Neo Coffee Bar
Neo Coffee Bar is a contemporary bakery and cafe unique to Toronto's crop of rustic or European styled espresso bars. Found at the base of a condo in the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood, it's a collaborative effort from Bruce Ly (formerly of Voodoo Child ) and Masashi Nakagome (formerly of Manic and also, Nadege ).
Full disclosure, neither of these owners are strangers to me. Their respective places of previous employment are equal distance from my house, and I've been a patron of both for years.
Their new cafe is really beautiful - it's slick and modern, featuring curvilinear concrete walls and warm wood accents. Bench seating furnished with tiny pedestal tables stretch the length of the wall facing the bar, while further back there's long communal tables and a couple spacious booths
The drinks menu lists the standard variety of espresso based drinks; Americano ($2.75), Cortado ($3.25), Cappuccino ($3.50), and more. I order a latte ($4) made with the house roast, a custom blend from de Mello Palheta with rich, chocolatey notes.
There will always be a second roast on offer as well. Bruce does not let his regulars get complacent in their coffee drinking routine by constantly switching things up. Back at Voodoo, I used to resent the forced decision first thing in the a.m. but gradually I've come to appreciate it - it's helped me appreciate the nuances of different coffee.
The intent at Neo is to feature a different single origin roast from an international source each month. Look forward to trying out Coffee Libre from South Korea, and Levelup Coffee out of Colorado.
Aside from espresso, there's drip coffee starting at $1.70 for a small, plus a pour-over bar.
The pastry case is stocked with an impressive assortment of house-baked cookies, muffins and sandwiches, but the real gems are the 'big in Japan' pastries; specifically roll cakes and profiteroles.
The crĂ¨me puffs on display are simply balls of choux pastry, it's not until an order comes through that they're piped with a mix of custard and whipping cream then sprinkled with confectioners' sugar. There's no chance for the choux to get soggy - they're truly lovely.
I try the Matcha Aduki ($3.75) with a red bean centre from the line-up of roll cakes. It's remarkably delicate, the cake is incredibly moist and spongy. Whole cakes sell for $18, while half a cake costs $9.75 - a plain variation is slightly cheaper still ($13/$6.90).
I end up devouring dessert first, but the sandwich I tried was equally as fresh. The baguettes are brought in from Blackbird Baking Co. , and topped with things like smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber, or maple chicken and tahini.
The cafe might eventually get around to acquiring a liquor license, but for now the focus is all about coffee and fresh baked goods.
Photos by Morris Lum