Eating al fresco on Cook Street

Photo: Jesse at The Mean Bean   Credit: Rebecca Baugniet

If you’ve walked through the Cook Street village lately, you may have noticed a little more activity in the lot adjacent to Bubby Rose’s Bakery. What started with Red Fish Blue Fish’s satellite operation, 1 Fish 2 Fish, back in February, has grown to a cozy cluster of street carts.  A sign on the wall reads “The Food Court is Expanding”, and looking around I can tell that someone has a vision.

“You’re late”, the vendor at 1 Fish 2 Fish tells me, when I answer his question as to why I am scribbling notes in front of his neighbor’s cart. “We were up to eight earlier in the summer. There was a smoothie place, and a bubble tea cart…” I ask about Buna, the cart opposite his, which is closed this afternoon, but has a board up advertising Ethiopian coffee, falafel and baklava. (I can’t help but think that’s a lot of cuisines for one small space.) He’s not sure. “They closed for a family vacation. Maybe they’re just doing weekends now.”

I’ve already had lunch, but am curious about Caffe Fantastico’s latte, after reading about it here earlier this year. I take my mug out through the back door of the Village Food Court and find a little table under a tree from which I can observe the late lunch hour millings around their developing outdoor section. Sitting in the corner of the L-shaped lot that links Mackenzie St. to Cook St. it occurs to me that I haven’t spent nearly enough time out on a terrasse this summer. As a transplanted Montrealer, I have a deep appreciation for the outdoor dining and wining experience. From curbside cafés to little neighbourhood restaurants hiding a diminutive courtyard out back with twinkling lights in the trees, there isn’t a meal I wouldn’t rather eat outside, if the weather is right. I study my surroundings, and noticing the parking lines painted on the tarmac, consider that this parking lot-turned-patio has some twinkly terrasse potential.

This could be nice, I think. With a little work it could be really nice. And a little work is happening, slowly but surely. There are signs of construction on site, and the vendors report that while finishing the stairs is the top priority, there is also talk of a stage in one corner. James, who was manning the cart at 1 Fish 2 Fish, mentioned the need for a covered setting, and possible heat lamps to see the kiosks through the rainy months, although both he and Jesse (Jesse’s Grill) think they will close down from December to February. Permits to install some such structure are currently under negotiation between the property owner and the city.

The other Jesse I spoke with was on duty in the Mean Bean, Bubby Rose’s coffee outpost, which he says will be open year-round. If you’re stopping in for a bite at Bubby Rose’s you can still pay for your coffee with your food inside, but will then be redirected to the Mean Bean to get the coffee part of your order. Gaia Living Foods, a new cart promising raw, vegan and organic foods is slated to open October 1st.  Boasting a solid selection of high quality street fare and more imminent improvements to the setting, the kiosks of Cook St. are well worth a visit, and my guess is they will be even more so, once the reality catches up with the vision.

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Gary Hynes, a writer and photographer, founded EAT magazine in 1998 and is its editor and chief paperboy. He studied Electronic Music with Samuel Dolan at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Audio Recording Technology at ...

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