Stop one of my annual summer road trip was to the heart of New York state to check out the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Its flagship campus it located in Hyde Park which also happens to be the birthplace of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Unlike the other CIA, FDR had very little do with the cooking school. Although both CIAs were formed a little more than a year apart following WWII, the school was originally founded in Connecticut and did not relocate to Hyde Park until 1970. The CIA (the school that is) has produced some of America’s most notable celebrity chefs including Marcus Samuelsson, Anne Burrell, Michael Symon, Duff Goldman and the late Anthony Bourdain.
We arrived in time for the daily 4 pm tour which is conducted by students within the school. Our guide, Ezra, showed us many of the ongoing stations and classes within the main building which ranged from fondant to rock candy to baguettes. We were told of the hours of home practice required to perfect the tournee cut, a skill often used as a screening tool at interviews all over. There was an interesting discussion about the differences between the baking vs cooking stream of students. The bakers are meticulous (aka boring) while the cooks tend to be quite eccentric. (aka annoying). It was quite surprising how the tour did nothing to mention the aforementioned celebs and seemed more a recruitment tool in the event I wanted to quit my job and enhance my cooking credentials beyond a “Dad’s grillin’ so everybody’s chillin'” apron. I’d clearly opt for the cooking side of the curriculum and more specifically the culinary science arm so I could use words like “oxidative enzymatic browning” with an enhanced confidence.
Of note on the campus tour was “Old Diamondsides”, a sculpture representing the Atlantic Sturgeon, a vital species inhabiting the adjoining Hudson River. The life size depiction is constructed from hundreds of pieces of recycled cutlery and is meant to represent the struggle of such a magnificent species to survive in spite of over fishing, pollution and other human interference.
Although Guy Fieri is not an alum of the CIA, I would feel remiss if I did not venture to the Eveready Diner, Hyde Park’s lone contribution to the DDD empire. Characterized by neon lights and chrome finish, this old school diner promises big portions and great desserts and didn’t disappoint on either front. The spinach dip was a bit watery but flavourful. The consensus at the table was that the chicken salad, burger and mac and cheese were all quite acceptable although the potato salad was a bit bland. Plus, a sunnyside up egg on a burger can brighten any plate up. My mom (caught off guard in the picture above) is till talking about the cheesecake (which i think she ate before i got snap a pic).
The day ended with a hotel stay in New Paltz, New York. All I can say is that it is one of the more interesting U.S. towns I have stayed in. I should have known when I checked into the Hampton which was recently built directly adjacent to the Put Corner historic graveyard which houses the remains of 120 residents of the town placed between 1801-1880. Two celebrity graves, that of heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson and Oscar Tschirky, inventor of the Waldorf salad, are also buried in town but not in the plot hugging the Hampton. A visit to the really creepy dollar store down the road was surely a foreshadow for my visit to Bangor the next day and easily could have been the setting of supernatural anarchy in a Stephen King novel. Who needs Pennywise when you’ve experienced the horrors of a New Paltz dollar store.
Before heading up to Napa, I decided to scratch another triple D off the list by heading to Rocco’s Cafe on Folsom Street. It is a classic Italian cafe offering typical fare from pastas to Italian sandwiches. The timing wasn’t right for dinner so a breakfast visit was the next best thing.
The decor was old school Italian diner. There is an open kitchen and more pictures than selfies in my daughter’s instagram account hanging on the wall. It has a friendly feel complete with happy cooks and equally pleasant waitstaff. There is a certain magic about a true rundown/rustic Italian cafe and Rocco’s had the right semblance.
As much as I was tempted to go with the Grilled Homemade Polenta topped with Cheese & Marinara Sauce w/ Eggs any style with Italian Sausage, I figured the mushroom, onion, basil, & parmesan cheese frittata ($11.95) was authentic enough for an Italian cafe without the need to paralyze myself. Now, the word frittata is up for interpretation. By definition, it means fried but there are all sorts of interpretations. Most of them fall somewhere on the spectrum between an omelette and a crust less quiche but usually dictate that some element of the filling is cooked within the egg. Rocco’s offering was closer to an omelette and not quite what I expected. Nonetheless, it had good flavour and seasoning and more than abundant fillings/toppings. The potatoes had a slight off taste I just couldn’t identify but overall they were decent.
On the way to the subway I was craving an Americano so a quick google search told me Wicked Grounds was just around the corner. Don’t get me wrong, I could have hit a number of other coffee houses on the way but I was intrigued at the thought of sneaking in behind the closed curtains to experience a fetish cafe in the early morning. I didn’t expect much at 830 am but there were a few customers and some very nice, courteous staff along with plenty of cuffs, paddles and other paraphernalia for sale. Most alarming to my virgin eyes was the option to have a drink served in a dog bowl for those who chose to be subservient on that particular day. I was tempted to order a decaf and a paddle to go but I stuck with the former along with a granola bar which promised to be more awesome than a cat riding a unicorn. It wasn’t and I left humming Chris Issak.
I suppose there are worse things to do than search for a good breakfast and an amerciano from a fetish cafe in one of the most liberal cities in the world. What’s even better is when you get a decent breakfast and knock another DDD and getting a coffee from the same place I’d buy a blow up doll..screw you Walmart. In the end, regardless of where the frittata fell on the spectrum, it was a decent plate and the Wicked Grounds coffee was good even if I was able to get my Rocc’s off again.
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.