Let’s be honest: coffee is cool. Do you know what’s even cooler? Posting pictures of coffee on the internet. With the advent of Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, the food scene in general has become a worldwide obsession. Many of us can’t resist taking pictures of our food before we actually taste it (guilty as charged). Just the other day, we were having lunch together and we witnessed a woman shamelessly take various shots of what seemed to be a sliced avocado and three cherry tomatoes. It was strange, to say the least…
There has been a recent trend of minimalist and picture friendly cafes across the city. We think this is because many cafes have benefitted (or are benefitting) from the free exposure created by social media. Don’t get us wrong, we are not saying that we don’t support exposure through social medial (after all this is a coffee blog) but last Saturday, we visited a spot which represents the complete opposite of this: Enter Ciociaro Sports Bar & Grill; a refreshing reminder of a time when people actually ate their food and socialized with each other.
If truth be told, this was not the first time we visited this St-Leonard staple. Having spent a good part of our youth in the East-End, we are certainly no strangers to the area. Back then, you could hear the sound of Golf GTI’s racing Civics up and down Langelier Boulevard. Young teens wore Kappa track suits and everyone made sure to tell you they were Italian…bro. These days, our jobs and busy lifestyles don’t allow us to spend as much time in the old neighborhood as we used to. However, this recent visit reminded us of how much we missed it.
Over the years, Ciociaro has changed from a simple cafe catering mostly to older men to a family friendly cafe-sports-bar offering a vast menu of Italian staples. For lunch, Joey ordered a steak sub with a house salad. The sandwich was flavourful and had a nice spicy kick. David, on the other hand, went with a lighter option and decided on a chicken salad topped with fresh bocconcini, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It was hearty, properly seasoned and not too oily. If you are visiting Ciociaro for lunch or simply feel like having an indulgent snack, we strongly recommend the “zango”; a fried donut with caramel and ricotta filling. Trust us, it’s worth the calories.
As we sat there enjoying our food, we were absorbed by the atmosphere of the cafe. Ciociaro’s clientele is diverse- It is a place where a construction worker can have a random conversation with a Tax Attorney. You could seriously meet anyone, from any walk of life. Need a quote for a new driveway? No problem. What about some financial planning? Covered. For those of you interested in experiencing this cafe’s sub-culture, we must advise you that it can get quite loud. It is not uncommon to hear people shout each other’s names, complain about corrupt politicians or cheer while watching the Habs game. This is certainly not the ideal place to work on your laptop while sipping a latte for 3 hours. Ciociaro is full of life and that is what makes it so unique.
After our meal we headed to the bar and ordered our usual latte-cappuccino combo. Ciaociaro exclusively serves ILLY coffee which is known not only for its quality but also for its taste. This is when we met Paolo Zambito, the cafe’s head barista with over 30 years of experience. While Paolo prepared our order, he gave us some insight into what makes a great coffee:
“Everything is in the details”, he said.
“The amount of ground coffee you compact into the filter handle;
The way you warm up your milk;
The amount of “schiuma” (foam) you add to the top of a cappuccino;
These are all small details that people often overlook, but if you add them all up it can make the difference between a good coffee and a great coffee.”
Paolo definitely practiced what he preached because his coffee was fantastic. The thing that impressed us most about him was his calmness. While customers shouted their orders at him, Paolo prepared each coffee with such ease and precision that it seemed as though he was an extension of the espresso machine. What finally broke his concentration was a phone call from his wife:
“I’m busy”, he said.
“Yes donuts are fine. Just get them. Ok, bye.”
He hung up the phone and shook his head. “Women, they’re all the same”, he said jokingly.
As the bromance came to an end, we both agreed that Ciocaro might not have the sleek modern design and photogenic appeal of cafes in other parts of the city; but what it does have is delicious food, excellent coffee and a warm and welcoming staff. The experience and social ambiance give the impression that you are part of a family. It is a place where you feel like everybody knows your name.
David and Joey