Balzac's (Market St.)
Balzac's has opened its eighth cafe in the burgeoning Market St. area. It's a suitable place, with its cobblestones, wide patios and plenty of tourists and city dwellers hitting the St. Lawrence Market next door. Like the other locations, there's a French cafe vibe, thanks to the beautiful tiles and wood, banquettes and cafe tables, and a few Balzac's posters.
Now that the mini-empire has spent several years dominating Toronto's cafe scene, they've got their branding down. Every square inch is curated, pristine and lovely, with Balzac-emblazoned cups, cards, and posters available for purchase.
The countertop is lined with glass cake domes filled with cookies ($2), brownies ($3.90) and biscotti; baskets hold croissants, scones and muffins ($2.25-$2.75).
While few coffee shops in Toronto match Balzac's in terms of design and atmosphere, lots of the newer indie places make a better cup. You won't find pour overs or Chemex experimentation here, but for a chain (with eight locations, I'm pretty sure Balzac's qualifies) they are pretty good at what they do.
Using Harmony milk and fair trade organic beans, you can get a range of the classics from the espresso bar - espressos ($2.25, $2.75), Americanos ($2.45, $2.95), caffe lattes ($4.25, $4.75, $5.25). If you're craving something refreshing, you can get them iced, or try a frappe (4.95). I had an Americano and it was quite fine - a little watery and thin on crema, but the overall taste pleasing.
Clad in black and pinstriped aprons, the staff are friendly and engaged. You order at the far end of the bar, and pick up your drink at the opposite end - a system designed to accommodate the long lines I've seen build at other Balzac locations.
The espresso-based drinks are made with their exclusive espresso blend, but you can also get drip of some of their other blends: Framer's Blend, Balzac's Blend or one of the single blend features like their Celebes Kalossi or Sumatra Mandheling. Find something you like, and you can take the beans home as well; they are all roasted in small batches by their eco-friendly Loring Roaster in Stoney Creek.
Not a coffee drinker? They use Mariage Frères, a Parisian company, for their teas. Their feature is a luxurious drink called a Parisian Mist, which is French Breakfast tea with steamed milk and vanilla syrup (small $3.95, medium $4.45, or large $4.95).
The patio out front will be hopping once the construction on the street is complete, but a few enthusiastic souls chose to brave the noise and plumes of diesel on the sunny day. I'm sure Balzac would approve.
Photos by Jesse Milns.