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News / Downtown Cambridge: A Slice of Europe Right Here At Home

Downtown Cambridge: A Slice of Europe Right Here At Home

Toque Magazine

‘Visiting Downtown Cambridge always reminds me of travelling in Europe,’ I remark to my fiancée, Liz, as I guide the TOQUE Tacoma across the Grand River along the Main Street Bridge.

To our left, about half a kilometre downriver, the Cambridge Mill – all quarried stone and glass – stands tall beside the water. To our right, just metres from the bridge, the Old Post Office – with its chunky romanesque architecture and impressive new addition – rises from the banks. Behind us, the spire of Central Presbyterian – all gothic and pointy – kisses the sky. And below, underneath the bridge, the river itself – the lifeblood of so many of the communities that make up our region – rushes past, echoing the urban landscapes of so many European cities whose rivers punctuate their own downtown cores.

But on this sunny Saturday afternoon in early July, it’s what’s straight ahead of us that’s got us most excited. Main Street, blocked off at either end, converted into a pedestrian thoroughfare. ‘Look at all the people,’ Liz says excitedly, ‘and all the patios.’ Indeed, the entire street recalls some faraway piazza with children running here and there, and couples window shopping, and groups of old men enjoying beers whilst seated around tables shaded by large, colourful umbrellas. Evocative of Europe, indeed.

We turn right on Water Street South and find a parking spot directly opposite EVO Kitchen. As Liz and I begin the short jaunt back to the pedestrian mecca of Main Street, I take a moment to admire the re-purposed old factory that now houses this swanky event and culinary spot. I note EVO’s side patio – all cheerful and snug and roofed with some sort of creeping vine. ‘Let’s make sure to stop there for apps and drinks later,’ I suggest. Liz nods in agreement. This is going to be a great afternoon.

Once we arrive at Main Street, we discover that there are plenty of options for lunch. There’s The Healthy Rabbit, with its plant-focused bowls and superfood smoothies; The Local Eatery, featuring its weekend waffles, and more. Liz and I opt for a seat on the large sidewalk patio at Thirteen Food & Beverage. Before long, we’re deep into a plate of ‘Korean Fried Chicken Tacos’ (slaw, Korean BBQ sauce, chipotle lime crema, pickled red onion), a ‘Local 13 Power Bowl’ (mixed greens, quinoa, feta, charred corn, diced tomato, red onion, edamame, red wine vinaigrette, miso-tofu mayo drizzle), and a couple of drinks. For Liz – a classic Caesar. For me – a ‘Black Cherry Daquiri’ slush cocktail.

This whole Main Street vibe is soul-stirring and has me thinking of summer trips to Rome and Paris, Munich and Kraków, and any of the other European cities where I’ve spent summer days enjoying myself on patios evocative of this one, on pedestrian streets reminiscent of this one. Indeed, all that’s missing is the ubiquitous European smells of cigarette smoke and diesel fumes.

Once we’ve polished off our meals (I highly recommend the power bowl and slush cocktail), Liz and I dilly dally up Main Street toward Ainslie. Within a four-block radius, there are so many shops we could visit. Phidon Pens for posh writing supplies. Witty & Co for wonderfully-curated culinary treats. Reid’s Chocolates for locally-crafted sweets. Art of Home for lifestyle items. Monigram Coffee Roasters for some of the best espresso-based drinks in the region. But right now we’re on a mission: to check out that patio at EVO. Once we arrive, we’re not disappointed.

Stretching the length of the building and expanding into a much larger space out back, the patio is serene, cozy, romantic. The aforementioned creeping vines keep us cool and protected from the early afternoon sun, while the menu has me finding room in my stomach even after our recent meal on Main. Liz and I decide to split the ‘Crispy Pork Belly’ (spicy tamarind sauce, scallions, roasted sesame seeds) and ‘Fresh Rainbow Spring Rolls’ (mango, carrot, cabbage, cucumber, red pepper, cilantro, lettuce, thai peanut sauce), and order a couple of cocktails (a Strawberry Mule for Liz and Whiskey Sour for myself) and spend the next hour or so just celebrating being there. In Downtown Cambridge – where Europe’s in the air.

This is what visiting Downtown Cambridge in the summer is all about: soaking in the spectacular architecture, river views, shops, patios, and everything else.

Chris Tiessen

Toque Magazine


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