Food and Restaurants 3008 Views by Shawna Wagman

Ottawa gets new coffee bistro near Little Italy

For the most part, I applaud the extra attention being paid to coffee these days — not just in terms of better quality, freshness, and justice (fair trade etc.) but also in recognizing the importance of the rituals that surround its consumption. The experience can be just as important as the beverage itself. As the coffee connoisseur market grows, however, I am growing weary of the potential for a busload of barista ‘tude. I’ll never forget ordering an Americano (espresso plus hot water) at a trendy Toronto café and the sulky staff member looking me in the eye and simply refusing to make it. I had broken some unspoken coffee code. The experience left me feeling burned.

Thankfully there is none of that nonesense behind the bar at Le Michel-Ange, a cool new artsy coffeehouse on an industrial block between Little Italy and Hintonburg. Modesty, however, might be another matter. “We have the best coffee in town, eh?” says owner Louise Rousseau as she bids farewell to a pair of customers on their way out the door.

Rousseau’s unique space is part of a roast-and-sip boomlet in this city — several of our coffee roaster cafés are tucked away in quirky locales, including refurbished garages and old diners. Driving along Laurel Street, I spotted the painted garage door with a sign featuring a cherubic little devil holding a kayak paddle. Inside, my eyes were immediately drawn to the giant photographs behind which huge roasting equipment creates an impressive backdrop to the cozy (as far as warehouses go) caffeine oasis featuring a sofa, an old-fashioned piano, and a handful of tables and chairs upholstered with burlap coffee sacks.

After a failed search to find a suitable  location in Aylmer, where Louise lives, she was invited to pair up with established local coffee roaster Henry Assad, who has occupied the space on Laurel for the last two years. “We want to try to make it a destination,” says Rousseau.

But like every cup of coffee, there is a hint of bitterness to this story. A couple of years ago, Louise and her brother Michel began working on a plan to fulfill their dream of opening a coffeeshop-bistro together. In August 2010 he drowned in a kayak accident on the St. Lawrence River. The kayak itself has become a fixture in the café, a tribute to the memory of Michel (“the angel,” hence the name) for whom the idea of owning a café represented “a way of living” rather than a business opportunity. More than a place for the new generation of coffee snobs, Louise has created an inspiring space with down-to-earth atmosphere where everyone can feel welcome and treated to a good cup of coffee.

At lunchtime, she sells sandwiches from the nearby DiRienzo’s and a few little locally made sweets. She hosts monthly events at the café as well. In October there was a week of free coffee workshops and barista training with a German barista champ, as well as film screenings, comedy nights, and live music. “Our clients are interested. They want to try new things. They want to learn.”

Le Michel-Ange Café-Warehouse-Roasting, 35 Laurel St., 613-601-4614.

Hours: Monday, 7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 6:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

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