School Bakery & Café Report Card: B- (review + pics)
It’s been a while since my last review, and for that I apologize. I have found myself temporarily taken away from the fine city of Toronto. I will, however, be returning soon for a good week of full-out-noshing in the near future and will start a new thread hoping to solicit suggestions on the ‘new-must-visits’ in Toronto that I’ve been missing out on! I would like to thank you all in advance for any suggestions.
On my last visit, a dining companion pointed me out to visit School Bakery and Café located in Liberty Village. I was in town during the annual Doors Open and was in the area after viewing the National Ballet School Open House. Being that it was just about time for brunch, I thought this was a stellar suggestion (that, and the other more preferred suggested locations for lunch were closed when we drove up to them). Located in the very non-bustling Liberty Village, the School Bakery & Café has quite a bit of hip-charm to it. I personally really love the décor and open concept of the restaurant; perfect for dining during the warmer months. Waitresses were decked out in the requisite short skirt uniforms: unfortunately they were in the trying-too-hard-to-be-chic black. Bugs Bunny toons were playing on the projection screen near the bar, which gave it a cute/kitschy vibe. I definitely won’t knock them any marks for trying so hard. One has got to commend them for paying attention to the details.
Now onto the main event - the food. I didn’t get a chance to find out what they were famous for before I showed up at the doorstep, so I was going in blind. We started by asking for recommendations, though I was already eyeing the beni-cakes. The waitress highly recommend the deconstructed lassi, which we decided to share, as well as the house specialty beni-cakes. I decided to add a burger, because, well, darn it, I felt like a burger! First impressions were that the waitress was nice and bubbly, and the apple looked mighty tasty as a centerpiece on my table.
I wandered over to the prep stations to take a few pictures before our food arrived. I saw the Chef instruct his staff how to prepare the lassi. It was the first day of the new menu apparently when we arrived. On the bar was a great assortment of baked goodies, all looking good enough to pilfer right then and there, but alas I waited for the mains to arrive before digging into dessert.
Bakery Display: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3772374760
Fruit Shooters: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3772374866/
Lesson on Lassi: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3772374902
First on the table came the fresh deconstructed lassi. I didn’t realize there was alcohol in it and unfortunately, it was the first thing in my stomach that day. So of course, it went straight to my head. The rest of the meal could have been affected by the euphoric high I was experiencing, so please keep that in mind. I would have to say that I didn’t think the drink ‘worked’. There was so much going on and it was difficult to get the ‘full experience’ in a bite because the layers were so numerous and hard to get to with a spoon, especially past the mountain of ice. The grapefruit was quite bitter and sour and mixed in my stomach and mouth in a strange way with the yogurt and alcohol. I would have to say that there was a generous amount of alcohol in that drink though.
The food didn’t take too long to arrive. Delivered with a smile, the plates were nicely presented. The burger was a decent size and the sides looked quite appetizing. The beni-cakes were fun little compositions of eggs benedict on top of mini flapjacks.
One bite into my burger though, School Bakery & Café was slipping into a lower grade. My hint was when I requested my burger to be done as rare as possible, and the waitress saying that she couldn’t because of health standards. I proceeded to say something to the effect of “oh, so you don’t grind your own meat”, but stupidly still ordered it knowing full well I hate an overcooked burger. So I guess this was my own fault. And now I found myself chowing down on a tasteless, dry piece of cardboard (aka burger). So much for the ‘special sauce’ I was hoping for that would save the day. I didn’t taste anything too special, but the menu gave me the idea that avocados would work so well with a burger. At least I learned something new out of all of this! On a positive note, the sandwich bread that accompanied the sad-excuse-for-beef was light, fluffy and quite sweet.
Burger insides: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3771569375
Benicakes were a much bigger success. This was “brunch in a bite”. You had all the necessary elements of a brunch: The eggs, the pancakes and the syrup and omelet toppings all in one object. The eggs were done quite well, a bit overdone for my likings as the yolk wasn’t completely runny (one egg was done perfectly, the other was overcooked slightly). The flapjacks were sweetened with the syrup that seemed baked right in. The asparagus was fresh and well grilled - a nice contrast both texturally, and taste-wise. The hollandaise sauce was nice, especially since it was spiced, but nothing ground-breaking otherwise. The sides, on both plates, were the winners IMO. They were a mixture of sweet and regular potatoes. They were exceptionally crisp on the exterior, while maintaining a moist and fluffy interior. The potatoes were nicely herbed and spiced as well. They went so well together and were a great variation on the standard tater tots or hash browns in the morning.
Benicakes Inside: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3771569411
Even though I was full, and underwhelmed by everything I tried, I decided to give the baked treats a go because I really wanted one after taking that quick tour earlier. I asked for recommendations and was told about the Viva Puff. Boy, was that right up my alley. They had meringues, chocolate and cupcake all in one happy little package. I also ordered the cardamom scone.
This is where School Bakery & Café soars. They get flying aces in my books for their baked goods. It almost redeems them for all their under-achieving grades in the other subjects. The baked Viva Puff Cupcake was one of the most divine cupcakes I have ever had in my life (and it’s competing with a lot of cupcakes, especially with my cupcake tour of NYC). It was uber-sweet, so if you don’t like that sort of thing, then stay away. The meringue was piled high and was airy-dry. The chocolate melted away when you bit into it, especially since they warmed it up before serving it. The fluffy cake inside absolutely choco-licious, moist and rich. This dessert made me very, very happy. The scone was another absolute winner. I am personally not a huge fan of scones, but I found myself loving this one. It was cake-y, yet fluffy at the same time. Most scones I have taste like a hockey puck, or uncooked flour. This one was a great version that was a little more cake-y, than other scones, and I loved it. The cardamom taste was also very prevalent and I enjoyed it immensely. The condiments that accompanied the scones were also very tasty and made each scone bite a unique experience because of the variations you could do with the toppings. Overall, their baked goods were a winner. Huh, I guess that’s why they’re a ‘bakery’….& café.. A bakery, first and foremost.
Viva Puff: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3771569437/
Viva Inside: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3771569485
Scone inside: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3771569525
Grade (Viva): A+
Grade (Scone): A
When the check arrived, it came in a report card envelope. Another cute touch by the owners and I liked it. I love it when they just try so hard. It’s nice sometime when you feel like you’re a faceless customer to establishments that just want your greenbacks.
On the way out, I stole a glance (and photo) of some other diners’ food. They looked great and seemed like a solid choice if I ever decided to return.
Overall, I would have to say that I would give School Bakery & Café a solid B-. They were good, and definitely above average, but there was too much of a love/hate relationship going on with their food. If I went back and ordered only their strongest dishes, I think I would be very, very happy and give them an A. However, Liberty Village is just a bit out of the way for me to make the trek for a fun, above average brunch on a regular occasion. That isn’t to say that if I ever had a craving for one of their crack-cupcakes (aka Viva Puffs) that I wouldn’t walk miles and miles to get there. Therefore, the one thing I recommend people to try is their Viva Puff cupcake (if you like sugar) and other baked goods. I know I would drive a few kilometers to get to School and get one.
School Exterior: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3772375334/
I know it’s been a while since my visit, but I hope this review was still helpful to you Chowhounds. Let me know if anyone has had any more recent experiences. Also, if anyone has any suggestions on where I should dine next, post to the new thread I’ll be starting up and/or email me. Thanks in advance.
Cheers and Happy Eating!
BokChoi ( firstname.lastname@example.org
School Bakery & Cafe
70 Fraser Avenue
Toronto, ON M6K
BC - I always enjoy reading your reviews. I know the Toronto CH group visited this restaurant a few months ago and were impressed. It seems some dishes work well, some do not. The "shtick" is interesting. I think we'll give a try this weekend before a theatre matinee. Will search the Board to identify the strongest dishes. (Still appreciate your recommendation to Nota Bene - now a favourite of mine and many of my friends!!!)
Thanks cynalan - I'm happy that you still love NB. My family just returned recently for a birthday and they were absolutely wowed again. They loved it from start to finish (especially the hamachi appetizer). It seems like their hotcakes are great, and let me know what you think of the Viva Puff. I've heard their muffins are fantastic as well. It sounded like a good place to have a CH meet - lots of fun.
I don't think 'impressed' is the word I would have used based on the chowdown. It was more a mixed feelings situation. Some things -- notably the baked goods -- were very good, but several dishes, including mine, were basically inedible. There were a lot of good ideas poorly executed -- stuff like burnt biscuits and dry french toast and such.
Personally, I don't think burnt and dry food is an example of good ideas poorly executed. I think it is a matter of good food, poorly executed AKA a bad visit. Their biscuits are great! I would have sent it back as they are more than obliging there.
If you return for brunch be sure to try the cheesy omelete. It is fantastic albeit more souffle-ish than eggy.
Some of it may have just been poor execution on the day -- though I don't think there's any excuse for serving biscuits with a layer of charcoal on the bottom of them.
The cheesy french toast dish that I ordered, though, I think was just badly designed from the start. I could see a dish like that working, with a lot of custardiness and such, but this was hard and dry and awful.
At first I really thought SBC was quite good, but it seems that something has changed. I've been around 10 times so far, and each visit seems to get worse and worse. Too many items needing to be sent back, poor service, and bad food. I agree that the baked goods are quite good, but if the other dishes are wildly hit and miss I don't see the point. My last visit was my last.
Too bad I missed tjr's posting.
SBC is well designed with exceptional attention to the concept and interior details. However, the designer is long gone and now it's the dining experience that keeps a restaurant successful. That always takes competent management who seem to be playing hookey at this school.
Our experience at Sunday brunch was unfavorable throughout the ordeal, - except for the Viva Puff cupcake of course thanks to the rec of this board's Spiritual and Menu Advisor, Mr. Choi. We were seated at a soiled table (and the restaurant had just opened), got a burnt omelet, all the mains were served on unheated plates, plus just lackadaisical service, And amazingly at 11 A.M. there's a line of folks out the door and down the sidewalk waiting to get in.
I can answer to the line-up! I have eaten there literally dozens of times since the first day they opened and I have never had bad service - really never. I have turned back bennies that weren't cooked to the right time (in the early days), but otherwise never anything but the odd item I didn't much like due to personal taste.
The baked goods have always been great from the scones to the vivas to the cookies.
The cheesy omelete, pancakes, crepes, coffee, french toast, bosses breakfast and biscuits have always been so delicious and properly cooked.
Few brunch spots that I know of heat their plates so I wonder why that would be a knock to them. Also, wouldn't it make sense to return a burnt omelet and get a good one to enjoy? And you said you got there at 8 and the line up was down the sidewalk at 11 - were you there for 3 hours? That sounds brutal!
I love their brunch - I just wish they had some more healthy options. The fruit and granola is a terrible rip off and after that there is really nothing healthy to select.