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City, Food

Coffee Therapy #2: Cafe Olimpico

Posted by Christy / August 29, 2006

Olimpico%20really%20small.jpgAll right, Midnight Poutine, I need to explain something to you RIGHT NOW. I'm an American. And not, "Hell YES I voted for Stephen Harper" American. More like, "Canada has a Prime Minister?" American. Beanie, not tuque. A-bowwwwwt, not a-boot.

And DRIP COFFEE, thanks. NOT espresso. Because that's what Americans drink. Cowboys. Militia men. Republicans. All the reasons you're proud to be... Queb-adian?

But since I AM an American, accidental ex-pat though I be, I was shocked to find that Vieille Europe, as highlighted in last Tuesday's Coffee Therapy, is not merely the best drip coffee in Montreal, but that it may be the only drip coffee in Montreal. Unless you get your coffee at Starbuck's, in which case you might want to ask yourself why you bother living in Montreal at all.

For this reason, Coffee Therapy now extends its vibrating arms to encompass ALL GREAT COFFEES OF MONTREAL, be they espresso, Turkish, frozen, or spiked. All we ask is that it creates nothing less than an orgasm of the heart, mind, and body. If you know of a great coffee, let us know so we can review it, snap its photograph, and send it the love it so richly deserves.

All of this to explain why today our review takes us to Cafe Olimpico, otherwise known as Open da Night, for a mutherluvvin cappuccino. I didn't even know how to spell "cappuccino." I am so. damn. American.

Cafe Olimpico was the obvious place to start. A local institution, it's been long-heralded for its coffee, bagel-proximity, and bizarre "Good Old Boys Club" atmosphere, which makes you feel like hitting strangers with pool cues.

The cappuccino was good. I mean, it was fine. The roast was woody and created a lingering finish in the mouth; milk-sweet, but not exciting. My genitals did not twitch. My understanding of Joyce remains imprecise, at best.

But it's important to recognize that, unlike the coffee of certain hippie-oriented, Plateau-based, sandwich-making institutions which-shall-remain-nameless, it did not taste exactly like fresh cigarette butts. And if you need a comparison in order to appreciate merely good coffee again, (not to mention have a really really good sandwich), I suggest puzzling it out and going there instead. Because that un-named place serves coffee which is, at least, in its own way, extraordinary. And I don't think extraordinary is too much to ask for my $2.25.

Or maybe that's just my sense-of-entitlement talking. Americans are like that, you know.

(For the ignorant, or any other Americans, Olimpico is located at 124 St-Viateur. 514-495-0746)



Dave / August 29, 2006 at 11:00 pm
As much as I really like the coffee at Cafe Olimpico, I generally hate about 70% of the people that drink there. I pass by Olimpico every morning on foot, and holy fuck am I tired of yuppies double parking their SUV's out front on St Viateur so they can run in and buy their coffee. Seriously, the guys in their garbage truck can find a parking spot almost every morning on Waverly to go in and enjoy their coffee. Why can't you park your SUV legally somewhere?
Christy / August 30, 2006 at 08:39 am
At least the worst of the Yuppie Carnage considerately sequesters itself on Laurier. Small blessings.
mike / August 30, 2006 at 02:42 pm
i really like olimpico in a large part because of the people. i don't really notice much of the yuppy element. rather i find a nice sense of community with all sorts of different types of people. plus the coffe is real good.
Christy / August 30, 2006 at 04:21 pm
There's nothing bad you can say about the coffee, that's for sure. And once you've got the coffee matter tucked away, really, can't we all just get along?
former montrealer / August 30, 2006 at 05:54 pm
not sure if i'm allowed to lob my opinions in from out of province, but here goes.

i do like olimpico. and it's coffee. i also like 'bar social', 'euro deli' and 'caffe italia'. but the best lattes & cappucinos i had in montreal, hands down, were at a place that was definitely much less hipster-douchebag/old school ethnic. i nominate 'caffe artjava', on mont-royal, just east of st. hubert. this has nothing to do with the latte art [however cute-sy], and everything to do with the preposterous velvety goodness of their wares. in the same ballpark is 'toi, moi & cafe'. similarly legit.

to add one to that place you didn't name, i like pretty much everything else about this place...but frankly, the coffee at 'chez jose' is spectacularly bad. same goes for the celebration of blandness they serve at 'senzala'.

my two cents.
Christy / August 30, 2006 at 06:34 pm
It's funny; I never even thought to order coffee at Chez Jose. I'm tempted now.

One of the reasons I hesitate to name SAID PLACE is because they ARE so damn lovable, if only for the food--to say nothing of the ethos. But I have to ask... am I the only one who thinks their service is the pits?

P.S. Caffe Artjava has come up in a few coffee discussions off-MP. But since you brought it up, it'll be next on the list.
Dennis Ubaum / August 30, 2006 at 11:15 pm
You know, for all the overtures I've heard about Olimpico, and the number of times I've bought my coffee there, I can only bring myself to give it a middle-of-the-road "meh".

Sure, company and ambiance are important to the enjoyment of yer black meat, but why are you ordering it? For the effin' coffee, right? Fuck all those SVUs and penny loafers. Stop worrying about them and concentrate on your drink, son!

Me, I want two things from my cup of coffee: I want it strong and black enough to stand on and I want it hot as the fires of damnation. Olimpico, though serving up some quick and witty service from Ford Cooper, doles out its coffee slightly weak (albeit unyieldingly tasty) and a lukewarm-to-tepid temp. It's like two gulps and gone. I have to hold it in my armpit to keep it warm, even in the summer! wtf, yo.

When I'm cruising Mile End, looking for caffeine-fueled mayhem, I walk right past it Olimpico. I'll hit up Club Social if for no other reason than temperature. The VUSs don't help.

Call me a Concordia student, but for my $2, Java U in the Hall building makes the best espresso allongé I've had in a while; black enough to pave your driveway with and (most of the times) it'll peel yer tastebuds in a blistery mess. Good times!
Christy / August 31, 2006 at 08:42 am
Actually, you're not the first to mention Java U, although the fratty name alone is kind of a turn-off. Then again, if sources can be believed, eventually I'm gonna have to sack up and hit Crescent. These are the sacrifices we make for the truth.

P.S. I'm glad you wrote, because I wasn't certain if it was simply my choice of cappuccino over espresso (cappuccino appeared to be the house specialty) was the reason it seemed so blah.
Dennis Ubaum / August 31, 2006 at 09:29 am
Christy... not Crescent... For the love of gawd and all things wholly, not Crescent! No sacrifice is worth getting grinded by Eurotrash in a overpriced café that sells Ferrari chocolate bars. Imagine this is your mom talking; "Honey, that street is full of horrible things. Please stay away." The Java U I was talking about is in the Hall building at Concordia. It's the borg-looking one on Maisonneuve, second floor. Follow your nose.

You're right, the fratty name is a wee bit fratty, but shit like that doesn't really float in Canada. There's only, like, two schools that have frats or sororities and none of us give them much attention. That is, until they are running down the street in with condom for a hat and "Dr. Broom" looming. That shit harkens mad respeck.

My point being, the name hasn't affected my coffee experiences there. And they are not perfect. Sometimes, they give me a coffee-flavoured puddle. But, it's one of the better ones.
Christy / August 31, 2006 at 01:30 pm
I know, I know, but I have it on good authority that Mordecai Richler used to hang in some cafe on Crescent--probably hiding from the francophones. And, apparently, they serve good coffee. So for the sake of culture and art, (if not blatent racism), it must be done.

Have you seen the "California Pizza" place they have down there? I mean, WHO GOES TO CALIFORNIA FOR THE PIZZA? That's when you know you're walking among the damned.
Lisa / August 31, 2006 at 09:13 pm
the cafe mordechai richler frequented is closed now. via crescent does have a decent cappucino and even a decent filter coffee as well as this amazing chocolate palmier thing that is not dipped in chocolate but actually has chocolate pastry that takes almost like pudding...
(california pizza is the least sleazy restaurant on crescent - i know so much because crescent has paid my tuition and rent for the past year and a half)
Dennis übaum / August 31, 2006 at 10:25 pm
I think the place MR was said to have hung out is called 'the Winnie' or Winston Churchill's (no frenchies there, for sure. It's like us têtes carrés swilling at 'De Gaulle's Maison des Vins'). I have heard that that is the most respectable place on that skid mark we call Crescent. Though I haven't heard anything about the coffee there, the English are known for their beverages. You got nothing to lose, right? (just make sure you're not wearing stilletoes or gucci anything or you'll get jumped and humped RIGHT THERE!)

You know, you've planted a seed (...bean?) in my head with all this 'the best coffee' business. In between looking for a tailor to fix some zippers and eating effin' yummy Indian food in Park Ex today, I dragged my lagging ass into Cafe Union (corner Waverly/Jean Talon).

Café Union has no seating, just a take out counter and a pile of way expensive espresso machines. I was buying a pound of coffee for my place and didn't know what to choose. I make some inquiries and what does the (really loud but mega-friendly) lady do? She pours me an espresso just to taste. For free. Free. That equals 'the awesomes' eventhough there was only one.

It was so dark and thick, it was creamy without any milk. Nice and hot, I wanted to snuggle with it. I drank it sans anything and it was perfectly textured with a velvety finish. It was richly bitter without making my jaw hurt. My only complaint was that it wasn't big enough. But the little bastard was free! So what what am I bitching about? After getting some coaching and a smelling/learning session I bought $10 worth of beans and then lady yelled "OH YEAH!" at me.

I've had a couple capuccinos from Union before and it's a good one; bigger than most, creamy goodness, steaming hot. I can't say it made my genitals twitch (Christy, where ARE you getting your coffee?? is that a girl thing?) but it was our staple stimulant whilst working physical labour nobody ever complained. In fact, I think we finished two days ahead of schedule. Fuck, coffee is wicked...

So, in conclusion, I will put forth that the coffee at Café Union is more than well worth your $2 or whatever it is, I din't pay. It's a bracing jorum of black meat strong enough to punch you in the head and then warmly nuzzle into your cranium. Just don't plan to sit down. Buy it and get the fuck out. Pick up some beans, get yelled at, and buy a $800 machine while you're there. Buy me one, too.

ps. I heard pizza was invented in California. I had a piece when I was in Stockton that was pretty good. A kid in the parking lot told me that. Pine nuts? Whoa. It's Miller time. I mean, it's Starbucks time.
J Mac / September 1, 2006 at 12:29 am
I'm pretty sure Mordecai spent a lot of time at Ziggy's, actually, which is still open. Am I wrong? I might be wrong.
Christy / September 4, 2006 at 08:16 am
Dennis, if there's any justice, the history books will record the invention of pizza as taking place at Le Grec, in Baie-Jolie, the darkest and wildest backwater of the dark, wild backwater that is Trois-Riviere. If California added anything to the tradition of pizza, it was probably roasted chicken and ranch dressing--which is anathema, even if it's tasty.

Anyway, thanks for your thorough review of Cafe Union. You've both shown me up and rendered me irrelevent, but I'll wait until the internet wipes its memory clean and go review it myself, on your say-so. The nice thing about the internet is that it makes us all more instantly forgettable than ever before. We're going to speed up faster and faster until we're stuck in endlessly repeating the same moments over and over, like Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day.
Christy / September 4, 2006 at 08:18 am
Lisa, your description of that pastry is going to haunt me.
Isabelle / September 12, 2006 at 12:40 pm
. . . speaking of Java U (concordia Hall building). . . The cool tattooed dude who used to work there made the damn BEST ESPRESSO in my university days. His name is Vahé and I was wondering if he still is in Montréal. Anyone know him? He rides a motorcycle and I believe he lives in the Plateau. Dude, open up your own espresso joint and use the talent you have for hiring cool staff. Peace. . .going to go get an espresso now.
Laurance Chediac / July 6, 2008 at 06:25 pm
Why don`t you try `le Zigoto`café on du Parc ave. corner of Bernard. This is a really charming place which serves delicious food at fair prices and organic fairtrade delicious lattés at $2.75 tx in!!! The coffee is the best I have tasted in the city and they also have live local musicians who play there every few weeks. A great neighbourhood coffee shop!
Laurance Chediac / July 6, 2008 at 06:25 pm
Why don`t you try `le Zigoto`café on du Parc ave. corner of Bernard. This is a really charming place which serves delicious food at fair prices and organic fairtrade delicious lattés at $2.75 tx in!!! The coffee is the best I have tasted in the city and they also have live local musicians who play there every few weeks. A great neighbourhood coffee shop!
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