Sometimes you just have to go to a conference to feel like a professional.
That’s why I recently found myself in a downtown Montreal hotel surrounded by over 150 food bloggers – a handful of which were men and the majority under-40 females who could simultaneously post on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter faster than I can crack an egg.
I like to hang with like-minded individuals. Translation: all my friends live to eat – ravenously! Including my book club buddy and fellow running mate Glennis, who dropped this bomb last week, “My Kiwi friends just opened a bakery.”
She barely finished her sentence before we hightailed over to Wiseys Pies & Bakehouse (874 Eglinton Ave. E. (416) 423-9473).
Truth be told, my expectations were low. I’ve never been a fan of savoury pies (i.e. chicken pot pie), knew nothing about New Zealand baking and was dubious that anything other than speeding TTC buses and barreling semi-trucks could be found at the corner of Eglinton and Laird.
But one look at their spiffy logo and expansive storefront windows and I knew Wiseys meant business (despite opening just a month ago). Glennis and I walked in to their bustling bakery/cafe and were mesmerized by the bounty of it all.
Unlike many independent coffee shops in Riverdale that stock the same old muffins, croissants and scones, Wiseys bakes everything in house and much of it with true Kiwi flare.
Take the Sally Lunn Bun. It’s a sweet dough bun full of sultanas about the size of a personal pizza that’s covered in white or pink icing then dipped in coconut.
“A bunch of blokes will take that out for a smoker,” explains owner/head baker Gary Wise. In other words, this bun is fit for a crowd and enjoyed during work breaks in New Zealand.
Then there are the pies. As ubiquitous as fish and chips in New Zealand, Wiseys “hand held” take-away personal pies drew a lineup outside their doors at their June 28 opening. A lineup of ex-pat New Zealanders, that is, prompting Gary to shout out “Let the Canadians try one!”
Wife and co-owner Karen Kriese-Wise likes to pull out Wiseys Pie Chart for the uninitiated. Each pie, whether it’s mince (ground beef), steak and mushroom, butter chicken or potato top (there are currently a dozen different varieties) has a unique slash in the pastry to signify what’s underneath. Hand-held pies cost $5 or $6 and family-size, large pies $17.
I chose Thai Green Curry Chicken and fell in love the first mouthful. Emerging warm from the heated display case, my pie had a crisp, golden crust and its rich coconut chicken curry filling made for a spicy, breakfast pick me up.
Glennis ordered the raspberry cream bun and dug into its pillowy, sweetness laden with freshly whipped cream and jam.
Not a coffee drinker, Glennis was lured by Karen’s offer of another Kiwi-invention, a “flat white” which straddles the line between latte and cappuccino. Wiseys use beans from Pilot Coffee Roasters (Tasting Bar at 50 Wagstaff Drive) not only because they are excellent but surprise, fellow New Zealanders are at the helm there, too.
Glennis is picky about the coffee she doesn’t usually drink and loved her flat white, as did I. It didn’t hurt that a crispy little chocolatey cookie comes on every saucer. There’s an extensive list of coffees on the Wiseys’ blackboard including a Long Black, which is Kiwi for an “Americano” and if you’re bringing children, it’s nice to know you can order a “Fluffy” which is frothy hot milk topped with chocolate or sprinkles.
Translations don’t end there. Try an Afghan Biscuit, which is a brown, crisp, cocoa-rich cookie full of corn flakes, or a Lamington. Baker Gary likes to “dress up” his Lamingtons “the posh way” splitting a round sponge cake into two thin layers, filling it with whipped cream, jam and strawberries then blanketing with chocolate ganache.
Wise is full of ideas and has plans to introduce more to the bakery. He’s got three new pies in the works: Lamb and kumera (the Maori word for sweet potato), beef and dark ale, plus The Popeye: beef, spinach and potato mash. Also coming are fresh artisan breads, sandwiches and a Pavlova for Christmas. He might even bake up some ANSACs, named for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and developed during World War I.
I’ll leave that one to your imagination, or reconnoiter your way over to Wiseys for a live tour.
We live on a lake but you’d never know it. Torontonians have been robbed of their waterside and there’s no time we feel this stronger than in the heat of summer.
But there’s a culinary solution called The Rectory Café.
First bonus: You get to take a boat there. The Rectory Cafe is situated on Ward’s Island and the gale of a great lake will rush through your hair if you stand on the deck.
Second bonus: You’ll forget you live in Canada’s biggest metropolis and may feel a little Riviera coming on as you settle into the Rectory’s spacious patio and point your chair towards the blue, blue, blue of the lake view beyond.
That’s what we did on a recent lazy Sunday afternoon. We were on our bikes and took the first ferry. No matter that it went to Centre Island. It was a 10 or 15-minute ride past all those Centreville shenanigans to Ward’s idyllic southern boardwalk. Watch for the sign, turn left and enjoy the cafe’s regal lakeside entrance.
No matter if you arrive at their 11 a.m. opening or mid-afternoon, the Rectory’s kitchen keeps the place hopping all afternoon long and into the evening — especially if the weather is cooperating.
Thanks to a little inside info from the staff, we started with a tall glass of Barking Squirrel amber lager produced by Toronto microbrewery Hop City. It’s no secret that I love beer and the squirrel really satisfies with its rich burnt orange colour and what Hop City calls “noble hop aroma”.
We paired this with the perfect app: Char Grilled Calamari ($12) draped in a lemon oil and scallion thyme aioli. The calamari was perky and tender to the bite, its inherently bland personality enlivened by a perfectly piquant sauce.
Next, the day’s “special”. If you’re a devotee of Anthony Bourdain, you won’t go near a restaurant special but at the Rectory, it’s a must. This special was so fine, I have to apologize in advance that it’s not on the menu. Imagine the world’s best fish taco: juicy morsels of spice-rubbed Basa fillet topped with caramelized onions and salsa verde on a simple wheat taco softer than a cloud.
David opted for the Steamed Asparagus and Goat Cheese Omelette ($14) and was not disappointed. Okay, omelettes seem simple but can be a disastrous, eggy mess if handled poorly. This one was fluffy, light, and turned by an angel.
I considered dipping a straw into the Rectory’s trendiest drink for dessert. But I was hesitant… did I really want to sip from a tiny can of Italian sparkling wine made from some royals in Austria that have hit the drinking waves with their Prinz Max Emanuel Thurn und Taxis sparkling bianco?
Bucking the trend, I ordered cake instead. The Rectory has a long list of desserts but the best are always, again, the specials made in house by pastry chef Sergio. Even the house-brewed coffee is above average. The only thing that doesn’t seem to work at the Rectory is a rainy day. Most of the seating is al fresco.
That’s why I love their website http://therectorycafe.com/ where you can plug into the weather forecast and the ferry schedule instantly to plan a little Riviera in Hogtown this summer season.
When I lost my husband to cancer four years ago, I crumbled. Lime Leaves and Tastebuds was our blog, our (third) baby and ultimate food creation. Don was its visionary. He coaxed me into imagining it, searched for the software and worked through the technical maze I preferred to avoid. We brainstormed out the name, but Don insisted on the subheading “food, baking, inspiration and insanity”. Those four words were all Don: state the facts but add a little quirkiness.
Being a little wacky and different from the norm was a pillar of Don’s photographic creativity –it was his muse, in effect. He’d zone in on a bowl of soup and find some odd piece of light to break the monotony of the liquid’s surface or he’d switch backgrounds relentlessly until some strangely perfect colour behind a loaf of bread made the crust’s texture pop out. I felt so lucky to have his photography enhancing my words and drawing eyes to the blog.
“Mado,” he used to say, “We are creative types.” Then he’d wink in a way that made it clear that any other profession was simply below us.
Without Don, I have fumbled, tripped and walked a lopsided road that started in a place devoid of appetite or flavour. All the zing left my tastebuds with his passing and I had no drive (not even a gentle search for the gas pedal) when I imagined cooking, baking or creating without Don’s input.
But thankfully time heals. My life has gone forward. Many blessings have come my way since my last post almost four years ago. I am learning to be a creative-type without the living Don. He would never want himself linked to anything remotely spiritual, but that’s where I find him now by my side as I pursue the things we loved together and engage in as much insanity as possible.