The Last Supper…Club
After managing Toronto’s Dark Horse Espresso for three years, Hamilton native David “Rocky” Ricottone felt the “steel city” winds calling him home. “Like most hometown stories, it’s good to cut your teeth somewhere else and bring back what you’ve learned,” says Rocky.
Continuing to master the art of cooking, he formed a supper club in pop-up locations throughout Hamilton. Breaking bread with a table of hand-picked taste testers gave him the opportunity to develop new creative dishes and carve out a niche.
During a memorable transaction with a regular supper club attendee (Rocky was selling his guitar to purchase an engagement ring), a discussion developed around a vacant building on James Street North. “He had this space and didn’t know what to do with it,” recalls Rocky. “So, right then and there, we developed the idea to open a kickass espresso bar that serves kickass food.” The pair penned a written agreement on a napkin and Saint James Espresso Bar & Eatery was born.
A Blessing in Disguise
The James Street North building had many incarnations – including a religious gift shop – before its recent resurrection as Saint James Espresso Bar & Eatery. “It wasn’t a hole in the wall, but it was a shell that needed love,” explains Rocky. The 600 square-feet micro-café breathes a charming juxtaposition of Hamilton’s grit and artistic elegance. Concrete blocks subtly line its corners, large tabletops are handcrafted slabs of smooth edge-wood and 12-feet ceilings are gilded in authentic brass wallpaper. Not your average greasy spoon, handsome features of white, black and gold are inspired by high-end coffee shops you would find in downtown Boston or Chicago.
Growing up in the north end, Rocky had always dreamed of owning a shop on James Street. Cut to 30 years later, the revitalized neighbourhood has evolved into Hamilton’s arts and culture district, bursting with innovative shops and restaurants. “The time was right, the space was right, and the location was right,” says Rocky. Even his wife, Lauren, joined the neighbourhood, opening lifestyle boutique La Bichette just a few doors down.
Glory Be to Brunch
There’s something special about the ambience at Saint James Espresso Bar & Eatery. “We’re not re-inventing the wheel, we’re just treating everyone really well,” explains Rocky. Meanwhile, indie band, Sylvan Esso’s mellow lullaby, “Coffee,” quietly warms the room. The coffee itself, a blend of Edmonton’s Transcend brewed with a Steampunk machine, creates a creamy, heavy bodied, gourmet cup of joe.
And much like the eclectic playlist, the clientele is perfectly varied. “We’re still learning the rhythm of the street,” says Rocky. Bearded millennials, young families and couples gather to worship Saint James’ quality service and creative cuisine during Sunday brunch. “We have regulars that come every week. It’s humbling. We want to be the neighbourhood joint.”
Their handwritten menu looks like a scripture scroll made of craft paper with rotating daily specials. The Avocado Toast is a top-seller, rejoiced for its rich textures and smoky flavours. It’s a wedge of sourdough bread piled with roasted peppers, salty feta, garlic salsa verde, lentils, fried egg, and of course, the main attraction, avocado. But if we’re confessing guilty pleasures, the Drive-Thru is the holy grail. A twist on McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin, the crispy breakfast sandwich is packed with bacon, fried egg, hash brown and chili mayo.
Cap’n Crunch Squares and Savoury Scones are also regular offenders on their menu of sinfully sweet baked goods. Have mercy! This is truly a place to experience for both the coffee connoisseur and foodie.
*Appeared in YP.ca