Boxcar Social (Riverside)
This well-over-one-hundred-year-old building with 18-ft ceilings and arched windows on Boulton Ave. just off Queen East has gone through a few different identities: it was previously a furniture store, and a library before that, and when Boxcar's owners were stripping away layers of its floor, they discovered it was once a bowling alley too.
Owners/partners John Baker, Alex Castellani, Chris Ioannou and Joe Papik have done an impressive job renovating the place, exposing beams and brick, and building all the wood furniture and concrete countertops themselves. They commissioned Vancouver-based artist John James to paint a pastel-coloured piece featuring owls on the back wall.
With a similar coffee program to Summerhill's, Boxcar aims to highlight notable roasters from outside of Toronto, since local brands can be found at most other cafes around here.
Single origin beans from third-wave roasters like Anchored (Dartmouth), Phil & Sebastian (Calgary), Transcend (Edmonton), 49th Parallel (Vancouver), George Howell (Acton, MA) and Heart (Portland, OR) are on rotation, and selections can change on a whim if some uncontrollable variable like the weather alters the way one should taste.
Baristas are constantly dialing in the coffee to make sure it's on point, and they're meticulous in its preparation.
A custom Kees Van Der Westen Spirit machine is used to make espresso-based drinks ($3.15 espresso/Americano, $3.75 macchiato/cortado, $3.83 cappuccino/flat white, $4 latte), and there's also drip ($2.15/$2.50/$2.85).
Because this space is slightly larger than Summerhill's, a daytime slow bar where patrons can sit and indulge in pour overs and tasting flights has been added.
We get the Kangunu Flight ($7.25), which allows us to try the same single origin bean (in this case, the Kenya Kangunu from George Howell) three different ways: as a single espresso, a macchiato and a pour over.
There is also the option to try three different coffees side by side ($7.60) or a Whisky Tango Flight ($15) that consists of two featured espressos paired with two half-ounce bourbons. You can even arrange to have a pour over paired with a beer; Baker discovered by accident that the coffee alters the taste of the beer, making for a fun way to mess with your palate.
The bar aspect of Boxcar is taken just as seriously as the cafe side, and its owners (who are passionate and knowledgeable about both) made a conscious decision from the start not to have mixed drinks or cocktails; they just want to focus on wine, beer and whisky here. Like the coffee, the aim is to showcase things in their purest form.
Also like the coffee, the whisky offerings, in the form of bourbon and Scotch, are constantly changing up, as they come in limited quantities and some are made in small batches.
Draught ($8-$12 for 13oz) and bottled ($8-$32 for 341-750mL) beers are all craft brews, 75 percent of them Canadian (Beau's, Bellwoods, Dieu du Ciel, Left Field, Oast House, Sawdust City, etc.), with a few from Belgium, Germany and the U.S.
All the wines ($10-$14/glass, $45-$185/bottle) are from the New World, including Australia, New Zealand, California and of course, Niagara, and there's even a crisp, dry and sweet sparkling Contraband Riesling ($8/glass) from Niagara on tap.
At night, the slow bar turns into the charcuterie prep station, and snacks ($4.50-$7) along with charcuterie and cheese boards ($15-$34) are on the menu. Take note: from Tuesday to Friday, charcuterie is half price from 6pm to 8pm.
Since it's not right on the main Queen East strip, this Riverside Boxcar feels like you have to be in the know to know where to find it. But word is slowly spreading through the area, and a licensed front patio will make it even more visible. I think it's going to make for an excellent neighbourhood haunt.
Photos by Morris Lum