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

VON Doughnuts: Bartering, Sex Toys and Memories of Fritters That Look Like Celebrities

I remember when I used to sit on the stools in the poorly decorated Tim Horton’s donuts in the early eighties.  The classic brown and yellow decor, the tattered picture of Tim Horton himself and the nameless (at least I think he was) Timbit mascot are all nothing but distant memories.

Tim Horton was a cult hero on the ice.  Having played the majority of his career for the Leafs (including the last time they won the Stanley Cup), his life ironically ended as a member of the Buffalo Sabres in a traffic accident on the QEW after a game against his old team.

What I remember the most are the doughnuts.  The apple fritters were like fingerprints; no two were the same.  You could look at a batch and, like a cloud, find one that would like Pierre Trudeau, Ernie Whitt or the thing growing on the face of the old woman serving you behind the counter (see below if you don’t want to take my word for it).  They had apple, cherry and blueberry turnovers the size of pirate hats and the once famous strawberry tarts which seemed seasonal anytime of year.

Since then, the explosion of the Starbucks-lead cafe concept and rapid expansion of the Tim’s franchise meant that the creative, heavy handed tendencies of the local bakers have been replaced by the cookie cutter approach meaning that a dutchie  looks the same whether you get it in Yellowknife or at Queen and Bay.

As a result, I’m always looking for this delicious treat in other places.  Whether an old school honey cruller at a small town ma and pa shop or a yeast-raised treat at gourmet boutique hidden within a urban bazaar,  finding a good donut is well worth the trip.  Needless to say, I was excited to see that Von doughnuts was down the road from a restaurant I was dining at that evening.  Despite an Alberta clipper,  I began the three block trek down Danforth in efforts to get there before it closed at 6.  When I walked in, I had the pleasure of meeting the owner who proudly described the daily doughnuts available.  She also informed us that she works 60 plus hours a week which likely explained the sign on the window looking for an evening baker.  She also explained a sort of barter system that existed among local businesses.  For example, she often trades doughnuts for Pizza Libretto’s thin crust pies.

The variation of doughnuts with witty names (such as enjoy-mint and one night stand) differs depending on  the day of the week.  I decided to opt for a variety (half dozen for $18) which included the following:

Pucker up Sucker (bottom left)–  The owner cited this as one of the more popular.  The curd was delicious and pure, leaving out the excessive sweetness that exists with most lemon filling, resulting in a fantastic balance. It was also ingenious that the curd was spread throughout the middle of the doughnut like a sandwich. Jelly filled  doughnuts at Tim Horton’s are like a lottery; you either hit the jackpot or get a smigin of filling which may or may not be the flavour you actually ordered.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time (bottom right)-  The worst part of this creation was the fact that Peanut Butter and Jelly Time song (including Brian from Family Guy dressed up in a banana suit)  got stuck in my head.  Otherwise, It was surprisingly balanced and not over sweet.

Creme Brulee (top left)– Smart in concept but less explosive than its box mates.

Butter tart- (bottom middle)  I didn’t understand this one. I think efforts failed in the attempt to reduce the signature sweetness of a butter tart. Maybe you’re best not to mess with this Canadian favorite.

Spicy Bourbon Cracker Jack (the duplicate)- By the time I ate it, I had forgotten it was spicy and was pleasantly surprised at the reminder.  This was a great combination of snack nostalgia, subtle heat and just enough sweet.

 

Six pack of doughnuts $18
Six pack of doughnuts $18

 My Take

I like the doughnut movement much more than the cupcake one.  I think a deep fried piece of dough is a much better blank slate for creativity and VON has no lack of it. The passion of the owner, coupled the creativity of her wares makes VON doughnuts an exciting destination. Despite trying 5 varieties, I feel I have just scratched the surface.   After all, I haven’t had the opportunity to try the Dill-Dough (ok..that didn’t sound right), which is normally served on Friday and Saturday or any of the seasonal treats that magically appear here and there.  Although I don’t think I will ever again see the day where I can eat an apple fritter that looks like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, I can still get some solace knowing there’s dill-doughs and one night stands to keep me happy.

Von Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

 

 

Arguing with Venti Caffiends

It has been said that there are two things even friends shouldn’t discuss; religion and politics.  I would like to propose a third…coffee.

Coffee is the probably the world’s most acceptable drug and is available to anybody who wants it, even if they are self-proclaimed addicts. Baristas, uniformed teens and crotchety old waitresses alike have license to brew and dose and distribute the goods to any caffiend, day or night. The unword dictionary (www.unwords.com) defines a caffiend as follows:

Caffiend

(kă’fēnd)

1. (n.) One who is obsessed with consuming caffeine. Often surpasses caffeinatics in quantities of caffeine in the blood stream and in level of addiction.

I have witnessed many passionate arguments about coffee among caffiends. It seems a large proportion of the population pledges allegiance to a certain consumption camp and there is very little tolerance for those who subscribe to a different philosophy.

The Tim Horton’s caffiend (THC) is the lowest on the totem pole among coffee consuming peers.  They are drawn to  the functional aspect of the beverage and  seemingly sacrifice richness and taste for convenience and the ability to win a barbeque or a car twice a year. Terminology includes” Large Double Double”. They justify their habit by stressing that they pay less then two dollars for a coffee they need two hands to carry and that they can get a sour cream glazed donut or a yogurt parfait at the same time.

The Starbucks caffiend (SBC) is the mortal enemy of the group above. Seen a pretentious and snobby by the THC, they are often identified by Lululemon yoga pants, sandals or laptops. The terminology is more advanced and expansive with terms such as “Grande extra hot no foam unsweetened decaf mocha with room for dairy for Jenifer with one n”.  They react to trends such as matcha powder and green coffee extract and couple it with cake pops or butter chicken wraps.  Their justification is you get what you pay for and drinking Starbucks is just more morally and socially responsible. They also think the emblem isn’t creepy.

The independent coffeehouse caffiend  (ICC) is a smaller but loyal group.  Entry into this group simply involves ignoring the 5 Starbucks (with an optional eye roll) you pass on the way to a quirky establishment.  Not fond of Timbucktoos (my term used to describe those who frequent Tim Horton’s or Starbucks), they think the clean spoon/dirty spoon bins are good for the environment and often ask for fair trade coffee and agave nectar although they don’t know what either one is.  They are not as concerned about the food available since they are “there for the coffee”; although a locally sourced sandwich may convince them otherwise.

Sit three guys at a Tim’s and bring up SBCs (or the weather) and an immediate brotherhood is formed. Meanwhile, at Starbucks the mere mention of the fact that Tim Horton’s coffee tastes like an ashtray unite old and young together some lemon poppy seed cake or samples of the cookies and cream frappuccino.  Meanwhile, the ICCs sit oblivious to the world around them  in mismatched chairs and admire the melancholic art on the wall while serenaded by an acoustic guitar. Mix these crowds, however, and you ignite fireworks similar to that of a Catholic vs Protestant or Democrat vs Republican.  I would expect the coffee to fly if I wasn’t for the fact that it is..well….coffee.

I suppose I’m an ICC but I prefer to not judge others.  I think coffee is under appreciated,  I don’t need room for dairy and I do enjoy the uniqueness of stand alone coffee shops.  I have learned more from them than I ever have from a Starbucks or Timmy’s (see my Te Aro blog post…..coming soon).  So lets all get along, sip our brew and make fun of those who don’t drink coffee at all.  A good friend of mine once said to me “Why would I take a perfectly good glass of water and run it through dirt?” Those are fighting words, buddy.