Edmonton Business Review: The Colombian Coffee Bar & Roastery

It’s hard to miss The Colombian when driving west on Stony Plain Road.

Today, I thought I’d give a shout out to The Colombian Coffee Bar & Roastery. Those who know me well may be wondering why I’d be so bold as to write about a coffee shop when I don’t actually drink the beverage. Yet, this relatively new business is located in my old neighbourhood of Glenora and I thought I’d shine a light on it. Situated on 134 Street and Stony Plain Road, it sits right next to Vi’s for Pies, an area favourite.

When Kirk and I arrived at The Colombian on a Sunday afternoon, they were just a couple of hours away from closing up for the day. The place was packed with the majority of tables already taken. It’s a very long, narrow space, and they’ve done a pretty good job with it, so it doesn’t feel tight and claustrophobic. The high, open ceilings painted white definitely help. Otherwise, it’s pretty basic with minimal colours, simple wooden tables, chairs and benches, and industrial style pendant lighting.

The narrow space of The Colombian’s interior.

Once we ordered our drinks and my snack, we, at first, sat along a bench that faces their store shelves. T-shirts, cups, and bags of their house roasted coffee were up for grabs. It was sort of an awkward spot though. With tiny built-in tables, it kind of reminded me of the pop-up desks found in auditorium classrooms throughout university. Eyeing an empty back corner with a bench and a big tree stump table, we made a beeline for that instead.

Although there is a decent amount of seating in The Colombian, I don’t believe it’s necessarily meant to be comfortable. The solid benches are hard and most of the chairs are more like miniature stools without backs, offering little to no upper body support. Maybe that’s on purpose. Maybe it was just a cost saver. Regardless, I got the sense that the setting was more conducive to quick stays.

Drip Coffee and a Chai Latte ready to go, if needed.

Still, I enjoyed our time there and would be very interested to see how their coffee is made (the back of the shop is cordoned off and that is where they roast). Kirk ordered a simple Drip Coffee ($3.75 for a large). It smelled lovely, but he admitted he overdid it on the milk and sugar, so the true flavour was masked. Therefore, I can’t even give a proper second hand account of the coffee. From what I’ve read of other reviews, they have plenty of fans, so I’d recommend trying them out for yourself, if there’s an opportunity to go.

I sampled their Chai Latte ($5.50 for a large). It’s somewhat pricey; however, it was brewed and mixed with the milk well. Served at the perfect temperature for me, I thought the spices they used were super flavourful. They even garnished the light foam with extra cinnamon to give it some added oomph. I appreciated that as a serious cinnamon lover.

For those who are just hanging out with friends and would prefer something stronger, they offer a few draughts on tap and house wine. The options are few, but at least they are there.

As for the food, I’ve heard that they make a mean avocado toast. Personally, I’m a a tad weary to order it because there’s cilantro in the recipe, and I don’t want to throw $7 down the drain if I end up disliking it. Yet, anyone who doesn’t mind cilantro should give it a shot and let me know what they think.

The Pain au Chocolat was delectable.

Alternatively, I opted for a Pain au Chocolat ($3.60). It was freaking delicious and I had to ask where they came from. The answer was that they are baked in-house daily, but the pastries themselves are made in France. The company that prepares them flash freezes the dough before shipping them out to their vendors. They tasted fresh as if I bought it at a bakery in Paris. The pastry was soft and just a bit flaky, so everything still held together with each bite. The dark chocolate was divine, too. I’m not sure if the rest of their pastries are made in this manner as well. Either way, eat them all because I’m fairly certain they’ll be just as wonderful.

Part way through our time there, a server brought over a couple glasses of water for us. I thought that was a nice touch as we didn’t ask for anything. When I looked around, I noticed that they had done the same with everyone else. Talk about service! Before we left, one of the owners even popped by to do refills.

The coffee bar inside The Colombian.

The Colombian is most definitely a fantastic addition to Glenora. This is a neighbourhood that is pretty devoid of local cafes. Short of going another ten blocks to the east on 124 Street or about nine blocks in the opposite direction to 143 Street, there isn’t anything else like it in the vicinity. If our brief visit was any indication, The Colombian will be a staple here. I lost count of the number of people who came in and out in the hour we were there, and that’s a really great sign.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Duchess Bake Shop

One of the dessert cases at Duchess.

One of the dessert cases at Duchess.

Where have I been all this time? Duchess Bake Shop (@duchessbakeshop) opened up along 124 Street in the fall of 2009 when I still lived at home and was about a five minute drive away. Yet, it took five whole years and me moving all the way across the city before I ever set foot in the shop.

As far as I know, I had never had anything from Duchess before. Perhaps they had catered events I had attended in the past, but I couldn’t be sure, so I count my summer date with some potential guy I met online as my first time eating something from the bakery. Meeting there for tea and dessert seemed like a great idea. It was an area I knew well and it was a public place, so win-win. We split some of the dainty little macarons while we chatted before we had to vacate the premises as they were closing for the day (I do wish they stayed open a little bit later every day). I walked away thinking the macarons were delightful and even unique (the rose flavour is unlike any pastry I’ve ever had before). I also very much enjoyed the European feel of the shop. I even thought well of the guy for a short time. Although the date didn’t really pan out in the end, I found a not so secret new hang out.

Fast forward a few months and after dinner down the street, my friend and I popped into Duchess for some sweets to finish off our evening. Wanting to write about this bakery that was voted onto The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for two consecutive years now (No. 14 in 2013 and No. 16 in 2014), this was the perfect opportunity for me to try several items.

I decided to order a key lime tart to stay, as well as a few other items to take home with me. The tart was superb. You could tell that it had been made fresh that day. The graham cracker crust was tightly packed, so the crumbs didn’t fall apart with each bite, but they were still dry enough to provide a bit of a crunch. That subtle sweetness from the crust as well as the texture contrasted really well with the rich and creamy filling of the tart, which you could see was generously infused with key lime zest. The overall tanginess that came from the freshly squeezed lime juice really made this a home run. As full as I already was from dinner, I savoured each and every bite until my plate was empty, and I can honestly say that I still wanted another one (I’ll put this into perspective; each 4 inch tart provides 1 to 2 servings).

The desserts that I opted to pack up with me included a pumpkin pie macaron, a coconut meringue and one each of the three flavours of shortbread cookie available – regular, chocolate pearl and earl grey. Those were all devoured within a day. The coconut meringue is large, raised nice and tall, gorgeously shaped with ruffled sides and a hollow center. A crisp outer layer melts away at the touch of your tongue. The inside is fluffy, moist and a little chewy with some shredded coconut. It was really tasty, but the sheer size means that it becomes surprisingly sweet by the last piece. Duchess sells bags of the smaller meringues, and I think the more petite versions would be the perfect amount for a snack.

Being that it was fall, I couldn’t pass up trying the pumpkin pie macaron. The cookie portion, made up of two meringue wafers, actually doesn’t provide much flavour. The taste comes from the buttercream-like filling. It was delicious though. I would have loved to have left the shop with a macaron gift box; the rainbow coloured cookies are a pretty treat that anyone would appreciate.

Shortbread is one of my favourite kinds of cookies, so I had to sample the ones they offered at Duchess. I was a little bit surprised because, while they are buttery, the shortbread leaned towards a salty profile rather than a sweet one. The cookies were actually more dense than I expected, too, meaning there was more bite and they didn’t dissolve in my mouth like some other shortbread cookies are apt to do. There was nothing wrong with that though. They were different, but worth eating. I also liked that the chocolate pearl one used a semi-sweet chocolate, so it wasn’t overly sugary, and the earl grey cookie had a nice mild citrus flavour.

I absolutely love the desserts that are prepared at Duchess, and I cannot wait to go back. Perhaps I’ll go for lunch one day, so I can try their soups, sandwiches or quiches (I hear those are all great) followed by a pastry.

If you’re a baker, you may also want to drop by Provisions by Duchess. Located next door to the bakery, the shop sells everything you need to make confections just like theirs. In fact, starting mid-November, Duchess released their own cookbook, which opens up almost all of their recipes to the public. Try your hand at making the desserts they have perfected. And, if it doesn’t turn out just right, rest easy knowing that the experts are still there to back you up. I know I would love a copy for Christmas. I’m sure that you or a baker close to your heart would appreciate a beautifully bound book as well! That, along with a few choice pastries from the shop itself, would make for a thoughtful gift.

Edmonton Bakery Review: The Art of Cake

One of the displays at The Art of Cake shop.

One of the displays at The Art of Cake shop.

As I’ve grown, my appreciation of food has, too. I can cook and bake well enough, but I don’t really have that touch. Not yet, anyway. Some people learn from a really young age, some are just naturally good at nurturing and cooking, but not everyone has what it takes to venture out on their own and make a living from it. Gloria Bednarz and Guenter Hess, pastry chefs and owners of The Art of Cake, took the leap and have made a nice niche for themselves in Edmonton over the last few years.

I first learned about The Art of Cake about five years ago when my friend Alexis announced she was getting married. Gloria, being her aunt, was going to be making her cake, so I was lucky enough to try a few of them at both Alexis’ engagement party and her wedding. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the flavours that they opted for, but I do remember that the cake itself was absolutely delectable, moist, dense and not overly sweet. Most memorable was the look of the 4 or 5 tier cake, which had been covered in a white chocolate fondant that had been rolled and applied to look like the petals of a flower – delicate and beautiful – with the final touches being fresh gerbera daisies.

Alexis and Ryan's beautiful wedding cake!

Alexis and Ryan’s beautiful wedding cake!

Their independent business has built up a good reputation since it was established. Named to Avenue Edmonton‘s list of 25 Best Things to Eat 2012 and The Tomato‘s list of the top 100 best things to eat and drink in Edmonton for 2013, it’s obvious that they have a big fan base here. So, lo and behold my excitement when I walked through City Centre mall during my coffee break back in July and found their new shop in the basement level by the food court (next to Caffè Sorrentino). I was so excited that I could finally try some of their touted old-fashioned coconut macaroons – the item that kept getting mentioned in all these articles – without going out of my way.

The shop, for the most part, retains the layout created by the previous tenant, Big City Cupcakes. Simple and sleek, the store keeps a largely white palette, allowing the desserts, wedding cakes, tiers of mini cupcakes and large canvas imagery to steal the show. The Art of Cake’s tagline is “Nostalgic Artisan Baking” and it’s easy to see that they’ve made the choice to keep things to the basics. Everything is wonderfully presented with a vintage feel that fits the classic offerings, but nothing is overdone.

On our first visit, my break companion and I were happily greeted by Dawn who keeps watch of the store. Even though I walked in fully ready to purchase a Friday snack, she plied us with samples of blueberry cake and fluffy cruellers. I tried each one and both were delicious, but the blueberry cake would be my choice between the two. In the end, I opted for a carrot cupcake. Having been recommended by Alexis and also one of my favourite cakes, there was no question about it. The cake was soft, but it didn’t fall apart when eaten and the flavours were good as they refrained from using too many spices. The icing was unexpectedly subtle as well. It still had a bit of a cream cheese taste to it, but instead of being heavy, it was closer to a buttercream frosting, making it smooth and much lighter. I could tell that it was made fresh that day and everything tasted natural.

Our second trip was my chance to try their coconut macaroons. I forgot to buy them the first time around, but that’s okay because it was an excuse for me to go back. Plus, I think it’s better to spread out all these indulgent desserts. Packaged in groups of 6, the macaroons were larger than I thought they would be, and the bottoms of each macaroon were lightly spread with dark chocolate. The outside was nicely browned on the edges, providing that slight crunch when first bitten into, but breaking away into a moist and chewy center. My friend walked away with a couple “Elvis” peanut butter bacon cupcakes, which she tells me were very yummy.

The third time around I bought myself a shortbread cookie and a slice of banana cake. The shortbread was super buttery and melt-in-your-mouth with a small dollop of raspberry jam on top. It was delicious. Honestly, sometimes a good shortbread cookie is all you need. I found the banana cake to be heavier than the blueberry cake. It’s covered with a thick layer of brown sugar icing that I could have used a little less of, but doesn’t take away from it overall. Thankfully, their cakes seem to have little excess grease and this particular one was filled with the perfect proportion of semi-sweet chocolate chips making for a lip-smacking, albeit, sweet lunch substitute.

A lemon poppyseed cupcake with raspberry icing - the September feature - bought for my friend's birthday.

A lemon poppyseed cupcake with raspberry icing – the September feature – bought for my friend’s birthday.

I’ve stopped by to check out the dessert cases a couple more times since. In addition to everything I’ve mentioned so far, they seem to have muffins, cookie packs, cake pops and housemade jube jubes (covered in white chocolate and shredded coconut) readily available. Cupcakes come in an assortment of flavours and are offered in both regular and mini sizes, and you can also order single tier cakes through the shop.

If you’re looking for a bakery that can cater to your wedding needs, a special event, or cravings for your sweet tooth during the work week doldrums, I highly recommend you stop by The Art of Cake. Although, at this point in my life, I’m not expecting to get married any time soon, I’ll continue to keep them in mind for when I do…one day. In the meantime, they’ll be one of my go to places for when I need a pick-me-up.

Consider The Art of Cake for your wedding, special event or just because!

Consider The Art of Cake for your wedding, special event or just because!

For a more in-depth look at this establishment, visit The Local Good to read my profile of The Art of Cake