Sadly Closed! It was a unique place!
8 Stars. AUGUST 10, 2007.
BOWTIES & BAGELS CAFE, 204-388 PORTAGE AVE
BOYD MEDICAL BUILDING
Breakfast Special – $4.95 with coffee. Free refills.
I was totally taken aback with this place.
It’s another in (what I presume will be) a long string of cafe’s in buildings with little to no advertising on the street. When you find it, I recommend taking the stairs to the second floor. The staircase is completely unlike the rest of the building; it’s old and has character. I’m not sure how much of the staircase is original but I’m going to say most of it. The stone stairs are all worn down to a smooth curve, evidencing decades of use prior to the elevators being installed. We imagined a generation of fitter people than us taking the stairs, congregating by the steel grating and talking about wheat prices (Or whatever they used to talk about before elevators made small talk a quiet, awkward thing). An ancient mail chute is to your right soon as you enter the stairwell from the first floor. The musty smell of it alone is enough to make you appreciate its age.
The cafe itself is indicated by a (Styrofoam!) hanging sign at the top of the doorway; else you might pass it by as you would a broom closet. Walking through the door strikes you with one thought… holy crap is this tiny! Right away my eyes were drawn to a sizable chunk of the room that was barricaded off by desks and a computer acting as a mini-office. The counter top is wall-to-wall but to sit at one of the stools is to almost block off passage to the tables.
The cafe has a few decent paintings on the wall, one of some delectable-looking seals that I could not help but feel the urge to club. The home kitchen/diner atmosphere is quite pleasant. It was clean, but you could tell that it was well-used. Kitsch factor was low, but maybe if it doesn’t change at all, in 10 years it will be total kitsch.
The cafe is owned and wholly operated by a wonderful woman named Donna, of whom one of the reviewers commented that they wanted her to be their surrogate Grandma. It was speculated that Donna might not be old enough for that; then we envisioned how insulting it would be to present such a idea. Undeniably, the maternal feeling in the cafe was palpable (without even getting the food yet!). Donna made sure we were so comfy and taken care of that I half expected to receive a fluffed up pillow and a hot facecloth for afterwards. It’s not that there were so few customers that we could get special attention, it’s just that she’s wonderful.
As goes the cook, so goes the food. Cooked on an actual house stove and not a grill, our breakfasts were by far the best we’d had yet, let alone reviewed. Taking a lesson from past experience, I ordered the multi-grain bread and it was delicious. The eggs were perfect all around, and here’s the best part for this reviewer… the potatoes were spectacular. Greased (but not too greasy) chunks of actual potato were just seeping deliciousness. They had a consistency that’s, well, consistent with how potatoes should be. The 3 pieces of bacon hovered delightfully between scrunched up and stretched out, eliminating the need this week to debate which is better.
The fatal flaw in this place is the exclusivity. I had no idea it existed until Leif suggested it. The medical building supplies a decent amount of clientèle I imagine (enough to keep it open for the past 4 years at least), and there were a few regulars that help keep it alive by buying all the coffee they can sip. Other than that, business in the cafe is pretty slow, especially in the summer. Donna mentioned she is hopeful for when the Hydro building opens next door (the windows actually look onto the building site). Reportedly, the new building is not including a food service so as to encourage people to patronize local businesses. I imagine there will be plenty of Thai delivery coming up to the building, but those who make it next door will want to spread the word.
Bonus: upon receipt of the check, a business card with a free coffee coupon written on it was presented to each of us. Incentive!
All in all, if you’re a fan of diner breakfasts you should most certainly check this place out. Given enough business, Donna can move into a bigger location and actually have a separate room for her office! Bring your friends and their friends and pack the place!