The Roncesvalles Guide: Our 25 favourite eating and shopping destinations along Parkdale’s Polish drag
Referred to as Little Poland by long-time residents and Roncey by the younger crowd, the Roncesvalles strip is one of the few neighbourhoods in the city that has earned its “hip” label without been invaded by raucous nightlifers. Progress keeps marching forward here, despite an ongoing road rehabilitation project that has claimed a few business causalities. We recommend spending a spring Saturday visiting these 25 spots.
Due to limited space (there’s room for exactly three tables), this little-known sushi joint is more takeout than sit-down. Still, it’s a well-kept Roncey secret that there is family-run hole in the wall that serves 18 pieces of good-quality maki for $9. On a sunny day, hungry shoppers walk their orders to a bench in Grafton Park for a relaxing break.
Open since: November 2007.
It item: Despite having a signature Vincent Roll (tuna, cucumber, tempura flakes, avocado, roe, $8), we prefer to stay away from spicy-mayo abominations and stick to the 15-piece sashimi lunch ($13), for which the chef—the only person who knows what’s fresh—picks the fish.
Vincent Sushi, 67 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-516-1956, vincentsushi.com. M–W 11:30–9, Th–Sa 11:30–9:30, Su 3–9.
Film Buff is a director’s movie rental store, with wire shelves devoted to stuff not found at Blockbuster: film noir, queer cinema, BBC box sets and Cantonese flicks not starring Stephen Chow. The store is equally well known for serving ice cream and publishing an annual retrospective with dozens of witty (but not snobby) staff reviews.
Open since: May 1999.
It items: Take advantage of hard-to-find titles ($3.98 for a five-night rental), like the disturbingly good Japanese thriller Ichi the Killer, or Wai-keung Lau’s Infernal Affairs series, which Scorsese ripped off, er, remade.
Film Buff, 73 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-534-7078, thefilmbuff.com. M–Su noon–10.
Cherry Bomb Coffee
It wouldn’t be a proper Roncey guide without mentioning one of Toronto’s favourite cafés—one that’s as famous for its baked goods as for its coffee. Unfortunately, some third-wave coffee shop enthusiasts harp on the fact that there isn’t free Wi-Fi or ample seating, but for the most part, people love the shop’s grab-and-go concept and continue to vote it as one of the best places for coffee and cookies in the city.
Open since: March 2005.
It items: Pair a cappuccino ($2.50) with a scone ($2) or, if they’re not yet sold out, one of the famed chocolate oatmeal cookies ($1.50).
Cherry Bomb Coffee, 79 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-516-8212, cherrybombcoffee.ca. M–F 7–6, Sa 8–6, Su 9–6.
Though most think of Benna’s Bakery when it comes to Polish delis, it’s not as fun to browse through on the weekends, when hordes of families buy their groceries. Super Kolbasa is just down the road, and like a true old-fashioned deli, they sell only Polish food.
It items: We love snacking on a big piece of pork schnitzel for the shockingly low price of $2.70. Tip: it tastes just as good cold as it does heated up.
Super Kolbasa, 83 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-588-3759. M–Sa 9–8, Su 9–5.
After spending three years on Queen West, owner Sarajane Fillmore moved her high-end boutique to these digs, where parents adorn their kids with hard-to-find Canadian brands like Baby Ben, Kid Brother, Shoe Babou, Mini Mioche, Red Thread Design and Fillmore’s own line, Hankware.
Open since: June 2009.
It items: The ever-popular Hankware Firekid coat ($99) is exactly what it sounds like: a black firefighter’s coat with a bright yellow lining. Also adorable is the melton wool Red Riding Hood cape by Patouche ($80), which can double as a Halloween costume.
Planet Kid, 87 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-537-9233, planetkid.ca. Tu 10–5, W–Sa 10–6, Su noon–5.
Tinto Coffee House
Owners Ricardo Rozental and Elvia Saenz bring a bit of Colombian flair to this strip, although their café is better known for their vegan-friendly menu and free Wi-Fi. Abundant seating and the aroma of spices in the air make this a great place to spend an afternoon. They even sell magazines—all CanCon—for perusal in the cozy upstairs nook.
Open since: August 2005.
It items: The Inga Pirca salad ($10.75) gives a good dose of protein—quinoa, bulgur and lentils—mixed with tomatoes, greens, cucumbers, sun-dried tomatoes and olives tossed with a paprika and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. They also pull a decent shot of fair-trade espresso for $1.75.
Tinto Coffee House, 89 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-530-5885, tinto.ca. M–F 9–9, Sa–Su 11–6.
Thin Blue Line Cheese
Continuing with the neighbourhood’s hunger for local food, this cheese boutique specializes in Canadian cheeses that owner Marc Rozender organizes by milk type (cow, sheep, goat). Since the space is small, the selection—which also features some French and English cheeses—is carefully edited.
Open since: October 2006.
It items: Chèvre Noir, a Quebec goat’s milk cheddar, is a favourite of the owners and the customers ($6 per 100 grams). First timers must try the Blue Benedictin, also from Quebec ($48 per 100 grams), to truly understand the shop’s name.
Thin Blue Line Cheese, 93B Roncesvalles Ave., 416-840-6966, thinbluelinecheese.ca. M–F 11–7, Sa–Su 11–6.
A modern-day flapper is probably the best way to describe the customer who sorts through Frock’s feathered headbands, whimsical pendant necklaces and accessories from Montreal designers Bodybag, Valérie Dumaine and Eve Gravel. Downstairs is the fabulous little salon, Frock Head, run by Dawn Larson.
Open since: May 2003.
It item: A grey knee-length dress from Eve Gravel ($159) with cap sleeves and a ruffled front mixes secretary chic and Victorian romance.
Frock, 97 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-516-1333, frock.ca. Tu–F 11–7, Sa 11–6, Su noon–5.
Every month, Rachelle Turner spends over an hour creating a new window display using vintage textiles and refurbished furniture so passersby see a calming cottage scene rather than a hodgepodge of dusty relics haphazardly thrown together. The attention to detail is present throughout the shop: her signature style (pastels and whites with the occasional punch of colour) shows homeowners that vintage doesn’t have to mean dated.
Open since: December 2007.
It items: The electric blue dresser with mirror ($475 each) featured in the display window would add an adorable touch to a child’s bedroom, and vintage vase-like lamps ($95–$125) add a dash of whimsy.
Hawk Eyes, 103 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-916-6212, shophawkeyes.blogspot.com. Tu by chance or apppointment, W noon–6, Th–F noon–7, Sa 11–6, Su noon–5.
Rowe Farms at Roncesvalles
Sure, there’s a Sobeys down the street, but foodies know to come here for good stuff—the quality of the free-run chicken and pasture-raised beef is evident just by looking at them. But this isn’t an old-school butcher shop: Kings of Leon plays on the overhead speakers, and customers cooking for one can ask the butchers to open any packaged meats in order to buy a single serving.
Open since: December 2008.
It items: Jamie Kennedy’s chicken, beef and turkey stocks made from the bones of Rowe Farms animals ($8 for a one-litre jar, plus $1 deposit). And, just in time for barbecue season, nitrate-free hot dogs ($5 per pound).
Rowe Farms at Roncesvalles, 105 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-588-4383, rowefarms.ca. M 11–7, Tu–F 10–7, Sa 10–6, Su 11–6.
Catherine Huizenga’s consignment shop is strewn with second-hand clothing, furniture and knickknacks—making it eerily like our grandma’s attic. It’s easy to spend an hour here browsing through the old children’s books, postcards from the early ’70s and jewellery.
Open since: August 2005.
It items: A framed print of a blank family tree from the ’70s caught our eye, ($90) as did a $50 Mad Men–era Remington typewriter.
Mrs. Huizenga, 121 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-533-2112, mrshuizenga.com. Tu–W 10–7, Th–F 10–8, Sa 10–5, Su noon–5.
“Cute and comfortable” is the mantra behind this newish shoe store where sandals, clogs and chunky heels are laid out on shelves made from distressed wood (flashy stilettos on Lucite fixtures don’t fly in this neighbourhood). But the emphasis on comfort doesn’t mean earth tones and frumpy footwear. In fact, shoppers love Imelda for its stylish offerings (from El Naturalista, Miz Mooz and Colcci) and its quiet setting (a rarity in shoe stores nowadays).
Open since: March 2009.
It items: A fun pair of slate blue Camper sandals with a rainbow toe strap ($176). A pair of brown Oliberté sneakers ($115) stand out among the small selection of men’s offerings.
Imelda, 123 Roncesvalles Ave., 647-344-1006. Tu–F 11–7, Sa 11–6, Su noon–5.
Ko Fruit Market
Two generations have worked at this family-run, pro-organic produce market that opened long before organic was dubbed chic by canvas bag–toting urbanites. Stop here for a non-caffeinated pick-me-up, like a bottle of Harmony Organic milk or some blueberry juice.
Open since: 1984.
It items: It’s hard for a grocery store to have an it item, but be sure to check in during fiddlehead, fig and strawberry seasons—Ko has the best of each on the strip.
Ko Fruit Market, 143 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-588-9587. M–Sa 8:30–9, Su 8:30–8.
Buddha Dog Toronto
Before gourmet burgers and high-class poutines took over the city, there was Buddha Dog, with its four-inch wieners of Wellington beef topped with local cheeses and unusual sauces. People seem to love or hate these haute dogs from Prince Edward County, but with the tapas style of serving giving different jolts of flavour with each dog, we come down on the love side.
Open since: August 2007.
It items: Considering the small size of the dogs, people usually order two ($2 each) and add a squiggle of sauce and a slice of cheese (25 cents for each topping). We recommend pairing the hot mozzarella with the pepper jelly, or the cheddar with the Indian butter.
Buddha Dog Toronto, 163 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-534-2007, buddhafoodha.com. M–Sa 11–7, Su 11–4.
Charm and tradition are paramount at this Polish restaurant best known for its no-fuss approach to food and the live music played on the upright piano every Saturday night. Sometimes, it’s classical Chopin; other times, it’s “Let’s Get Physical.” Either way, the piano gets people coming back.
Open since: 2000.
It items: The borscht with dumplings ($5.25) is popular on chilly nights, and the Polish plate for two is an ideal intro to the country’s cuisine: schnitzel, cabbage rolls, potato pancakes and pierogies ($36).
Chopin Restaurant, 165 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-536-6228, chopinrestaurant.com. M–Su 11 a.m.–2 a.m.
Named after owner Elizabeth Klodas’s mother, Maria Granowska, who had her own bakery in Lodz, this Polish bread and lunch spot is considered the anchor of Roncesvalles. In addition to its longevity and reputation as the go-to place for pierogies and traditional baked goods, one of Granowska’s claims to fame is that it baked the ceremonial bread for Pope John Paul II when he made his first visit to Canada in 1984.
Open since: 1972.
It items: Aside from the pierogies ($9 for six), Polish doughnuts (called paczki) are a big draw (around $1). They’re fluffier and less sweet than the kind Canadians are used to and are filled with gooey jellies like rosehip, poppy seed and chocolate.
Granowska’s, 175 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-533-7755, granowskas.com. Tu–Sa 8–8, Su 8–5.
Lit Espresso Bar
The success of this relatively new addition to the neighbourhood is already evident as owner Joe Angellotti just opened a second location on College. In November, the café caused quite a stir among the local coffee crowd when it switched from Intelligentsia to Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters (called the “new Starbucks” by Time), but regardless of coffee politics, people continue to fill the place because of the staff (every customer has a favourite barista), the panini and, of course, the joe.
Open since: September 2008.
It items: A panino ($5–$8) and an Americano ($3 double) make for a quick and cheap lunch.
Lit Espresso Bar, 221 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-9700, litespressobar.com. M–F 7–6, Sa–Su 8–6.
Instead of renting Baby Einstein DVDs, new parents enroll their kids in Rainbow Songs’ music classes that teach kids up to age five about song structures and language. Held every morning, courses are divided by age group and run up to 14 weeks ($155–$220 per session).
Open since: September 2009.
It item: Summer classes are ideal for keeping the kids busy while school’s out.
Rainbow Songs at Roncesvalles, 277 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-535-5247, rainbowsongs.com.
Mabel’s Bakery and Specialty Foods
An alternative to all the Polish bakeries on the strip, Mabel’s carries a large stock of breads from Thuet and St. John’s Bakery in addition to homemade pies made from organic wheat and fruit. It’s a one-stop-shop for a last-minute host gift or a take-home meal.
Open since: November 2008.
It items: The orange blondie ($2.75) is a delicious twist on the typical square: an orange-flavoured cake topped with citrus cream cheese icing. Caution: the icing is thicker than the cake.
Mabel’s Bakery and Specialty Foods, 323 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-534-2333, mabelsbakery.ca. Hours: regular, M–F 8:30–7:30, Sa 8–6, Su 9–6; summer (starting Victoria Day weekend), M–W 8:30–7:30, Th–F 8:30–8, Sa 8–8, Su 9–8.
Brad’s Takeout and Eatery
From the outside, the dim lighting and minimal decor makes the place look like it’s out of business, but locals know it’s one of the best places in the neighbourhood for Sunday brunch (arrive early on weekends to avoid the rush). The best seats are in the back where a giant skylight bathes the room in natural light.
Open since: February 2008.
It items: The lunch crowd typically goes for the burger and home fries ($9.50), but we prefer to take advantage of the brunch menu, particularly the crispy croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs, peameal bacon and aged cheddar with a side salad ($9.75).
Brad’s Takeout and Eatery, 325 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-533-2723. Brunch, W–F 11–3; dinner, W–Sa 5–10.
Fat Cat Wine Bar
Owner Mathew Sutherland breaks up the family-oriented vibe of Little Poland with a sophisticated menu that blends French, Spanish and Portuguese influences. The small sharing plates make for a great first date meal, particularly during the summer when the intimate back patio is open. Price points hover between $5 and $13 (wine by the glass tops out at $12), so it’s an especially good place for penny-pinchers looking to impress.
Open since: September 2005.
It items: The dips with crostini are musts ($6), as are the yukon potatoes baked with caramelized onions and smoked bacon ($10). Also worth noting is that buck-a-shuck oysters are available everyday from 5 to 7 p.m.
Fat Cat Wine Bar, 331 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-535-4064, fatcat.ca. M–Sa 4–midnight.
The owners of this coffee roaster and café boast that they’ve been using nothing but fair-trade coffee for the past 15 years; customers are reminded of the company’s devotion to the environment and the global community at every turn. The walls are covered with posters promoting fair-trade, collages of regular customers, maps of the world and event postings for women’s groups.
Open since: June 1995.
It items: The chai latte ($3) is a multi-flavour experience that fits in well at a café with so much going on.
Alternative Grounds, 333 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-534-5543, alternativegrounds.com. M–Th 7–7, F 7–8, Sa 8–8, Su 8–7.
A Good Read
First editions, collectable and autographed volumes are what sets Gary Kirk’s used book shop apart. The front of the store is devoted to new and used books, while the back is where the real goods are: glass cases showing books autographed by Pierre Trudeau and Anne Rice, as well as a Life of Brian script signed by Eric Idle and Michael Palin.
Open since: July 21, 2007, at 12:01 a.m., to be exact. The opening was timed to the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
It items: A signed copy of Dark Water by Japanese horror master Koji Suzuki (known best as the man who unleashed The Ring) is $175, and a copy of The Mummy signed by Anne Rice is $500. Also interesting is a copy of Art of the Steal signed by the real Frank Abagnale—portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can ($100).
A Good Read, 341 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-2665. Tu–Th and Su 11–7, F–Sa 11–9.
The model of a neighbourhood pub, The Local’s decor is best described as miscellaneous: a disco ball, exposed brick, Christmas lights, mismatched chairs (and notably, no TVs or clocks). A lively but not rowdy crowd comes for the regular live music shows, such as the Hamstrung String Band on Mondays and folksy Ron Leary on Wednesdays.
Open since: December 2004.
It items: The tried and true Local Burger with fries ($13) with a pint of the Local Lager ($5.50). Surprisingly, they have edamame ($7) and a kids’ menu.
The Local, 396 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-535-6225, thelocalpub.ca. M–Su 5–2, Su 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
Coffee and All That Jazz
Think Harlem during jazz’s golden age: red and cream checkerboard floors and framed records. Decorated with vintage instruments—a sax, trumpet and trombone—this café is a popular hangout for members of the laptop mafia, many of whom travel to the neighbourhood to enjoy the free Wi-Fi, mellow vibe and fair-trade coffee from Reunion Island.
Open since: 2002.
It item: A small cappuccino runs slightly higher than average at $3.20 (medium $3.90; large $4.40), but it’s a small price for a clear conscience.
Coffee and All That Jazz, 72 Howard Park Ave., 416-531-7622, coffeejazz.com. M–F 7 a.m.–9 p.m., Sa 8 a.m.–9 p.m., Su 9–8.
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