Bringing something novel to jaded Torontonians is a pretty tall order. By the looks of it, though, that’s just what brothers Greg and Judson Flom have done with Leslieville Pumps, an east-end establishment that blurs the lines between independent gas station, general store and, yes, barbecue sandwich shop. Says Greg, “We really wanted to create an environment and experience that Toronto hasn’t yet seen.”
A few years ago, while Greg was “living the life” in Vancouver, Judson was working on a midtown restaurant opening that never quite got off the ground. Despite a background in higher-end food—honed at Oliver and Bonacini and The Chef Upstairs—Judson’s true love has always been barbecue. “My smoker has always been my baby,” he says. When the life-long entrepreneurs—who got their start selling candy at recess—heard that a station was for sale, they jumped on it, basing their concept loosely on Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City. A gas station since 1957, the Queen East building required a complete do-over. Inspired by the look of Kawartha cottages where their childhood summers were spent, they engaged carpenter Lucas Kanup to custom-build everything, using cottage country wood. Inside, the space is full of kitschy details: tabletops house old photographs and newspaper clippings; vending machines resemble vintage gas pumps; cottagey knick-knacks sit high up on shelves; custom-made retro Pepsi-Cola signs mark their fridges. And, of course, out front there’s a pair of red Muskoka chairs, providing a view of the pumps which, we’re told, pump gas at least 2.5 cents cheaper than elsewhere.
While the station is open 24/7, the kitchen itself runs from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the brisket being a particular point of pride: the beef is smoked for 14 hours using a mix of hickory and cherry hardwood and cubed till it’s falling apart. Piled onto a fresh bun, it’s then topped with crispy sweet onions, grainy mustard and house barbecue sauce ($7.74). A smoked salmon bagel is made using cold-smoked fish from Hooked, dill cream cheese, red onions and capers ($5.84). Fries are fresh-cut, and have been given the 45-minute post-fry taste test—essential, we’re told, for take-out orders ($2.99). Finally, for night owls, there’s an authentic late-night curry, courtesy of Sri Lankan staff member Mary.