Northern Belle is the new little sister spot to Northwood on Dundas West (located, appropriately, at Bellwoods). Owners Ange Reynolds and Richard Pope aren't deviating far from the formula that made the original spot at Christie Pits a local favourite - coffee and pastries by day, cocktails and beer by night, and small plates 'round the clock - but in a neighbourhood mostly divided among bars and cafes, they've taken over a comfortable middle ground.
Once the home of S. Lefkowitz , the space was overhauled completely over four months - "the only thing here originally was the windows and the brick," Pope says. Now, thanks to dark walls, vintage artwork and a massive window that hangs over the bar, the refined space retains a farmhouse vibe that boosts the casual feel.
As is the case with Northwood, the liquid refreshments are the main focus. Instead of doing espresso drinks, they've opted for pour-overs - mostly to save on counter space. "We can't do lattes - but we can do delicious drip coffee," Pope says. Their beans come from Pig Iron, with three or so blends on the go for visitors to choose from. (They also recently rolled out bottles of cold brew.)
Just two beers are available at a time on draught - currently, it's Beau's Lug-Tread and Kissmeyer's - but the lineup of cans and bottles is so unusual you won't want for new stuff to check out. (Our bartender's fave: Sweetwater, a fruity-floral hoppy ale brewed in Brooklyn and packaged in a can that beautifully self-parodies the craft beer movement.)
Cocktails are influenced by the classics, with odd house twists like lime and cold brew. I'm drawn to the No Suspenders ($12) both by the name and by the laundry list of ingredients: Goslings rum, Guerra vermouth, a housemade vanilla liqueur, Luxardo maraschino, Cherry Heering, Fernet Menta, lime, and ginger beer (garnished with a lime slice and maraschino cherry).
The Guerra vermouth - which tastes a little like reduced Coke syrup - inspired Pope to run with a '50s soda-inspired theme. The resulting concoction, slightly sweet and gently herbal, does indeed taste like a throwback to the glory days of root beer made with actual roots.
The food menu is a little less fleshed-out, and still evolving; like at Northwood, the focus is on no-frills snacks made with quality ingredients. A major draw for the afternoon crowd, co-owner Reynolds tells me, are the sandwiches ($8-12), which they bring in daily from other producers. Recent selections include a five-spice pork sandwich dressed up with kale, sweet potato and fennel slaw, flanked by an assortment of housemade sweet, spiced pickled veggies.
Cheese and charcuterie are a staple snack at both locations; on our visit, we nab a sizeable hunk of fresh, runny Brillat-Savarin from Quebec, flanked by a little spoonful of marmalade and some toasted baguette crisps. Also brought in to Northern Belle from la belle province: A little ramekin of duck liver and pink peppercorn pate, with more pickles and crisps. (Pro tip: Put the cheese on the pate.)
If you'd rather something sweet, they offer an array of baked treats from around the city: French pastries also sourced from the Tempered Room, muffins from Circles & Squares, and Portuguese custard tarts from neighbourhood bakeries.
Everything's served on cute, mismatched floral plates - nothing fancy, just good ingredients in their simplest form ready for the snacking. Which brings us back to that drink Pope served earlier: "We kind of have a 'no suspenders' policy," he explains. "We just don't want to seem too stuffy - and also, we don't want to seem like a period piece from the 1920s or '30s. We're just more casual, laid-back."
Judging by the afternoon coffee-drinkers and after-work bar crowd already streaming into the place two weeks after opening, it's a vibe the neighbourhood can get behind.