Chilling out at Oshawa’s Cork & Bean

Story by Sarah Walker | Photos by Kirsten McGoey

Lorn and Diana Scanlon have visited coffee bars all over the world and have been collecting ideas from their favourite cafes for years. You can see this reflected in the atmosphere at downtown Oshawa’s Cork & Bean. This fun and funky cafe would be equally at home in London, Paris, or Rome as it is in The Shwa. From the reclaimed wood on the bar to the art on the walls, each facet of the restaurant was planned perfectly to draw customers in and make them feel welcome. Says Lorn, “we wanted a good cappuccino and were tired of going to Toronto for a funky spot to have one.” With their popular cafe in the heart of the city, they’re definitely on the right track.

The first thing that catches my eye as I walk in the door is the space-age espresso machine on the bar. Straight out of a 1960s sci-fi tv show, the Spirit machine was hand-made in Holland and has a place of honour on the bar, which is made from the original plank flooring dating back to 1882. Manager James Firth tells me, “Lorn wanted to use as many original features as possible. He used the original flooring for the bar and tables, and the tin tiles that face the bar are from the original ceiling.” The coffee being served is no less impressive, as Cork & Bean uses exclusively Phil & Sebastian beans from Calgary in their machine. You can drink yours at one of a handful of tables, or in the comfortable chairs on the mezzanine level. Cork & Bean will also grind up a bag for you to purchase and enjoy at home.

Also on offer is traditional drip coffee from Trebilcock in Pickering and Cork & Bean’s very own Nitro Cold Brew, which is served from a tap behind the bar. This intriguing drink was invited to a Cold Brew competition in Baltimore recently and is one of their top sellers. Other things served on tap at Cork & Bean include a rotating selection of local beer, red and white wine, and Kombucha, a fizzy fermented tea drink that is packed with probiotics. Tea is loose-leaf and bagged in store, sourced from Genuine Tea in Toronto. You can also get a fresh cup of Matcha, or a London Fog, which is steeped Earl Grey tea, with steamed milk and vanilla.

During the day Cork & Bean is a terrific place to stop in for a quick drink, do a few hours of work, or meet up with friends for lunch. Says James, “we want people to come in and feel good. You can come in for a minute to grab a cup of coffee, or stay and get a couple of hours of work done in a calm quiet space.” The menu is wonderfully simple and fantastically fresh. Soups, sandwiches, and salads make up most of the menu and all are made fresh and with local ingredients. All offerings change daily with the sandwiches and salads made in-house every day. You can finish off your meal with bread pudding, cheesecake, or a brownie made daily by Emily Tufts, Cork & Bean’s resident chef and baker. When Lorn and Diana couldn’t work out how to make something happen in-house, they found the best sources to bring things in. The soups are brought in from Peterborough throughout the week and the butter tarts are made locally in Sunderland. There are also three different shareable platters to choose from on the menu: a robust charcuterie, cheese and bread, and a chip platter, featuring unique flavours of potato chips not typically found in grocery stores. These platters are fabulous to share while you’re enjoying one of more than 80 craft beers or a glass of wine, scotch, or bourbon.

If all those selections are feeling a bit intimidating, why not try one of their tasting events? Held on Wednesday evenings these events include a flight of beverages, charcuterie plate to share, and instruction from a knowledgeable host on what you’re drinking. With a goal to have more than 200 different kinds of scotch on the menu, something new is always being opened. Every third Wednesday of the month the Ladies’ Craft Beer Club meets to try what’s new on the taps and enjoy learning about beer directly from the brewers themselves. Make sure to check out Cork & Bean’s website for their updated calendar.

Also on the calendar, you’ll find the many live events that happen at the cafe. A rotating mix of live music, open mic nights, and spoken-word events bring life and creativity to Cork & Bean in the evenings. Says Lorn, “Joel from Country Road One approached us at the very beginning and asked to play to get their name out”. The live performances have blossomed from there. Local favourites The Butter Cups can often be found playing Cork & Bean on Saturday nights as well. Foregoing any permanent art displays have allowed Lorn and Diana to feature local up-and-coming artists in an art-show feel that rotates out about once a month. Lorn is very passionate about this. “A big thing was having great art on the walls. So we approached some different artists about doing an art opening and hanging their art on our walls. They can sell their work and every penny of the money goes back to the artist. It is a win-win for everyone.” James tells me that they’ve had “everything from photos, to sculptures, to [most recently] yarn art” that was textural and colourful, bringing warmth and whimsy to this funky space.

If you’re celebrating a special event, the Murray Johnston Room is a real gem that’s just down a flight of stairs from the main level. Named for the previous owner of the building, a men’s clothing store, this room is perfect for a meeting, work event, or family party. The centrepiece of the room is a 16-foot raw-edge river table that is impressive, to say the least. The knots and warps in the wood were filled with coffee beans and wine corks and covered with resin, making for a stunning visual statement with unique details. It is in this room that most of the tasting events are held, as well as Paint Nights (with drinks!) and other events. If you’re really going all out for a special event, ask if you can sabre your bottle of champagne. That’s right, you can use a fun sword to pop the cork on your bubbly! Small details like these give a place life, and Cork & Bean has plenty of it. Lorn summed it up best by saying “we have a big city feel in Downtown Oshawa [and] we have amazing staff who are a big part of who we are.” Whether you’re looking for a great cup of coffee or a fun evening out, Cork & Bean has what you’re looking for.

Cork & Bean
8 Simcoe Street North, Oshawa
(905) 439-5676

Signature Cheesecake
Recipe courtesy of Emily Tufts, Chef/baker at Cork & Bean

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup brown Sugar
1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs

For the crust
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a small bowl. Combine the butter into your dry ingredients. Evenly disperse the crumb mixture between 16 mini mason jars or one 9-inch springform pan. Make sure to press down on the crumble so that your batter won’t leak through. 

For the cheesecake
Make sure that your cream cheese is up to room temperature; this will help while you’re mixing so you don’t have any lumps. Mix the cream cheese in a stand mixer for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl during and after. Slowly add in the sugar and mix until creamy. Again you’re going to want to make sure that the bowl is scraped down before moving on or else you will have lumps in your cheesecakes. Add in the vanilla and one egg at a time.

Divide amongst the mason jars, or into the springform pan. If using mason jars, put the jars onto a baking sheet with a high rim, and add some hot water about half-way up the jars. This will help the cheesecakes not to crack. Bake at 270 for 30 - 35 minutes in jars or 50 - 60 minutes for the pan. 

Cool completely before topping with raspberry, blueberry and strawberry house made jams, to your liking!