Francesca Italian Bakery
Francesca Italian Bakery, with its bright red sign and cream coloured facade, is hard to miss. Though the large, boxy building cuts an imposing figure, the sweet smells and cheerful conversation that trickle through its doors make it anything but intimidating.
Francesca first opened in 1994. Its founder, Angelo Battaglia, was a Sicilian immigrant who wanted to bring his culture to Canada. He named the business after his wife, whom he cites as a constant source of inspiration.
Francesca isn't the only member of the Battaglia family to contribute to her husband’s bakery.
Over the last two decades, Angelo's sons, Francesco and Fabio, have become increasingly involved in the family business: Francesco works as the primary pastry chef, while Fabio is in charge of staffing, scheduling and marketing.
Both brothers grew up watching Angelo cook. As such, baking and breadmaking have become second nature to them.
Fabio recalls first helping his father when he was in school. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to pursue a career in baking, but something about Francesca's atmosphere drew him to the business. He would eventually identify that "something" as a shared passion for well-made food.
"Italian food is something that everyone loves," declares Fabio.
Demonstrating his point, the bakery was packed when we arrived. Customers of all ages were lined up by the hot table or perusing the dry goods section. Some were even enjoying their purchases at one of Francesca's many checkered tabletops.
As further proof of the food's popularity, a regular stopped us when she noticed the items we were sampling.
"Those ones are really good," she announced upon seeing our plate of cannoli. She went on to describe the bakery as her "second home," and even showed us a seat by the window that she has claimed as her own.
This regular's attachment to "her" spot is not unusual. Other customers admitted to making weekly (or in some cases, daily) visits, proving that Francesca is not only a bakery, but a community.
Of course, as pleasant as the bakery's atmosphere may be, its menu is still the main attraction.
If you're in the market for a hearty meal, look no further than the focaccia sandwich ($8.99). Each one is made with freshly baked focaccia and stuffed with soft cheeses, cured meats and fresh greens.
This particular sandwich contains provolone, capicola, arugula and a variety of Italian spices.
Arancini ($3.99) are balls of cheesy risotto, coated in breadcrumbs and fried to golden perfection. They're crispy on the outside and tender on the inside — not to mention packed with peas, ground meat and savoury sauce.
Cannoli are one of the bakery's specialties and come in two different sizes. The larger size ($3.49) is a more substantial snack, but neither one skimps on the crunchy coating or the decadent ricotta filling. The contrasting textures make for a unique (and flavourful!) treat.
Gelato ($3.75) is available from April to September. Though Francesca boasts an impressive selection of flavours — from lemon and chocolate to mango and coffee — the creamy pistachio is the clear favourite.
"My favourite thing about my work," Fabio confides, "is that there's always something to learn. Always something to do. Things are always changing."
Yet as the saying goes, the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. Francesca has been dazzling customers for nearly thirty years and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.
Francesca Italian Bakery is located at 2 Invergordon Ave. Open 7 days a week.