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Toronto Café Tour: Snakes & Lattes

December 5, 2011

Today I’m here to talk about one of my favourite places in all of Toronto, and—I’ll say it right up front—one of the best vegan cafés in the whole city: Snakes & Lattes. As such, I’m including this as part of my (ever-popular and never-ending) Toronto Café Tour series, though I feel a little weird doing so, since Snakes & Lattes is so much more than your average café. You see, it’s a board game café: a café where you go, not to sip espresso or type away on your Macbook, but to play board games all day long with your friends. A flat $5 entry fee gets you in the door for as long as you want to stay, and that gets you access to—literally—over 1,500 board games, of every genre, style, and theme you could ever imagine. Just check out (this one small section of) their gamewall:

So if it’s not already clear, I’m a bit of a board game geek, which is probably why Snakes & Lattes has such a special place in my heart. But what most people don’t know is that Snakes & Lattes is also a vegan’s paradise, and that’s thanks largely to Nicole, the wonderful baker and cook they have working behind the scenes in the kitchen and filling their display case with treats like these:

Though not everything on offer is vegan, I’d say that at any given time over half of their desserts are, and many of those are also gluten-free. More importantly, though, they’re totally delicious. Take this maple pecan doughnut, por ejemplo:

I have to admit, I was at first a little sceptical ordering a gluten-free doughnut—would its dough really live up to the softness and chewiness of its glutenous cousin? Well, as it turns out: yes, yes it did. And the maple and pecan topping was delectable as well.

During my many visits to S&L, I’ve also sampled their nanaimo bars and cupcakes and cookies and plenty else, and nothing’s left me disappointed. (They have savoury items on offer, too, but I’ve never tried any of those.) And it makes such a difference that all their stuff is made in-house. It would’ve been easy for Snakes & Lattes to outsource their sweets from one of the standard local companies like Sweets from the Earth (as so many other cafés do). By serving their own, Snakes & Lattes customers get treated (literally!) to an array of desserts that are only available there, and that is constantly changing (November saw a lot of Movember-themed desserts, for example). Toronto has plenty of stellar vegan and gluten-free bakeries, to be sure, but I think it’s about time Snakes & Lattes got some recognition for what it’s doing.

But what about the café itself? To evaluate this, I’ll follow my standard six-item rubric…

Latte: The S&L soy latte will cost you $3.75, and unfortunately I did not find it to be very good, though I did really appreciate the quirky latte art. Overall, it was just too watery, with none of the proper creaminess and silkiness I expect from even a cheaper latte. At $3.75, this Snakes & Lattes latte feels like a rip-off. But you aren’t supposed to be coming here for the coffee anyway, so it’s not a huge deal, and it’s certainly not going to stop me from coming back.

Update! Latte #2: Not too long after my first latte experience, I returned to S&L and had the pleasure of enjoying another latte, this one made by their barista-in-chief Adam. Unlike my first drink, this one was definitely much better (I mean, just look at it), with more of what I typically look for in an espresso drink. Still, would I say it competes with the other top soy lattes in the city? No; the overall flavour was just felt a little off to me, for whatever reason. But again, is this a huge problem? Not in my opinion. This latte proved to me that Snakes & Lattes can at least make a solid latte, and given all their other wonderfulness, that’s enough for me.

Wifi: No. Again, Snakes & Lattes isn’t like your average café—you’re supposed to be gaming, not working or surfing.

Atmosphere: Snakes & Lattes is almost always crowded. It doesn’t matter what time of day or day of the week it is; whenever I’ve gone there’s been a line going out the door. Fortunately, Snakes & Lattes’s wild success has brought with it a continual series of expansions, so there’s ever more space for more gamers to come and game. The tables and chairs have a nice wood finish which is perfect for gaming, and there are some comfy couches and such in the back for more relaxed games.

Clientele: Snakes & Lattes attracts a very diverse crowd: young and old, male and female, nerds and party people, and I like that.

Music: Typically it’s a mix of popular indie rock (and usually popular indie rock from like five years ago). So: it could be worse.

Food: See above. A+++.

Final Verdict: I love Snakes & Lattes, and nothing’s going to change that. I really wish their latte was better, and I wouldn’t mind some wifi access for my smartphone, but these are minor issues. All in all, Snakes & Lattes is a wonderful, wonderful place that makes me so so happy to live in this city. If you haven’t been already, you must must must check it out. And don’t forget to stuff your face while you’re there!

Until we eat again,

Willie

P.S. The last time I visited Snakes & Lattes was for a special meet-and-greet with vegan superstar and cookbook author Sarah Kramer, who was visiting Toronto from out west! Sarah Kramer and Tanya Bernard’s How It All Vegan! was the first vegan cookbook I ever had, and it was quite the treat to meet one of my early inspirations. Quite odd, too, considering that I’m now running this food blog and sharing my own recipes with people. But anyway, it was super awesome, and I even got made it onto Sarah’s blog! Check it out to read her thoughts on Snakes & Lattes (and see a dashing picture of yours truly).

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5 comments

  1. “But you aren’t supposed to be coming here for the coffee anyway, so it’s not a huge deal,”

    ..But it’s a cafe, so technically I would be going there for coffee (and gaming). What else would I be washing down delectable treats with and sipping while laughing maniacally at my opponent?! 😉


    • Fair enough—ideally, Snakes & Lattes would offer awesome games and awesome coffee. But seeing as they basically don’t allow customers to come in just for the coffee, and seeing as there are no other sans-coffee board game cafés in the neighbourhood that it’s competing with, I think it still makes sense to not judge them too harshly for their coffee.

      And what else would you be sipping while crushing your opponents, then? Answer: Beer. Lots of beer. Snakes & Lattes is licensed!


  2. Rad review, Willie! Thank you for this! This place was recommended to me before I even moved to Toronto, and although I live a mere 15-minute walk away, I still have yet to drop my books at the door and dive into the game-lined shelves. I did hear about its vegan offerings, too, but might I say that the photo of your doughnut literally made my heart beat faster. I’ll be making a pilgrimage here before the school year starts to take over my life again after the holidays. Thanks for this review! Cheers to you and I hope to cross paths with you soon at the Linux. 🙂


    • Thanks so much! Definitely check out Snakes & Lattes before the winter term takes over your life—and if you’re looking for an extra player in your party, I am generally always available as far as board game meetups are concerned. 😉


  3. Hey Willie,

    Thanks for the great review. It was a pleasure meeting you while you were in. We’re working hard to get our staff experienced on the new espresso machine (we actually only had it for a few days before your visit), so that Snakes & Lattes can be known not just for games, but for coffee, too.

    I would like to ask you to give our coffee another chance. Please come in this weekend and have a soy latte (and another sweet) on us.



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