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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.