurst, 416-301-2859, constantinoplebakery.com

Sing it with me: Queen Street West has Constantinople / Not a Lomo store, but Constantinople. The former site of Toronto’s Lomography shop is now home to a stately Mediterranean bakery-cafe with a menu of Turkish delights. Traditional coffee, stone-ground and boiled in a copper pot, is a unique draw, but you can also wash down your eats – like a twisty, bagel-like simit or buttery borek – with espresso. Adventurous types should check out in-house gelato company Death In Venice, who’ll confound your tastebuds with flavours like truffle, honey and rosemary.

CAFE DE MELBOURNE 193 Church, at Shuter, 647-352-9119, facebook.com/CafedeMelbourne

Cliff Johnson has a saying: “As all addicts know, when the supply runs out, you have to start dealing.” So upon moving to Toronto after 15 years in Australia, he was forced to open a Melbourne-style cafe of his own. He does strictly espresso-based drinks like long blacks and flat whites (no drip!) with beans from Everyday Gourmet, bakes Kanga meat pies, and has an inside line on Vegemite. Does he see a lot of homesick Aussies in the shop? “About three or four a day.”

VOLTA ESPRESSO 866 Bathurst, at London, 647-470-6369, voltaespresso.com

Skip that bakery with the Jamaican patties next time you’re at Bathurst station and dash across the street to this four-week-old cafe. Co-owner and ex-Jet Fuel barista Omar Makhlouf does $4-and-under espresso drinks and a lineup of cookies and muffins baked in a toaster oven: “We’re trying to prove you don’t need huge space or huge equipment to make quality stuff.” You know what they say about good things and small packages.

THE SHMOOZ 590 Pape, at Wroxeter, 416-466-5600, theshmooz.ca

Ever wanted to warm up with a steaming bowl of chicken soup after a good frolic in Withrow Park? Try the Shmooz, which recently infused some life (and caffeine) into an otherwise sleepy stretch of Pape. Also available: pear butter and Brie grilled cheese slathered in garlic butter, chicken-beet-sweet potato salad in a Mason jar and a gluten-free muffin they’re daring other bakeries in town to beat.

SUMACH ESPRESSO 118 Sumach, at Shuter, 647-351-3833, instagram.com/sumachespresso

Broadview Espresso owner Mike Cullen has the distinction of being probably the nicest person in my particular postal district. Now, with the opening of his second shop, the Danforth has to share him with Regent Park, which I must concede is for the greater good. The excellent Rufino coffee remains, but with the new location come expanded food offerings, including house-made cookies and rotating sandwiches (one recent breakfast offering: chorizo and salsa verde).

PRESS BOOKS, COFFEE AND VINYL 2442 Danforth, at Westlake, 647-352-5200, facebook.com/PressBooksCoffeeVinyl

A combination bookstore, coffee shop and record store is the kind of place most folks would never want to leave, so you’ll forgive the East Danforth for bragging about having Press all to itself. (“Press”! It has three meanings!) Previously known as Books and Records, the shop now hosts an espresso bar that doles out Reunion Island brew, perfect for sipping while you dig for treasure in the stacks or trawl the $5 bin.

CACAO 70 28 Gristmill, at Trinity, 416-216-8686, cacao70.ca/en

This newly landed Montreal cafe chain fits right in with the Distillery: it’s playful and a little bit fussy, with an indulgent menu that would perfectly punctuate a leisurely afternoon stroll down the cobblestones. In addition to mugs of molten “drinking chocolates” arranged by country of origin and cocoa percentages, there are cheesecake-stuffed crepes, marshmallow pizzas and pretty much anything you might want to smother in chocolate syrup. Hope you’ve got good dental benefits.

PAINT CABIN 723 Gerrard East, at Degrassi, 647-361-6017, paintcabin.com

The social-painting trend has migrated over to East Chinatown. At Paint Cabin, you can take art lessons and workshops, host a private party or just swing by for a latte and a slice of Wanda’s pie imported directly from Kensington.

SEE-SCAPE 2840 Dundas West, at Keele, 647-853-9892, seescapeto.com

Toronto nerds lost their collective minds last summer when Sara Nguyen announced her plans for a combination coffee shop, gallery, art studio and gaming cafe. Grab yourself a Deadly Grounds coffee and try not to knock it over in rage when your buddy blocks your road in Catan or schools you at Smash Bros.

SEESAW CAFE 1142 Davenport, at Ossington, seesawworkshop.com

It’s a wood shop! It’s a cafe! It’s Seesaw! (Hey, at least it’s not a wood shop and bar.) Rufino espresso and a nice selection of (often vegan- and GF-friendly) snacks are what get most folks in the door, but you can also peruse jewellery and cutting boards made in owner Katie Reed’s basement wood shop. Keep an eye out for DIY events and meet-ups.

FOOL COFFEE 874 College, at Delaware, 647-967-0122, facebook.com/fooltoronto

Already a neighbourhood fixture thanks to his My Little Bike Shop, Cam Zalewski moved into the coffee biz late last year when he took over the former Slow Room. Sure, there are four other cafes within a six-block radius – but this sunlit spot sets itself apart through homey snacks like freshly baked frosted scones and house-blended granola with steamed milk.

CYGNET COFFEE 1691 Dundas West, at St. Clarens, facebook.com

Though Brockton’s Cygnet is minimal, it has its own kind of charm. The white-walled spot is spare save for a massive vintage map of Ontario and a counter stocked with Red Bench cookies and viennoiseries from La Bamboche. Thanks to the lack of seating, customers are in and out, but if you’re looking to hang about, the bay window seats are hot real estate.

KRAVE COFFEE 781 St Clair West, at Arlington, 416-652-9929, facebook.com/kravecoffee

Toronto’s got some good-looking cafes, but St. Clair West’s Krave one of the more stunning inside (and out – its sprawling wooden deck is going to be mighty in-demand come summertime). Brick arches add warmth to the white-walled space behind a wood-wrapped bar, they’re pulling Rufino and Propeller shots and doling out house-made soups and St. Urbain bagels.

BLACK GOAT CAFE 3261 Lake Shore, at 24th, 416-792-7200, instagram.com/blackgoatcafe

Newly reopened under the oversight of Buster’s Fish House owner Kanitha, this cafe caters to Humber students (and Long Branchers of all stripes). Study fuel comes in the form of sweet treats like Oreo cheesecake cookies, an omnivorous lineup of sandwiches (from piled-high vegetarian to pulled pork) and a drinks menu that includes Vietnamese coffee and Hong Kong-style milk tea.

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