To the rest of the world, September 29th is National Coffee Day. To the hardened Windsor coffee drinker and café denizen, every day is National Coffee Day.
Actor Rob Tymec tells a classic Windsor café story: “One night, the Milk Bar—now, sadly, closed—had a movie night. With one wall used as the movie screen, seating was tight. A pair of young women entered and ordered coffees. When they couldn’t find seats, they didn’t get their coffees ‘to go’. They moved a table in front of the movie screen wall, grabbed two chairs and chatted while the rest of us watched the movie over top of them.”
There are places where you grab a coffee, and then there are cafés. The anecdote above speaks to the elusive quality that separates the two.
As Rob Tymec observes, “First time you walk in, you know, ‘This is a spot.’”
Is it a matter of a café allowing people to treat the place like their own living room? Is it the bohemian décor? The world music on the sound system? Not entirely.
Writer Robert Earl Stewart rates Steimar Bread Co. high on his list of favourite area cafés. “There is zero pretension at Steimar. They are probably not even conscious of being part of Windsor’s coffee culture. They represent what’s great in an older style donut store: The old lunch counter environment, stools mounted at the counter, racks of bread and donuts.”
Rob Tymec explains his own criteria: “A good coffee shop is a place to stop and decompress. Whatever is pursuing me through the day cannot find me there.”
One of his many favourite haunts is the Naked Cup in Tecumseh. “The owner is a professional baker, so they have great desserts. You’re missing out if you only get a coffee.”
Cafés often distinguish themselves from the competition by bringing in artists to perform live music, or “spoken word” events, where actors, writers and raconteurs take the mic and share stories. Rob Tymec was in talks with the Naked Cup about performing a one-man show there when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut everything down.
He fondly recalls Café Romantica, on Lesperance Road—now only a memory—where he performed at several spoken word events. For a time, that café had its act together with great coffee and superior food. Alas, the vicissitudes of commerce, coffee culture and other factors saw the place sold and turned into a gyro joint.
The opinions of our connoisseurs overlapped on one particular café as a mutual favourite: Taloola Café in Walkerville.
Known for its broad vegan menu, variety of coffee, tea and other beverages, Taloola Café also provided entertainment in pre-pandemic days. In fact, Rob Tymec was in talks with the owners about performing a one-man show at the venue. Not only is he a fan of Taloola’s selection of teas, and its offering of homemade vegan desserts, there is yet another reason why the place is close to Rob’s heart:
“I had one of my best first dates at Taloola,” he says. “There is a nice green comfy couch in the corner where we sat and fell in love in the course of the afternoon. She was an old high school crush, though we didn’t date back in the day. When we connected, years later, on social media, I asked her one time, ‘Do you want to do Taloola’s?’ She said ‘Sure.’”
The Love Seat may not have been anointed by Chuck Woolery, but it definitely belongs in the Pantheon of Dating. My wife and I have occupied it on many date nights.
“They have a huge variety of tea,” Rob says, returning to the subject at hand, “and Taloola infuses the flavors in a really funky way.”
It’s the food that brings Robert Earl Stewart to Taloola Cafe. “Their date squares are dynamite. Their vegan peanut butter cookies are like a physical challenge to eat. For years, I would go in, order a coffee and two of those cookies. I ordered them until I figured out why I liked them.” He goes on to rate their smoothies very highly and says that Taloola Café’s oatmeal is the best oatmeal a person can find outside of their grandmother’s kitchen.
Turbo Espresso Bar is a new downtown café that caught Rob Tymec’s notice. “It’s a gigantic space,” he says. “Lots of couches. The building was once a bank, so they have wide window ledges. Everything is concrete, and you can use the window ledges as tables and watch people outside.”
Apparently, the vaults were left in place, which Turbo now uses for its storage.
“I tried their Spicy Italian sandwich,” Rob continues, “and I’ve got to say, it was very spicy. Definitely not trying the safe approach with that. It has a killer sauce. I complemented the guy who made the sandwich, because so many places claim to be ‘spicy’ and are not. He just said, ‘Yeah.’”
Robert Earl Stewart rounds out this virtual walking tour of area cafés with his observations about Anchor Coffee in Walkerville: “They are very conscious, very particular about where their coffee comes from, who grew it, how it’s brewed, and how it’s presented. It’s a small environment. During pre-COVID-19 times, there were three large wooden tables inside. You have to be comfortable with sitting with people you don’t know. And they play good music there.”
Also, Anchor Coffee’s baked goods are top notch. Co-owner Rachel does the baking.
“Their bagels are made inhouse and they’re phenomenal,” Robert muses. “They don’t subscribe to any dietary agenda. It’s just good, old fashioned baking. Their date squares rival Taloola.”
The “favourite” or “best” of anything, such as cafés, certainly occurs on a sliding subjective scale. Fact is, Windsor has a proliferation of wonderful cafés, all worth visiting. While doing that, you may well run into Rob Tymec or Robert Earl Stewart. Feel free to introduce yourself and maybe buy them a coffee.
“But how will I know them?” you ask.
Oh, you’ll know them.