an open letter to the owners of Baltimore House

Dear Grant and Jimmy

I have read your recent “fireside chats” on your blog and, while I can understand your being upset over the relatively blase response to Seance Thursdays, your public response has definitely run the risk of alienating the very people you want to attend your place of business.  I am writing this because I truly love the Baltimore House and want you guys to succeed.  You may recall I was your first customer and interviewed in the Spec about your place the very day it opened.  I have since organized tweetups, brought people both from within and outside of the city to your establishment and am there for dinner on a regular basis.

As a paying customer and a fan, it pained me to read Grant’s vehement “fireside chat

I quite enjoyed Seance on Thursdays, however was more than open with the fact that a) it was a work night and b) it coincided with my other job, so I would be unable to attend.  However I also know that the music was quite experimental and, by even my tastes, an acquired taste so could appreciate that it would be a hard sell for a city that is just coming to terms with Dubstep as a mainstream music form.

I think my main concern is the overall negative tone of Grant’s initial posting is that it honestly comes across as “We tried to educate you by giving you what we know to be cool, but when you didn’t come in droves it became obvious that you are ignorant.”  Having talked to Grant and Jimmy and enjoyed the hospitality of their establishment, I know this is not the case, however the tone of the May 25, 2012 fireside chat comes across in this manner.

Jimmy’s response on June 1st confirms what I know about the two gentlemen who have invested in the City of Hamilton, but also reflects the kind of response that they have received due to the power of social media.  I know as a fact that this posting has cost the Baltimore House the business of a number of long-term customers.

When Grant made comments like “In our short time we’ve come a long way and learned a lot about not only our vision but what it takes to make that vision work within a promising, albeit, temperamental city; a city that in and of itself is still really only in it’s cultural infancy.”  He ignores the fact that people have been working in this city for DECADES to build things up culturally and that he is, in essence, discounting and dismissing the very people who have worked hard in the city of Hamilton to lay the foundation for places like the Baltimore House to exist.  These people are also the target demographic you seem to be interested in pursuing.

Grant then continues “Over the past few years as I thought more and more about The Baltimore House I got increasingly excited because, at the same time, I was watching a true “scene” develop in places like Brooklyn that was precisely what I wanted for Thursday nights in Hamilton.”  He misses the very point within his own writing – that the scenes that developed in places like Brooklyn, Austin, Portland and Chapel Hill, NC developed over a period of at least a few years.  Believe me, not all bars/clubs have instant success with theme nights, particularly when a theme is an admitted “we could make Thursday a popular night to come out and hear new, experimental electronic music and even, possibly, dance to it…” acquired taste.

Grant then proceeds to (to coin a word used in his fireside chat) “piss” on the scene with the following sentence “This was something I did because in other markets as close as Toronto, I had seen this kind of publicity often prove to be a golden ticket. But again: this was Hamilton not Toronto and the ticket here was piss coloured not golden.”  Ironically, he says this in a paragraph after stating:  “One of the hardest lessons Hamilton has personally taught me is that it isn’t Brooklyn. It isn’t London. And it isn’t even Toronto. And despite what I want to believe, and what I DO believe for the future of the city, the basic fact remains: Hamilton is Hamilton.

I’m surprised that as a McMaster student and resident of the city for the apparent duration of his degree, Grant would find this surprising and a recent revelation…Hamilton IS indeed Hamilton – it has a mere fraction of the population of the cities he mentions and is only beginning to rebuild the inner city after years of neglect.

Grant and Jimmy have stated on several occasions and in many formats that they want Baltimore House to be a “community in and of ourselves; to be a lifestyle and most importantly to work on being an upstanding, positive and safe place- a place where we would feel happy and comfortable being even if we didn’t own and work there. Transparency, honesty, open communication and respect have were among the most important pillars that the business was originally built upon..”  Well I guess they have discovered that the community has spoken and, in essence, voted with their presence and pocket books. 

I’m indeed sad that something Grant believed in and loved did not attract a wider audience, however the necessities of operating a business means you also must acquiesce to the folks who are paying your bills.  However responding in a angst-ridden outburst, similar to the way the “bros” you malign in your blog, does not help garner support for either Seance or your business.  How about engaging the folks who did attend, even if only for an hour and ask them what worked for them and what didn’t work?

Yes Seance was cool, yes Seance was definitely an acquired taste, and no, it didn’t work out.  It’s a shame, but not unheard of in the industry, and lashing out at your prospective audience/clientele is not the cure.  As a musician, it hurts me when my music that I think is really great and represents me and my voice falls on an uninterested audience, however I understand that it is due to differing tastes.  I merely take it as a lesson learned and regroup for the next round.

I look forward in seeing what the next round for Thursday nights at Baltimore House brings!

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myke’s Hamilton and beyond café crawl

A while back I wrote on the incredible renaissance of independent coffee culture that my hometown Hamilton is experiencing.  More recently, I reviewed chain coffee alternatives with surprising results.  I’m heading back to my indie roots and focusing on two new cafés that have recently opened in Hamilton, Ontario and branching out to places I frequent while out of my home city who are definitely deserving of a mention!

Baltimore House recently opened on King William at Hughson, providing the downtown core a coffeehouse with plenty of atmosphere, good drinks and a variety of delicious sandwiches and house-baked goodies.  Their coffee is sourced from various local roasters including Homegrown Hamilton and Red Hill Coffee Trade (I believe they use their decaf).

The room looks gothic and dark, however the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.  The recent addition of the beautifully decorated “parlour” space, christened with a theatrical production, makes this a good location to sit while you savour and enjoy a quality coffee.  The European-style service (beverages are served on silver platters with a glass of water to cleanse your palate and a chocolate) adds a touch of class and makes you want to linger and soak in the atmosphere.

Baltimore house has become a favourite place of mine and DH’s to relax, write and enjoy a drink.

Cannon Coffee Company is the latest addition to the Hamilton coffee scene, bringing a bright and open space to the corner of Ottawa St. and Cannon St. East.  The room is bright and spacious and they serve up a smooth, delicious espresso shot (Detour’s Punch Buggy Roast) and are beginning to explore their food options with a variety of house-baked goodies and goods from Cake and Loaf Bakery.  Recently they had a lovely weekend brunch with your choice of house-baked quiche or waffles with local maple syrup. 

I am lucky to have this wonderful coffee house within walking distance of my home and anticipate many a weekend afternoon spent enjoying their hospitality and high quality beverage options.  The fact the owners Anne and Cindy make you feel welcome and an honoured guest in their establishment goes a long way and they always seem to go the extra step to make you feel like a valued customer.

Homegrown Hamilton  Formerly the Bread and Roses café and located in the Sky Dragon Center.  Homegrown Hamilton roasts their coffee on site, using only fair-trade green beans.  They also have a menu with a variety of vegetarian and vegan light meal and snack options.  Their coffee is very good, however quality of the espresso shots depends on who is working the machine.  Mike is an excellent barista and offers coffee cupping sessions on occasion.

The atmosphere is loose and artistic and they have a grass-roots and community-minded connection to the inner city.  The Sky Dragon Co-operative supports various community organizations and often offers classes and seminars aimed at effecting positive change in the world and community.

Cake and Loaf Bakery is a wonderful local bakery who specializes in quality baked goods made from ingredients that are organic, fair trade and sourced from local farmers and purveyors.  They offer a delivery lunch service (their soups, salads and vegan quinoa pies are incredible), in cooperation with THAAT Delivery (www.thaat.ca) and they also serve up a wonderful latte made from Detour Coffee that is always enjoyable, so when you pick up a treat or your bakery order, ensure you partake while you are there!

Coffee Tree Roastery, Toronto, ON was a recent find of mine in Toronto.  Despite being one of the oldest roasteries in Toronto, it wasn’t until a foray into Bloor West Village, did I find this gem!  I fully respect a place that smells of roasting coffee and has a wall of single source varietals and blends to choose from and yes, you can order the coffee that you drink from one of the MANY varieties available in French press or pour-over (Chemex to be exact!) style as well as what brewed or espresso blends they are serving that day.

The café itself has a small but delicious looking menu of products from local ACE Bakery, Jumbo Empanada and Wanda’s Pies and they specialize in a variety of breakfast burritos in the morning.  They also sell a nice selection of implements to brew their coffee at home including some beautiful Bodum and Chemex (perhaps the Rolls-Royce of pour-over coffee makers) products.  John, their roastmaster is usually on hand to assist you in selecting a blend, varietal and roast for your needs!

Their focus is on freshly roasted, coffee that is ethically sourced and is socially, environmentally and economically responsible.  They also have a wide variety of teas that fall under the Ethical Tea Partnership and are certified organic.  They also regularly support local and international charities through fundraising, auctions and donations.  Their coffee grounds are collected for garden and coffee sacks are recycled for use by their customers and various organizations.

Lit Espresso Bar, Toronto, ON Lit is one of the first independent specialty coffee bars in Toronto, specializing in Stumptown Roasters’ coffee.  Their trained baristas focus on every shot and their two locations are stylish and provide great places to relax and meet folks.  They also bake their own pastries in house and have regularly scheduled cuppings to help people understand their coffee better.  Their dedication to coffee perfection and education is admirable their locations are comfortable and, for the most part, free from pretension.

Moonbeam Café, Toronto, ON On the outskirts of Toronto’s Kensington Market lies Moonbeam Coffee Company.  I was shocked when I was first dragged into this coffee house (the name and exterior had me fearing the smell of patchouli incense and love beads), as I wasn’t expecting the smell of freshly roasted coffee (they roast their own blends from green beans) mingling with the smell of fresh baked goodies.

This narrow storefront provides a surprisingly large selection of fresh roasted fair-trade coffees, homemade baked goods and one of the larger tea selections in the city of Toronto.  Don’t let the small unassuming storefront fool you, there is adequate space to sit back and relax and enjoy a cup and a fresh made baked good.  The hippie-ish name belies their sensible nature and commitment to organic and fair trade coffees and teas.  Plus they pull a wicked good shot of espresso.

Balzac’s Coffee, Toronto, ON. Located in the Distillery District (with other locations in Liberty Village, Stratford, Niagara on the Lake and Kitchener), Balzac’s inhabits the former case goods warehouse and has an open, airy, almost European atmosphere.  Their snacks and goodies come from a who’s who of Toronto-area bakeries (including Dufflet, Stratford and the local Brick Street Bakery).  Their coffee is roasted in the Hamilton area (Stoney Creek if I recall) and they are able to pull a decent shot of espresso.  This location is absolutely HUGE and you should be able to find a table, except perhaps on busy weekends.

The upper level is a great space, displaying art by local artists and also serving as a cozy and intimate event space.  I have been to no less than two weddings at Balzac and have greatly enjoyed both occasions!  One warning though, don’t go to Balzac’s expecting wifi.  They do not provide it, so just sit back and enjoy the great atmosphere (all of their locations are in historic buildings chosen for their unique character), decent coffee and conversation.

Scratch Seasonal Bakery, Durham, NC Scratch is a small artisanal bakery located in Downtown Durham, NC whose aim is to support and nurture relationships with their local farmers and producers.  Their bakery has a variety of goods that changes daily based on what ingredients are available and they take their coffee seriously.  Like Cake and Loaf, they ensure that their baked goods and foods are accompanied by quality beverages.  Their location is light, airy and informal and a joy to visit!

I’ve heard from a very reliable source that their baked goods are truly delicious!

Uncommon Grounds, Saratoga Springs, NY  I was in Saratoga Springs, NY lecturing at a clown convention when the need for coffee beyond the dreck the hotel was serving was identified (really! this lasted after the first morning’s coffee infusion went down the bathroom sink).  In between classes, I walked down Broadway in the downtown area and was lured by the smell of freshly roasting beans.

I walked into Uncommon Grounds and found a beautiful shop filled with wood, warm lighting and the smell of roasting coffee and freshly baked bagels.  Needless to say, a coffee infusion and a bagel were absolutely necessary (as I was still fat, I still ate baked goods then).  Their coffee was wonderful and warranted repeat daily visits during my stay that week.  I was invited to attend my first cupping and enjoyed my first REAL espresso that week.

Uncommon Grounds was my first serious initiation into coffee culture and I quite enjoyed this unassuming place that focused on EVERY SINGLE aspect of their coffee from sourcing the beans, to roasting to brewing them perfectly.  This attention to detail both shocked and impressed me greatly and changed my life as a coffee drinker.

an open letter to new baristas

Last week I was in a cafe and the owner, knowing my level of coffee snobbery, asked me to go easy on the new barista starting out.  Knowing how hard learning the serious art and science of espresso can be, I ordered a single macchiato, knowing that it was one of the cafe’s “signature” drinks.

I patiently waited for my beverage and when it was delivered, I enjoyed a smooth but not perfect macchiato – definitely not bad for someone just starting out!

That’s when the barista popped by my table, asked me about my macchiato and wondered if I liked how it looked.

Pardon me?

Yes, they were concerned about the look of the drink and if I liked the attempt at foam art!  I was initially horrified at this question as a macchiato is a drink that is to be consumed not admired.  I gave the barista my honest answer which led a really great and inciteful conversation about the importance of beverage taste, consistency and overall vibe when choosing a coffee house.

This conversation solidified my view that this barista and coffeehouse was dedicated to building a sustainable coffee culture and establishing a strong business that supported the local community with quality drinks, food in a comfortable and welcoming environment.

This led to a further discussion with another friend about the burgeoning coffee culture and the arrival of the “boutique cafe’s” more concerned with appearance and attitude then overall vibe and experience.  Add to this the increasing focus on foam art, such as this video, it seems a lot of people are focusing on things beyond the importance of providing a good cup of coffee!

To wit, I have written this oppen letter to all new baristas, in the hopes that they review what is truly important in learning the art and science of coffee preparation:

Dear Barista-in-Training;

IF YOU ARE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT MAKING BITCHIN DESIGNS IN LATTE FOAM THAN PULLING A TASTY, SMOOTH SHOT OF ESPRESSO THAT IS WORTHWHILE DRINKING, YOU SHOULDN’T EVEN CONSIDER BECOMING A BARISTA!

Perhaps becoming a photographer, fashion designer or painter is more your speed.  Just saying.

Once you have mastered the art of the perfect espresso shot (grind texture, tamping pressure, water pressure and amount, what amount of steam, temperature and the amount of foam in the milk), then you should worry about drawing purty designs in my crema.

And honestly, while it is nice to have an aesthetically pleasing beverage, all I really care about how it tastes!  If show you care enough to craft a drink made from a better than decent shot of espresso, I will want to come back to your establishment and give you my business.  And guess what?  I want to give you my business!

So please baristas in training, learn how to print your name before attempting to write your magnum opus!  Your art is in a medium to be savoured and consumed first, then appreciated for its aesthetic value.

Of course, that’s just my opinion as your customer and the person who is paying you for your services.  I may be wrong, but I can guarantee if you continue focus on making a tasty beverage, I will frequent your establishment and recommend it with great regularity.  And if you eventually have the skills to make it purty as well, I will reciprocate in kind in the tip jar and on instagram/twitpic!

little pieces of awesome

Okay, I’ll admit it! My name is Myke and I love shopping. It must be the gay genes working their sparkly rainbow brand of magic in me, but I’ve always loved shopping. I especially enjoy poking around stores to find the right item for the right person. I especially love exploring independently owned stores that have eclectic selections of unique items. It’s the thrill of the hunt, folks! Craft shows are also favourites of mine because they allow me to connect with the artisans themselves and meet the people who are responsible for the wares that catch my eye.

While I try to avoid overtly conspicuous consumption, it’s nice to know that the items I do purchase for myself and others could be as unique and individual as the folks that I buy for are.

Malls and big stucco boxes do not give me the same amount of enjoyment. They exist for a reason, I understand, but I’m not interested in purchasing items cheaply made in Chinese factories and sweatshops, delivered by cargo ship to a conglomerate in Arkansas and distributed at a price that ensures the employees of the conglomerate cannot earn a decent living wage.

I also try to support local independent restaurants and cafes as well. I find dining all the more enjoyable as I have established a personal rapport with a number of businesses and their staff is able to make recommendations and suggestions of items that I should try. It is also nice to be able to talk to the owners who know where their supplies and ingredients come from and a good number of them take pride in sourcing their supplies locally too.

When I travel, I try to get off the beaten path and find the unique haunts that locals go to.  I ask hotel staff, cab drivers and others where they eat and shop.  If I’m going to buy a souvenir of my voyage, I want it to be something actually made in that area by a local craftsperson and not just a branded item…

The moral of the story is to shop locally folks! Support your local independent craftspeople; support your local independent retailers; support your local economy! Your community will be all the better for it and you may well just meet some interesting and friendly people while doing your shopping.

myke from a to z

This is the part of the show where you, the reader, gets to learn a little bit more about me. If you have followed along so far, you already know I’m a musician, photographer, clown, writer, foodie, coffee snob and neurotic.  I am lucky enough to have a loving and caring husband, two wonderful dogs and group of family and friends who are patient, loving, understanding and supportive of my neuroses and peccadilloes!

I find most artist statements to be rather tedious, so what I give you instead is the A-Z Guide to what really tickles Myke!

ABBA.  Guilty music pleasure, my first memory of the true power of music to move you.  When I heard their instrumental Arrival as a child, it made me well up with tears and gave me a lump in my throat.  Sheer beauty and sadness personified in a musical statement.  The second concert my parents took me to.

Bass.  The sound, the guitar and the viol.  As a left-handed piano student, I learned to love the sounds the low end makes.  In concerts, it’s what hits you in your chest and you can feel the music physically move you.  I like being the person to produce those tones so the bass is my main instrumental voice.

Cortado.  In my opinion, the pinnacle of the coffee world.  Strong cuban coffee (in most cases espresso) with perfectly steamed milk to take the edge off.  Sounds easy to make, but isn’t.  Thankfully, CG has mastered this one perfectly!

DB.  Comedian, mentor, friend, partner in crime, inspiration, Godsend.  Enough said. 

Espresso.  See cortado above.  The elixer of life and basis for many of my favourite beverages.

Fretless.  My favourite form of expression on the bass guitar.  Incredible sustain, singing vibrato, smooth transitions between notes.  Allows the instrument to behave more like a voice!  My voice!

Guitar.  My secondary musical voice.  Easier to work with than bass, a lot more portable, less physical to play, but a little more generic.  Songwriting tool that’s a little more handy in coffee houses and at campfires.

Humbug.  BAH!  My musical comedy alter ego.

IPhone.  My lifeline, musical tool and connection to the world.  Enough said.

Jeff Crump’s Hot Sauce.  From Earth to Table Pizza and Bread Bar.  I put this shit on everything!

mK.  Mentor, musical genius, first and only “rock star” I ever wrote a fan letter to.  My personal icon for going about the business of music on his own terms and succeeding. 

Latte.  Mmm…breakfast.  The gateway drug of the coffee world.

Music.  After DH, my family, dogs and friends.  The next main love of my life.  My avocation, my pillar and my lifeline, which I fund through my vocation.

Neil Diamond.  Another musical guilty pleasure.  Incredible songwriting, incredible showman.  Try to top the rhyming in Solitary Man.  The first concert my parents took me to.

Old Bay Seasoning.  Universal seasoning that makes bland food taste like something.  I carry a tin of this everywhere!

Phish.  The band that showed me it’s okay to just go with the flow and groove to your heart’s content.  Try to go to a concert and NOT dance.  I dare ya!

Queer.  Yup!  I’m a member of that 10%.  It is a part of who I am but does not define who I am.

Rainbow, Mr.  The first clown to make me laugh to the point that I couldn’t form a coherent thought!  He never fails to surprise, amaze and make me laugh uproariously!

Santa Claus.  DH portrays, personifies and becomes him.  Daily.  The spirit of kindness to all, the spirit of giving, the spirit of love for humanity.

Tricycle.  I ride one built for adults.  It’s good exercise.  It allows me to carry cargo such as guitar amps and groceries.  Deal with it.

Unsweetened.  A common word in my vocabulary these days to ensure I continue to live a healthy lifestyle!  Also how a lot of my opinions are voiced.

Vasovagal Reflex.  How I know I’m full since my weight loss surgery.  As the nerves to parts of my stomach are cut, other nerves take over to let you know things.  In my case, my right nostril starts to run and, when I’m REALLY full, I sneeze!  Yup, I’m a freak!

my Weight or Waistline.  Constant factors in my life, now at a happy level, with which I am content.  See this post for more details.

brand X.  Incredible band from the 1970s featuring Phil Collins (the incredible drummer before he became a sensitive singer-songwriter of Disney soundtracks) and Percy Jones, an amazing fretless bass master.

Yerba mate.  South American tea-like beverage.  High in caffiene, often shared around the table in the spirit of community, meeting for mate is the impetus to gather with friends in many countries throughout South America.  This represents everything that coffee culture should represent!

frank Zappa.  Iconoclast, one-of-a-kind, composer, comedian, inspiration.  Enough said.

myke on coffee

Without my morning coffee I’m just like a dried up piece of roast goat.”  – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) The Coffee Cantata

I often get called on the fact that I am a coffee snob.  Let’s get one thing straight:

I AM!

Throughout my life and weight loss journey, I have had to give up a number of things that have given me pleasure throughout.  These things include:

  • Quality microbrewed beer
  • Quality whisk(e)ys
  • Carbonated beverages (ooh gas pains in a reduced stomach – NOT a good feeling!)
  • Fried foods and sweets
  • French fries (see above)

So as far as “vices” go, I have one thing left in my life:  coffee.

The plus side is that coffee is calorie free, for the most part – it’s the additions to the coffee that add to the caloric and fat count.  The bottom side is that coffee is high in caffiene, which is an irritant to the stomach and can lead to/exacerbate ulcers if consumed in large quantities (again with a reduced stomach size, NOT good, I’ve been hospitalized once due to a bleeding ulcer and don’t want to again).

So for me, coffee is a “once a day” item.  I try to have a decaf if more than one is necessary or desired, or else space multiple coffees out with a meal or two in between.  However due to my stomach’s peccadillos and reduced appetite, I am only able to put a small amount of ANY substance in at once, so I want it to be good and worthy of taking up the space for whatever period of time it takes to work through my system.

HENCE my coffee snobbery.

Little known fact:  I grew up in Ajax, Ontario, which is where Nabob Coffee has its main roasting plant.  My childhood is filled with memories of the smell of roasting coffee in the winter air.  This is compounded by years commuting past the plant every morning en route to Toronto from 1992 to 2003 and smelling beautiful roasting coffee every morning!  The smell of roasting or freshly roasted coffee has a particularly special place in my heart.

Another little known fact:  Despite my love of coffee as an adult, I hated or merely tolerated it as The Parental Units couldn’t (and honestly still can’t) brew a good cup of coffee – it’s either too week, stale or burnt tasting.  This lasted until I had my first taste of a really good coffee in, of all places, Las Vegas, NV.  At the time, a $9.00 cup of coffee seemed to be obscene and I wanted to see what it would taste like.   I splurged and it tasted good.

Hamilton, Ontario is the home of that venerable Canadian institution, Tim Hortons, home of the “double double” ™ and the now pre-made, frozen and reanimated on site doughnuts and other baked goods (ugh).  In fact, my home is less than 8 blocks from the  original Tim Hortons store, which actually has a section that is original and bears a historical plaque on the side.

That last link, by the way, is from a blog written by my favourite barista and coffee guru, CG, whom I will discuss in greater detail later on.

Despite there being no fewer than 5 Tim Hortons location within a five minute walk of my home, I only go to one of them when the dogs have run out of old-fashioned plain Timbits (their snack food of choice) or when I’m en route home and DH wants a coffee.  Why?  I CAN’T STAND TIM HORTONS’ COFFEE!

There, it’s all caps, bolded, italicized and underlined.  Emphasis enough?  Anything that needs a double shot of cream and two sugars (the aforementioned “double double” – as in double cream and double sugar) to be even remotely consumable, is really not good.  I’m not putting anything that has to be made into a milkshake or frappe in order to drink it into my stomach, folks.

McDonalds’ coffee isn’t much better and while it is predictable and represents a bastion of coffee that rises above mediocrity, I try to avoid Starbucks as much as possible as I’d prefer to support local and Canadian companies first.

Thank goodness for Hamilton’s burgeoning coffee culture.  It started out quietly with a small roastery in Dundas, Ontario.  Detour Coffee began sourcing and roasting quality beans in a local roastery, filling the Dundas Valley with the smell of roasted goodness.  Eventually, it opened a cafe in Dundas and distributed coffee to various restaurants/cafes in the area.

One of Detour’s first adopters was Hero Mobile Cafe, specializing in providing quality coffees on site for various events.  These folks have a propane-powered espresso machine and make a darn fine cup…

Up next are My Dog Joe and their sister cafe, The Mulberry St. Coffeehouse.  MDJ was my first bastion of comfort and my first regular “haunt” when I moved to Hamilton.  It was a fun, funky, casual and homey place where I could sit, write and enjoy a good cup of fair trade, properly roasted coffee along with REALLY GOOD home baked and produced goodies.  Yes, there is a dog named Joe and they have free wifi – however they are also jam-packed with students from McMaster University.  Mulberry St. Coffeehouse is now my regular haunt as it is closer to home and often not a crowded, they sell the same coffee as MDJ and since my weight loss, have my favourite menu item (vegan chili) regularly on the menu.

Red Hill Coffee Trade is next, adding to the blend of local companies that source beans, roast them and now brew them, both onsite for events AND in a cafe.  Their coffees are all fair trade and organic and they supply local restaurants, cafes and retail locations with their goods.  It was at their cafe location in the Hamilton Farmer’s Market that I met CG.

CG takes his coffee seriously.  He focuses on grinds, tamping, water temperature and pressure to ensure each cup is a great drink.  He’s also progressing in his mad barista skillz, learning how to make a cortado (my favourite espresso-based beverage) and is working on an ristretto (my second-favourite espresso-based beverage – a small powerful cup of caffiene akin to the groin kick of coffees, flavour and power-wise).  I thank CG for opening my eyes to what a good coffee should taste like and for beginning to teach me as to how to make a good cup.

CG is not perfect, however he does take constructive criticism well and is keen to ensure that all experiences at Red Hill’s location are quality.  It also helps that he is a real character and that he handles the shit and abuse that I and ME hand out quite well.

Given my recent love of cycling and love of Dundas, Ontario, another cafe was brought to my attention by MECafe Domestique is a place where cyclists are welcome and they brew up a mean cup of coffee, without intrusion from the crowds of Detour Coffee.  They treat their customers well and respect the substance that fuels their bodies.

CG has introduced me to a new person on the Hamilton coffee scene, a young lady who is opening a cafe eight blocks from my home.  She just worked Red Hill Coffee a week or so ago and impressed me with her barista skills, so I can’t wait until the Cannon Coffee Company opens.

Other places I go for caffiene fixes include The Brain (a bar that serves Detour Coffee in a 4 cup Bodum), Earth to Table Bread and Pizza Bar (home of the best burger in Hamilton and predictably decent coffee) and Cake and Loaf bakery.

So yes, my name is Myke H. and I’m a coffee addict and snob.  I’m while people think I could be a bit excessive about it, however given what I’ve given up in return for good health and a (hopefully) long life, I hope folks will understand.

“As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move…similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.” – Honore de Balzac (1799-1859)

awesomesauce at Earth to Table

A few years ago, the Chef Jeff Crump and Chef Bettina Schormann from the Ancaster Mill published a cookbook entitled Earth to Table which was part cook book, part autobiography and part slow food, organic, locavore manifesto.  Chef Crump has worked with greats such as Heston Blumenthal and Alice Walker and has adapted their respect for ingredients and eating seasonally.

This is represented clearly in Earth to Table, where they have organized the recipes based on the seasons and what foods are readily available during these seasons.  The cookbook was beautiful, well layed out and, even more importantly – the recipes were good and worked well for the home cook.

Just a little prior to this Bettina could be seen at a local farmer’s market, selling pastries that she was baking using these ideals, including pies that were made with what local fruit was fresh, available and good.  More often than not, she sold out before the day was even half over.  She also began selling artisanal breads, some of which used the heritage Red Fife varietal of wheat , which they were growing on their own plot of farm land.

As I said earlier, these people respect their ingredients!

It became clear that a more permanent outlet for these remarkable baked goods was needed and a location on Hamilton’s burgeoning Locke St. was secured.  Earth to Table (also known as Bread Bar) opened and quickly became a hot spot for diners.

How much do I like Earth to Table?  After my gastric bypass surgery last year, it was the first restaurant I went out for a dinner.  In fact, that dinner was their New Year’s Eve and I spent the New Year enjoying a fine meal with DH at the Bread Bar.  (I still have memories of the mac and cheese they served that evening and hope it’s brought back this winter!)

Earlier this summer, the chef de cuisine at the Bread Bar introduced “Fried Chicken Fridays”, where they served their riff on a traditional southern fried chicken dinner with a half chicken (perfectly cooked and drizzled in honey), buttermilk biscuit, coleslaw and hot sauce.

The first few times we went, the hot sauce was good, but uneven.  However recent times, it has been PERFECT.  Just the right amount of heat and you can taste the peppers it is made from.

Last Friday, after DH had a spa day in Ajax, The Parentals drove him back to Hamilton because Parental Unit 2 (aka Dad) wanted an Earth to Table cheeseburger (which, by the way is perfection on a buttered toasted brioche roll).  I reminded DH that it was indeed Fried Chicken Friday and gleefully spent the day wondering what I was going to have (the cheeseburger, no bun, with side salad).

Both Parental Unit 1 (Mom) and DH had the fried chicken, PU1 does not like hot sauce and gladly gave hers to me, which I deliriously dipped my burger in as I munched happily.  I was also excited as I had checked in on foursquare and became the Mayor of the Bread Bar, ousting my friend @thefuzzymethod.

Now one important thing to note here:  Chefs Crump and Schormann are both on twitter.  Chef Crump is quite active, using his twitter feed to engage other food lovers and chefs in discussions about slow food, seasonal eating as well as a method of furthering the cause of eating well.  The chef de cusine at Bread Bar is also on twitter as well.

Jeff Crump on Twitter
Bettina Schormann on Twitter
Manny at the Bread Bar

I tweeted Chef Crump that if he ever jars the hot sauce for sale, I would be the first customer.  Because like another famous hot sauce, I’d put that shit on everything.

Yesterday afternoon a tweet came through my feed with the following image:

I left work in the pouring rain, anticipating a particularly tasty dinner last night.  Went out to Locke St. and ran into @thefuzzymethod who was getting take out pizza from Earth to Table.  The jar was waiting for me and I happily claimed it, rushed home and had a lovely sauced chicken burger with local Gouda.

Thank you very much Chef Crump!  You and Earth to Table (and the sauce) are truly AWESOMESAUCE!

Other Restaurants operated by The Landmark Group:

The Cambridge Mill
Spencer’s at the Waterfront