Grinning Face is a non-dairy gelato shop in Cabbagetown beside Café Olya on Parliament. The shop specializes in artisanal gelato made from scratch using handmade coconut milk and natural, fresh ingredients.
A family business, the shop is owned and operated by sisters Keo Williamson and Julie Phokeo. The walk-down entrance of the basement shop can make it difficult to spot.
The store is modest in size, with a small seating area at the entrance and minimal standing room inside. Behind the gelato counter is a large, open concept kitchen, where I find Julie - a former pastry chef for Oliver & Bonacini - churning a fresh batch of gelato.
The concept is centered on Keo and Julies' long-held family coconut milk recipe, which forms the basis of this creamy, gelato magic. The gelato is made through a rigorous process that entails a whole lot of craftsmanship with an emphasis on freshness.
The coconut milk - made using coconuts from the Dominican - takes three days to prepare. After that, the ingredients - purchased from Ontario farms - are mixed with the coconut milk and churned within 48 hours.
All flavours are free of nuts, dairy, soya, gluten, artificial ingredients and preservatives. In total, there are thirteen flavours - including vegan options. Six of the flavours are regular staples made year-round and the rest are seasonal concoctions dictated by what's in season.
Some of the regular flavours include madagascar bourbon vanilla bean, dark & handsome chocolate - made using fresh chocolate from Hummingbird Chocolate - mighty coconut and punch buggy coffee crème brule.
My favourite are the seasonal flavours, which are comprised of whimsical pairings and only offered for a limited time. These include wild raspberry and mint, maple and pumpkin and Ontario wildflower honey and roasted beets - a mix of golden and red beets. But my recommendation is the ginger and chocolate, a ginger-based gelato with dark chocolate swirls.
It would be hard to get bored of Grinning Face with the constant integration of new flavours. They also take requests and recommendations. I suggest a flavour made from rose water.
The gelato is served in single serving cups at $4.50 and take away pints for $10.50.
Grinning Face is only open on the weekend with limited store hours. Pints are also sold at some specialty stores in Toronto and can sometimes be found at the Sorauren Farmers' Market .
Writing by Vivian Tabar. Photos by Hector Vasquez.