St. John's Bakery
St. John's Bakery's olive boule was a revelation in bread for me when I tried it for the first time. This round loaf has a classic sourdough base with a hearty crust, and its supple insides are packed with tender pieces of black olive.
The bakery is run by St. John the Compassionate Mission and now in its 25th year, has carved out a niche for itself through its wide offering of artisanal bread and pastries - all made with natural and organic ingredients only.
A dozen years ago, Father Roberto Ubertino spent a year with a small village bakery in Brittany and returned to launch St. John's Bakery in Toronto. For many years the bakery was housed in the basement of a church on Broadview Avenue, where bread was made by hand, following the methods of the Breton bakers. Now their Riverside storefront is on Broadview Avenue, just north of Queen Street East in the building adjacent to the Mission, and while they've expanded operations, each loaf is still shaped by hand.
St. John's specialty is their sourdough loaves, of which there are over a dozen kinds in rotation. They offer everyday table breads like rye and baguettes, as well as others like walnut-raisin. Prices of loaves range from $4.50 - $6.50, depending on size.
The bakery also produces a plentiful menu of cookies, scones, sweet breads, cakes and tarts. On my visit I realize that bringing a date with me would have been wise, but as I am on my own, I strategically pick out a few items. The chocolate brioche is elegantly dusted in icing sugar ($2.50), and the first bite reveals lovely, dark and melted chocolate inside. I set it aside and save it for my toaster oven that is just a short bike ride home.
With a focus on classics, I also take home a plain croissant ($1.75). Toronto has no shortage of trusted and true croissants; from Clafouti's soft and doughy claw to Patachou's buttery and crispy curve - I've had them all and appreciate each for its unique qualities. St. John's croissant is wonderfully sweet and the texture is flaky and soft.
They also sell a handful of varieties of scones, all with interesting flavour twists: the orange and ginger marmalade with dark chocolate chips seems to be the most popular, but the addition of cardamom with prune catches my attention. About the size of my palm, the scone resembles more of a biscuit to me, and lacks the light and buttery goodness of a scone that I do adore. However, I do enjoy the hint of cardamom against the mellow sweetness of the prune.
Next I'm onto the tarts. There are generally a couple of flavours on rotation, and this Saturday there is a beautiful apple crumble ($3.50). The crust is buttery and dense and apple crumble mixture on top is not too sweet.
On my way out I grab the aforementioned olive boule ($4.00) and a loaf of lemon pound cake ($7.00), which I've had the pleasure of enjoying before and know very well goes great with a steaming cup of tea and good company. It's the perfect texture, dense and sweet, with just a slight hint of lemon.
Beyond the bakery, their products can be found all over Toronto at organic food suppliers and farmers markets, from Trinity Bellwoods on Tuesdays, to Nathan Phillips Square on Wednesdays, to Evergreen Brick Works on Saturday morning.
Jeff Connell, one of the bakers, has been with the bakery for about four years, and chose St. John's because it represents so much more than just bread. With strong values and a focus to source the best ingredients possible (organic, natural and mostly local), St. John's is part of a compassionate community that believes they can lend back to society through their products. Moreover, the bakery provides employment and training opportunities for members of the Mission; bakery workers have included refugees, people struggling with addictions, people with emotional troubles or mental illness, and single parents struggling with poverty.
All in all, St. John's Bakery is the kind of business that we should support. It's clear that the spirit and mandate of the Mission is reflective in their bakery operations - their product is a direct aim to contribute to an inclusive community for all Torontonians. Connell notes that it is a product "made out of love," and when you try their bread, I'm sure you'll agree that heart and thought has been put into it.
St. John's Bakery is open Tuesday - Friday from 8:30 am - 6:00 pm and Saturday from 8:30 am - 4:00 pm. They are closed for business on Sundays and Mondays.