The Artisan Baker
The Artisan Baker is already a hit after a mere three weeks in operation. The evidence is in the fact that, as I arrive during weekday lunch, not a single free seat is to be found in the entire bakery and cafe; never mind the perpetually long lineup by the cash. It's as if Yonge and St. Clair has never seen a quiche lorraine before.
Or, perhaps it's simply that Yonge and St. Clair has never seen a quiche lorraine prepared by chef and owner Bruno Beaudoin before. Trained in France and backed by extensive experience in Toronto's hotel industry, Beaudoin and a business partner seized the skeleton of the former Passione Restaurant and transformed it with the help of Glen Poloso Interiors.
And I must say, the visual first impression is a good one. Hanging chandeliers, marble tables, and tufted banquettes are offset by raw wooden flooring, all while staff scurry about delivering a sort of table-service-lite. "We have full table service at dinner," explains Artisan Bakery manager Jean Paquette, adding that the switch from lunch to dinner happens at about 5 p.m. "For lunch, you order up at the counter and if it's something we can prepare there we'll make it for you and you can take it to a table. Or else if it's a sandwich of something, we'll do that in the kitchen and bring it out to you."
The Artisan Baker does a lot more than sandwiches, however, aiming to have at least one hot daily dish, a pasta selection, and vegetarian option for the lunchtime rush (the dinner is à la carte).
On the day I drop by, the bakery cafe is offering a pork shoulder stew in a white wine reduction (made from ethically raised Quebec pork), a red pepper soup, a Mediterranean farfalle with vegetables, plus the regular quiches, croissant sandwiches, cheeses, pastries, baguettes, buns, and other baked goods. There's coffee, too, made from Alfa Cappuccino Italian roasted beans.
The spread is a little overwhelming (or maybe that's just the crowd), but my choices are limited to grab-and-go since I'm not very keen on waiting for a seat. Despite the indulgent-looking eclairs ($3.25) and seemingly popular pain aux raisins ($3.25), I take Jean's recommendation and try out Artisan's chocolate croissant twist ($3.25), which he describes as a croissant with "more crunch, and less breading."
After a couple bites, I'm instantly converted from the pain au chocolat to the croissant twist, largely because of the soft, almost custard-like chocolate filling. There's also a greater croissant shell to bread ratio (a plus, in my books) and a sweet, sticky outer glaze. My one critique is that said sticky glaze doesn't pair well with paper napkins, and thus, the napkin should be left out of the to-go bag.
All of the pastries, breads, and baked goods are made daily in the onsite kitchen, as well as the hot options available at lunch. Jean says the bakery is hoping for its liquor license in the coming weeks, and plans to offer a selection of Ontario microbrews, along with a short list of wines and spirits. In which case, count on that lunch line being just a little bit longer.
Photos by Morris Lum