The Duchess Bake Shop

10718 124 St.


Sandwiches $8

Food: 4.5 of 5
Ambiance: 4.5 of 5
Service: 3.5 of 5
Café Tiramisu

10750 124 St.


Pastas (loaded) - $14

Food: 4 of 5
Ambiance: 3.5 of 5
Service: 3.5 of 5

The Duchess Bake Shop has a most wonderful and deserved reputation as a top Canadian patisserie (pastries and sweets) bake shop. In that department, it wins in all counts.

From the outside of the shop on the ever-transforming 124 Street, one wonders what the fuss is all about.

Inside, the answer is clear. The sight, smells and general ambiance suggest something special.

The interior is tea-shop exquisite, as clean as a whistle, larger than one would expect with 14 or 15 antique or marble topped tables. Patrons, having waited patiently in line to purchase those exquisite treats, sit down to snack with real chinaware and real cutlery.

My visit was not so much about the pastries or cakes or cookies, but to try a Duchess lunchtime sandwich or "batard".

The city’s culinary grapevine suggests the Duchess has some of the best sandwiches in the city.

How true, how true. My sandwich was a third of a batard (French sourdough bread, thicker and shorter than baguette) filled with fresh-shaved smoked turkey , smoked tomato sauce, soft asiago cheese and finished out with arugula greens. Surprisingly, The Duchess doesn’t make bread. Batards are “imported” from the Southside Treestone Bakery.

To make such a sandwich at home could be done, but it would be a faint facsimile, a caricature, a bad imitation.

The smoky tomato sauce gets the savoury taste buds fired up, sinking into the soft asiago, and then into the light smoked freshness of the turkey, the crunch of the fresh crusty bread and cool arugula greens.

After an exploratory visit late last week, my family returned for a sandwich extravaganza on Saturday afternoon.

Alas, the beautiful sandwiches were long sold out.

Which may have been a blessing in disguise. Just up the street is the relatively unheralded Cafe Tiramisu.

What a pleasant surprise. Cafe Tiramisu is trendy in a folksy kind of way. The menu is conventional - pizzas, pastas and pennes - but very well prepared, fresh and tasty, generous in servings, arriving piping hot and bubbling from a good oven.

The quattro pizza (four cheese) was extra-flavoured with artichokes on one side, prosciutto ham on the other. A "lasagna" penne - lasagna in all respects but the pasta itself, arrived with fresh asparagus, pine nuts and chunks of excellent chicken mixed into the cheese and home-made tomato sauce. A penne formaggio - with a three cheese sauce - came smothered in fresh sautéed mushrooms.

All was light and tasty. Given the name of the cafe, its parfait-style tiramisu dessert more than met expectation.

My daughters argued eloquently that within its style of a casual eatery aimed at the budget-minded, Cafe Tiramisu deserved a four of out five rating.

Later in the evening, we devoured a sublime Duchess Bakery take-out "Paris Brest" a light, sweet rounded pastry cut sandwich-like and filled with a delicate hazelnut mousseline or paste, slivered almonds and candied whole hazelnuts.

How good it is to live in a city with such culinary choice.

-The new head chef at Massimo’s Cucina is more than capable of filling original chef Giuseppe Mazzochi’s shoes. Keoma Franchesci has run the day-to-day kitchen operations since arriving with Giuseppe from Italy to open the elegant but casual Italian restaurant alongside the Southside Italian Centre. Giuseppe is returning to Europe to re-join loved ones.

-The legendary Frank Saccomanno of Saccomanno’s has a successor. The Pizza Pasta Deli on 127 Avenue, a few short blocks west of 97 Street, is being taken over by grandson Franchesco Saccomanno.

-With Brian Welsh on medical leave, Jeff Balchin is helping out as interim maître de/assistant manager at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Jeff was a former partner in the Outback Steakhouse group. We wish Brian a speedy recovery.