"This is our special starving artist blend," says Tobias Wang with a gigantic grin. "It's the strongest coffee I've ever had! It's the strongest coffee anyone's ever had!" One of the owners of the new Bloor and Lansdowne café/bar/waffle place, Tobias hands me the package of grind and tells Alyssa and me to smell it. "Doesn't that smell strong!?" It does. I ask if this is what he used to make our iced Americanos, and his smiling face adopts the slightest look of concern. "No, we don't really use that blend. It makes you shake."
Alyssa and I take our (mellower) iced coffees to the back patio. The outdoor space is shaded from the sun and most signs of industry save for a sliver of factory visible through a crack in the awning. This sliver serves as a reminder of where we are: Paton and Lansdowne. Factories comprise the (once) desolate walk north of Lansdowne subway station. When Alyssa lived in the area (and when I was crashing on her couch for months on end) we made the walk daily and it was so boring. Tobias seems all too familiar with this walk. "It was terrible," he says. "The whole time you're like 'when am I going to be home?'"
Tobias and his business partner, Bryan Jackson, were looking for an office space for just one day when they came across this place. They had worked in the area before, and found the coffee options there lacking. "We would go out to grab a coffee and end up at Bloor and Ossington," says Tobias. Initially the plan was to have a workspace, with an espresso machine in the corner. But the place had such potential that Starving Artist turned into a bigger venture.
Most of that venture translates into waffles of various kinds. They serve desert waffles, brunch waffles, mini waffles, mini burgers on mini waffles and waffle shaped experiments (i.e. waffle shaped rice with green curry chicken). "The waffle is the template," says Tobias. Right on. I go for the waffle benny ($9) and Alyssa chooses the Starving 4 Waffles special: four mini waffles with butter maple syrup ($8).
Our plates arrive to the covered patio with greens and fruit salad - top-notch fruit salad that includes cranberries! The waffles are light and fluffy and go well with the rich Hollandaise and caramelized bacon. Caramelized bacon! Alyssa polishes off her top, syrup-drenched waffle and asks for more maple. Tobias brings some in a little cup and notes that in the future, he thinks he'll always provide customers with their own cup of syrup. "It gives the people more fun," he says. Alyssa has tons of fun with her supply. She soaks all the waffles and can barely finish them.
The outdoor patio is so comfortable that Alyssa and I stick around long after we're done our breakfast. While enjoying our second Americano, plastic bottles and empty milk bags begin to fall onto the canopy at a rate of about one item per minute. They seem to be coming from the apartment above. We can't see anything, but we hear a child's voice and speculate as to what's going on. Tobias and Bryan come outside to join us and we tell them about the falling recycled material. We laugh. They laugh. They've both gotten to know the kid, and tell us how cute and smart he is, like he's a favourite nephew that is always doing hysterical things like throwing recycling on people. It's endearing.
The four of us stay out in the sun talking about art and freelancing and the guys' plans for Starving Artist. They want live music, late Fridays and a liquor license (for which the wheels are already in motion). They want to put art out on their fence by the sidewalk, improve that walk from Lansdowne station for good. It's inspiring. "The whole point of Starving Artist is an artistic hub," says Tobias, "a network, you know what I mean?"
Photos by Alyssa Bistonath