Loblaw's new bakery (VP/Gerrard)
The ever-updated Loblaw's at VP/Gerrard has another major reno - a new bakery department - and it's really something else. Likely a pilot test, the theme is "real food". They emphasize the quality of what goes into each item (providing detailed ingredient listings) and post large signs listing what their products do NOT contain.
There's a wide selection of house-baked breads, pastries, and cakes. Some of the stock is widely available, but I've never seen most of it at another Loblaw's location. They also have a better than average selection of decent brought-in stuff.
Almost everything on display is gorgeous though, regretably, the flavours don't necessarily live up to the promise of the great ingredients and beautiful appearance. Still, it's an exciting idea for a company that hasn't done much right in the recent past.
I found the breads to be the big winners. While not necessarily the best of breed, most of what I sampled tasted really good - especially the sourdoughs and the breads laced with olives, peppers, and other interesting ingredients. An otherwise great kimmel bread lacks any rye flavour, though I would definitely get it again. They usually provide samples, though this seems to depend on who is at the counter.
I was impressed by the cookies - especially a "pecan pie" cookie with an obscene calorie count (but also 6g of protein to ease the pain).
Pastries don't hit the mark, though they still leave most other supermarket versions in the dust. The "decadent" all butter croissants are bready - not flaky and not decadent - though the almond variety has a good, unsweet, almond paste filling. The danish taste good, but are all oddly dry. Though nothing is "calorie-reduced", they seem to be using much less butter than they should.
A goat cheese/roasted pepper quiche looked high-end, but had an underbaked crust and an insufficient flavour hit from its good ingredients. Some baking time at home fixed the crust, but overcooked the filling and ruined its creamy texture. Again, a good idea needing help.
They have Montreal, NY, and pletzl (flat) bagels, all of which I found decent. The chocolate babka was one of the better ones I've had in Toronto, with really good chocolate but, once again, the cake (and no butter in this one) was too dry.
Hopefully, this will spread thru the chain. What I'm also hoping to see dumped is the "baked instore" frozen and prefab items, hardly the store-made merch Loblaws marketing wonks tout. My sense is that Loblaws won't pay for the expertise and amount of labour necessary to actually make-n-bake instore. With respect, what you described sounds like a tweek of the bakery status-quo I see in their bigger westend GTA stores.
I've seen pre-baked, frozen loaves of all sorts going into both Loblaws and Longo's in Mississauga, same goes for bagels. I don't see any proofing or mixing gear to suggest they make. I wish they'd do better on all fronts but there's just no will to innovate beyond what's considered a sure thing--an a recipe for failure. The Loblaws HQ in Brampton near the 407 is close to several Loblaws I shop. Eavesdropping on visiting poobahs to the stores on several occasions left me with the belief they're not in touch, with no feel for what's up foodwise.
You nailed a significant problem with natural baking - its short shelf life. I have already returned a stale pound cake that was apparently under a day old. Perhaps the dryness is more about shelf life than about reducing fat....
Ebinger's, the extraordinary commercial bakery of my Brooklyn youth, didn't expect anything to last more than one day. Their once close competitor, Entenmann's, baked shelf-stable goods and (under Weston ownership) still survives. The stuff they aren't using is the stuff that makes things last.
A real bagel - of any style - has a shelf life of a few hours. The bagels I tried were fine for toasting (the only way to eat one not fresh from the oven). A day old bagel, to me, is not worth eating.
Embee, I have been disappointed with the lack of freshness in the baked goods at the Loblaws. The Cape Seed loaf was like a brick... though it could possibly have been moist on the inside, I was unconvinced and not willing to spend the big bucks to be disappointed. The croissants I have tried, both a standard, and a chocolate, were tremendously disappointing. Looked good, but they did not measure up the the Premiere Moisson versions at Metro, which are really quite good. While the bagels were passable (I have tried all three styles they have), they were not good enough to keep me coming back for more, alas. And I really do like the Premiere Moisson breads at Metro, and Metro's Irresistibles breads; in fact, I prefer them to anything I tasted at the Loblaws, though I am willing to concede that I have not tried all the breads just the one or two I have found available for sample the times I've been. The ingredients look good, but, um, something just isn't working, in my opinion, and it makes me nervous to splurge on items like the cakes they now sell. While one can debate whether LaRocca and Baker Street are good or worth the money, I feel I am now less confident in the Loblaws products, even though the place looks better than it ever did. I hope they tweak things so that quality improves. Maybe this requires more turnover, but I have to say I have had plenty of croissants in the afternoon, from morning purchases (from Rahier, Zane, etc.), and enjoyed them almost as well. Croissants are so packed with butter, they should stand up to a few hours on the shelf... There's no reason for some of those products to seem so stale, so fast. Others are just too, well, bland.
I appreciate the effort, though. I am hoping that Loblaws can win me back from the Metro bread/baked goods section, as it would great to be able to shop in one place once again.
re: Full tummy
I feel they they have done something worthwhile. Since it's something new - at least for Toronto - I'm cutting them some slack. As I noted, the merchandise looks great and the ingredients sound great, but much of it falls short where it counts most - in the eating quality. I hope they will act on feedback, but they certainly haven't paid much attention to their customers - or their front line staff - in many years.
It isn't fair to compare a supermarket bakery department with a small, personal, very expensive shop like Rahier - one that sells out most days. If you check out the pastries from Rahier, Patachou, and their ilk at Pusateri's, you will often find them to be soggy or stale.
Zane presents an interesting counterpoint in that I find their product delicious but their preparation flawed. For example, Danish toppings have an annoying tendency to fall off - at their prices, they should be perfect. Actually, I'd rather have a great tasting treat than a pretty one, but I know I'm in the minority.
Many of the Metro "artisan" breads are extremely good, but I can't think of anything good to say about their other bake-off products. I find even the regular "baked in store" breads at the awful Leslie St Loblaw's superior and I don't bother with the pastries at any of the chains.
Baker St and LaRocca (and Monaco and Cocoa) are different in that their boxed products are widely available. These are not poor products, but I tend to not like them and - therefore - can't judge them objectively. I do like some of Dufflet's packaged cakes - also widely available, and usually cheaper at Loblaw's than elsewhere.
My opinion, which means pretty much nothing, is that this concept will succeed if they go for taste, accept the limited shelf life, and learn to stock appropriately. "Moistness" and sweet intensity are big deals in commercial baking. Most commercial additives target moistness and shelf life as their major goals. The high quality stuff tends to be much less sweet and more dependent on the ingredient quality. Dry and stale aren't going to sell.
1586 Bayview Ave, Toronto, ON M4G, CA
787 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA
1539 Avenue Rd, Toronto, ON M5M, CA
1120 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4W, CA
Embee, yes, I agree that it is worthwhile to aim higher. The times I have been in there, there's been a middle-aged man who appears to be a manager, isn't in Loblaws attire, and seems to be overseeing things. It seemed to me they've put some money into this project, and I hope they do what has to be done to make things right. An in-store prepared croissant shouldn't have to be dry. Prices are not cheap - I think they are $1.29 or $1.69 per piece... Sorry can't recall. But I did feel like the prices are high enough that I'm not willing to spend without feeling more confident in the product. I definitely felt I had that in the Dufflet products they used to sell, and some of the LaRocca cakes were at least known by many and popular in other cafés, so that if I picked one up, most everybody at my dinner would recognize and enjoy it. I only ever tried the Baker Street chocolate cake, and it was competent.
My husband's birthday was just over a week ago, and while I did look at the chocolate cake options at Loblaws, and the ingredients looked promising, I did not feel like taking the chance. Maybe if they sampled them from time to time, I would be able to try it, as I shop there quite frequently. This birthday, I ordered a cake from the Dufflet in the Beach, so if they want to keep the business from the customers already shopping there, and if I am any indication, they may want to do something a little different. Or, perhaps, over time, the business will grow if quality satisfies some and word spreads. At this stage, though, I haven't heard anything convincing, and what I've tried has made me feel as though I pretty much wasted my money.
Even a good bagel left on a shelf for a day is not going to be worth purchasing, so if I want a bagel, I will either buy some packaged garbage that doesn't resemble a quality bagel, but it will at least be edible when toasted (the Loblaws ones weren't worth repeating that way, either, especially at the "gourmet" price point), or I will head to Bagel House and gobble them all up immediately.
By the way, I really like the danishes at Celena's on Danforth just west of Woodbine, north side. Made with their own in-house preserves. Worth trying, if you like a good danish. I like the croissants there, too, but they are a little more doughy than they ought to be, perhaps. No less buttery, though.
I am thinking the cookies at Loblaws may be worth a try. The cashier was raving about a chocolate one. I have been trying to lose a few pounds, however, and those cookies are HUGE. Let me know if you try any others!
1917 Queen St E, Toronto, ON M4L, CA
1548 Bayview Ave, Toronto, ON M4G, CA
I used to love going to the Loblaws at Bayview and 7, where my fave sushi place is, but sadly the change in the bakery has priced me out. It's very expensive now for the 'good' stuff that's all natural. I appreciate the sentiment but I used to love when they reduced their fancy-shmancy cheesecakes and other fine cakes and I would load up my freezer with them. Those La Rocca's were perfect for freezing. They don't have them anymore. Just their own stuff at the same price but they don't reduce them the day before expiry. My loss.
So, I tried the cookies, one chocolate overdose, and another pecan something or other--can't remember the correct name. The chocolate overdose cookie was especially good. I have to say it is a winner. Didn't see any calorie counts, thank goodness. It will be difficult to shop there without munching on one as I push my cart around. I bought a loaf of chipotle green olive bread, and though it looked like it ought to be good, it was too dry, too chewy... essentially, ready for the toaster. I am reluctant to try other breads there, especially when I like the options at Metro so much, already, and have never been disappointed with the Premier Moisson or Irresistibles options they have.
re: Full tummy
A few thoughts/answers
1) This is a pilot, from a U.S. consultant, the same one who overhauled the prepared foods area at the Yonge/Yonge store.
2) There is definitely the kernel of a good idea here, with better all natural ingredients, but they've made several mistakes too.
Initially they went right up to Whole Foods type prices, maybe even higher, debuting a Coffee Cake at $11.99, and asking .89c per bagel !
Subsequently, they have lowered the prices to $9.99 on the Coffee Cake and .69c per bagel.
The fact they lowered the price within 3 weeks of launch tells you how well their initial pricing went over.
Besides that, they also dumped several classes of product (because they didn't meet the new all-natural standard, and the consultant opted not to develop all-natural versions.
The absence of Nanaimo Bars caused grief for some, while I was more irked at them dropping the (natural) all-butter PC Ginger Cookies.
They can't pull this concept off by annoying large segments of existing customers.
One last screw up, they took away all access to individual desserts. You have now have to buy at least 2, but usually 4 of the various Patisserie Monaco or Dufflet offerings.
I don't have family to feed, and have no need of 4 portions! Nor does $7 have the same impulse buy premise (especially for new, un-tested product) as $2.29 did...........
Provided they can iron these things out....they may be able to make this work.
We'll know what they're keeping (or not) when MLG opens.
Oh, btw for those asking, my understanding from staff is all breads are being brought in, (mostly) par-baked and frozen and then finished/warmed-up in store.
787 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA
re: Northern Light
Thanks for the insight. I agree that buying baked goods there is frustrating... I find myself forced to go to Metro if I want a cupcake or two, and, in my opinion, Metro's selection is inferior (in the sweets not breads department) to what Loblaws used to offer.
Can I ask what is MLG?
re: Northern Light
I still believe this is a good idea, but several weeks of experience have led me to reach a conclusion - and it isn't a good one.
The initial pricing was reduced because stuff didn't sell. That's something they will act on. Specific product critiques seem to be of little interest.
While I found some of the breads excellent, most of those sampled since (and the generous sampling policy now seems to have ended) have shown the unbearable dryness that afflicted the pastries from day 1.
I commented favourably on a caraway bread that was delicious but had no taste of rye. They added a kimmel rye, but it was just awful.
Every cake I tried has been very dry, though some tasted reasonably good. However, my two most recent attempts were disasters.
A pair of vanilla-strawberry cupcakes paired a very sweet frosting of (real) strawberries with a vanilla cake. The frosting was, essentially, an airy foam that disappeared on the tongue. You might like it, though I didn't. But the cake - ah, the cake. It was a nasty, dry, coarse-grained vanilla cake. Next stop: green bin.
A Bailey's-mint cheesecake, like most of the products, looked great. Taste? Not so much. The cheesecake layers were gummy and plastic-y. Perhaps this would have been better if they used a different cream cheese supplier, but.... The Bailey's layer, on its own, had a faint taste of Bailey's, but this hint disappeared when I consumed a normal forkful. The gum, though, still stood stood out. The cake was decorated with white lumps that had no discernable taste (my wife "thought" she noticed a wisp of mint in these). The crust was a soggy, awful mess. In short, the $7.99 frozen PC cheesecakes (which are often on sale) - even the varieties I don't like - are MUCH better.
So I vote no to what's there and can only hope that they do better in the future. I doubt I will risk buying anything else.
As an aside, this location has quietly become Loblaw's first 24/7 store. (Another pilot?) With one of Metro's best Toronto stores (also 24 hours) and a new FreshCo within one minute of each other, this is likely the most convenient mainstream food shopping area in downtown-east Toronto.