Category Archives: Cafes and Coffee

Port-landed

If there was anywhere in the United States that I could see myself feeling comfortable, it would definitely be Portland, Oregon. Yes, it’s true, I haven’t been to all of the places in all of the 50 states, but Portland would certainly give any other candidate a run for its money. And here’s why: 1. the local food system is sophisticated and supported by the community, such that one can procure much of what one needs or desires at one of the many farmers’ markets throughout the week; 2. there is excellent coffee found on every corner of every intersection in every neighbourhood; 3. the cycling infrastructure is user-friendly and comprehensive such that anyone could get from point A to point B in order to eat one’s way across the entire city with no problem; 4. White Pinot Noir. Need I say more?; 5. it’s delicious and has a great sense of humour. Full Stop.

Highlights from Portland

  • Saturday Market (on Saturdays and Sundays) full of artisans and knick knacks, and highly entertaining.
  • Saturday Farmers’ Market, with 140 vendors, live music, chef demos, many prepared foods for the muting right there, and a dedicated staff pleased to help you navigate and make the most of everything it has to offer.
  • The Japanese Gardens and the Rose Gardens. WHOA!
  • Alberta, Mississippi, Hawthorne and Alphabet neighbourhoods.
  • Great restaurants including (links on the Restaurant Rundown page): Higgin’s, Wildwood, Beast, and Little Bird

Bicycle Allowances

As many of you know, I am training to ride from Toronto to Montreal this summer in support of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. It is a huge amount of time, resources, energy, and dedication to getting my body ready for the week of grueling, late July exertion that I have signed up for. Call me crazy, I wouldn’t deny it.

Anyhow, one of the benefits to training has been the expenditure of calories that I have never in my life had the pleasure of having to replenish. Five and a half hours of cycling basically allows me to consume an extra 3000 calories! For a closeted compulsive eater, this is like music to one’s ears. The thought process goes something like: “Go eat chelsea buns at parties, add honey to your water just because, and when you stumble upon a new artisan bakery on Lakeshore, eat the baguette, the whole baguette.”

Another major benefit to cycling so much is that I get to explore parts of this fine megacity that I would otherwise never venture to. Yesterday I managed to combine a store visit for work with a mini-training ride. I headed west to Browns Line and Lakeshore. Usually I take the Lakeshore Promenade following the Waterfront trail in and out of sweet residential enclaves, through blossom filled parks, and in and around water treatment plants. But yesterday, I was on a mission to get to Fair Grounds cafe to drop off some samples of chocolate, sugar and other snacky things. Fair Grounds is a micro-roaster that serves up Fair Trade, organic coffee, lovely pastries, and a fair amount of other retailed items like tea and snacks. It is tucked away in an unassuming old bank building on the corner of Lakeshore and 38th or 39th (I can’t remember exactly the cross street). Jeffrey is the ever-present and friendly owner, who works like crazy to offer his customers the best available. They go to farmers markets in the west end, and certainly provide a community building space at the cafe in an otherwise desolate landscape of the low-rise retail strip that looks as if it was forgotten forty years ago.

"Spinach Bagel" from Tatsu's

So I had the pleasure of treating myself to a freshly roasted iced americano at the cafe, and on my way back towards the city, I stopped in at Tatsu’s Artisan Bakery. I wouldn’t have noticed it had I not taken the Lakeshore route, and was very pleased with what I found. What looks as if it was probably a Coffee Time or other sterile donut chain at one point in it’s occupation, has been transformed into a handcrafted baked goods hot spot, just across the street from Humber College. I tried the baguette (which from my independent scoring, would have actually won the baguette challenge as posted a few months ago, with a score of 5), a handmade, organic spelt loaf, and a “spinach bagel”, which resembled a bagel only in shape. The spinach bagel was a perfect cycling snack, flaky pastry and gooey, salty spinach mush in the middle, kind of like a traditional English sausage roll, but with spinach instead of sausage, obviously.

The other west side discovery I have made is up Brown’s Line, just north of Horner Ave. It’s called Organic Big Burger. I don’t eat beef, but if you do, the meat comes from Beretta and they pride themselves on offering clean fast food. But the piece de resistance at Organic Big Burger is MAPLETON’S SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM!!!!!!! That’s right, I said it. Family farmed, organic, LFP certified, sweet, delicious soft serve with no trace of petrochemicals, hydrogenated oils, or the crap that usually makes up a perfect twist. They offer Chocolate, vanilla or both, and it is WELL WORTH the drive, or ride, out there to experience it for yourself.

Happy riding folks! Don’t forget your helmet.

Siphon This, Coffee Lovers

Kaffe Grinder

Sam James welcomed me into his one room wonder and offered me a glass, for water, to tap from a big ceramic cooler. Already liked the place. I was waiting for one of my oldest friends to meet me there in between our East vs. West end stompin’ grounds. We share in the delights of food and drink and have recently realized that we both like to socialize on weekend mornings while everyone else is sleeping in. Get in an hour with a good friend, a good cup of coffee, and then go about your day. (I’m becoming an expert at this it seems; almost 10,000 hours!)

We chose Sam James Coffee Bar to check out what all the fuss was about regarding Siphon Coffee. We ordered for two (About $8.00). Sam cordially took us through the whole process. First we sniffed the Ethiopian Sidamo beans…blueberry and dark chocolate aroma. Sam ground the beans by hand, to a coarse grind, which he then tossed into the upper chamber in the sci-fi contraption that would bubble and boil to brew our morning cuppa. An unbleached cotton filter kept the coffee above the belt. Bunsen burning blue, the water below heats its way up to the upper chamber and when that little blue flame is removed, the brewed coffee makes it decent back into the vacuum of the flask below. It looks really grade twelve chemistry cool. I’m not sure if the cool kids would get it, though… this is the geekiest coffee around! I felt cool drinking it, though, but then again, I’m a geek and so is Jon, my date. The flavours were really quite dynamic, and subtle. The cotton filter allows the oils through, but they don’t keep cooking because the coffee isn’t over heat when it’s sucked back down. Unlike Cone Filter, the coffee is brewed fully immersed, so none of the coffee grounds get over- or under- extracted, it’s even the whole way through. And unlike the French press, it’s filtered after the brew, and sediment is non-existent. Flavour develops further as the coffee cools down. It’s not as astringent as an espresso, nor as dark, or heavy. The consistency is thin, smooth. There isn’t a hint of sediment to mess with the dance that happens on your tongue. Call me crazy, but I thought it tasted a bit like Jerusalem Artichokes, and a bit watery for my Americano orientation, but I did like the showiness of it all! Thanks Sam for taking the time to show us how it’s done. Good thing the cafe is right on a major bicycle thoroughfare… I know where I’m stopping on my travels eastbound from now on, when I can make the time.

Check out Sam’s tutorial in this VIDEO

The Unfamiliar Territory

I was over on the East side of town yesterday, having made it there underground from the North end of town. I was totally and utterly discombobulated, and when I emerged into the bright, warm, sunshiny day, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit out of place. It is March, but the sun was so warm I de-parka-ed, and was walking in places I had never walked. I started to think about the things I wanted in that moment to make me feel at home in the unfamiliar territory. A latte. Anything can be cured with a latte. I racked my brain trying to conjure up a memory of an article or something that could inform me of which direction to take to find the precious beverage… alas, I was running out of time and just had to walk in the direction I was meant to go, no lallygagging. Five minutes later, there in the distance I saw the telling wooden benches, the picture windows, ecotainer take out cups, and the glow of not only an apple from someone’s laptop,  but also the unmistakable glow of the Elektra. The espresso machine that I depend on every morning to give me my fix, has a cousin on the other side of the Bloor Viaduct. Who knew? Broadview Espresso is a sweet little place, with hot, disengaged baristas, people with laptops, and exactly what I needed to take the edge off. It was comfy, I knew the script, and didn’t surprise me at all that by walking a few blocks into a residential neighbourhood in the Toronto core, I would find what I was looking for. I actually giggled when I saw it and about how I had almost conjured the place in my mind only moments earlier. Pretty decent latte too. Tight microfoam, fancy latte art leaf, and rich flavour.

Broadview Espresso

Perfection

That’s all.

Green Glass Saves Gigi

It always amazes me that restaurants and cafes stay in business when the proprietor is A. unfriendly, or B. unwelcoming. The few times that I have gone into Saving Gigi, I have been less than impressed by the attitude that seems to permeate every square inch of the place. There’s a trickle down effect on the customers too, who, different from other espresso refueling stations around Toronto, sneer when asked to share their coveted table. To be fair, I used to live in the apartment upstairs during a dark period of my life, and there is the potential that I could be projecting unhappy memories on the space. But really, is it necessary to make a customer alienating, outdoor voice announcement, with extreme avoidance of eye contact, that the cafe will be closing prefaced by: “For those of you who haven’t been here before and might not know what this song means, you’ve got half an hour”?

Saving Gigi has one saving grace… the little things. A collection of green glass bottles is charmingly chilled and at the ready to serve with your Americano. Above head – big, airy, white paper light fixtures sway gently in the breeze from the ceiling fan creating atmosphere and softening edges. The colourful cushion covers strewn across the window benches sparkle in the sunlight. It’ll do for a Saturday afternoon of career exploration and municipal government musings with friends.

Green Glass at Saves Gigi

Love Lingers in my Latte

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Latte Love @ Balluchon c/o Raymond Emes

Lattes. They rock. Even better when the subtle flick of a barista wrist creates images of hearts and fern leaves when the steamed milk and crema so delicately mingle. I rarely order a latte when I’m out at cafes. My drink of choice tends to be an americano. I prefer the colour of deep brown espresso with just the perfect amount of hot water. I drink them more slowly than a latte, which I find go down too smoothly. But yesterday, something was different… Perhaps it’s the need for comfort food to get me through Valentine’s tearless, or maybe my body is telling me I am calcium deficient. Whatever the reason, I had three lattes! No woman in her right mind would have three lattes in one day, that’s about 750ml of whole milk, and 6 shots of espresso before 2pm. I must not be in my right mind.

Latte Leaf @ The Common c/o Anna

I tend not to order a latte if the milk that’s used isn’t organic. The charming glass bottles from Harmony delight me in so many ways.

Latte Lovers @ Bull Dog c/o ?

Next latte will be at Jimmy’s Coffee, where I have yet to experience the expertise that Max Waters brings to this new café.

For now, I’ll revel in my dairy daze and soak up the care and love that was infused into my morning. God knows I need a bit of that from time to time. Long live baristas everywhere!