Capital Espresso is a pleasant sight on the gloomy Saturday morning when my friend and I decide to meet early to check out what Parkdale's newest cafe has to offer. Just opened in the former Vice Magazine office on the corner of Queen and Dunn, the all-glass exterior reveals a warm, welcoming interior, and as we enter from the rainy outdoors, we're greeted by the uplifting scent of coffee and freshly baked muffins.
For fellow Parkdalians and coffee shop dwellers, there may be some familiar faces behind the bar at Capital. Owners Damien, Alex and Maggie were until recently tending to the caffeine deprived at Blondie's down the street, renting the bar as a coffee shop by day. Regardless of the telltale espresso machine, Blondie's dark bar and black furniture had an appearance that was distinctively more night club than cafe, and co-owner Damien explains that the trio fell in love with the old Vice space and decided it was time to open a place of their own.
Capital's interior is reasonably large and open, but the exposed brick, wood floors and big couch in the front make it feel cozy. A row of blonde wood tables line one side of the room, and a few stools allow for some bar seating in front of the small kitchen set-up from which they prepare their fresh-daily snacks. The cafe might be professional in appearance, but something about the atmosphere makes it feel sort of like someone's living room as neighbourhood regulars perch in the dormer windows and cozy up in corners with their coffees, books and laptops.
The drink menu offers all your regular espresso drinks, as well as French press, loose-leaf teas and Italian sodas, and though the food menu alludes only to unidentified muffins and cookies, I get the feeling that customers are surprised daily with whatever interesting treats the baker decides to prepare.
My friend and I start by ordering an espresso ($2.25) and a cappuccino ($3.25) and it becomes immediately obvious that Damien is very much at home in front of an espresso machine. With him and Alex having acquired over ten years of barista experience, including stints at some of the city's favourite espresso bars - Te Aro, Dark Horse and Mercury to name a few - it's safe to say these guys know their coffee, and are very passionate about what they do.
After grinding the five-bean blend from Origins Coffee Company, an artisan roastery in Granville Island, the La Marzocco espresso machine is put to work, and moments later out comes my single espresso shot. I quickly make my way over to the counter where I drop a spoonful of raw sugar onto the espresso and watch with pleasure as the sugar hovers on top of the thick crema for awhile before slowly sinking into the espresso, which proves to taste as delicious as it looks.
The cappuccino then appears on the bar lovingly decorated with a leaf pattern, the milk perfectly frothed. These coffees disappear extremely quickly, and we also order a couple of americanos ($2.50) to enjoy with our baked goods.
At so early an hour, not much has emerged from the oven, but a couple cooling racks on the counter hold fresh, still-warm blueberry bran and banana chocolate chip muffins. Co-owner Maggie, a Cordon Bleu Paris-trained pastry chef, uses all her own recipes for the baked goods, and today in her absence Alex is in the kitchen following the instructions for her rustic muffins.
I have some serious nostalgia for banana chocolate chip muffins; Not only were they one of my mom's specialties, they were also the first thing I ever baked on my own as a kid. There's nothing more comforting than food that brings back good childhood memories, and these large, moist muffins decorated with a sprinkling of chocolate chips are just how I hoped they would be.
Looking to grab a coffee and sample more of the baked goods, I stop by Capital a couple days later at a more appropriate hour to discover a counter full of delectable looking sweets. Sadly I'm without my butter tart-loving photographer when I discover three different kinds of butter tarts (all $2.50). The little cups come with classic plain filling, or prepared with the addition of walnuts or banana. I can't resist the banana, a tart with perfect pastry crust, sweet gooey filling, and the added flavour of a slice of banana baked into the middle.
I find myself headed home with a bag that also includes a dense vegan peanut butter chocolate chip cookie ($2), a warm, spicy pear and ginger muffin complete with chunks of pear throughout and a light glaze on top, and a hearty carrot coconut muffin (both $2.50). I leave convinced that Parkdale's bakery-deprived core finally has what I've been hoping for for a long time, a coffee shop that not only offers great coffee, but also lots of homemade treats.
On a corner currently housing a funeral home and a recently closed-down Blockbuster, I can't think of a more cheerful addition than Capital Espresso. In my humble opinion, Parkdale is made better and better with each new addition to the growing collection of shops, cafes and restaurants, and this spot is no exception. With its welcoming atmosphere, friendly staff and expertly prepared coffee and baked goods, Capital is sure to become a neighbourhood staple.
Writing by Meaghan Binstock. Photos by Taralyn Marshall.