March 20, 2018
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Who doesn’t love the joy of walking into a really great artisan bakery, where traditional methods and small batches ensure that purchases will be bursting with flavour, lacking preservatives and unimaginably fresh? The experience is one of our favourites, not just for the superior products, but because we have opportunities to connect with the folks responsible for putting those delectable breads and treats on their shelves. Herewith, a handful of our favourite artisan bakeries on Vancouver Island. Whether you are on the road or are fortunate enough to live near a good bakery, they are always worth a visit.
This tiny bakery is tucked into a storefront in the Victoria neighbourhood of Vic West, near Esquimalt. The Fry family have been bakers since 1897 and have perfected the art of baking wood-fired sourdough specialties, utilizing 100 percent organic ingredients. Like many artisan bakeries, a fairly recent innovation at Fry’s is their house-made pizza, available only on Sundays. The smallness of the place and its staff dictates a baking schedule (available on their website) to produce certain products on specific days. Our favourites include Alpine Snails, a sublime combination of sweet, heavy bread and dried fruit, and the Seven Grain bread that combines heritage grains with soaked flax and rolled oats, toasted sesame seeds and sunflower seeds.
Located on the main street of the quaint waterfront village of Cowichan Bay near Duncan, True Grain Bread has become a go-to spot for residents and visitors alike. The shop is modeled on an old-world inspired European bakery, offering organic breads baked with ingredients milled right on the spot. Always busy, True Grain is a great spot to stop for a cup of coffee and a snack – try the butterflies, a sweet and simple combination of puff pastry, organic cane sugar and cinnamon. Our favourite bread at True Grain is the Khorasan (kamut) pumpkinseed loaf, packed full of flavour and with a texture that has attracted a wheat-free following.
Ladysmith’s Old Town Bakery is one of those perennial favourites that attracts large crowds on a continuous basis. The indoor tables are usually full, and it’s not unusual to encounter long line-ups even in the middle of the day. Old Town produces a huge variety of goodies as well as light lunches, but is most famous for its several varieties of cinnamon buns, which are large enough to share with a friend. We love the ones with cream cheese icing, but you can order other interesting flavour combinations as well. If you prefer something with a little less sweetness and volume, try the cinnamon rolls – no icing, but a drizzle of melted butter and brown sugar that seeps into a sweet roll infused with cinnamon.
Although it doesn’t produce bread, this miniscule shop in Nanaimo’s historic Old City Quarter can claim the artisan label based on its small daily output and the unique position of being the only cupcake bake shop in the city. Owner Medina Hayes has survived six years in a tough economic climate, turning out sweet treats to add a bit of cheer to her clients’ days. The beautifully filled display cases are enough to lighten anyone’s heart; the products within will lift the spirits. We love the cappuccino cupcakes.
Wild Culture is a bit of a local secret in the Qualicum Beach area. Only open Wednesday to Friday for six hours a day, this tiny, picturesque outlet often has line-ups out the door of its small retail space. Different breads are available on different days – our favourite is the Asiago cheddar loaf. Wild Culture also turns out a small number of sweet treats (try the flourless chocolate torte, lemon tart or salted chocolate caramel tart for a major hit of dessert delight). They also create artisan pizzas every Friday. They have become so popular that the bakery is often sold out by pre-order almost before it opens at noon. There is a pretty little garden and patio area out front of the bakery where customers can enjoy a cup of coffee and whatever other palate-pleasing items they may have purchased inside.
What began as a purpose-built, dedicated gluten-free bakery in the wilds of Whiskey Creek (22 kilometres/14 miles northwest of Parksville) has gradually morphed into a rural conglomeration of bakery, bistro and a variety of other organic farm-related businesses and activities. The gluten-free bakery is only open on Saturdays, and it has attracted a devoted following over its short history – probably because of the fact that former pastry chef and owner Lori Gillis has figured out how to make gluten-free bread and treats that appeal to everyone and anyone, whether they are gluten sensitive or not.
Lori has created an undeniably charming bakery environment that exudes old-world ambiance and welcome. There are several healthy and delicious gluten-free lunch offerings when the bakery is open.
Two of our favourites: the sharp cheddar sesame bread and the cinnamon buns, served with or without a non-sugar icing.
Perched on a hill above Highway 19A, with sweeping views of water and the northern Gulf Islands, Just Like Mom’s is a minute self-serve cottage bakery that operates on the honour system. The bakery is located 18 km (11 miles) south of Courtenay. Baking Mama Bev O’Hara turns out a variety of delectable breads and sweets on a full-time basis, keeping the cottage well-stocked. Bev and partner Franc take advantage of the wealth of wild and cultured fruits when they are in season and create pies and other goodies featuring the fresh flavours of the Island. She also bakes seasonal specialties such as Christmas and Thanksgiving treats.
Bev’s dense, flavourful ancient grains bread and her small take-n-bake fruit pies are favourites at our house.
Island Highlander is a bit of an anomaly in the world of artisan bakeries, because it doesn’t have a bricks-and-mortar storefront. But that hasn’t prevented this unique start-up from flourishing. Scottish baker Stuart Carswell and his cheerful wife Bobbie Garnons-Williams are based out of the rural community of Nanoose, just south of Parksville. Although the family business started out concentrating on strictly Scottish delectables, the past year has seen them branch out to include hearty bread, baguettes and the most sinful cinnamon buns imaginable. We also love Stuart’s Bakewell Tarts, a luscious combination of sponge cake, butter crust, almond and raspberry. The ready-to-heat sticky toffee pudding is a great choice as well. The nice thing about Island Highlander products is that they are sold in a variety of sizes, accommodating the needs and desires of every household. While there is no shop to visit, Bobbie and Stuart can be found at a number of Vancouver Island farmers markets, or you can order online.
So next time you’re visiting Vancouver Island, make sure to stop in at at least one of these delicious bakeries to fuel your island adventures.
Dining on Vancouver Island, British Columbia
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