One of the first things I do when visiting a new city is to head out and find a really, REALLY good coffee shop, the kind of place I can kick back, meet the locals and soak up the flavour of a new city. Not for me those pristine cafes in the hotel lobby. Of course, I'm always on the look out for great coffee shops in my own city of Toronto. So you can imagine how thrilled I was on the weekend to take my out-of-town guests on a walking tour of my beloved old neighbourhood of Riverdale, east of downtown Toronto, and discover that the most amazing coffee shop, called Rooster Coffee House, has sprung up in my absence and it's just one of the many independent cafes popping up in neighbourhoods across Canada. In the case of the Rooster Coffee House, I'm particularly bowled over that this new coffee-lover's paradise has emerged from what once was a tired looking variety store I frequented for a decade. BEFORE SHOT: First, let me show you what it looked like years ago when I lived in the leafy neighbourhood. [caption id="attachment_377" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="This is the old Park Hill Place Variety Store, where I used to buy light-bulbs, batteries, chewing gum and junk food."] [/caption] AFTER SHOT: This is what exterior looks like this, thanks to creative coffee-loving entrepreneur Shawn Andrews. [caption id="attachment_380" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="The Rooster Coffee House: Overnight overhaul! (Photos by Yeounjung Kim)"] [/caption] The inside used to be chockablock with canned goods, light bulbs, magazines, packages of dried noodles and sundry other things you'd need on a Sunday afternoon. [caption id="attachment_376" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="The interior now boasts an eclectic mix of chandeliers, board games, trophies, offbeat photos (Donny Osmond!) on the wall, piles of books on various surfaces not to mention cake trays and assorted coffee-making paraphernalia. "] [/caption] And the clientele, some of whom hang out for hours working on their lap tops, include a mix of writers, actors, therapists and other local folk just out for a cup of java in the middle of the day. They all grab a spot at the harvest table at the back of the cafe and make like they're at home. Isn't that what a good coffee house should offer anyway? [caption id="attachment_378" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="More than just muffins at the Rooster Coffee House on Broadview Ave.., Toronto"] [/caption] So you can imagine why I'm now wishing the Rooster Coffee House had appeared when I lived around the corner in the 1990s. I might never have left. Still, it's only a brisk 20-minute walk from where I live now. And it's a perfect (and accessible) escape from downtown. Don't expect shrink-wrapped tuna and egg salad sandwiches or oily muffins of indeterminate taste. And if you have a hankering for something buttery and sugary, this is the spot. [caption id="attachment_379" align="aligncenter" width="424" caption="How sweet it is..."] [/caption] Looking for a good coffee shop when you travel across Canada, or perhaps shopping for a new hang-out in your own town? Here are three java-loving resources to help you out: • Urban Spoon publishes a list of the Top 10 coffee houses in Winnipeg • Indie Coffee Passport is a collective of coffee-lovers who want you to support independent cafes around Toronto. • Discover Calgary lists coffee houses (and tea houses) in the thriving Alberta city. • Vancouver Coffee has a running list of cafes worth checking out Enjoy your cuppa! And let me know about the must-visit independent coffee houses in your town or city. You never know when I'll be passing through.