Constantinople Bakery and Coffee isn't really your average bakery or coffee shop. After a long, 10-month construction period, what used to be a Lomography store on Queen West has been converted into a large-yet-cozy cafe and artisan bakery whose baking facilities are visible through big windows in the back.
Named as a tribute to where the world's first public coffee house debuted during the Ottoman Empire, this place, like that Turkish city ( now known as Istanbul ), combines East with West.
Owners and brothers Ahmet and Nihat Mercan (along with Ahmet's wife Nilqun), who are originally from Turkey, want people to slow down their pace of life, relax and stay awhile here, as evidenced by the free WiFi, power outlets and ample seating. Ahmet previously led culinary tours in Turkey and a shelf in the cafe features travel books on the country for public perusal.
In terms of caffeine, espresso-based beverages (espresso/Americano, $2.60; flat white/macchiato, $3.10; cappuccino/latte, $3.40) are made with an exclusive custom "Sultan" blend of beans from Propeller Coffee ( Roast magazine's Micro Roaster of the Year ) on a La Marzocco. Loose leaf Pluck Teas ($2.50 each) are also on offer.
However, those who have the time to sit and savour a drink should order the to-stay only, superfine, stone-ground Turkish coffee ($3.90).
It's boiled (with or without sugar - let them know in advance) in a cezve , a traditional copper coffee pot, and then served in a beautiful cup and saucer from Istanbul along with a piece of really good double-roasted pistachio Turkish delight (for extra sweetness) and a glass of water (the mark of a good Turkish coffee spot).
While it doesn't seem like very much, this strong, but not overly so, liquid is meant to be sipped - hopefully accompanied by good conversation - not downed like an espresso shot. Be careful not to drink the grounds at the bottom of the cup; once you reach them, you're supposed to make a wish, invert the cup onto the saucer and pass it to a friend for fortune-telling purposes .
The bakery side of Constantinople offers freshly baked French breads ($1-$4 each), croissants ($2.95-$3.10) and scones ($2.50), plus almond financiers ($2), lemon madeleines ($1.25), lemon custard cannelés (1 for $1.25, 3 for $3.25) and popular Nutella twists ($4), all made from scratch.
Of course, there are also Turkish baked goods like simit ($1.50), a 16th-Century precursor to the bagel, that has a hint of sweetness to it. The one I try is covered in sesame seeds and has a soft and chewy interior and a glazed exterior; it's a bit like a Montreal bagel. Actual bagels from Nu Bugel are also available, as the Mercans don't have their own wood-burning oven here (yet?).
Boat-shaped simit "pizzas" ($4.75 each) contain fillings of ham and cheese or spinach, while börek , a flaky butter pastry, comes in two forms: as a swirl ($3.25) stuffed with spinach and topped with black sesames, or as dense "water" börek ($3.75), where each thin crepe-like layer is boiled, interspersed with feta and parsley, and then baked.
As the bakery side of the operation settles in, more items are being added each day. The Mercans aim to bring back slow culture and turn this into a spot where patrons have the time to appreciate the art on the walls (the plan is to rent exhibition space to local artists who can't afford galleries), indulge in a drink and a treat, and enjoy life as it comes.
Photos by Jesse Milns.