Did you catch the fifth estate segment last weekend about the war on wheat? That William Davis, author of the bestselling book Wheat Belly, is toast – I hope. The backlash has begun.
Bread is back, big time. From the ashes of gluten-free mania, artisanal bread has been reinvented as a gourmet luxury. Or, as Shannon Rupp, writing in the Tyee recently put it: Toast is the new cupcake.
All over Vancouver, hipster cafés are touting thick, golden-toasted slabs of fresh-baked bread as the latest afternoon coffee break. We love this trend. Herewith, the five best cafés in which to get toasted.
Bâtard Boulangerie & Café Moderne
3958 Fraser St. Vancouver 604-506-3958
Vancouver owes its bread culture to Chris Brown. Two decades ago, the chef-turned-baker opened Ecco il Pane and brought small-batch artisan breads into the mainstream. For the past few years, he's been selling his Rise Artisan breads at farmers' markets. Finally, he has a permanent storefront, Bâtard (French for stubby baguette, among other things), which he co-owns with Bruno, Sally and Elsie Born from Finest at Sea.
The cozy café is beautifully decorated in heavy mix-matched wood and brightly saturated garage-sale oil paintings, while the store shelves are chock full of excellent local charcuterie, cheese, house-made preserves and award-winning marmalade.
The toast bar ($4.95) features two thick slices of rustic white market loaf with your choice of jam, nut butter, smoked salmon pâté, cognac liver pâté or thick, chunky green-olive tapenade. The condiments are served on the side, with flower-shaped pats of Meadowfresh butter. The market loaf is scrumptious bread with a chewy, golden crust and porous air pockets. In the mood for something slightly more sour? Ask for the signature levain, a heavy, dense, naturally yeasted whole wheat and rye flour country bread with a perfectly balanced hit of acidity.
There's nothing trendy about Bâtard. It's classic, charming, welcoming and delicious.
Matchstick Coffee Roasters
213 East Georgia St. 604-336-0213
639 East 15th Ave. 604-558-0639
It came as no surprise when this prototype hipster hangout added toast to its menu of single-origin, freshly roasted, single brewed, pour-over coffees. The chewy rustic bread, made from an organic flour blend (60 per cent whole wheat, 20 per cent rye and 20 per cent white bread flour) is baked fresh daily. Two slices of toast with butter ($2.75) can be supplemented with house-made jam, cinnamon sugar ($0.75) or walnut butter ($1.25), which is smeared on thick with big nutty chunks.
2007 East Hastings St. Vancouver 604-428-6276
This darling little Japanese café is a family-owned business that offers hand-poured coffee, matcha lattes, loose-leaf tea, all sorts of miniature pastries, a few different rice bowls and toast ($3) with butter or cheese. The bread is a fresh-baked Pullman loaf, a pillowy, boxy, Wonder Bread-style white bread cut into double-thick slices. A single slice is grilled with butter and melted havarti, served on adorable teak trays with antique china, vintage cutlery and hand-stitched hot pads. There is no redeeming nutritional value to this toast. But Basho Café is so darn cute, you'll devour it with dainty bites and a huge grin.
Deer Garden Signatures
6270 Fraser St., Vancouver, 604-322-6116;
1118-3779 Sexsmith Rd., Richmond, 604-278-3779;
8580 Alexandra Rd., Richmond, 604-278-9229.
Milk tea and toast is a beloved Hong Kong institution that can be found in Hong Kong-style cafés all over Vancouver and Richmond. According to Wcheung, a local blogger and writer for the Chinese Restaurant Awards (which recognizes the best Hong Kong-style milk tea in its diners' choice awards), the tradition goes back to the 1960s, when English afternoon tea was served only at high-end hotels or private clubhouses in Hong Kong. Street stalls began serving a more affordable version of the tea (blended with canned evaporated or condensed milk, rather than fresh dairy) for the working class.
Deer Garden Signatures is a bustling Hong Kong-style café with three locations that serves inexpensive noodle hot pots, cheesy baked seafood, fried pork chops on rice and sandwich combos and toast ($2). It's a pillowy white bread that is served like a sandwich, sliced into four triangles with the crust cut off. Choose from plain buttered toast, condensed milk and butter toast, or the utterly addictive condensed milk and peanut butter toast. Pair your toast with HK-style milk tea, which is made of a house blend base of several different Ceylon teas. Deer Garden's iced version is very good.
Soho Tea Room
3466 Cambie St. Vancouver 604-873-3686
Taiwanese-style bubble tea cafés almost always serve toast, usually spread with butter and condensed milk. But only a few local cafés, including the Soho Tea Room, offer the cutely kitschy Honey Toast Box ($12, includes two bubble teas). All the rage in Taiwan these days, the toast box is a hollowed-out white loaf filled with toasted cubes of honey-brushed bread. It's stacked to the rim and topped with various types of ice cream, fruit, candy, cookies and syrup. I actually haven't tried it. To me, warm toast + cold ice cream = a big sticky mess. But I suppose the whole crazy concept appeals to some. If you order it, be prepared to wait 20 to 30 minutes. The menu mentions this several times.