I’m about to sample my first piece of kouign-Amann at Calgary’s LaBoulangerie Bakery Café, the French bread and crepe shop revered for its all-butter pastries, including this flaky goodness inspired from France’s Brittany region, when owner Shosh Cohen tells me people have been known to fight over the last piece of this treat.
One bite and I’m congratulating myself for devoting a day to discovering Calgary through its desserts, including finding my way to this lively café on a do-it-yourself-style pastry crawl. Want to grab the kids and fashion your own trail? Here are four drool-worthy spots.
Everything about the kouign-amann is special at this bustling café on trendy 4th street in Calgary’s Mission neighbourhood, run by Cohen and her husband Navot Raz, a Cordon Bleu graduate. The taste is a unique combination between plain butter croissant and puff pastry, so it’s crunchy and gooey at the same time with a twist of caramelised sugar in the bottom, just like candy. Other standouts at the café, bringing joy and a little piece of Europe to Calgary, are the pain au chocolate and butter croissant, beloved by all ages, from babes to bridge tournament organizers.
Cohen and Raz operate by two principles: First, they sell fresh items only—day-old leftovers are donated and divided between several city shelters. Second, they don’t compromise on ingredients, using butter only, and fresh eggs, lemons and apples, real Callebaut chocolate, and everything made from scratch. “At the end of the day, people vote with the tongue. You can have beautiful pastry but if it doesn’t taste good people won’t come back,” says Cohen, who knows most customers by name and likes to introduce and connect. “For us, when we go to work, we do it from the heart, and when you love what you do, you can feel it in the pastry.”
Scores of sweet treats bring in a stream of customers to this standalone café, restaurant and bakery in Eau Claire along the Bow River, but the tiramisu—from a recipe passed through the generations—is the one item found here and at all six other Teatro Group of restaurants. It’s president Dario Berloni’s Italian grandmother’s recipe, a dessert famous in the Berloni household. Alforno also makes arguably one of the city’s best macarons, serving ever-changing flavours from huckleberry to s’mores. The cheesecakes (go for the salted caramel) and the mocha hazelnut cake are other must-tries.
With modern, minimalist décor and nods to its Italian heritage, Alforno is an Instagram fave, as customers feast (it’s a destination restaurant too, serving pasta, salad, sandwiches, even soft serve ice cream) in the large seating area, by the fireplace, or even taking it al fresco to picnic by the Bow River. Alforno also supplies all Teatro properties with freshly baked bread, including the signature seed baguette, near and dear to many hearts. Teatro’s executive chef Matthew Batey says creating a home for the bread program was the real impetus to start Alforno three years ago. “We thought we were building a bakery with a small pastry café; it became so popular we’re starting to burst at the seams.”
Momma needs her coffee fix and what better place to stop on a pastry crawl to refuel than at independent darling Monogram Coffee, with three city locations and a mandate to inspire wonderful coffee experiences. No matter where you’re at on your coffee journey, java experts and co-founders Ben Put (a several time Canadian Barista champ) Jeremy Ho and Justin Eyford have you covered with approachable to on-the-edge suggestions. They roast all their beans, making the filtered coffee very good and the well-trained staff make espresso-based drinks like a boss.
Pair your drink with a creative, elegant and decadently thick slice of toast, a menu fixture made with sourdough bread from Sidewalk Citizen slathered with your choice of topping, from butter or local preserves to creative and dreamy combinations such as middle eastern yoghurt, toasted hazelnuts and honey. The double baked almond croissant they sell from Butter Block & Co. is also spectacular. And if you want your cup of joe fast, look for the honour bar at their downtown Fifth Avenue Place location. “It reflects the energy of the neighbourhood it’s in, you can grab a coffee and not have to wait in line,” says Mr Ho.
You know a place has captured your heart when you can’t resist taking to social media to write: “Dear Pie Junkie: the 19 pounds I may have gained today, and pie crumbs in my hair, were totally worth it.” With 21 types of sweet and savoury pies (from Aussie beef to butter chicken, salted honey pie to apple), you too may leave with an appreciation for this charmer with two Calgary locations.
The menu champions made-from-scratch, all-butter pastry (never lard) made in a distinctive wooden pie ring. “We build each pie in these rings,” the Pie Junkie explained in a social media post. “They are designed for just that purpose. It gives us a deeper pie straight down without the deep angled cut on the bottom and pastry lip. It also allows us to bake on sheets so we can peek at the bottom of each pie, so we know they are baked to perfection.” Sour cherry is a best seller, and key lime pie fans will want to cut into a divine made-from-scratch slice. The impressive savoury side of the business is definitely not to be overlooked, including shepherd’s pie, made with in-house ground lamb shoulder, and the chicken pot pie, blending light and dark meat, potato, carrots, peas and pearl onions, finished with fresh tarragon and wrapped in all-butter pastry.