photo Darryl James

Walk into local jo and prepare to instantly feel comfortable. The rustic interior, brightly painted in oranges and yellows, is warm and homey. Wooden tables and chairs, and broad planked flooring are far removed from the slick stainless urban coffee houses that have become so prevalent.

This place is all about community. There’s a cushioned children’s area tucked in a corner, so moms and dads can park the strollers and socialize over tea while watching kids play. In another corner, comfy bench seats host a couple of students knocking back chai teas while working on laptops. Down front, a young couple share a giant cookie and hold hands.

While we sip our lattes (small $3.25), people pop in to say hello to the staff, to ask questions about the upcoming crib night, to collect a pair of mittens left behind during a “play date.”

The “market” part of local jo lies in the back of the shop, really just a small area with some shelves and a cooler. Goods typically only available at the Farmer’s Market are housed here: sausages from Sweet William, Coldspring Farm free range eggs and Boulangerie de la Vendéenne (an excellent French bakery) breads. The area might be small, but for a foodie it’s like finding a hidden treasure.

Along with an assortment of fair trade and organic coffees and teas, there’s a display case of in-house baked goods.

Today, the soup and sandwich special ($7.25) is lentil soup with turkey on whole grain bread. The soup is full of lentils, peppers, tomatoes, and just a hint of curry, and the only flavour mercifully lacking is that of salty commercial broth. It’s quite filling, served in a large mug. Our ordinary deli-style sliced turkey sandwiches are elevated past boring by the amazing, chewy, multigrain bread.

For sweets, we try a brownie, a fruit-and-nut square, and one of the ginger cookies. The square is hard and dry, either overbaked or left out too long, but really not nice at all. All is forgiven with a bite of the moist, chocolatey nutty brownie. It’s a little dry around the edges, but after you get past the edge it’s all good. I like that the ginger cookie is crisp yet not hard, with actual tiny chunks of ginger and not powdered ginger.

It would be nice if there was just a little more variety in the daily menu, like a couple of daily soups and more than one sandwich, but there is pizza on certain nights.

Pizza and traditional Irish music, to be exact (although that pairing sounds a little odd), and on other nights, pizza and a free puzzle. There are calendars on the counter that advertise upcoming events, and along with pizza nights there’s “knit night,” teen time, kids’ story time and vegan day (every Saturday in January!).

In a city littered with Tim Hortons, Starbucks making inroads and local java joints like Uncommon Grounds going “chain,” it’s refreshing to visit a coffee shop that serves as more than a stopover on the way to work, or a place for the trendy to see and be seen. It really is a community centre, a gathering place for the neighbourhood.

local jo Cafe & Market 2959 Oxford Street455 6225Mon-Wed 7:30am-8:00pmThur-Sat 7:30am-9:00pmSun 10:00am-6:00pm

Liz felham’s food reviews gather online at:

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