Archive for the ‘Toronto Café Tour’ Category

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Toronto Café Tour: Thor Espresso Bar

January 8, 2012

Ever heard of Thor Espresso Bar? Well they were my latest stop on my Toronto Café Tour, and here’s what I have to say about them…

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Latte: Thor’s soy latte runs an expensive $4.53, and for that price I was expecting something a little better. That’s not to say this latte wasn’t good—it was—but at the same time, it wasn’t a latte I’d come back for. I was talking to the barista for a bit and he remarked on the difficulty of getting soy (as opposed to, say, almond milk) lattes to come out right, and maybe that’s true, but I’ve definitely tasted better soy lattes in this city than Thor’s.

Atmosphere: This is no sit-down-do-work cafe. There are 9 seats in total, 3 of which are stools, and no tables whatsoever, unless you count the single bar. Granted, Thor is obviously not going for the sit-down aesthetic, aiming rather at something different; it’s just that that’s not the sort of café I generally am looking for.

One nice part about Thor’s atmosphere, however, was the artwork. When you walk in you’re greeted by this wonderful mural by local artist Afo Grigoriev:

And the same artist made this fun illustration on the washroom door:

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Music: It started off with techno, and moved on to R&B (and not even The Weeknd, pfft). Definitely not my bag.

Clientele: Most Thor customers were either coming in to grab a quick drink, or coming in to meet and chat with a friend. No one else was as foolish as I was to bring work in with them—again, the space really isn’t made for that.

Food: Thor brings in some outside snacks and sweet treats, none of which are vegan.

Final Verdict: With expensive drinks, crappy music, and a space not made for working, I don’t imagine that I’ll be coming back to Thor anytime soon—which is not to say it’s a bad café, but just not what I’m looking for.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: The Big Guy’s Coffee Shop

December 22, 2011

Interested in reading yet another Toronto Café Tour review? Well then I’ve got just the thing for you: my recap of The Big Guy’s Coffee Shop in Parkdale!

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Latte: The Big Guy’s soy latte costs only $3 for a regular, and I really liked this drink, though I can’t quite place why. It’s not a show stopper or anything, but for its price, it’s probably the best $3 latte I’ve tasted in this city.

Wifi: Yes!

Atmosphere: There’s lots of character to this café, which sports a spacious interior and more different seating options than you could hope for: wooden chairs, couches, and armchairs, placed around both small tables and big tables, making it an ideal place for however you want to while away your time.

Clientele: Big Guys is definitely one of those nice neighbourhood establishments: many of the patrons seemed like regulars from the community, and overall there was a very gregarious mood to the whole place. However, there were several quietly working students there, as well, so I did not feel out of place.

Music: A shuffled, Pandora-style mix of hipster indie rock was playing when I first arrived, featuring Timber Timbre, Ohbijou, and the Weakerthans, among others. This was followed up by a classic rock mix for a while, and then Fever Ray started playing I think? Which is to say: the music was all over the map; however, it was a map I liked.

Food: Some, but not much, and nothing particularly eye-catching.

Final Verdict: Big Guy’s is a wonderful little place, with plenty of space to work and good, cheap drinks to boot. If it weren’t so out of the way for me, I could definitely see myself becoming one of their regulars, but even despite the distance, I’m sure I’ll be back before long.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: The Scoop & Bean

December 21, 2011

Today’s Toronto Café Tour review is coming at you from the cute little Annex shop known as The Scoop & Bean. Despite living nearby in the neighbourhood for over two years, I had never noticed this café before a friend tipped me off to its presence, but once I got wind of it, I was excited to scope it out. Here were my thoughts…

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Latte: The Scoop & Bean soy latte comes in at only $3.10, which is definitely cheap for this city. However, this was a poor drink. It was just so watery, with no creaminess to it at all. I might’ve just come in on a bad day, but regardless, this did not make a good first impression.

Wifi: Yeppers!

Atmosphere: The Scoop & Bean is cozy: there are only a handful of indoor seating options available, all snugly squeezed in next to each other. Nonetheless, the seating they do have is comfortable, their tables are a good size for doing work, and café traffic wasn’t all that high the day I stopped in, so the space all worked out pretty well.

Clientele: The Scoop & Bean crowd was a little older than other cafés it seemed; many more parents coming in with their children and whatnot. Not too many loiterers here, either; most of the customers seemed to be more of the grab-and-go type.

Music: When I first arrived, they were playing through Dylan’s Desire (awesome). This was then followed up by the new Real Estate  album (more awesome). Anyway, I heartily approved.

Food: The Scoop & Bean definitely has a good deal of food on offer, including some ice cream that many patrons seemed to be coming in specifically for. However, their vegan offerings seemed slim, or at the very least unannounced as such.

Final Verdict: My overall impression of The Scoop & Bean was fairly average, with the musical selection being the high point of my visit. However, its location is very convenient for me, and it’s low-key enough that you could comfortably hang out there for several hours it seems, so I very well may be back before too long.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: R Squared

December 6, 2011

It’s end of term, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in a lot of cafés lately. Accordingly, here’s yet another TCT review, this time from R Squared on Queen West (yet another Indie Coffee Passport location). Here’s what I thought…

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Latte: This little mug was average in price at $3.49, but very good in taste. I wasn’t blown away or anything, but this was a nice drink, from the first sip to the last drop.

Wifi: Yes!

Atmosphere: R Squared’s decor is slick and chic. The café is more or less a long narrow corridor with lots of wooden tables and white plastic chairs filling the space. There are also some comfy boothes toward the back, which is where I spent my time there.

Clientele: For the most part, R Squared was filled with fellow twentysomethings coming in to read a book or type away on their MacBooks. Also spotted were some of that ubiquitous café species known as ‘young mothers with infants’.

Music: They were playing continuous albums while I was there, something I always appreciate. First was some French art rock band, which I didn’t recognize but enjoyed well enough, and that was followed by something with Ben Gibbard (probably Death Cab), which I did not enjoy so much.

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Food: This, unfortunately, was a complete disaster. After briefly perusing R Squared’s small display case of not-very-vegan-looking baked goods, I whimsically asked if any of their food on sale was vegan, and though nothing on display was, the barista eagerly got another employee to grab some special vegan treats they had hiding away in the kitchen. I was humbled by the kind service, and excited for the granola-bar-brownie they brought out. And then I bit into it. Or rather, I tried to bite into it. However, this brownie was as hard as a brick, and almost inedible. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone could’ve thought this was good enough to serve. This is the perfect example of what vegan food shouldn’t be, and if this is what R Squared is going to serve their vegan customers, I’d say they’d do better not serving them at all.

Final Verdict: Aside from the food, my experience at R Squared was very positive: a good latte, a nice atmosphere, and a nicely workable space. Definitely worth the visit—just whatever you do, don’t order their vegan brownies.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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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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Toronto Café Tour: The Abbott

November 25, 2011

Hey hey folks! It’s been getting colder up here in Toronto, and that decrease in air temperature has brought with it an increase in my desire for warm drinks. In other words, here’s another Toronto Café Tour review, this time from the little Parkdale location known as The Abbott (which is yet another Indie Coffee Passport location, for anyone keeping track).

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Latte: A soy latte from the Abbott’s will run you $3.25 for a single and $4.00 for a double, which are fairly standard prices for this city. I got the double, and though I strongly disapprove of the paper cup, the drink itself was very good, a solid latte all around.

Wifi: Yep!

Atmosphere: The Abbott is a little on the small side, with only a handful of tables and chairs available for those drinking in. Furthermore, the tables they have are very small. I didn’t include my current fictional diversion in the above photo just as a size reference; there simply was not enough space on my little table to crop it out! Still, this is really only a minor quibble. The decor of The Abbott is very nicely done, though: lots of old-fashioned knick-knacks and doodads, mason jars and washboards adorn the walls, and my personal favorite design choice: the washroom’s sole decoration, unframed vinyl jacket of the Flashdance movie soundtrack.

Clientele: I was there on a weekday afternoon, and the crowd seemed slightly older than at my usual haunts, which is to say, thirtysomethings rather than twentysomethings. Most of the people coming in and staying spent their time quietly working or something or other.

Music: When I was there, I heard The Strokes, Zola Jesus, and Arcade Fire, so: good, but a little too familiar.

Food: Only a handful of food options on offer, none of which looked particularly vegan.

Final Verdict: The Abbott is nice, if a little out of the way for me. There was nothing really wrong with the place, but nothing really stood out for me, either. Which is to say: If I’m ever in the neighbourhood again, I’d definitely go back, but I doubt that I’ll ever make the trek out there again specifically for this café.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: Moonbean Coffee

November 22, 2011

Hi all! I’m here today with yet another Toronto Café Tour review, this time from Kensington Market hotspot Moonbean Coffee (yet another Indie Coffee Passport participating location)! Here’s what I thought…

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Latte: Moonbean’s latte runs a slightly-higher-than-average $3.68, but it is excellent—I daresay one of the best soy lattes in the city. It had the perfect silkiness with a strong espresso flavour that was simply to die for. In addition, Moonbean doesn’t skimp on size; although this photo may not show it, this is a sizeable cup.

Wifi: No!

Atmosphere: I’d been to Moonbean during the afternoon a couple of times before this visit and it was practically standing room only, sometimes with lines going out the door. This time, however, I visited early on a weekday morning and it was virtually empty, and actually the perfect place to get some work done. Moonbean offers lots of seating options, with a big backroom in addition to their main space, as well as an open-air patio for the warmer months. But your experience definitely depends on when you visit: go early and enjoy the quiet, go later and be prepared to get friendly with your neighbours!

Clientele: Like other Kensington coffeeshops, Moonbean attracts a lot of the local bohemians crowd, which I love. As I said above, the café was pretty much empty for the majority of this visit, but towards the end of my stay I was joined by a couple of budding intellectuals who were meeting to discuss Kabbalah, Freudian psychoanalysis, and string theory, to which all I can say is: yes.

Music: I was sitting in Moonbean’s backroom for the entirety of this visit, and they actually don’t play music all the way back there. I sort of enjoyed the quiet, and on the couple occasions when I went back to the main space, whatever they were playing sounded nice.

Food: Moonbean offers lots of vegan options (no surprise, really, given their Kensington location), many of which looked made in-house, which is awesome. I didn’t try any of them out, but I’m pretty confident from their appearance that all of them would be super delicious.

Final Verdict: Moonbean’s main attraction is my opinion is their latte, which is stellar. The atmosphere is a little hit-or-miss depending on the time of the day, and most of the time is probably not the best place to go to while away the daylight hours (especially if what you’re doing requires internet, which they don’t provide). But if you’re in Kensington and are looking to get a tasty espresso drink, Moonbean is the place to go. Check it out the next time you’re in the neighbourhood.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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