In Edmonton’s food world, two parallel universes exist. 

There’s the big-time grocery chains — Superstore, Save On, Safeway, Costco, Walmart, Sobeys.

Then there’s the independents — an amazing race of hardy food and produce proprietors who manage to survive and even prosper against all odds.

That hundreds, probably a thousand or more independent grocers, bakeries and food specialists do exist is tribute to the pertinacity of Edmonton citizens willing to pay more for “artisan” quality, i.e. food produced (or sourced) by individuals with expertise, as local as possible

I have no quarrel with the big-box stores of this world, as my family’s weekly shopping bill will attest.

But I’m willing to spend 10% to 20% of the grocery budget in farmer’s markets, independent bakeries, speciality shops and the like. Not for particularly altruistic reasons, but because of quality.

A 60-cent mass-produced croissant is OK for a quick lunch sandwich, but on Saturday morning with a latte at the sitting area of my favourite bake shop, I want a fluffy, lighter-than-air croissant made from creamery butter, minutes from the baker’s oven. For that quality, I’ll willingly pay $3.

A tour of some of the city’s best specialty bakeries:

The Artistic Bake Shop: 6820 104 St., Perry and Katherine Schwabenbauer owners and proprietors: You’ve driven by the Artistic Bake Shop on 104 Street south of Old Strathcona a hundred times. The primarily German-style bakery was started by Perry’s parents and does a thriving trade based on a loyal following. Try the Artistic Bake Shop’s crunchy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside Bavarian-style pretzels, or its light-brown solvital loaf.

Breadland Organic Whole Grain Bakery, 11642 104 Ave. (Oliver Square, between the Second Cup and London Drugs), Agnes Nemeth, owner and proprietor: This Central European-based bakery, just off the downtown’s west end, makes all its products from scratch and turns out the most delicious pizza-style flatbread topped with spinach, melted cheese and corn. Like so many independents, Nemeth’s store does minimal advertising. Why, when word-of-mouth creates a thriving business?

Dauphin Bakery and Bistro, 10129 104 St., Linda Kearney, proprietor and baker: Linda is the “queen of tarts” at the 104 Street Farmer’s Market, who progressed from a market booth to a full-fledged bakery on the downtown’s most inviting street. Try the tarts, of course, plus the very best of French-style baking and wonderful lunch-time soups.

The Italian Bakery, main location 10644 97 St.: The Italian Bakery has grown and grown and is a mainstay bread supplier to hundreds of restaurants and other stores. But its signature white roll remains a thing of beauty, especially when stuffed with cold-cuts, veggies and secret sauces at the Italian Bakery’s sandwich counter.

The Italian Centre (Little Italy, South Side and now West End locations): Like the Italian Bakery, the Italian Centre has grown and grown, yet still keeps a village-like identity — of which its in-store bakeries are a prime ingredient. The Italian Centre puts its fresh-baked breads out where they can be picked up by the shopper and taken to the cashier with the rest of your groceries. Beats waiting for counter service.

The Popular and Handy Bakeries — 118 Avenue’s best known bakeries, the Popular is famous for its scrumptious Portuguese egg tarts, the Handy for its cakes, pastries and pies.

Tree Stone/Boulangerie Bonjour Bakery, 8612 99 St. Yvan Chartrand, owner: Having purchased the Tree Stone Bakery a few years ago, Chartrand is steadily moving into French specialities — baguettes, French sourdough and “pain au levain.”

Also coming highly recommended: Cob’s Bread somehow produces excellent “artisan” breads its six franchise bakeries in Greater Edmonton; The Prairie Mill in Riverbend; Bon Ton in the inner west end; Vienna on the south side; the Empress on Whyte Ave near 99 Street; Hazeldean Bakery off Argyll Road; B&A Bakery in the north end: the previously reviewed Duchess Bake Shop/patisserie on 124 Street.

Gone is the once-legendary Bee-Bell in Old Strathcona. It lost its lustre these last few years as the owners increasingly turned their attention to the wholesale Sunrise Bakery.

Any other suggestions for excellent bakeries? Let me know.

For those in a serious quest for quality food, check the recommendations on the blog posting, “Cool shops for seriously good food.” 

Graham Hicks
780 707 6379