The Royal Tea Treatment, Donuts & Chicken, and Good Eats – A Week in the Foodie District of Leslieville, Part I!

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Beautiful artwork for a lovely community

Welcome to a week of foodie delights in the heart of Leslieville on Queen East!  Roughly bounded by Empire Street to the west, Coxwell Ave. the east, the CN rail and Gerrard Street to the north, and Eastern Ave. to the sout, Leslieville has truly grown into a powerhouse of great food and a culinary force to be reckoned with in the city.  The food directory boasts brunch spots, bistros, wine bars, organic food emporiums, cupcake shops, cheese markets, tea shops, coffee shops, pizzeria, bakeries, and so much more.  There are even culinary tours dedicated to the neighbourhood because of the sheer amount of food goodies to explore!  I love the neighbourhood for so many reasons.  

A wonderfully comfortable looking coffee shop – definitely on my list of places to hit!

First off, it’s incredibly easy to walk through.  When you look up store locations on a map, the gaps, streets, and intersections look a little more spaced out than they are in actuality; you can easily amble through the Queen East strip of Leslieville in an hour or less.  Granted, that timeframe allows for a little window shopping and dawdling and food gawking, but still – it’s feet friendly!  Second, there is so much variety.  It’s a neighbourhood that caters to all moods and tastebuds as well as budgets because the area isn’t necessarily concentrated with high-end dining spots or fast food joints.  There’s something for the health-conscious, the carni, the vegetarian, the sweet tooth, and the caffiene-craver.  The neighbourhood thrives on growth and I’m telling you, every time I come to this part of town, I’m always discovering something new, something that I hadn’t seen during a previous trek. 

And finally, I love it because I’ve always been met with friendliness and while that can be said for many other parts of town, it’s never a given so it always makes me feel good when I have happy, positive experience and memories to talk about and remember.  Leslieville has that sweet, small-town feel to it and I think it’s nice.  And what’s just as nice (or maybe even nicer) is the plethora of food!  So, let’s hop to it! 

Your royal tea treatment awaits you…

One of my absolute favourite tea shops in the city is Steeped & Infused in Leslieville.  I love their selection, I am head over heels for their products, and this past year they just went through a bit of a renovation to transform the loose leaf tea and gift shop to a sit-down cafe which means more time to enjoy tea in a sweet and comfortable sit-down environment!  However, they’re not the only tea shop on the block; Majesteas is your one stop shop for all things tea and royalty! 

Located at 950 Queen Street East just west of Carlaw Ave. with sweet and cushy seats, framed photos and accessories of our Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, on the walls and shelves, and glass canisters full of loose leaf tea just ready to be sniffed and loved, Majesteas is a wonderful space to sit down with a cuppa.  They really do exude the British art of afternoon tea because their selection of teas are much more refined and classic than other tea shops in the city.  They’re not about the wild n’ wacky and out of this world.  They are all about the classic, traditional black, green, and oolong teas which is PERFECT for the tea drinkers out there who aren’t into 15 million flavoured teas.  I personally LOVE flavoured teas of all kinds, but there are many, like my brother and my boyfriend’s mum, for example, who enjoy keeping things simple with an orange pekoe, an English breakfast, or an Earl Grey.  They carry flavours such as coconut, blueberry, and chocolate orange, but for the most part, Majesteas is as classic as it gets and I know a lot of people who appreciate that!

One of the newest menus in town!

And now, a new food discovery!  Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken!  Wait a minute…donuts and chicken?!  Before you freak out and think Leslieville (or I) have gone off the deep end, let me make it clear that Paulette specializes in donuts and chicken meals, but not together!  Donuts are donuts and chicken is chicken and they do not mix and mingle.  Unless of course you happen to order a chicken meal with a donut, but I wanted to make sure you all weren’t thinking that the chicken was sandwiched between donuts or something.  Because we have enough of that heart attack-inducing food at the CNE and county fair! 

I literally stumbled on this brand spankin’ food shop and was instantly intrigued!  Only a month and a half old (one of the nice girls behind the counter told me so), the gorgeous bright aqua colour was impossible to miss and as soon as I saw the word “donuts” I was in!  It wasn’t until I read the menu board that I realized that they also took their chicken very seriously as well!  In a nutshell, Paulette’s makes a slew of donuts in delicious flavours, donut holes in two flavours, and fried chicken meals.

The cutest donut display window!

They have 7 flavours of donuts on hand every day which are sweetly and cutely displayed in the little glass window by the counter (the selection when I walked in?  Vanilla bean nutmeg, cinnamon latte, raspberry rose with graham cracker crumble, root beer float, grapefruit maple, dark chocolate pretzel, and mojito!), two flavours of donut holes (maple sugar and garam masala sugar), and a number of fried chicken combinations (snack chicken, half chicken, and combo chicken with white meat, dark meat, sides, and/or donut holes) where you can choose your dipping sauce and rub.  I honestly don’t know if another shop like Paulette’s exists anywhere else in the city, but this is truly the first I’ve ever seen and I find it incredibly interesting and funky! 

I can’t promise any posts on the chicken (I don’t eat fried chicken and while the chicken sauces and rubs and accompanying sides do sound yummy, it’s going to take a bit of arm-twisting from a third party to convince me to try some!), but you can bet your sweet bottom I’m going to try some of those donuts!  I totally apologize for not having any real donuts to show you all in this post, but I had already eaten a toasted coconut donut the day prior to this impromptu, unexpected visit and I never eat the same indulgent treat two days in a row, not even cupcakes!  So I’ll just have to come back.         

A BIG thank you to the nice folks who allowed me to include them in my photo!

I’ve made a handful of Leslieville food posts since I started Ate by Ate highlighting spots such as Sweet Bliss Baking Company, Lady Marmalade, Steeped & Infused, Bobbette & Belle, and the Leslieville farmers’ market among others but this post right here just proves that this really is only the beginning of an amazing, lengthy food journey across a growing, well-loved community in the east end.

The Vegetarian Sandwich Series – Grilled Tofu & Eggplant Panini and Hot Chocolate at Dark Horse Espresso Bar

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Sandwiches?  Vegan sandwiches?  At a coffee shop?!  Yes siree.  Bring a book, a magazine, or a friend to the popular java haunt and sit back and relax with some sips and eats.  Dark Horse Espresso Bar, with 3 locations around downtown Toronto, is your one stop coffee shop for sunny laptop and tablet fun, coffee, lattes, summer and winter drinks, sweet treat baked goods, and grilled panini sandwiches.  I’ve sat back with an apple cider and a latte on two separate occasions and with its pretty orchid flowers and beautiful artwork on the walls, it’s a really nice coffee shop to be in.  It’s one of those perfect “oh my goodness, I need to get some work done but staying at home by myself makes me want to stab myself with a pen” spots because it’s airy and open with big communal tables, so it provides the space to be anonymous without being completely alone AND you get to enjoy food and drink while doing it!  

Recently, I’ve been hemming and hawwing about getting some work done at my local library but I’ve been hesitant about going just because the area lacks food options (I’m not kidding, the closest food option is a dot on the 3 km radius map) and we all know we can’t start breaking out the 3-course meals from our kitchen tupperware containers in the middle of the library.  So, Dark Horse poses itself as the more appealing option for a day of web work and after I had my lovely vegan grilled panini sandwich and hot chocolate, it posits itself as very delicious one too!

 

I love how I can go to Dark Horse and ask for cute latte art.  I know, you can get latte art at several other coffee shops in the city but I haven’t been to those yet, so humour me!  I asked for a cute heart in my hot chocolate ($3.09) and I got the most adorable heart/tulip heart shaped flower!  It was unintentionally (or maybe it was intentional on the part of the nice barista…) perfect for spring and if you like foamy hot chocolates, Dark Horse is your spot.  Don’t do what I did though and leave it sitting for too long.  I was so busy snapping photos of it and my sandwich that the foamies stuck to the inside of the mug and while it was kind of funny having to scrape some of the hot chocolate off, it’s not something I would suggest to anyone else. 

Their hot chocolate is very mild and foamy in taste and texture.  It’s not a fudgy type of chocolate taste, nor is is straight up cocoa powder in taste either.  It’s airy and light and if I had to compare it to something, I’d say that it tastes more like an unsweetened mousse that’s been air whipped into a hot chocolate drink.  For those who don’t like it sickly sweet and just want something that tastes more natural and light as opposed to rich and decadent, this is what you want.

I’ve had my eye on their vegan sandwich for months and months and it has taken me so long to finally get to it, but it was worth the wait because I really enjoyed it!  While I would have loved a big, stacked vegan sandwich baguette style or just a thicker sandwich in general, the vegan sandwich delivers in flavour on all counts and it’s hard to be hard on a panini sandwich based on its thickness; a panini is, essentially, a flattened grilled, toasted sandwich.  Dark Horse serves up a number of grilled panini sandwiches during the day (come after 11am and they’ll all be ready), with both meat and vegetarian options ranging from $6-$7.  These include grilled cheese, hot salami, turkey, and avocado and asparagus in addition to the vegan sandwich. 

The vegan sandwich is filled with a mix of firm tofu, grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, avocado, and a coriander pesto spread.  I was totally expecting a run-of-the-mill grilled vegetable sandwich but what I got was an out-of-this-world warm, savoury, slightly spicy, ginger taste that emanated throughout the entire sandwich.  It took me completely by surprise and I found myself enjoying the sandwich more and more with every bite.  The bread was fantastic in texture with crunchy, grainy bits that had tiny pockets of savoury saltiness to it and the tofu wedges were perfect because they were firm without being rubbery and it fed off of the coriander pesto and grilled vegetables, absorbing their flavours while still retaining its own, well, tofu-ness. 

The bread and the spread totally did it for me and I had flavours in this sandwich that I had never come across before in other sandwiches and for that, it makes it unique.  Do I wish panini sandwiches in general were bigger and less flattened?  Sure.  But I’m more happy with the fact that it tasted great and that it was something I could see myself having again.  After all the dishes and things I’ve had in my life, especially since I started Ate by Ate, I’ve come across things that have been not-so-great and at the very least, forgettable, but this was a sandwich that I truly savoured and liked.          

*****

Dark Horse Espresso Bar serves 3 locations in downtown Toronto:

  1. 215 Spadina Ave. (nearest intersection is Queen St. West and Spadina, about a block or two north of Queen on the east side of Spadina)
  2. 682 Queen St. East (located in the Riverside neighbourhood, west of Broadview Ave.)
  3. 684 Queen St. West (located at Euclid Ave. on the north side of Queen)