Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another Day, Another Coffee Shop, Might Need a Second Cup

Today, after visiting the bank, I decided to head over to Hillcrest Mall to see what was going on before ambling home. 

I stopped off at Second Cup (9350 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill) for some flavoured coffee goodness. 

The Barista was working on pouring coffee grinds, so I waited about 30 seconds for her to catch on I existed.  But she was quick to acknowledge my presence and inquired how I was and what I would like to order.

The Order: 1 Medium Belgian Chocolate Coffee.

Second Cup Medium Belgian Chocolate Coffee

The Barista poured the coffee and inquired if I would like anything it it (i.e. cream or sugar), I declined politly.   She handed me my cup in exchange for my cash and I was off to read the paper.

The Belgian Chocolate Coffee is one of my favourite coffees as it gives a nice chocolatey taste to an already delicious coffee.  

The only beef with Second Cup is it is a more upscale coffee shop than your regular Tim Hortons so the prices are higher and more in line with Starbucks.  They offer the usual free Wifi and decent sitting.  This location though, has less sitting space than a conventional Second Cup location due to it's tighter location within the mall's food court area. 

Overall, this location is great if you are shopping at Hillcrest Mall and are searching for coffee that has a little more flavour than usual. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Another Day Another Tim Hortons

This morning I thought I would satisfy my urge for some coffee. I visited a different Tim Hortons hoping for a different result than yesterday.

I walked into the Tim Hortons (9184 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill) waited in a short line (only two people ahead of me) and placed my usual breakfast order.

The Order: 1 Medium Black Coffee and 1 Cinnamon Raisin Bagel toasted with Cream Cheese.

The coffee was quickley poured by the manager on duty and I was off to the bakery section for my bagel.  At the bakery section my bagel took a minute to toast and have the cream cheese applied. 

I did a quick scan of the selection of tables and found one to sit down at.  Unlike yesterday at the Red Maple Tim Hortons, there was not a table to be found with crumbs and/or coffee stains all over it.

The food was exactly the same as yesterday, what you would expect from Tim Hortons (i.e. great coffee with decent baked goods). 

The only bone of contention at this location is the roof hung product promotions.  This location has a slightly lower roof than others due to its inclusion in a slightly older strip plaza.  Thus, the usual product promotions also hang lower which results in taller customers using these product promotions massage our noggins with while we wait for our Tim Hortons haulage.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Alice Fazooli's losing her Fazooli's

Earlier this week my wife received an e-mail for a "Buy $50 or more and receive $25.00 off" coupon from Alice Fazooli's (155 York Boulevard, Richmond Hill).  

We arrived at 12:40 P.M. for some lunch to a hostess waiting to seat us.  Like last time, the restaurant was not very busy with perhaps six tables in one section occupied while the rest of the restaurant sat empty.  Not bad for a Sunday afternoon lunch.  

We reviewed the menus for our choices and waited for the waitress to arrive. 

The waitress came by and took our drink order.  We also took this time to inquire about our online coupon.  She said she would double check with her manager as, understandably, she was new and online corporate newsletters/coupons were new to her.   

She returned with our drinks and said the coupon could easily be used.  We placed our order and she dashed off. 

The Order:  1 Large Caesar Classico (Caesar Salad) as an appetizer. 1 Sirloin Steak with Herb Butter (vegetables and potatoes on the side) with a glass of Coke and 1 Fettuccini Di Mare (shrimp, scallops, mussels, roasted red peppers, spinach, scallions & tomato sauce) with a glass of water.

The Caesar Salad came within five minutes of ordering on two separate plates as requested.  The first noticeable thing was the croutons.  We each received two large croutons each that were the size of four regular croutons you would find in the salad.  The rest of the salad was romaine with a hint of Caesar dressing and the odd small bacon bit mixed in.  Overall for a Caesar Salad, it was pretty sad for $9.99

About 25 minutes after we ordered a set of food showed up.  "Set of food?"  Yes, my Sirloin Steak showed up but a Ravioli dish showed up instead of a "Fettuccinni Di Mare".  We returned the Ravioli and kept the Steak.  We were promised the Fettuccinni would be out in three minutes.   3 minutes for Fettuccinni? Really, don't you have to boil it and make it from scratch?

As promised the Fettuccinni was out in about five minutes complete with the required seafood.   My wife seemed to enjoy it. 

The Sirloin Steak?

Steak Sirloin with Herb Butter
The steak was perfectly grilled to a succulent medium rare.  The potatoes were interestingly cut and tasted half like baked potatoes and half like french fries.  My tongue was pleasantly confused what type of potato product it was having.

We finished are meals with the waitress stopping by soon after we finished.  We politely declined the desert menu and requested the bill. 

The waitress dissappeared and returned quickley with the bill.  We reviewed the bill and the ravioli dish was still on it.  The wrong dish had been brought to us as it was typed in incorrectly after we had ordered.  But at least the Ravioli was still the same price as the Fettuccinni, so we paid for it and left.

Overall Alice Fazooli's has some work cut out for her.  If it wasn't for the coupon we would not have set foot in the place.  The dishes are overpriced and some of the dishes (i.e. Caesar Salad) look like a public school Grade 8 home economics class had put it together.  The attention to detail seems somewhat lacking, but we will let the wrong dish being brought out slide on this occasion.  Also, on the last visit, there was complimentary fresh bread and butter brought to the table and this time this was not done at our table or other tables we observed.   It will be good to see if Alice and her Fazooli's are around in the next five years as things are starting to slide and not in a good way.

Tim Horton's on Red Maple

This morning I decided to repair a burnt out light bulb and get breakfast.  With a Home Depot and a Tim Horton's (50 Red Maple Road, Richmond Hill) in the same plaza, I could fuel up for a day of handiness.

In entered the Tim Horton's shortly after 8 A.M. this morning and walked up to the cashier and ordered with no line up. 

The Order: 1 Medium Black Coffee and 1 Cinnamon Raisin Bagel with regular Cream Cheese.

The cashier looked completly tired and uninterested in serving a customer.  She merely went through the motions and definatly not sounding cheery or helpful at all.  I grabbed my coffee and headed to the bakery section for my bagel.

At the bakery section next to the drive thru there were four workers.  1 was refilling the cream cheese, 1 was preparing my bagel and the other two were working the drive thru.  Things seemed a little more promising here.  They repeated my order back to me as they handed it to me and ensured I had everything. 

I ventured over in search of a clean table.  Interestingly there wasn't any to be found.  Yes there were tables available, but all of them had crumbs on them and/or coffee stains.  None of the tables looked like they had been cleaned today let alone late yesterday. 

I settled into one table and ate my usual Tim Horton's bagel and coffee, everything tasted satisfactory like it would of at any other Tim Horton's.

Upon leaving, I noticed the two workers at the bakery were standing talking to each other.  The cashier I had placed my order with was tidying up her work area.  I shook my head that none of them had a cloth in their hands and cleaning the tables.  Obviously, the manager was gone as all the employees didn't seem to know the customer tables were a mess.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Joe's Hamburgers

This afternoon I visited Joe's Hamburgers (10825 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill) for lunch.  I had been eyeing this place for a while viewing it from my VIVA Blue travels north and south from Aurora and head read online this was a Richmond Hill dining institution of historic proportions. 

Upon entering, I was a little confused if I was to seat myself or walk up to the counter and order my food.  There was a lady behind the counter further down cutting vegetables. 

 The tables looked rather new but I had remembered seeing the storefront undergoing renovations last summer and chocked it up to there. There was no sign to "wait to be seated" so I approached the lady cutting the vegetables behind the counter. She looked up and inquired if she could help.  I placed my order with her quizically not knowing if I was placing my order with the right person or not. 

The Order: 1 Hamburger Combo (regular hamburger and fries) and a can of Coke.

The lady called to the back for an older lady to come out.  The older lady came out flipped my hamburger onto the grill and prepared my french fries.  I wasn't sure if I was supposed to stay at the counter or find a table to wait for the food to cook.  I decided the latter.

I chose a table and sat down with a newspaper that I brought with me and read.  I was soon called back to top my burger.  The burger was placed on a single small plate and another small plate was used for my fries.  There were a couple of people walked in and the older lady moved over to take their order. 

I waited for their order to be placed before I reordered the can of Coke which she retrieved. I then asked if she would like me to pay.  She declined and asked me to pay when I was done. I returned to my table to dig into my burger and fries.

The hamburger was similar to the one I normally have at T.C.'s Fish & Burgers in Aurora, deliciously good.  The only complaint, the toppings were a little much and slowly dropped off the burger as I ate. 

The fries were interesting, I had never seen them cut this shape.  They appeared to be hand cut through a stainless steel slicer.  They were wide but thinner.  In hindsight it appeared they had run their potatoes through a machine used to make noodles (i.e. spaghetti).   They tasted like fries, but nothing special either.  

I looked around for a spot to place my tray and two empty paper plates.  No garbage recepticles were visible.  Thus, I just left the tray on the table and visited the cash register. 

I had to, of course, relay my order to the lady taking the cash.  I have no idea if she typed it in right as there was no receipt.  I handed her a ten dollar bill and she returned a loonie and bunch of change. 

Overall, Joe's Hamburgers' food is average for a burger restaurant, but the organization of getting the customer through the ordering and payment process could be a little better.   Why should I have to tell the staff 3 different times that all I want is a hamburger, fries and coke. 

If I'm in the area again, I might try this place again, but I will not go out of my way to head here again.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

P.A.M.'s Serves Hazelnut Vanilla Coffee

Today I visited the Richmond Hill's Central Library Branch for a change of scenery and to get a little computer work done. 

On the way out I stopped at P.A.M.'s Coffee & Tea (near the library's main circulation desk at 1 Atkinson Street, Richmond Hill).  I checked out the flavoured coffees a the front counter and  made my order. 

The Order: 1 Medium Hazelnut Vanilla Coffee.

For a grand total of $1.85 (including my harmonized governmental satisfaction tax contribution) I had purchased some odd ounces of delicious tasting Hazelnut Cream Coffee. 

P.A.M.'S Coffee & Tea Co. Medium Coffee Cup
The flavoured coffee is similar to what you would find at Second Cup locations.  However, this location only has two flavours as opposed to the usual 4 or 5 found at a Second Cup.  The taste is almost right on and the price is similar as well to what you find at Second Cup. 

The counter itself is kind of hidden away on the main floor of the Central Library.  It is currently located on the main floor near the circulation desk and the extensive DVD collection. 

Perhaps a better location would be up on the 3rd floor where the stacks and study tables are located.  That way library users who are browsing or wanting to read a book in the library can do so with a hot cup of coffee in hand.   It would probably also increase sales as most people would probably skip the coffee counter if they are going to the circulation desk and check out their books in order to go home.

Overall, the coffee is pretty good, but the location is in the wrong place.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New YRT Street Furniture: A Review

YRT Stop #2351 on Yonge Street @ High Tech Road
Recently YRT has been investigating standardizing the street furniture at all of their bus stops. 
YRT has also announced they have installed a few prototype bus shelters around the region at:

  • Bus stop #2351 – Yonge St. and High Tech Rd. (southeast corner)
  • Bus stop #3009 - 16th Ave. and Warden Ave (northeast corner)
  • Bus stop #3305 – Bathurst St. and Major Mackenzie Dr. (northwest corner)
  • Bus stop #3459 - Islington Ave. and Rutherford Rd. (southeast corner)
  • Bus stop #4431 – Leslie St. and Davis Dr. (northeast corner)
  • Bus stop #1919 – Leslie St. and 16th Ave. (northwest corner)

  • and are awaiting feedback. 

    This morning I visited Bus stop # 2351 at the southeast corner of Yonge Street & High Tech Road to take a gander. 

    Overall the bus stop looks modern  and nicely designed.  The overall look looks pretty consistant throughout each of the aspects with the utilization of stainless steel, aluminum and wood throughout.  Hopefully these design features can be used to refresh the still newish looking Viva Stations  that were poorly designed and thought out when built and implemented (i.e. winter uses of VIVA stations with stainless steel benches and shelters designed so the wind blows through them).   But to truly appreciate the design and practicality, each one of the components needs to be individually investigated.
    The most important item at a bus stop, besides the bus stop sign, is the bus shelter (transit shelter) itself.  Properly constructed shelters ensure the passengers waiting for the bus are kept dry during rainy weather and out of the cold winds during the winter season.  Added benches inside the shelter add further comfort as some passengers are not able to stand for long periods of time.

    The shelter at Yonge Street & High Tech Road optically looks similar to other YRT shelters with tempered glass being held up by supports screwed into the concrete.   But there is a difference with better YRT branding and cross street names on the side of the shelter embedded into the glass as well as across the top face of the shelter.  Thus, shelter wise, the only difference really between the old and the new shelter is the added name and a few improved signage placement for the YRT logo. 

    Design wise the shelter is missing a few design components that for whatever reason never made it to the installation stage.  On page 2 of this presentation it shows the design concepts for the shelter as presented to the public, Region of York Council and in the Request for Proposal. 

    The first noticeable design component absence is the advertising panel on the shelter.  This was probably left out because normally these components are provided by the advertising agency who looks after the Region's bus shelter.  In this case CBS, who holds the Richmond Hill contract, could have been invited to be included in this design testing phase but obviously was not.  There is no indication as to why the current advertising supplier was not included in this pilot project. 

    The second design component missing is the YRT bus map.  Many will point out the the Yonge & High Tech bus stop is a local stop and not very busy compared to the VIVA stations and the downtown Richmond Hill locations like stop #4694 in front of the McConaghy Seniors Centre.   However, the design literature  provided by YRT to council and the public clearly shows that a location for a map is clearly delinated.  As well in comparison, OC Transpo in Ottawa provides system maps at all of their local bus stops that have shelters that probably see less service than the stop located at High Tech Road & Yonge in YRT's territory.  Thus, as a prototype bus shelter it is weird this important design component is missing in physical presence at the pilot project location. 

    The third design component missing is the "Flexible base trim to allow for field adjustment of grades".  The design concept appears to be designed to ensure the shelter looks good estically instead of having the glass supports drilled into the ground visible.  As well, in practicality, it closes in the shelter from having the snow and wind blow in on the cold days at passengers.  YRT learned this lesson at Richmond Hill Centre when, in 2006, they boxed in the waiting areas at Richmond Hill Centre in an attempt to make the passenger waiting area more viable.  But surprisingly at the protype stop at High Tech Road & Yonge Street, this was left out and the glass supports are clearly visible. 

    Inside the shelter the benches are significant improvement compared to the current YRT recycled plastic benches and the VIVA angled stainless steel benches.  The prototype benches are flat easy to sit on, yet have stainless steel rails to prevent homeless and others from bunking up on them.  The seats themselves appear to be made of wood which leaves a question of how resistant they are to etching by vandals wishing to leave their mark that they were there in 2012.

    The outdoor benches are larger than their interior counterparts but retain much the same design concepts but has a back to rest on.  These benches are a great improvement over the mostly municipal supplied ones that have seen better days at the current local bus stops like VIVA Station # 9803 at Yonge & Wellington Southbound in Aurora.   But at 7 feet 3 inches wide, it will be interesting to see how or if YRT will be shoehorning these into stops like VIVA Station # 9786 on Yonge Street at Crosby Avenue Southbound.   Perhaps they will go with the smaller 3 foot 10 inch smaller bench option in this case.  This will hopefully resolve the scatterbrained concept of some YRT's stops, like the Crosby Avenue stop noted above, that contain a mish mash of older shelters, benches and other items scattered about causing passengers to be careful walking on the sidewalk.

    One design flaw that I noticed, but doesn't appear on page 14 of this presentation provided by YRT, is the middle bench arm doesn't fully extend to the front of the bench itself. In the physical prototype at High Tech Road & Yonge Street the arm is present but on the front of the bench the arm is installed aproximatly six inches in from the front edge.  This provides opportunities for skateboarders to easily "grind" on the front of the bench.  The current location of the bus stop on a  newly poured wide concrete sidewalk area provides an open inventation to skateboarders for this type of activity. 
    Added to this issue the wood finish of the bench does look pretty inviting to a vandal looking to leave his/her mark that they love someone at a certain point in time.  So these benches as they physically stand now, need updating so that, at minimum the arms do come out to full front to prevent the grinding by skateboarders.  As for the vandalism issues, hopefully the prototype stops will show in a years time if this issue needs to be addressed through re-engineering.

    The prototype stop at Yonge Street & High Tech Road, didn't have the new garbage/recycling recepticals on hand.  Only the old existing recepticals, pictured above, were present.  Hopefully the new containers are better manufactured compared to the older ones that have issues.  The older recepticals, like the model pictured above, mean a tall person has to lean over and fire their items into the lower slung ones.  The cleanliness of these recepticals, apart from having the materials removed, has been suspect for quite sometime.  As an example, the current garbage/recycling container at VIVA Station #9779 at the Northbound 16th Avenue/Carrville Road and Yonge Street looks revolting and probably hasn't been powerwashed since it's installation.  The 16th-Carrville container also seems to be leaking whatever liquid contents it possesses onto the sidewalk below causing discoloration of the sidewalk.  So hopefully the new maintenance contract for these will include power washing at least on a yearly basis of each garbage container.  Perhaps having them all powerwashed by mid July might be an option in an attempt to cut down on the number of Yellow Jacket Wasps that seem to call these containers home during the summer months.

    The newstand, or location for publications, has been moved from the typical layout of being incorporated with the garbage cans.  Interestingly enough at the High Tech Road & Yonge Street prototype location, the newstand is more on the sidewalk seperated from the bus stop concrete platform instead of included.  Optically this looks a little weird that the YRT would locate more closer to the sidewalk away from the bus stop even though at this location the bus stop layout is not squeezed for space. 

    Besides location issues, the "Newstand" graphics printed directly on a vinyl sticker and applied aluminum publication stand is probably going to be a target for vandalism.  These stickers, like their Presto zone stickers at many current VIVA Stations are being defaced or peeled right off.  Thus YRT or their contractor are going to be replacing these stickers probably on a monthly basis to ensure they look fresh and clean.  

    Quizically, YRT didn't present an opportunity for the "multi publication" structure to be shown.  But these are probably meant more for the more high traffic areas like Finch Station and Newmarket Terminal where space is and publication box clutter is more likely to occur.  

    Originally when I reviewed  the prototype at Stop #2351, I thought the above structure appeared to be the base for a later installation of the garbage/recycling containers.  But upon further review of the design specifications for the bike racks (starting on page 1 of this YRT presentation), these were actually the bike racks.  It will be interesting to see how many people actually use these structures as bike racks as opposed to tripping over them while they are stuck in the concrete sidewalk.    Hopefully these will be used more than their current counterparts located at select VIVA Stations.  

    Overall the designs presented for the new YRT Street furniture to be located at bus stops are significant improvement.  But they seem to differ in some cases from the physical prototypes constructed and installed at select locations across the region especially in terms of the shelters and the benches.  Hopefully these defiencies will be noted and re-engineered before YRT moves forward with the roll out of these at bus stops across the region.  YRT passengers though will have to put up with the current mish mash of street furniture that dates from the era of municipal and GO Transit designs. Passengers will have to be optimistic that after YRT's field testing of the new street furniture, the flaws will be identified and fine tuned before it gets rolled out.  YRT though does have  history of rushing things out that are poorly designed and tend to punish passengers for taking transit rather than enhancing the experience.  Proof?  Try experiencing a VIVA shelter on a cold winter morning in February. 

    Note: For more photos of the YRT Bus Stop 2351 at Yonge & High Tech Road, visit the Richmond Hill section of my photos.

    Thursday, September 06, 2012

    A Couponed Big Mac Attack with a Side of Cold Fries

    With a coupon received in the mail, I headed off to check out the age old meals of McDonald's (255 Silver Linden Drive, Richmond Hill).  I waited in line for about two minutes before handing over my coupon to Dorothy, the "swing manager" according to her name tag, politly accepted my "make it a meal for $4.99" and my order.

    The Order: 1 Big Mac Meal with Medium Fries and a Medium Coke.

    I shuffled to my left at the counter so Dorothy could take the next order.  Fast forward two minutes and Dorothy had my Big Mac and Medium Fries with an empty medium cup on my tray all ready to go. 

    I ventured over to the soft drink fountains and condiment station.  At the soft drink fountain I filled my cup with Coke and observed the present from a previous customer of a half cup worth of already spilled Coke on the counter and a few straw wrappers.    After picking up the necessary accoutrements, I found a seat along the wall with the high sitting bar stool like chairs.

    The McDonald's seemed steadily filled with young families looking for a quick bite to eat before shopping at the Richmond Hill Wal-Mart.  There were two shopping carts in the restaurant, one doubling as a high chair with a hollering two year old making the saltiest mashed potatoes out of his fries with his bare hands.

    I dug into my meal.  The Big Mac looked and tasted average at best. McDonald's fries are normally known for being the best of the fast food industry.  Tonight's sampling left a lot to be desired.  They were soggy and just this side of cold in temperature.  Not the greatest fries ever made, but, sadly, I have had worse.  The fountain Coke was pretty good for a McDonald's, not overly syrupy but also not carbonated tasting coloured water either. 

    Overall, this McDonald's is a little different from your conventional McDonald's. It is located in a Wal-Mart which means it is a little cramped in space in comparison as well the clientele tends to think it can bring in their Wal-mart shopping carts.  But overall I find the service to be faster and the food about the same quality as the regular McDonald's.  The best thing about this location is it provides a an opportunity to satisfy a Big Mac Attack before starting our weekly shopping trip.

    Religion at what cost?

    The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has recently been examining it's budget for savings and to ensure non provincially funded costs meet revenues.  This has included examining the costs to community groups renting school gynamasiums for sports like basketball, scouts and the like.  in reviewing the expenditures for community groups the board explained it succintly like this:

    The Board charges fees for permits and currently incurs an $11-million loss on permit revenues compared to costs,”... The ministry has provided funding through the Priority Schools Initiative to offset the costs of permits for non-profit groups, but it is a fixed amount each year. If permits are not cost recovery, the Board must redirect the funding intended to support care, cleaning and maintenance of schools during regular day school hours to subsidize permit fees.

    Seems simple enough.  While the board's review of ensuring is what money goes out, also comes in to break even which commendable, the TDSB's review leaves some questions. 

    In the 2011-2012 school year the TDSB responded to parental inquiries about student safety on Friday afternoons.  At Valley Park Middle School , Muslim students were leaving the building to attend Friday afternoon prayer sessions at a local Mosque.  The school board attempted to resolve the issue by inviting a local Imam into the school to hold the prayer sessions in the school cafeteria.  Even former education minister Kathleen Wynne supported the accomodation.   This seemed to resolve the issue of student safety issues brought forward as the students would no longer be leaving the school.

    Fast forward to the Toronto District School Board's budget review for community groups recently completed. The school increased fees for basketball groups and at least two christian churches that use school board facilities for their worship services. As the Toronto Sun's Joe Warmington noted,  one church group had their permit fees increased by 800%.  Joe also did some further investigation to find out if the Muslim group at Valley Park Middle School would have to start paying similar fees for using the school cafeteria.  The Toronto District School Board's Communications Department (i.e. "the messenger") responded the question about possible board levied fees for the Muslim use of the school for Friday afternoon prayers with:

    My understanding is that is a religious accommodation as opposed to a permit-for-use and is not affected by this. - Ryan Bird, Toronto District School Board quoted in Toronto Sun.

    The TDSB can not have it both ways.  On one hand the Muslim students can bring in an Imam to hold Friday afternoon prayer under "religious accomodation" rules the school board has while on the other Christian churches using board facilities on Sundays or any other part of the week are charged fees under it's "Community Use of Schools" policies.  How does the board in any way think slotting one religious group under "religious accomodation" and another under "Community Use of Schools" is correct?  One policy apparently, according to the board's communication's representative Ryan Bird, allows one group to use the board space for free while another policy charges for use by another religious group.  The inconsistancy here at the board needs to be addresssed.

    The board needs to merge and ammend the community use policy and the religious accomodation policy into one to ensure all religious groups are treated fairly.  Fees should be levied to both religious organizations to recoup the costs for maintaining the space used.  Thus, if the same school cafeteria is used by a Muslim group on Friday afternoon for two hours and the same space is used by a Christian church for two hours on a Sunday, the same fee should apply to both.  That being said, if a community basketball association uses the same space, the same fee should apply as well.  This is only fair to treat all community groups equally while also ensuring the books are balanced.  Not only is it fair to the community groups, it is also fair to the taxpayers as well.

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