Photos by Catherine Goce
Nestled away right off of Main Street East and Ottawa Street South lies Jordan Weisz’s newest venture, Café Baffico, alongside his long-time friend and colleague, Fady Dawood. Together, the two have set out to bring the joy of good food and rest to the bustling Crown Point neighbourhood.
Dawood and Weisz met about six years ago when the two both worked on Locke Street South; Weisz was running Johnny’s Coffee while Dawood worked at Brux House. The two bonded over their love of coffee and their shared fine dining experience, having both worked in high-end restaurants at some point.
Over the course of their friendship, they both knew they wanted to eventually open up a restaurant, with the goal to make great food more accessible to the general public.
“… [W]e both worked in fine dining, and we wanted to do high quality food but for everyone at a good price point, because neither of us could afford to eat at the restaurants we worked at,” said Weisz.
Following years of planning and one successful pop-up, the pair opened up Café Baffico in December 2018. While Weisz and Dawood are the main owners and operators, the café by day, restaurant by night has had support from the Hamilton community.
All the dining ware was made by Speck and Stone, a local pottery shop run through the Cotton Factory. Their tables were made by their server, Lauren Goodman, who even helps out with repairs in between lunch and dinner service. She busied herself repairing some picture frames when I came by.
On the walls are a series of photographs and pieces of artwork; some from friends, some from Weisz’s trips to Italy. These trips play a huge role in Café Baffico, which serves up a series of traditional Italian dishes alongside seasonal classics.
“It’s an Italian restaurant more in its ethos. There’s a lot of Italian food on the menu, but personally, I love the seasonal cuisine over there and the particularly the regional cuisine,” said Weisz.
Weisz began his forays to Italy during his time as a student at McMaster University, after taking a trip with its art history department. He ended up staying in Italy well after the trip ended, working in restaurants. It was in Italy where Weisz credits his love for food began.
“Most people think that Italian food is just pasta and pizza and that’s it, but every single town, every city has its own kind of pasta, its own style of pizza and so many different dishes, so there’s a long culinary tradition there,” Weisz said. “I studied history at [McMaster] so I have respect for preserving and respecting those traditions.”
Weisz also took particular interest in the culture surrounding eating in Italy, where patrons sit with their coffee and enjoy it in-store as opposed to the takeaway drinks popular in North America, appreciating the way food and drink brought people together.
“Obviously I’m generalizing, but Italians, they go out to eat, they go out late at night and eat well into the night with lots of wine on the table and it’s simple. It’s really about the food and the people you’re with, whether they’re loved ones, friends, or strangers, and that’s what Baffico, to me, means,” Weisz said.
Although Crown Point may be a bit of a trek for McMaster students, Weisz and Dawood both appreciate the distance from the main restaurant scene and the freedom it allows them.
“[The Crown Point area’s] not just an up-and-coming neighbourhood, it’s a well-developed community,” said Weisz. “It’s also very much a mixed-income neighbourhood, whereas downtown has become gentrified and the artists that make downtown what it is now… can’t even afford to live downtown.”
It is clear right away that Weisz, Dawood and everyone else at Cafe Baffico is committed to making high-end dining more accessible to all those who enter their restaurant.
“Because of the neighbourhood we’re in, someone who drinks [Tim Horton’s] everyday can come in and it’s not so acidic and different that it really trips them out, but also a coffee snob could come in and enjoy it,” said Dawood. “And that’s what we’re trying to do with all the food. I wanted it to be something super approachable by everyone.”
The food, of course, is nothing short of fantastic. The ingredients are fresh, with all Italian cheeses directly imported from Italy, locally-sourced cheese plates, sourdough bread made in-house everyday along with another dozen little things that elevate their deceivingly simple dishes. You can even grab a loaf of sourdough bread to take home, if you were so inclined.
The menu is written up on a blackboard everyday, rotating with whatever seasonal ingredients are available. Some recent dishes include squash soup, cacio e pepe, carbonara, sun-dried tomato and onion pizza and eggplant parmigiana. The staff is mindful of any sort of dietary restriction, so feel free to ask for accommodations if needed.
Don’t be surprised if you see either Weisz or Dawood come out from the kitchen to clear dishes or strike up a conversation with you; the two will often come out to help support their serving staff and bond with their customers.
So come by Café Baffico and try some wonderful dishes, but don’t forget to bring a friend, family member or lover, someone to share the bread and butter with and truly experience what Weisz and Dawood mean by Italian hospitality.