FOOD AND DRINK
Where to Grab a Killer Cup of Joe in T.O.
It's often the atmosphere that distinguishes the best coffee houses, whether they serve up bohemian brews or a businesslike bustle
Whether you need a boost to brave a Monday or merely crave the comfort of its warmth, a coffee serves many purposes. As a city chock full of – or, dare one say, cluttered with – purveyors of the caffeinated elixir, Toronto can cater to all sorts of coffee-related whims. As a result of a coffee shop boom of sorts in recent years, competing owners must go to greater lengths to separate themselves from the pack. In other words, the quality of what trickles out of the espresso machine is only part of the battle. Here’s a sample of those who understand that best.
Dineen Coffee Company
The combination of its downtown location, its location on the first floor of a heritage building abode and its businesslike clientele makes Dineen look like an early 20th-century Manhattan anachronism. Exposed brick walls, banker’s lamps and staff in vests and ties conjure a gilded bygone era while embodying the constant motion associated with the Financial District. Always packed with fast-talkers either between or in business meetings, Dineen is especially suited to those who thrive in a hustle-and-bustle environment. (Still, compared to the busy streets and tunnels of the area, it’s positively serene.) Oh yeah, and the coffee’s pretty good, too.
140 Yonge St., 416-900-0949
Rooster Coffee House
While it does boast three locations altogether, respectively, Rooster’s original shop on Broadview offers a homey experience unlike its offspring. As the only coffee shop in the immediate vicinity (which is residential, pleasant Riverdale), locals get their caffeine fix either over a book in a leather armchair or a board game at the communal table. For the complete Rooster experience, enjoy a latte on the patio overlooking Riverdale Park, and the Toronto skyline from an angle usually unseen by visitors. The view might even be lovely enough to attempt this on a brisk spring or autumn day. It never gets old.
479 Broadview Ave., 416-995-1530
Other locations: 343 King St. E., 568 Jarvis St.
Courtesy Rooster Coffee House
Boxcar Social speaks to more than just caffeine fiends, both the original location at Yonge and Summerhill in tony Rosedale and the newborn incarnation in bourgeois-bohemian, east-end Leslieville. Beyond coffee, patrons can also kick back over a solid selection of bourbon, craft beer and wine, and throw in a charcuterie board, too. The décor and ambience echo the hybrid concept without pretension and convey the establishment’s desire to be a neighbourhood joint as opposed to a destination. You won’t find a mixed drink program nor home-sourced beans at Boxcar, a move that makes sense in a city already cluttered with cocktail bars and coffee shops featuring local roasters.
1208 Yonge St., 416-792-5873
4 Boulton Ave., 647-344-4530
With walls dominated by photos of famous Jimmies and an endless supply of merch, few upstarts in the coffee business have branded themselves quite like Jimmy’s. Cosy and no-frills, there isn’t a single one of the four shops that hasn’t integrated nicely into its respective neighbourhood. Where Dineen is ideal for an immediate fix or a power business meeting, Jimmy’s is a place to shoot the breeze with friends and the staff or get some work done undisturbed over a must-try scone or danish … or two.
107 Portland St., 416-901-2289
191 Baldwin St., 647-352-5466
84 Gerrard St. W., 416-792-1141
15 Ossington Ave.
Courtesy Jimmy's Coffee
As with Boxcar Social, there’s a lot more to Portland Variety than the joe. As soon as they cross the threshold, patrons are greeted by marble countertops and a bevy of breakfast-friendly baked goods. The perfect pairing: a cappuccino and a flaky, buttery custard tart or a latte with a Le Gourmand double-thick chocolate chip cookie. Café seating is limited to a handful of stools looking out on the King West comings and goings, which suits the 9-to-5 demographic of the area just fine (it’s a hub for media, marketing and IT firms by day, yet curiously also a neighbourhood in which to see and be seen by night). The restaurant at the back offers tapas-style fare, plus cocktails and nicely chosen Spanish and Italian fortified wines for the aperitif hour. So the “variety” part of Portland Variety isn’t just a clever name: It can probably serve you something you’ll want regardless of the time of day.
587 King St. W., 416-368-5151
Located on the main artery of Toronto’s bohemian mecca Kensington Market, it’s only fitting that Pamenar’s décor exudes a vintage, thrifty sensibility. But what makes the five-year-old café a true Augusta Avenue staple is its commitment to showcasing homegrown artwork on its main wall. As we write, Pamenar is trying out a no-laptop policy after 8 pm on weekdays and 2 pm on weekends, but that’s no reason to stray away. Whether indoors or on the front patio, patrons can enjoy their dose of caffeine or one of a solid selection of craft brews while watching Kensington’s diverse and always colourful characters come and go.
307 Augusta Ave., 647-352-3627