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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

balzacs toronto

Photos by Jesse Milns.


Balzac's (Market St.)

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