A close friend of mine once spent most of his time and even more of his money trying to win over the office ice queen, a tall blonde named Annette whose head was as empty as her brassiere was full. Presents, cards & little favors, he punched all the spots on his sucker card trying to win her affections and after a series of chaste dates had gotten absolutely nowhere. It finally ended at the office Christmas party when he found her in the stairwell frantically exchanging DNA with the copier repairman. My friend was crushed and Annette’s explanation didn’t do anything to ease the sting: “His name is Vincent; he has great arms AND a Mustang! I thought you wanted me to be happy?” For him that was the end of the office party and he left, miserable, priapic and bound for home thinking it was the end of his night too. But then a funny thing happened to remind him of a lesson we all forget from time to time: sometimes the things we want most have been right here all along. Her name was Brenda and she lived two doors down. Now and again they had run into each other in the laundry room but until this moment, when they arrived home at the same time and her smile cut through his misery and loneliness, he’d never really seen her. Never noticed the twinkle in her blue eyes, the way she wrinkled her little nose when she laughed, or the curve of her...well, curves. They talked until they didn’t need to anymore and my friend disappeared off the face of the earth for a while. Once he’d come back down from the clouds he invited me out for breakfast at Cup of Joe to tell me the story, to brag more than was strictly necessary and finally, to ask for a favor.
Cup of Joe is on the bottom floor of Parliament Mews at the corner of Simcoe & Menzies streets and you would be forgiven for thinking, “Forget breakfast that looks like a nice dark place to be stabbed.” Once you get down there you see it’s actually a nice location, dark, yes, but without the armed marauders supplied by your imagination. The restaurant itself is larger than you may expect but has a relatively low ceiling and little natural light so it starts to feel cramped when full. On that day we had the place almost to ourselves and as soon as we sat down the waitress, who’s been working there as long as I’ve been going and probably much longer brought us menus and took our coffee order. I never know what to have at Cup of Joe, owing partially to my own indecision and mostly to their frustratingly “clever” menus – do I want the “DiFranco Benny” or the “Hendrix Burger”? How should I know? I hate novelty menus. Having to ask for “Frank Zappa’s Penis” might be funny the first time you want a hot dog but by the third time you’re starting to second guess your own intentions. Back in Revelstoke at the Ol’ Frontier Restaurant I would grit my teeth in impotent rage every time I wanted the spicy chicken burger because no one on staff seemed to know what was on the menu past its name, so if you didn’t order the “Hoot & Holler” all you’d be having for dinner was a puzzled look. The tenured waitress at Cup of Joe is infinitely better informed so when I ordered my vegetarian hash topped with feta cheese I was able to call it that rather than “Ella Fitzgerald’s Patio Set, Winter 1967”.
Cup of Joe has made an interesting choice in decoration – they allow their customers to scrawl names, comments or pithy slogans all over the walls with felt-tip marker and then every couple years they re-paint & provide a fresh canvas. Most of what’s up there is either bland (Marc & Angie 4-EVA!) or risibly inane (Don’t Believe Everything You Think) but it’s a unique look; less polished than John’s Place but still interesting even if it can, at times, feel like you’re in a new age kindergarten. When the restaurant is busy you can expect to wait a while for your food but that day, with only a handful of customers, it didn’t take long at all and we tucked in.
A hash is not a complicated dish; essentially you toss a lot of things into a pile, add cheese and try not to set it on fire. Simple, yes, but some restaurants still manage to produce a dish that tastes only of grease and looks like it’s been worked over with a flaming baseball bat. This particular hash, with tomatoes, broccoli, onions, green peppers & hash browns, wasn’t one of those - the vegetables were properly cooked and there was just enough cheddar cheese to give everything a wonderful oily glow. The feta topping isn’t on the menu but I’m quite happy pay to pay extra – God gave us feta cheese for one reason: he wants us to be happy. I see no reason to question His wisdom, particularly since this is the same reason he had Julianne Moore cast in The End of the Affair. On a subsequent visit I tried the meat hash and though good it’s a bit too much, even for an enthusiastic carnivore like me. The vegetarian option is lighter but unless you’re a big eater you’ll still be bringing some home with you.
I live less than five minutes walk from Cup of Joe and yet always used to forget it was there. The food isn’t Blue Fox-good but it’s a long way from bad and the service is friendly enough but it never used to stick in my mind. That’s changed now, although not because of anything they’ve done but because out of all my favorite breakfast haunts, the Blue Fox, John’s Place & Cabin 12, Cup of Joe is the only one where a close friend has asked me how to fake his own death. Bubbly little Brenda had turned out to be as wild as a tigress and madder than a hatter. It started slowly, with fingernail-width furrows in his back and her gently moaning his name then progressed to her brandishing kitchen knives and screaming a very different name when he went a day without calling. After three weeks (Yes, three weeks. Yes, I know) of wanton carnality and an ever present threat of personal injury my friend had begun to become mentally unseated and very, very tired. He wanted out, and he wanted my help. Being a true friend I thought it prudent to take several minutes in which to laugh at his predicament and once that was finished told him to just call it off. The haunted look in his eyes worried me and after I had a look at the escape plan he’d mapped out on his napkin: “Fake car crash – body?? MANATEE! = New Mexico?” I realized exactly how desperate he was. Everything worked out in the end, I helped him move across town, then again a month later when she found him but now he’s safe and the night sweats have stopped. He says he’s sworn off sex and relationships for the time being but I’ve got that napkin framed on my desk, just in case. That reminds me, I should really go back to Cup of Joe one of these days.
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Website for Cup of Joe Cafe