Cafe Unwind sits tucked away in a quiet residential section of Kensington Market on the corner of Wales and Leonard Avenue. I was initially quite sceptical about the awkward location and decided they were really going to have to impress me to make up being out of the way. After a couple visits to Cafe Unwind though, I realized that a two minute walk (if that) from Bellevue Square park is not actually that out of the way and getting away from the obscenely crowded summer streets and into a quiet residential area is actually charming.
Outside, the bright yellow facade that was once home to La Tortilleria remains while everything else about the shop has been redone leaving no sign of its predecessor. Wood crates are propped up beside tables making for a quiet street patio while inside framed black and whites of old Parisian cafes hang on the pale blue walls. The shop is owned by a perky and heavily accented Australian, Anna, who runs the front of the shop, and her business partner, Libin, who does all the cooking in the back kitchen.
Anna explained to me that both of them worked at other restaurants downtown before deciding to open their own place. Along with regular service, they have been keeping busy since their opening with an ever growing amount of catering orders.
On my first visit, I ordered a small soy latte ($3.10) and a small bean salad ($3.50) and settled in with a book. The cafe is quite small with only a handful of unique but somewhat uncomfortable seats lining the windows; I quickly discovered it's not the kind of cafe that doubles as a library/writers office like the similarly styled cafe Pamenar at the other end of the market.
My soy latte had a smooth, thick layer of creamy foam on top, just how I like it. The bean salad was probably the best I've ever had. The mixture of beans, including chickpeas, kidney and flava beans, are lightly tossed in an inexplicably creamy yet savoury secret dressing that Libin, the master behind this creation, won't even share with Anna. While I didn't get the recipe, I was assured that the it contains no animal products so vegans can dig in without worry.
I came back a few days later to try out the chicken, avocado, tomato and garlic Havarti sandwich with a side of beet and mango salad ($9.95 combo) and a classic Americano ($2.24). Their coffee is a blend of Ethiopian and Peruvian beans all locally roasted, fair trade, sustainable and organic from the Fresh Coffee Network. The Americano was on the lighter side but I rarely find coffee on this side of the Atlantic that I deem strong enough for my liking.
The sandwich came on toasted Italian bread filled with juicy, tender pieces of chicken, thick slices of avocado and mixed greens all under a smothering piece of melted garlic Havarti. Everything in the sandwich came together perfectly and was simply delicious. The salad was similarly scrumptious with hefty chunks of beets and mangoes in a light dressing sprinkled with goats cheese.
Just steps away from Toronto Western Hospital, I saw doctors and nurses both times I was in the cafe. They aren't allowed to advertise inside the hospital, but Anna hopes that word of mouth will bring more foot traffic to their residential location. All their food has a rustic, homestyle inspiration with salads and fresh pastries changing daily. Large, fluffy muffins sit on the counter still in the trays in the morning; it's hard to get any fresher than that. I was at first weary of this oddly placed shop in an area already saturated in cafes, but the quality of their food and coffee, along with the peace and quiet of a residential street so close to noisy Kensington Market, made me change my mind.
Open Monday 8-3pm, Tuesday-Sunday 8-5.30pm
Vegetarian sandwiches and salads, soy drinks. Vegan salads and sometimes
Writing and photos by Kaela Greenstien