Portland Variety has taken over the coveted spot at the corner of Portland and King formerly occupied by KiWe Kitchen . The cafe (and soon to be launched restaurant in the back), the brainchild of Le Gourmand owner Milton Nunes, offers many of its sister cafe's great treats, but with a few features that keep Portland Variety distinct.
The first thing I notice is the Mod Bar espresso machine. The last - and only - time I witnessed one of those in action was at the launch of the Pilot Roasters on Wagstaff this past winter. A modular espresso machine is built in component parts, most of which is hidden underneath the bar; it not only makes an amazing coffee, but prevents barista activity from being hidden behind a bulky machine.
The cafe portion of Portland Variety is a tight space, with a few marble counters for standing and grabbing a quick snack, so keeping things streamlined with the Mod Bar is a wonderful idea.
I ask Nunes to make me an Americano ($2.43, while lattes and cappuccinos are $2.70, drip coffee $1.45) He used Las Chicas beans; the result was a smooth, gorgeous, tawny crema that lingered with no trace of bitterness.
They're trying out the Las Chicas for now, but expect a revolving door of beans at Portland Variety as they find the best around.
Coffee aside, the dove-gray room is floor-to-ceiling windows on two corners, bringing in a wonderful natural light to the space, enhancing the colour of the gray and white marbled counters, and inviting passersby to notice the fine baked goods on offer right at the window.
Peek inside the glass cases, and you'll see those famous La Gourmand double thick cookies are showcased there, as are beautiful chocolate soufflés ($3.75), chocolate, almond and plain croissants ($2.40-2.65), and almond financers ($3).
I commend Nunes on his unusual selection of treats. Often it's just a muffin overload, but at Portland Variety, along with financiers and soufflés, I see a lemon bichon ($2.70), nookie cookies ($1.25), and drool-worthy chocolate bombs ($3.75) - molten lava cakes made of 60% Belgian chocolate. I had a sampler of a breakfast croissant, a chocolate soufflé, an apple Danish ($2.70) and a chocolate cookie ($2.50), and everything tasted even better than they sounded.
If you are nervous about those kinds of waistline-expanding indulgences, there are several yogurt and fruit parfaits ($3.75), fresh juice ($3.80), and granola ready to go.
Omelettes and other light egg dishes will be available as soon as the back restaurant area opens up.
With all the other surrounding businesses and foot traffic, this particular corner space has been regretfully underutilized - until now. Nunes and Portland Variety are set to liven up the spot with great coffee, treats and a broader menu to come.
Photos by Jesse Milns.