One dog-day afternoon I decided it was time I headed up to Juniper Café, which opened just a few months ago, for a light dinner. The sky was clear and the air buzzed loudly with cicadas when I turned my bicycle off of King Street and dipped down toward the Tett Centre. The café, located on the ground floor on the lakeshore side of the repurposed brewery, can be accessed either by entering the building and going down two flights of stairs or by walking down the grassy slope between the Tett and Bader Centres toward the lake.
I went around the outside, dodging wedding guests who were spilling over from a reception in the Bader Centre, and entered the café through a door that gives on to the dining terrace. This wasn’t my first visit to Juniper Café, although it was the first time I was here for anything more than a cup of coffee or a snack. Inside and out, the place was practically a ghost town today. The Tragically Hip’s final concert was due to take place downtown in just a couple of hours, and most of the café’s would-be clientele appeared already to have migrated in that direction.
At the counter I found a stylishly and minimally laid out menu attached to a clipboard. It looked nothing like the sample menu I’d seen a few hours earlier on the website, and I took that as a good sign. A staff member confirmed that it is overhauled weekly. Today’s offering consisted of two bar snacks (olives and candied almonds), two kinds of bruschetta, and an option to create one’s own cheese and charcuterie board by choosing from among six types of cheese and cured pork. This last choice was just the sort of light meal I was after. Also on offer were a selection of wines and beers, at least one of which was brewed in Kingston.
Despite there being only four other guests in the entire cafe, I still had to wait a minute or two for a staff member’s attention—and for no apparent reason. On previous visits I’ve seen lines stretched out the door while one person takes orders and another makes elaborate coffees. Not until all the coffees for each order were completed by the solitary coffee preparer did the person taking the orders, who meanwhile had stood idly by, proceed to the next hurried customer. There’s clearly a flaw in the system Juniper uses to take and prepare orders if I, a lover of all things slow, am left twiddling my thumbs on a day like today. Waiting for food is one thing; waiting for service quite another.
The food and the environment, however, would be tough to improve upon. This being the in-house eatery of the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning, it should come as no surprise that the inside of the café space thoughtfully highlights the building’s industrial origins, showcases an eclectic mix of art objects, and creatively presents its tasty array of food and drinks—all in a modern and sunny atmosphere that somehow befits its position a few feet from the broad sweep of Lake Ontario.
A few minutes after I had taken a seat on the terrace, from which I was enjoying the view across to Simcoe, Wolfe, and Garden Islands, the waitress brought out my cheese and charcuterie on a handsome piece of slate beside three seasonings—a grainy mustard, a fig and mustard compote, and pickled ramps. There was also a basket with a generous heap of three kinds of croute. Experimenting with all the possible flavor combinations enriched the enjoyment of my meal. On the whole, it was too delicious for words. Only the pickled ramps proved tricky, and in the end I found that they were best savoured alone on a simple croute made from a baguette. The sun had sunken in the sky behind me and the temperature was just right, so I took my time and enjoyed every last morsel of my food with my own private view over the placid water. It occurred to me that this is unfortunately one of the only places in Kingston where one can truly dine on the waterfront.
Juniper Café, housed in the Tett Centre at 370 King Street West, offers waterfront coffee, baked goods, snacks, and dining within walking or cycling distance of Queen’s and Portsmouth Village. Ample parking is available for those arriving by car. The owners pride themselves on sourcing food locally wherever possible. Summer hours are Monday to Wednesday from 8 am to 8 pm, Thursday to Saturday from 8 am to 9 pm, and Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. Reservations are not accepted.