Hipsters’ guide to the other side of Queen

WALKING EAST ON Queen Street on the other side of the river in Leslieville, the sun is shining and the crowds are out in droves. Everywhere I turn in this up-and- coming neighbourhood, I see a mix of hipsters with laptops stretched out on local patios, young couples lounging in the park and happy shoppers walking the streets with coats tucked under their arms. It’s the perfect spring day to explore this thriving area of eclectic storefronts and cafés, and my tour guide to the hip side of Queen East is actress Tara Spencer-Nairn, fresh off her final season on CTV’s Corner Gas.

I arrive at newly opened and already popular Ed’s Real Scoop (920 Queen St. E.) where display cases offer a dazzling selection of gourmet gelato and homemade ice cream creations while the enticing scent of fresh-pressed waffle cones fills the air. When the crowd thins, manager Stephen Reynolds comes over to chat and gives me the lowdown on why Ed’s is so popular.

Our stuff is made the traditional way,” he says. “It’s all 100 per cent real ingredients, all natural, and we make a lot of the ingredients that go into the final product, like the peanut butter fudge that goes into the chocolate peanut butter fudge ice cream.”

Soon Spencer-Nairn arrives and greets me with a bright smile.

“I figure an interview can’t possibly go wrong if you start with ice cream,” she jokes, peering through the glass case of jewel- coloured gelatos. “I love this place.” She turns to Reynolds, “Just so you know, I think I’m spending my whole summer here.”

Once we’ve made our selections, we grab a table and talk Corner Gas. It’s been a few days since the final episode aired, and she says, though she is happy the show finished at the top of its game, the ending is still bittersweet.

“It’s really weird,” she says. “It was a lot more emotional than I thought it would be. I think, when we wrapped, I hadn’t really processed it yet. But, in a lot of ways, the people there are my family, and it’s strange to think that after six seasons we won’t be all together next year.”

Montreal-born Spencer-Nairn has been in the business for more than a decade, first creating buzz with her turn as the rebellious Lou in coming-of-age drama New Waterford Girl, followed by appearances on TV series such as Blue Murder and ReGenesis.

And what is she planning now that Corner Gas has finished?

“Honestly, I’m really focused on having the best summer of my life,” she says, “I’ve never had a summer with my husband, and we’ve been together four and a half years. So, we’re not trying to splurge or do anything crazy, but I think we’ll just take it easy for a bit and enjoy the neighbourhood."

Soon, we head into the sunshine, and after a short walk east arrive at Brick Street Bread (255 Logan Ave.), an offshoot of the Distillery District’s much loved all-organic Brick Street Bakery.  Outside a chalkboard sign advertises the bakery’s long-awaited foray into the fresh sandwich business, and inside we browse through a dizzying array of specialty loaves, rolls and croissants overflowing from wicker baskets and stacked displays.  Spencer-Nairn plucks a golden loaf of herbed bread off a shelf and slips it into a paper bag.  "I love this kind," she enthuses.  "Everything here is so good, it just has the best flavour."

Next, of course, we need cheese worthy of Brick Street loat, and she says she knows just the place to find it.

We walk across the street to the Leslieville Cheese Market (891 Queen St. E.) and step inside to find the charming Old World shop packed with customers.

The Market has gained a devoted fanbase among neighborhood gourmands — and it’s no wonder.  The shop boasts an impressive selection of artisinal cheese as well as specialty cheese platters, cheese appreciation classes and their famous gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. 

“It’s always busy here,” says Spencer-Nairn. “This place has a great selection of goat cheese and sheep’s milk cheese and these
amazing turkey sausages.”

Next on the list is Eye Spy (1100 Queen St. E.), a formerly vintage- only store now dedicated to a fashionable mix of old and new.  Inside this bright, spacious showroom, you can find refurbished furniture alongside unique gifts, housewares and accessories — think   Lomography cameras, ’50s-era dinette sets and sock monkeys.

“This is one of my favourite places to buy cards,” says Spencer-Nairn, as she pulls one from the shelf and examines its felt cut-out design. “You hate to go to the drug store and spend money on a card that everyone else is buying, so I come here because they always have these really cool, unique ones.”

The last stop on our tour is Toronto’s go-to place for girly dresses with a rock ’n’ roll edge: Doll Factory by Damzels (1122 Queen St. E.). Owned and operated by Toronto designers Kelly Freeman and Rory Lindo, known for their successful dress label Damzels in this Dress, the store is filled to the brim with stylish clothing, accessories and a healthy dose of kitschy gifts.

“You’re going to love this place,” says Spencer-Nairn as we enter, and within moments, she is lost in the racks picking out her new favourites. “This is really one of those places where you have to try everything on. There is so much great stuff here that you can miss something.”

Finally our tour ends on Spencer-Nairn’s street, and as we walk, she reflects on her adopted neighbourhood.

“It’s funny,” she says. “When I first came to Toronto, I started out way in the west end, but every time I’ve moved, it’s been farther and farther east. Now that I’m here, I really feel like I’ve finally made it. I’ve found my home.”

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