Windsor Coffee: Let’s get Brewin’ Bros. and Salute as we drop an Anchor on a Lobster-Clawed Mermaid

Windsor was once a Tim Horton’s town.  Years ago, I spent countless hours in Timmie’s plugging away at a computer in between appointments when I used to travel there twice a week. At the time, public wifi was as non-existent as choices outside of lame coffee and cookie cutter, par-baked apple fritters.

In the years since Windsor has evolved into more of a cosmopolitan burghal.  Although the downtown is still a work in progress, glimmers of light have emerged through the cracks of closed eateries and boarded up retail stores. Neighbourhoods like Walkerville have developed their own identities, offering foodies everything from microbrews to quinoa burgers.

In conjunction with this expansion, there has been a explosion of coffee shops which have percolated up in all corners of Windsor. It goes without saying that Starbucks has jumped on the opportunity to sway local and loyal Tim drinkers and recruit teenage caffeine junkies to a life of lattes, frappuccinos  and cake pops.

I was recently down in Windsor for a couple of days of business and embarked on a mission to hit as many coffee shops as I could.  Not only did I want to sample the wares but I wanted to test the waters regarding the ability for everybody to play nice in the sandbox.  I was intrigued with a comment a good friend of mine and Windsorite made about her hometown.  She said that she doesn’t understand why the art community in Windsor can’t get along.  In particular, she was referring to belly dancing, yoga studios and coffee shops and since I would be an absolute embarrassment at the first two, I figure I would test the theory while drinking java while strumming away on my computer.

Salute Espresso Bar

Pronounced salute-a, this coffee house is located in the aforementioned Walkerville area.  It has an underground feel, partly due to the fact you have to walk down the stairs to get inside. This industrial theme is furthered by the painted concrete floors and unfinished ceilings.  It’s quite spacious and offers a number of tables and stools to sit and sip.  Instead of coffee brewed by the pot and housed in a thermos, Salute chooses to brew cup by cup using a chemex. I usually order decaf and their product is amazing,  As it cools, the flavour profile evolves, reflecting the complexity of a high quality coffee bean.  For latte lovers, if you’re against lactose in dairy and phytoestrogens in soy you can substitute in their housemade almond milk (which I sure as hell hope is carrageenan free). The pecan tarts are sinful. They also offer a small menu which offers a decent breakfast sandwich. During my visits,  many people walk through the doors to buy coffee and accessories.  They also sell high quality chocolate and…uuummmmm….toothpaste.

Salute Breakfast Sandwich and a Decaf Coffee
Salute Breakfast Sandwich and a Decaf Coffee

Those who would enjoy Salute include the following:

  • Local residents who choose not to deepen the carbon footprint by refusing to drive outside their Walkerville microcosm.
  • Members of the non-GMO, gluten free, vegan, raw and alkaline clan who can take advantage of the secret passage to Carrots N Dates next door so one can indulge on cold pressed juices, kombucha or longevity salads while sipping a brew.
  • People who enjoy listening to funky music off the owner’s ipod playlist set at a volume which only slightly impairs you ability to have a conversation with your table mate.
  • Those who like picking up things and bringing them home to enjoy later (I am referring to coffee here in case your mind wandered somewhere else).
  • Heathens who would rather drink coffee than go to church on Sundays.
  • Oral care enthusiasts who want clean teeth after drinking copious amounts of coffee and/or eating squares of delicious chocolate.

Anchor Coffee House

Pronounced “anchor”, this coffee house is tucked in a strip mall along Huron Chruch road. My impression is it that is owned by a young husband and wife team. The decor is more rustic than industrial, highlighted with a lot of wood accents and nice art hanging on the walls.  It’s quite cozy and is open 7-5 during the week and 11-8 on Saturday.  They are closed Sundays.  They offer a selection of brewed coffee as well as the normal list of espresso based drinks.  I ordered an decaf Americano which was delicious.  Since I was there a while, I also ordered a Chai Latte which they make from scratch in a stove top process which takes an hour or so. It was complex and nicely balanced with an aggressive amount of spice and minimal sweetness.  There is also a good selection of homemade cookies, scones and bars.  I was there in the morning and fell in love with the sight of a frittata on display at the cash.  It was a near perfect breakfast…light, fluffy, well seasoned and all that stuff.

Anchor Chai Latte
Anchor Chai Latte
Anchor Frittata
Anchor Frittata

Those who would enjoy Anchor include the following:

  • Local business owners and workers who no longer feel the need to head down to the street to the Tim’s or Starbucks to wait in line with the other peons.
  • Those who need to cleanse themselves from the defilement of chain restaurants after wondering why the hell they went to the Applebee’s next door.
  • Travelers who need a caffeine shot prior to crossing the border and have this ill-conceived notion that you cannot or should not stop in Detroit because you might get carjacked by members of Eminem’s eight mile cartel. (On a side note, I think coffee is ok to bring across the border but just don’t bring an orange over.  The border patrol has citrus sniffing dogs and the punishment is a dirty look and having to watch a perfectly good piece of fruit tossed into the trash).
  • I can’t recall music playing so I think Anchor is good for those who want to enjoy the silence instead of listening to it.
  • Fans of frittatas, homemade soups and baked goods like grandma used to make.
  • Music fans who are looking for a  true coffee house experience.  Anchor offers live music on Saturday nights so one can be serenaded while sipping. Everybody can sleep in on Sundays.

Brewin’ Bros Coffee Company.

This is the newest addition to Windsor’s growing coffee culture. It is quietly located in a strip mall along Walker Road. In fact, I drove by it, missing the small black and white pop-up sign that was impaled in roadside snowbank. It’s internet presence  is as non-existent as it’s signage. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of the name. It sounds like a brewery; I mistakenly typed in “brew bros windsor” and was provided with numerous sites linking me to Brew, a microbrewery located on University Ave. Perhaps a better name would be naivety (pronounced naivet-a) for a number or reasons. First, it appears to have a French theme as indicated by the Eiffel tower decal by the washroom, an array of macaroons in the display case and fact that individual cups of coffee are brewed via the French press method but it lacks a Parisian  bistro feeling. The ceiling is unfinished and furniture is more practical than cute.  Second, the prices are lower than I would expect. Third, they don’t have decaf which I find quite odd. Fourth, the husband and wife owners look younger than my kids.  I felt like a bit of a chaperone sitting there watching them making gaga eyes at each other at their makeshift office in the corner of the seating area. Lastly, they have the strangest hours.  They don’t open until 11 and stay open until 1130. Apparently the model is working but I prefer a different type of brew after 8 pm. They offer a small menu which I haven’t tried except for a piece of turtle cheesecake which was quite satisfying.  The macarons were decent too.

Brewin' Bros French Press and Turtle Cheesecake
Brewin’ Bros French Press and Turtle Cheesecake

Those would enjoy Brewin’ Bros include the following:

  • Drivers who prefer Walker Road as a means of getting in an out of Windsor and don’t mind getting their assess out of the car to get a coffee instead of joining the Tim’s or Starbucks drive-thru line.
  • Coffee drinkers who can enjoy a French Press at Brewin’ Bros. and then walk two doors down to Personal Service Coffee to grab a bag full of shitty mix and match Keurig pods for home.
  • Patrons of  “Mom’s” next door who would prefer a coffee to go along with their halal fried chicken combo.
  • People who want a one shop stop for coffee, bubble tea and soda.  You can bring your non-coffee drinking friend there, order them a bubble tea and tell them to shut the hell up.
  • Fans of name that tune. Acoustic sets of lyricless classic rock played who included Zeppelin and Hotel California by the Eagles, making it fun to see how it takes you to figure it out.
  • If you’re not a morning person or a religious zealot, this place is for you.  They don’t open until 11 am, stay open until 11:30 at night and aren’t open on Sundays.

Starbucks

I love when yelpers, spooners and bloggers go into in-depth descriptions about Starbucks.  “Starbucks is an international coffee chain out of Seattle that offers a variety of hot and cold drinks”. Gee thanks!  All I am going to say is that I went there on my way out of Windsor and unbeknownst  to me, it was the launch day of the La Boulange, the new bakery which promises a new line of French pastries that go magnificently with all Starbucks beverages.  I walked into see all the tables donning dollar store pink plastic aprons and the staff wearing matching pink aprons.  I felt like I was at a breast cancer fund raiser as I shoved a butter-laden chocolate croissant down my pie hole. It wasn’t bad but still tasted like a mass produced pastry.

Those who would enjoy Starbucks include the following:

  • People who enjoy making up a name for the side of the cup (yes..that’s right..my name is Chazz), prefer random strangers to know what your real name is or those who like watching the staff cringe when you go there with a friend of colleague with a name like Chanika or Harpreet.   Come to think of it, even the name Shawn is an adventure since I often have to spell it out like I’m standing in front of my grade one teacher. If they guess it correctly though, some of them act like they just got final jeopardy right.
  • Those who think contrived names like grande and venti are cool and think it ironic that a tall is in fact not really tall but actually a small.
  • Coffee drinkers who conform to the biggest coffee conglomerate on the planet yet long to be individualists by ordering a grande no-fat, half-sweet ,extra foam soy green tea latte.  In fact, I know somebody who made sure that his local Starbucks knew his individual  concoction should be ordered and understood as the “Captain’s cappuccino”.
  • Those with a mermaid fetish.  Looking at the Starbucks slogan, I don’t know how she can even hold a coffee.  I think her father must have been a lobster. If there was even an American Horror Story:Coffee Shop series she could be one of the lead roles
  • Of course, the numerous locations, familiarity and convenience of a drive-thru make it an easy choice for many people.

My Take

In addition to an influx of new and trendy restaurants, Windsor’s coffee scene has taken off in the last couple of years.  The success of such a scene is not indicated by the number of Starbucks within the perimeter of a city but instead a vibrant selection of  independent retailers.  This is not a blog to say that one of these establishments is better than other. If you’re in Walkerville or want a latte with housemade almond milk, go to Salute Espresso bar.  If you want a wicked chai latte in the west end, go to Anchor Coffee House.  If a little name that tune and a french press is your preference, then Brewin’ Bros. Coffee Company  is your destination.   I think riffs between independent businesses are counterproductive.  That’s what rap and religion are for.  Toronto adopted a coffee house passport a few years back in which patrons who visited a number of participating vendors  got a coffee mug or a t-shirt with a completed card.  It’s a small gesture, but it targets the people who would rather not stare at lobster-clawed mermaids. That said, imagine if the number of Timbucktoos (my term to describe Tim Horton’s/Starbucks regulars) in Windsor dropped and  even 10% of their business was diverted to small businesses like these.  Maybe these businesses would get drive-thrus, roll up the rim, put pink plastic on the tables and maybe even name their cup sizes something ridiculous like douze or seize.

In the end, the advent of coffee shops in Windsor is indicative of the city’s evolution as a whole.  Hopefully in five years these places will continue to be vibrant partners in the community and not causalities of big box (or in this case big cup) retailers.  It starts one brew, macaroon or frittata at a time.

 

Salute Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon

Anchor Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

De Niro’s Pad, Homicidal Snowplows and Psychoanalysis at Rino’s Kitchen

I love Windsor.  I’ve mentioned before it reminds me of my hometown of Sudbury. Although it will probably never be part of  a conversation about  the best dining destinations in Canada, Windsor has quietly evolved into a diverse and vibrant culinary locale. Driven by a number of mom/pop or brother/sister joints, one can choose almost anything.   If you’re in the mood for a family style joint, you can hit the Lumberjack’s salad bar or order Penalty Box’s chicken delight. Food Network junkies can hit a number of joints visited by John Catucci on You Gotta Eat Here.  If you are in the mood for ethnic food, there is fantastic Italian along Erie Street and great Thai, Lebanese and even Ethiopian scattered throughout the city.  If you are still stuck you can hop onto Windsor Eats, an impressive website which provides up to date information on local restaurants and even offers tours which highlights local fare.

What makes things even better are the uncontrolled circumstances which usually occur involving a trip to Windsor.  It’s never simply a go to a restaurant, eat and leave experience.  There are always a few things which happen along the way that makes things stranger than fiction.  Take my recent visit for example.

I left the hospital on my way to a meeting with two colleagues; one works with my company and the other is a local doctor. The latter  had suggested we hit an Italian cafe so we can experience Erie Street.  Once I turned onto the street, we pulled over in front the first cafe we found that looked open.  I’m reluctant to name it over fear for my car tires and general well-being. Upon entry, the people in the place scattered, abandoning any card games or whatever else was going on.  The cafe basically consisted of a small bar, a huge espresso machine and an empty gelato bar with a smaller ice cream cooler beside it which was housing three or four flavours.  Looking around I saw a bunch of Italian guys, a picture of Robert De Niro (who apparently visited during Superbowl in Detroit) and an aged and framed oil painting of an Italian man who I have yet to identify.  I think I even saw the eyes follow me  as I walked around the place. A large television was showing Grey’s Anatomy much to the pleasure of a few of the patrons.  Things seemed to settle down once they figured out we weren’t cops and we were able to order.  Given it was about 10 degrees below zero, I ordered a decaf Americano and my work colleague ordered a latte.  The doctor, on the other hand, ordered a chocolate gelato on a waffle cone and proceeded to eat it like a happy 12 year old child.  While we waited, an old Italian guy walked out of the washroom.  He was either hiding in there after thinking a sting was going down or maybe he just needed to use the facilities but his reaction was nothing short of priceless.  I should point out that my colleague is an attractive blond woman whose likes probably haven’t stepped foot in that cafe for 30 years.  His jaw hit the floor like a Warner Brother’s character and he started speaking in tongues.  The woman behind the espresso machine just told him to go sit down.  He complied but continued to mutter drunken Italian nonsense in our direction for the remainder of the visit.  In between bites of chocolate, the doctor suggested that I should probably switch chairs so my back wasn’t facing the front door.   So, with Dr. Dreamy on the tube, a smiling De Niro on the wall and a bunch of old Italian guys (including the paisan in the oil painting) staring at us, we had our meeting, finished our coffees (and gelato of course) and scurried out.

After we dropped him off we decided to grab a bite.  Not only was is cold but it was starting to snow.  I should take this opportunity to point out something about Windsor; they don’t like snow.  In fact, they would have no problem declaring a state of emergency once enough snow falls to erect a  Tyrion Lannister snowman.  So, with nothing more than a centimeter of snow on the ground, out came the plows.  I was driving down one of the many one way streets and a saw the plow behind me.  I was immediately reminded of  a scene from 1986’s Maximum Overdrive.  The only thing missing was the Green Goblin face.  The homicidal plow approached at a feverish pace, sending sparks instead of snow ten feet into the air. I turned onto another street the minute I had a chance, took a deep breath and realized that my life had now been threatened  twice in the same evening.

We eventually decided on dinner at Rino’s kitchen. Rino’s encourages you to “Taste the finest Essex County has to offer. Farm to table at its best in a relaxed pub atmosphere.”  It was also recently featured on an episode of “You Gotta Eat Here”. At this point I should point out the fact that, like most cities, there is a subset of Windsor’s population who thinks they are hipsters.  The last time I came to Rino’s there were a table of clowns that looked more like the cast of Scorpion  than self-proclaimed food aficionados. To be a good hipster you really have to be a self-righteous asshole.  Just wearing the plaid and sitting farm to table joint in a small, blue collar city is not enough.

Luckily, hipsters were absent on this evening. Instead, we arrived on the tail end of an art show.  Small pictures were hanging all over the place.  In fact, we switched tables so as not to get in the way of the viewing audience.  I did have a look at some of the pictures and my colleague, with her psychology background, had commented that most of them looked like Rorschach blots.  I had to agree and felt tempted to lay down on the bench I was sitting on.  One of them looked like De Niro pointing a gun at me.  Another looked like the Green Goblin. Asa a result, I quickly ordered on of the four or five Ontario pints available on tap.

The menu offers all sorts of choices ranging from seasonal salads to protein laden mains.  I’m always a fan of house-cured meats, so we started with the charcuterie plate for $15.  Two types of meat (salami and coppa) and cheese (asiago and pecorino) were served along with roasted red peppers and bread.  The quality of the ingredients were quite good although it would have been nice to have some mustard or other condiments along side.  I would have also liked to see something like aged Ontario cheddars available “on board”.

Charcuterie $15
Charcuterie $15

As tempted as I was to order the signature pork and waffles, the pleasant waitress talked me into the seasonal oxtail stew served atop potato mash ($17).  The stew was filled with tender meat and carrots and served in a hearty portion with more carrots on the side.  It was a lot of carrots. Maybe a few green vegetables would have been better. In addition to a good dose of carotene, it was a delicious dish which was seasoned well.

Oxtail Stew $17
Oxtail Stew $17

They offered an apple crisp and a pumpkin walnut cheesecake for dessert.  I ordered the latter. Pumpkin and walnut go well together and the cheesecake was not overly sweet or heavy.  I think the icing sugar was a fitting garnish for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s kind of a f#ck you to the hipster movement who would likely reference the fact if wasn’t 2003 and then suggest a ground cherry as a more appropriate condiment.  Second, it’s the perfect example of a small town, blue collar adaption of the farm to table concept  in  a relaxed pub environment.

Pumpkin Walnut Cheesecake $7
Pumpkin Walnut Cheesecake $7

 My Take

In the span of a few hours, I escaped a scene from a Robert De Niro movie, outran a homicidal snowplow and got psychoanalyzed by the works of a struggling Windsor artist.  I also ate a decent meal at a restaurant which adheres to farm to table principles from charcuterie to dessert without the associated urban pretension.   You won’t find mason jars or the unnecessary yet abundant use of radishes at Rino’s. In fact, the menu offers trendy, tasty and reasonably priced choices without compromising portion sizes at the expense of making things look pretty.  Ya, I love Windsor…with icing sugar on top.

Rino's Kitchen & Ale House on Urbanspoon

 

Review:Windsor:Honey Badger Bistro

The honey badger is a legend, an animal that has stepped into folklore with its ruthless attitude.  Some call it the Chuck Norris of the animal kingdom.  So, I was intrigued to sample a bistro which pays homage to this iconic creature, especially when it appears with a glass of wine and ready for a fight.  There weren’t ruthless looking patrons strewn across the small bar.  Instead, it was a plain looking place with tables donning burgundy tablecloths and plain walls minus a few posters telling me that “You’re the sugar to my tea”. How sweet!

The feared  wine drinking honey badger
The feared wine drinking honey badger (don’t be fooled by the hipster sweater)

I was with a friend  who is a cool version of three of the top 44 worst person in every restaurant (ironically she is also the one who sent me the article).  For the record, at times I can be classified at times as sad solo diner. My defense is that I travel a bit and don’t have the energy to ask my friends to indulge in my frequent culinary endeavors.  And yes, I do look at my phone a lot. I’ll get back to her in a second.

http://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/the-44-worst-people-in-every-restaurant

The menu would suggest it could be classified as a gastropub despite the fact it is called a bistro. There’s everything from small plates to sandwiches to burgers to poutine.  There are often gourmet twists on standard fare, with offerings  like mashed cherry jam and 40 creek mayo scattered across the menu. There is lots of meat and lots of bread, which means lots of gluten, a point which brings me back to my lunch companion.  If you didn’t click the link above, she is the cool version of each of the following:

The Substituter
“I’d like the salmon, but instead of the corn, can I get the braised cauliflower from the steak dish? And instead of the frisee salad, can I get that appetizer you used to have in the ’90s, but with a different type of aioli? And instead of the salmon, can I get thrown through the plate glass window in the front of restaurant?”

The Gluten-Free Evangelist
Stop giving us murder eyes when we go for the bread basket. No one cares what it’s done for your “energy”.

The Guilt-Tripping Vegan
Is the exact moment I bite into my steak tartare really the time to bring up that expose you just watched on what really happens behind the scenes at slaughterhouses? Doesn’t matter — I’m going to enjoy it even more out of spite.

So, a  gluten loving porkivore and a fish-eating, non-dairy consuming psuedo-vegan who neither guilt-trips nor evangelizes but does substitute enter a Windsor bistro  and order roasted butternut squash soup without cream, candied yam fries, a salad and a honey badger reuben.

The candied yam fries ($8) were insanity in a bowl.  The sweet potatoes were piled with torched mini marshmallows and topped with what the menu calls a a brown sugar drizzle.  It was more like a gravy, seasoned with  savory flavours like oregano.  Despite the odd sound of this combination, it was actually quite delicious, especially as the marshmallows melted into a delicious fry coating goo shortly after the picture was taken.  The fries were cooked well and the whole concoction was not overly sweet.  It was a pleasant surprise.  Even better, it was appropriate for a sort of vegan.

Candied Yam Fries $8
Candied Yam Fries $8

The reuben was also well executed.  The marble rye bread was grilled crisp and was cooked enough to allow the swiss cheese to melt thoroughly.  The brisket was tender and the unique addition of the forty creek mayo and brusselkraut (saurkraut made with brussel sprouts) was a delicious twist.  The side salad was pleasant as well, dressed lightly with a balsamic dressing. It was a huge sandwich (mmmm. gluten and meat) for a reasonable $12 and I managed to enjoy a little more than half of it before throwing in the towel without so much as a evangelist or guilt-tripping stare from across the table.

Honey Badger Reuben $12
Honey Badger Reuben $12

As for the soup, I only had a bite.  It was okay…but I think it needed cream.

My Take

I was hoping for a T-shirt saying “I survived the Honey Badger” but instead left with a stomach full of a decent meal. The menu is casual but well thought out and executed.  The yam fries were extreme and the reuben blended an old-school classic with an eclectic spin. The soup needed cream.  As for the ambiance , it was a bit drab and certainly didn’t match the exciting food. Either that or I walked into my first ever (and probably last) beestropub.

PS. Thanks to Windsor Eats  (www.windsoreats.com) for posting the menu online.  Another example of the comradery which exists in this  tight-knit culinary community.

Honey Badger Bistro on Urbanspoon