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HomeOpinionDoes the 'most refreshing street in Canada' live up to the hype?

Does the ‘most refreshing street in Canada’ live up to the hype?

There’s nothing quite like a hot cup of coffee on a cool fall day.

And where better to get one than “the most refreshing street in Canada,” Whitby, Ontario’s Brock Street?

At least, it is according to Brock Street Brewing, the namesake roadway’s craft brewhouse.

A photo of Brock Street in Whitby, looking south from the Dundas Street and Brock Street intersection.
Brock Street's seven-kilometre span meets Dundas Street in an intersection called 'The Four Corners' in Whitby, Ont. A three-minute walk from this intersection can take pedestrians to nearly a dozen options for coffee and two craft breweries. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Stretching from Taunton Road to Water Street, the seven-kilometre regional road is a short trip from either Durham College campus and chock full of café options.

To test this refreshing claim, and find the best café on the street, I visited Nice Bistro, Jacked Up Coffee and Marito’s Coffee and Things – the three cafés most recommended to me.

Jacked Up Coffee – 132 Brock St N, Whitby ON

An exterior photo of the Jacked Up Coffee's blue garage-turned-coffee-house roasting location on Brock Street in Whitby, Ont.
An exterior photo of Jacked Up Coffee's roastery and coffee shop in Whitby, Ont, on Oct. 7. Jacked Up Coffee started as a blue mobile coffee truck before getting its permanent locations. The Whitby garage is Jacked Up's primary roastery. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Jacked Up’s garage-turned-chic café location has a lot going for it.

It’s situated next to some of the best parking in Whitby, a municipal lot off Byron Street with plenty of spaces and no charge on weekends.

The big blue building’s beautiful patio space welcomes the weary to take a moment and escape by sipping something and sitting on a plastic Muskoka chair.

Their garage bay windows reveal a well-organized minimalist interior, full of snake plants and the sounds of Spanish alternative music playing gently in the background.

One garage window – and a wall of smaller interior windows – looks into their roasting room, where burlap sacks of green coffee are stacked neatly next to large stainless-steel roasting equipment.

A man in a green shirt steams milk for a latte with a stainless steel espresso machine.
Anthony Stergiu, 26, prepares an oat milk latte at Jacked Up Coffee in Whitby, Ont., on Oct. 7. Jacked Up brews the coffee they roast on location in Whitby and offer a selection of all-vegan baked goods from the local Kind Bakery. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

The staff are welcoming and friendly – in a cool yet pleasant way.

Anthony Stergiu, 26, prepared my order with the precision of an expert barista, using decade-old techniques from a mature third-wave coffee movement.

He carefully weighed, tamped and pulled the espresso, steaming the milk to the perfect temperature to drink – between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius to boost sweetness and avoid burning.

But none of the fancier modern tools were there, such as distribution tools, calibrated tamps to ensure a perfect press, or in-basket filters to brighten the coffee.

I paid for an oat milk latte, a brownie, and a banana nut muffin, running just over $12 for everything and I appreciated the accessibility of the menu.

A chocolate brownie and carrot muffin on white a table next to a takeaway cup of coffee.
Jacked Up Coffee's baked goods come pre-made from Kind Bakehouse, leaving the brownies a bit hard and the muffins a bit soggy. Next to their storefront, they offer indoor seating along with a patio. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

As someone with a dairy allergy, I need substitute milk and near-vegan baked goods – which are impossible to find at Tim Hortons or Starbucks.

Jacked Up’s entire treat selection is vegan, baked by the local Kind Bakehouse, and they were delicious.

The served-cold brownie was tasty and fudgy despite being a little hard from its cool delivery. Kind’s banana nut muffin was delicious and moist, maybe a little too soggy, but still completely enjoyable, and I happily finished both.

A tightly-focused photo of Kind Bakehouse's carrot muffin sold by Jacked Up Coffee.
Jacked Up Coffee serves premade vegan muffins, cookies, and brownies from Kind Bakehouse. This muffin was moist, and almost damp, when unwrapped and taken from it wax paper bag. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Jacked Up’s coffee was lovely.

It’s clear they know what they’re doing with their roast.

Fruity sweetness punched through the oat milk foam to deliver a well-rounded cup, sip after sip. And it helped they served it at the perfect temperature to jump right into drinking.

Espresso drips from an espresso machine group head into a glass as a hand reaches for the rubber handle of a portafilter.
Jacked Up Coffee uses a La Marzocco Linea espresso machine to brew their espresso. La Marzocco launched in Florence in 1927, and their machines are the equipment of choice for many high-end Toronto-area coffee houses. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

I highly recommend paying the blue garage a visit for a morning start or an afternoon restorative treat.

Nice Bistro – 17 Brock St N, Whitby

An exterior photo of the Nice Bistro restaurant in Whitby, Ont.
Nice Bistro's vintage red storefront is visible from the sidewalk on Brock Street in Whitby, Ont. Their 'menu du jour' labelling marks them as a French-inspired bistro restaurant. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Next up, I visited Nice Bistro, located just across the bustling Brock from Jacked Up.

Its vintage red sign and yellow-gold lettered font announce the spot as a French-inspired spot for food and coffee.

A small espresso machine sits on a counter under glowing yellow lights at Nice Bistro in Whitby, Ont.
Nice Bistro's warm yellow lighting shines off their single-group espresso machine. It sits on the bar counter facing the front door. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Inside, warm yellow lights accentuate the wood furniture while a peaceful ambience of chatter fills the room.

At their bar, a well-used and sticker-covered espresso machine sits proudly on the counter. The taped pages announce Nice’s coffee of choice as a staple at Michelin-star restaurants in Toronto.

Manon Lacroutz, the 61-year-old front-of-house worker, is an element of the space itself. She efficiently balanced my order of an oat milk cappuccino and a dairy-free bruschetta – one of the only food options for people with my allergy – while keeping tabs on a table of four by the entrance.

Shifting between English and French, Manon proudly brewed the cappuccino the French way, making a café allongé and adding a milk foam topping – but never with the fancy latte art, Manon assured me.

A barista's hand holds a portafilter basket under a coffee grinder as espresso grounds pile up.
Nice Bistro uses an espresso burr grinder to prepare their dry coffee for brewing at their Whitby, Ont. location. Nice Bistro makes café allongé espresso, which means they take longer to brew an espresso shot than standard, increasing the bitterness while reducing the intensity of the coffee. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

She worked carefully, preparing the coffee in a traditional way – no distribution tools or any of the fancy stuff. Just a tamp, a well-used grinder, water and pressure.

Then, she added the substitute milk and dusted the top with a generous shake of chocolate powder.

A takeaway cup of coffee filled with espresso and milk foam and covered with a shake of cocoa powder.
Nice Bistro uses café allongé espresso and steamed milk for their cappuccinos. They offer patrons toppings, such as cocoa powder or cinnamon. The restaurant has their liquor license, and can also add alcohol, such as cognac, to their coffee drinks. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

A short wait later, she brought out the bruschetta, subbing the garlic butter for olive oil and chopped garlic so it was safe for me.

A takeaway container with two pieces of bruschetta toast and a disposable coffee cup in Nice Bistro, Whitby.
Nice Bistro has two separate food services during the day, a lunch menu and a dinner menu. The dinner menu has bruschetta with olive oil instead of butter as a non-dairy option. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Even with the wait, the coffee was scalding hot. It took hours to cool to the point of drinkability, and it was the only coffee of the day I couldn’t finish.

Its intense acidity brought it to a place near sour, and I can’t recommend it to anyone looking for a cup.

But I’ll be back for the food.

The bruschetta was incredible. Perfectly toasted bread held the mixture of ripe tomatoes, olive oil and freshly chopped garlic like it was designed for the job.

Its smell wafted through the restaurant, and as I walked back to the car with a piece in tow, its enticing aroma never left.

A woman serves a takeaway coffee drink over the counter at the NIce Bistro restaurant in Whitby, Ont.
Manon Lacroutz, 61, serves a freshly made oat milk cappuccino at the Nice Bistro restaurant on Brock Street in Whitby, Ont. on Oct. 7. Lacroutz was the only person managing the front-of-house seating and bar at the start of Nice Bistro's 5 p.m. dinner service. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

I can’t suggest Nice Bistro’s coffee, but I can’t recommend the food and service enough. I’ll be back to try more from their menu and enjoy another conversation with Manon.

In total, I paid $20.46 for my coffee and sandwich at Nice Bistro.

Marito’s Coffee and Things – 105 Mary St W

A chalk sign reading 'come inside for coffee & pastries' sits on a green lawn in front of a white-railing lined brick building in Whitby, Ont.
Marito's Coffee and Things is on Mary Street, a few short steps west from the intersection with Brock Street in Whitby, Ont. The shop is tucked into the corner of a brick building with white railings. Marito's chalk sign and 'coffee & pastries' banners mark the entrance. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Marito’s is just a few steps from Brock Street, attached to the same parking lot as Jacked Up.

It lives in the corner spot of a large house turned into an array of quaint independent shops in Whitby’s downtown.

A small chalk sign points the way up a walkway, while banners announcing coffee and pastries line either side of the small porch seating space on the corner.

A patio seating area for Marito's Coffee and Things café is located in a hexagonal deck area, surrounded by white pillars and white railings on the corner the shop's larger red brick building.
Marito's patio is on the corner of the building facing the Byron Street intersection with Mary Street. Three small tables fill the hexagonal space and provide outdoor seating for six, with more seating available inside the café. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Through the front door, guests are met with a friendly-antique-feeling space.

Marito's Coffee and Things café's indoor seating area has complimentary but not matching tables and chairs, bright and colourful paintings, and a vintage wooden radio.
Marito's has two indoor seating areas. The one closest to the coffee bar is full of art with tables covered in tea sets and empty, tiered food displays for high tea. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Paintings fill two of the café’s three rooms, with complimentary but not matching wooden furniture and an old couch available for seating.

A few tables and a small cabinet are full of antique tea sets, with dozens of cups and saucers of all shapes and sizes adorning every shelf.

Lily and Marito Mendoza, the husband-and-wife owners of the shop, are welcoming. Before I knew it, I was at the counter ordering and laughing.

Unfortunately, none of the food options were dairy-free or vegan, so I couldn’t safely try anything to eat, but there were plenty of alternative milk choices for the coffee.

A man presses a digital display on an automatic espresso machine to begin brewing coffee.
Marito uses a fully automatic espresso machine for his café in Whitby, Ont. With the press of a button, the machine grinds the beans, heats the water, and prepares single or double shots of espresso into waiting cups below. Marito has a large selection of for-here mugs, and a return bin for dishes when patrons are finished. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

I ordered an oat milk latte, and Marito got started with his fully automatic espresso machine.

With the push of a button, it ground the Balzac’s beans and pulled a single shot of espresso into a waiting for-here mug.

An espresso machine pours espresso into a white ceramic mug through two spouts.
Marito uses coffee beans from Balzacs to brew the espresso. He said people enjoy the coffee, but he is looking to change suppliers soon and upgrade his coffee machine to something larger. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

On a separate steamer, Marito carefully cleaned the steam wand and began frothing the oat milk he retrieved from another fridge, especially for my drink.

A photo of a person cleaning a steam wand for frothing and warming milk to make coffee drinks with the person's hands visible holding a yellow microfibre cloth.
Marito has a separate steam machine for preparing milk for his coffee drinks, and he cleans it with a microfibre cloth to remove any milk residue between drinks. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

Marito made a delicious cup of coffee. Like Jacked Up’s, it was drinkable right away, and I took a seat in the comfortable space to enjoy the art and ambience.

No one was there, but the bright and cheerful space and friendly energy from Lily and Marito made the café something more than a high-end live-edge-laden third-wave spot. It felt like a true third place.

It’s somewhere you can spend time and decompress.

A man pours milk from a stainless steel milk pitcher into a ceramic mug to prepare an espresso drink with the focus tightly pulled to the mug and pitcher.
Marito Mendoza, 60, pours milk from his stainless steel milk pitcher into a for-here coffee mug at his café, Marito's Coffee and Things, in Whitby, Ont. on Oct. 7. Marito said the café may be named after him, but his wife Lily is the real boss. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

The coffee was delicious. Not quite as complex as Jacked Up, but with the balance and charm of a clean Italian café latte.

I spent the most time here, filling up with the coffee and the energy of the space, and with the ample parking nearby, I already know I’ll be back more than once

So, is Brock Street the most refreshing 7 km strip in Canada?

A can of Pumpkin Pie Ale from Brock St Brewery sits on a dark stone surface, reflecting in a puddle, while the sun sets over an out-of-focus green field in the background.
A can of Brock St Brewery's Pumpkin Pie Ale pictured in a field during sunset in Ajax, Ont. on Oct. 7. The ale is part of Brock St's seasonal series and is available during its fall run at the brewery's shop in Whitby, Ont. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

I sipped one of the brewery’s last Pumpkin Pie Ales while I considered, of course, it was a perfect fall drink, full of spice and creamy sweetness, just like a pumpkin pie.

On the one hand, Brock Street doesn’t have the world’s most advanced cafés, pushing the envelope with brewing technology or techniques and cutting-edge flavour profiles.

Four stainless steel tanks of brewing beer shine with light reflected through a restaurant window at Brock St Brewing's Whitby, Ont. location.
Brock St Brewery brews its beer at its current location on Brock Street in Whitby, Ont, just south of Dundas. Four of its tanks are visible through a window in their partner restaurant 12welve, and each tank holds thousands of litres of beer. Photo credit: Andrew Neary

On the other, it has delicious variety. From classic to modern, chic to antique, there is a place for everyone.

All three of the cafés I visited – and Brock St Brewery, too – had charm, flair, and delicious options.

In absolute terms, it may not be Canada’s most refreshing street, but it’s well worth the visit, over and over again.