Last year, the brains behind Wilf & Ada’s scratch diner on Bank Street jumped at the opportunity to open a second place — a neighbouring business had moved out and the space seemed perfect for a coffee and sandwich shop. The sort of place, diner co-owner Jessie Duffy tells me, she would have liked to hang out in when she was a student. Not on Bank Street, but tucked behind it, on Arlington Avenue. At number five.
You might think a café on a quiet side street would be a gamble. But the formidable team of Duffy, chef Dominic Paul and Ottawa restaurateur Ion Aimers already had an endearing main street space in Wilf & Ada’s, with an enduring fan base, so their second baby garnered instant attention — so much so that’s it’s not easy to find a seat. Its popularity is compounded by students (the ones Duffy was hoping to attract) who park themselves with laptop and a mug of (the excellent) coffee (beans from Happy Goat) for hours, grinding out homework.
So I over-ordered to compensate. A bowl of soup, a sandwich, a flat white and a square.
Sandwiches come with a dose of imagination. How does a roasted sweet potato sandwich sound? The orange disks were topped with a Sri Lankan coconut sambal (grated coconut with some chilli power) and moistened with a curried yogurt. Or you could go less out-there with a ‘classic’ ham and cheese, though this one is made with Berkshire pork, artisanal cheese, house-made mustard and first class chewy buns.
The roasted garlic soup with a slick of spiced oil, and the crunch of scallions had a mellow rounded flavour, perfect for a day after spring flurries. And the square? A Nanaimo bar, neatly layered, tasting of quality chocolate. It was the sort of square that got oozier as it sat; the crumbs and chocolate goo lingered on my fingers for hours. It was a good afternoon.
The Arlington Five team have created an inviting space. Remove the laptops and cell phones and state of the art espresso machine, and this could be a coffee house from my university days: high-ceilinged and bricked, filled in with books, magazines, local art, a community board and curious knick knacks… It is beguilingly retro. And thoroughly modern. My university café? I think it served Nescafé.