Monday Magazine food columnist
You’re not likely to find the Fairfield Branch Café while sitting behind the wheel of a car. It’s really not much of a destination.
Much better to stumble onto it while sitting astride two wheels, for you need that street-level perspective, that spatial awareness of everything within two metres to find this spot. This tiny coffee shop cowers behind the ramshackle Gonzales Pharmacy at Fairfield Road and Irving Street, squeezed into the distant corner between the pharmacy and its old wooden garage as if frightened of the fuming behemoths hurtling oblivious just metres away. Out of sight: out of mind. It can work both ways.
The Branch is best approached slowly, clicking over the rough asphalt in your cycling shoes, slipping through the simple gate to a surprisingly spacious patio covered by canvas sails stretched across a topless pergola. Patrons’ bicycles hang on heavy hooks along the garage while their masters relax in diffused sunlight, sipping their favourite coffee beverages and maybe noshing on a sweet treat or enjoying a good book or conversation at long wooden tables and benches.
Three small tables inside line a take-it-and-leave-it library full of good reading. A row of stools cluster around the only window, which looks back out over the patio, where all the action happens. Here too, just inside the door, is the counter with its small display showcasing large croissants (plain and almond), lemon loaf, snickerdoodles, fruit danishes and other baked goodies.
There can’t be more than a hundred square feet in here, bathroom included, but the white paint and south exposure keep it bright on a nice day and erase any sense of claustrophobia.
There is not much on the menu beyond the usual assortment of coffee creations. Just two options for toast, one with avocado and the other with smoked salmon.
I ordered the Avocado Dukkah, a thin slice of artisanal white bread with a generous smear of smashed avocado beneath a heavy crust of crushed nuts and seeds with lemon and sesame oil. It was savoury, creamy, nutty, zesty and rich enough to satisfy my peckish appetite. I accompanied my meal with an espresso, served double. This acidic brew will muscle through any milk, foam, or sugar that might fill out your favourite concoction.
I hesitate to recommend the Branch as a lunch stop. Heartier appetites may only blunt their hunger on this snack, and at $7, it’s not exactly cheap. I recommend the Branch as the place to go when, bicycling around Fairfield, you feel the need to take a break from the cars. Get settled among friends and enjoy personable service where the coffee is good, the snacks are hearty and you won’t be chased away for simply enjoying a good book.
Think of it as an oasis of good living hidden in the heart of your hectic day.
Fairfield Branch Café, 1839 Fairfield Rd.