Certainly not willing to suffice for a meager three (or four) meals per day on our trek to Canada a handful of additional stops for sweets and caffeine were made in each city; four in Toronto including Boreal Gelato, Bobbette and Bell, Grind House, and Soma Chocolates.
Beginning first with coffee, as every day should, my original plan to visit Thor was quashed by their absurd hours and as such a detour was made to visit the Kensington market. Perhaps an obscure choice for coffee, the main point was actually not coffee at all but instead browsing the market and people watching but as luck would have it we stumbled upon Grind House where both coffee and people watching were of the utmost quality.
Passing through the outdoor crowd of hipsters, pot heads, hippies, and otherwise seemingly normal youngsters and making our way into the store the first thing to note was the smell – a mélange of roasts plus notes of baked goods – and relatively sure that this is what heaven smells like a young woman greeted us and asked if we were ready to order, a simple decision for myself the moment I saw they had not only a clover, but also sun roasted Ethiopian Yirrgacheffe. Rich and thick yet smooth on the finish with notes of cocoa, caramel, and even a sort of ginger tone this was a complex brew that required minimal sweetener and good enough that after wandering the market some more I returned for another cup and a 12oz bag to take home.
Moving from coffee to chocolate, another stop would bring us to Soma Chocolates after a few hours of browsing the previously unexplored Distillery District and although quite small, the shop would prove to be quite the attraction with Easter approaching thus leaving us plenty of time to browse as the line progressed – and allowing me time to order yet another coffee, this one an Americano prepared while my aunt picked out some chocolates and although a bit astringent on its own a flavor I imagine would have melded nicely with one of Soma’s signature hot chocolates.
With dinner plans for myself and a friend while my mother and aunt planned to stay in my sampling of Soma’s chocolates would be few, but with a number of truffles selected by my aunt along with two tablets each of the flavors I tasted was good with the Costa Rican Milk Chocolate with Wild Cherries a nicely balanced tablet just a touch too sweet, the “Sparky” Truffle rife with Gianduja and Poprocks an interesting textural experience with great hazelnut flavor, and the 8 year aged Balsamic Vinegar Dark Chocolate Truffle the best of the bunch – a semi-soft centered sweet meets savory concoction rivaling some of the best truffles I’ve had stateside.
Another day and another snack would lead me to Boreal – a spot I’d originally considered for brunch but decided against due to traffic – and instead stopping in for some gelato I rather wish I would have passed on all together. Small and understaffed with a modest selection it would be more than ten minutes of waiting in line before the single server had time to take my order and even then, despite only a single patron before me, it would take another five minutes to deliver my order as she was busy making coffee for one of the seated tables and preparing a waffle for another.
Generally understanding when a store is understaffed that it is certainly not the server’s fault, what disappointed me even more about Boreal was the actual quality of the product – my small cup of salted caramel far more sweet than salty and save for the swirls of liquid caramel within lacking much of the expected nuance generally present in salty caramel ice cream. Dense and creamy I really cannot fault the texture, so perhaps this simply isn’t the store’s best flavor but at the same time I cannot really say I’d rush back to try others given the overall experience.
Saving the best for last, the final member of our quartet of ancillary eats (actually the first of the four we opted to visit) was Queen Street’s Bobbette and Belle, a small bakery and cupcakery located in Leslieville. Having heard great things about both the macarons and the cupcakes from a pair of trusted palates and with plentiful seating, free Wi-Fi, and a convenient location from our hotel it made for an ideal stop after lunch but before dinner – particularly for my mother and aunt who did not have dinner plans that evening.
Larger than it looks from the outside and with ample seating at a large community table, Bobbette and Belle is the sort of place I knew I would love the moment I walked in – the kitchen open for guests to look into, the walls decorated with kitchenware, servers friendly and helpful, and the selection of products expansive, beautiful, and well organized. With the line short and the options plethoric it took a short while for us to stand back and weigh our options, but deciding on a “divide and conquer” approach we eventually settled on sharing ten options plus a rich hot chocolate with bruleed marshmallows and after paying the bill made our way to the table where the items were brought out on individual plates by the servers.
Beginning first with a quartet of macarons, at $2.00 each the quality varied from option to option and although the fillings were routinely excellent with Gianduja, Pistachio, Salted Caramel, and Milk Chocolate Caramel each texturally smooth, intensely sweet, and in the case of both caramel filled options just a touch saline, the cookies were a 50/50 mix of hit and miss with the Pistachio and Milk Chocolate crisp and airy while the Gianduja and Salted Caramel were unfortunately a touch gummy.
Moving next to another quartet, this time of cupcakes, our choices of Pumpkin, Red Velvet, Salted Caramel, and Peanut Butter all shined with each cake dense and moist while the frosting was light, airy, and served in a perfect ratio so as not to overwhelm the cake. Rife win cinnamon and topped with a vanilla cream the pumpkin option particularly reminded me of pumpkin pie and although slightly more dry than the other options due to the roasted peanuts, the peanut butter was literally the flavor of Skippy right off the spoon. Not to be outdone, the red velvet with cream cheese frosting was a melt-in-your-mouth sort of texture with the slight sourness well matched to the cocoa notes while the salted caramel proved to be the best of the group with the cake subtly sweet while the frosting, flecked with fleur de sel and bits of caramel was vastly more so.
Having already visited caramel thrice in the cupcakes and macarons, the final two selections should come as no surprise to anyone (especially anyone who knows me) and with both warmed up before service it is difficult for me to decide whether I enjoyed the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel sauce or the Caramel and Apple Bread Pudding more. Beginning first with the toffee pudding – a dense and flavorful cake rife with dates, butter, and what I believe was ginger – this was the sort of sweet that begged for milk or coffee and topped with a sauce produced by heating molasses, muscovado, and cream it was *almost* too much, just the way sticky toffee pudding should be.
Moving at last to the bread pudding, served in a waxed paper and perhaps even more buttery and “sticky” than the toffee pudding, this fine example was made from hand torn day-old croissants (also baked in house) mixed with freshly sliced apples and soaked in cream custard overnight before baking. Beginning with such a decadent base I can only surmise that the dish would have been quite lovely on its own or perhaps with a bit of ice cream, but instead Bobbette and Belle further gilded the lily by adding dense salty caramel studded with more apples to create something even more luscious, a definite contender for best fruit-based bread pudding any of us had ever tasted.
With plenty more eating to be done both in Toronto and further north in Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, and spots between Bobbette and Belle remained one of my favorite spots for dessert on the whole trip and with many great pastries along the way both the caramel cupcake and the puddings still resonate – it is a spot that should be on anyone’s short list for sweets on a visit to Toronto mostly for the food, but also for the atmosphere and service.