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What are the best bakeries in the city? We have some ideas.
If you’re like us, the pandemic has essentially been a Sherlock Homes-style investigation into how we can most deliciously inject carbs into our collective bodies. So it was that, after a few weeks of going draft-less, we just had to dive headfirst into the gluten with a bakery draft.
And we learned very quickly that it’s pretty hard to run a bad bakery. Or at least, it’s hard in Vancouver, where there’s an absolute abundance of amazing bakeries.
First though, a recap of the neighbourhoods draft
It’s another win for Nathan—his third in four drafts, but who’s counting? In this instance, he was almost definitely helped across the finish line by selecting Mount Pleasant first overall. But the real story is Alyssa shaking off some bad performances to finish a very close second place. Stacey’s first draft, uh, didn’t go as planned.
But Stacey is back for bakeries—unfortunately for Anicka, a gluten intolerance means that she’s sitting on the sidelines for this one. (Though she did want to give a shoutout to three amazing gluten-free bakeries on her go-to list: Lemonade, whose honey seed bread and flakey croissants are treats for a sunny Saturday; Marie’s Guilt-Free Bakery, which makes english muffins that are better than the original [and she’s got a freezer full of ’em]; and the Gluten-Free Epicurean—too many mind-blowing items to miss, but if you miss the gluten in their maple-glazed donuts or peach-almond galettes, well, you’re just wrong.)
We put our editors’ names into a random draft simulator (snake style, obviously) and off we went. Here are the results and the reasoning behind each pick.
And again, we’re sorry if we missed your favourite bakery. There really are a lot of great ones out there.
Currently squatting in Surrey at my mother’s apartment (long story) so this draft has been a horrible tease. Do you know the closest bakery to me right now? Tim Hortons. Do you know the second closest bakery? Another Tim Hortons.
You don’t know how good you have it, Vancouver. So to punish all of the other editors I immediately scooped up Purebread. If I can’t have it, NO ONE CAN.
If you have ever walked by a Purebread, you do not need me to explain why it was my number-one draft pick. The merchandising of each PB location (three in Vancouver, two in Whistler) is, in a word, gluttonous. Even the people who work there can’t decide what the star of the show is, so they just pile up the treats into a visual cacophony. It hurts the brain to look at! Your eyes don’t know where to land! Savoury, sweet, cakey, loafy? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!
The peach rosemary tart. The blueberry lemon jacks. The chocolate caramel shortbread bars. I dare you to find something less-than sensational here at this bakery of bakeries.
Wow, these early rounds are brutal for choosing—I’d be happy with any one of these four. But I’m extra happy with the temple to gluten that is Flourist. For starters, co-founders Shira McDermott and Janna Bishop seem to be about the nicest, most straightforward people you’d ever want to meet, and they bring that ethos in the unbelievable respect they pay to the farmers that grow their grain.
And once they have it, they continue to honour it with their thoughtful, no-tricks approach to turning it into heavenly baked goods. People talk a lot about the concept of thoughtful eating, and to me what the Flourist does is the pinnacle of that practice. A place I’m so proud exists in our city.
You don’t need me to tell you that Livia is incredible. The long lines and excellent bread, baked goods, coffee drinks and sandwiches do the job quite nicely. This likely would have been my first overall pick, with the daily feature sourdough overwhelming proof that this place is talking my exact language. More or less a no-brainer here.
Easily the bakery I’ve been to most—Betty and Jacky Hung change up their menu so much it’s hard to keep track, but boy is it fun trying. They’ve always got something fresh and new and exciting (like this Churro Morning Bun I ate two years ago but still dream about). You can count on everything tasting as good as it looks (and it looks GOOD) and a lineup round the block on weekend mornings.
Bench’s garlic, bacon and asiago scroll is delicious, and the extra-flaky morning bun is great too. They’ve got take-and-bake pastries now—croissants, cinnamon buns and pain au chocolat that come tiny and refrigerated but blow up to four times their size on your counter and even larger in the oven (a growth Nathan affectionately called “scary”). Scary good, and as fresh as it gets.
There are a lot of awesome places on Fraser Street, but there are few other ways I’d rather waste away a rainy day than by sitting in the comfy confines of Bâtard eating some of the best baked goods the city has to offer.
The croissants, treats (I don’t exactly know what’s in the honeycomb pastry, but I know it’s irresistible) and hot drinks are perfection and the interior of this place is perhaps the most inviting spot in a neighbourhood you hate to leave.
Full disclosure: I was late for this draft and a little frazzled and I sorta freaked out with this pick. One of the tasks in a draft like this is to try to guess what your friends are going to pick. For example, I knew I couldn’t sit on Flourist and choose it in the third round because it would 100 percent be gone. But with La Bise—which I adore—I couldn’t tell if anyone of my fellow eds knew about it, because if they did it could go early. I turns out they didn’t—I totally could have chosen these guys in the 4th round.
But I’m not sorry because I want to shout the name of La Bise from the rooftops. The exquisite handmade donuts and not-too-sweet financiers are wonderful, but it’s the Canelés—that little wonder of Bordeaux—that I’m in love with. The regular variety are sublime, the salted caramel version…what’s better than sublime?
For all you bread-heads in the house: I’ll meet you at Nelson.
I know we’ve all spent the past year honing our baking skills and nurturing sourdough starters to the disgust of our partners and roommates, and probably should be baking all of our loaves at home at this point… but for me, this experience has just made me all the more appreciative of the pros. They are masters of the crumb and the crust, and I salute them for it. And the creativity, oof! You want dark chocolate sourdough? They’ve got you covered. Maniacs. Inspiration.
No bakery is perfect, let me just say that. When I just want a dribble of almond milk in my $4 coffee and Small Victory serves me up that non-dairy $0.25 surcharge, I am downright offended. But then I bite into my apple turnover and all is forgiven.
I make a huge mess whenever I eat anything from SV. But I think that’s the proof they’re doing it right. There is no way it should be possible to eat a properly constructed pain au chocolat without coating yourself in a fine layer of shattered pastry, that’s just a fact.
And despite their expertise in the classics, Small Victory’s bakers are also open to experimentation, which I appreciate. Unexpected but sophisticated flavour combos (like a lemon-pistachio-cranberry scone) and trendy mash-up deserts (croissant donuts are worth the hype, also a fact) sit in the cabinet alongside fresh bread. Little works of art, in a way… worth the price of admission.
Still frazzled. There was some debate as to what constitutes a “bakery” and ultimately it was decided that Beta 5 was a chocolatier, while Thomas Haas was both a chocolatier and a bakery (although I fear Thomas himself might not even agree with this). No bother as the baked goods skew classical—pain au chocolat, almond croissant, sour cherry turnover—and damn near flawless.
My guess is a Nanaimo Bar has never come out of this pastry kitchen—no huge loss, really—but if you want to see how they do it in Europe, there’s no finer place in town.
This is only a hidden gem if you live far away, because anyone even remotely close to L’Atelier likely knows this place well. For some authentic-as-France croissants and éclairs (the latter of which I really don’t know where else you can even get), this hole-in-the-wall off Main Street cannot be beat.
It may not have the best hours (Wednesday to Sunday, 8:30 to 2:00), but this place, as so many already know given the lineups, is absolutely worth it.
A friend of mine recommended this place as I whined about the bakery draft (my job is so hard) and wasn’t expecting it to also be a retail space. But just because it has the most adorable ceramics, tableware and other odds and ends doesn’t mean it can’t also serve up a delicious cheese and chive scone. Who says you can’t have it all?
I knew I’d be able to sneak this pick in late—not that New Town isn’t deserving of a place on this list (give me a steamed bun over a croissant any day) but it’s certainly a different vibe than the rest. Pork buns, coconut buns and other pastries served no-nonsense and quick—it’s the ideal grab-and-go deal, and almost everything on the menu is $5 or less.
This bakery also has a special place in my heart as it’s one of the last packed spots I went to pre-pandemic, after the Lunar New Year parade in February 2020. I almost didn’t go—was very hungover from the previous night’s gal pal bar party—but after some heavy nose-breathing through the parade and squeezing my way through the crowd, I had a pork bun that revived me. Not to be dramatic or anything, but I owe them my life. Watching my white boyfriend accidentally eat the paper wrapper was a plus, too.
Okay, now I’ll go for an actual hidden gem. Merci Boulangerie doesn’t have a bricks-and-mortar location, and it only does deliveries around the city on Tuesdays and Saturdays. But Vancouverite Natalie Cumberbirch honed her skills at some of the top bakeries in France and it shows. Try her almond croissant and roulé jambon fromage and tell me I’m wrong. Just look at the picture above! How is that even possible???
One word: pretzels. To me, there is no higher calling for kneaded dough than these twisty, dense little wonders. Also it’s one of the few baked goods I know that uses “poison”—in this case lye—when making them. To be fair I don’t know if the gang at Swiss Bakery uses lye or the more safe baking soda bath, but I like to think it’s the dangerous option. They also make frissants—which is sorta like a cronut—and really good sausage rolls. And the prices look like they’re from 2004. Love this place.
I first became aware of A Bread Affair here in the suburbs, 15 years back. The original location was off the Langley Bypass, a destination sort of place in the way that everything in a city where you have to drive everywhere is a destination sort of place. At the time, the “Affair” name seemed to inspire the names of all of the products available in the bakery case, bringing an unfortunately cringe-y sensuality that screamed “Uncle Who Swings” — for example, the “Better Than Sex Brownie.” (One vivid memory is that the price card helpfully noted, “Of course, nothing’s better than sex!!!” Not personally the vibe I’m going for with my pastry shopping, but you do you.)
Recent visits to the Granville Island location seems to suggest they haven’t totally cooled their loins (their country white loaf is straight-up called “Missionary”). But the point is: I keep coming back, corny names be damned, because they really do fantastic things with flour and an oven. Their hearty breads are all certified organic, and they make a kouign-amann that’ll knock your socks off. Fly your freak flag proud, Bread Affair. I’ll be back.
I feel legitimately bad for not taking this place, as it’s close to my house and I go (very) often. It also couldn’t be run by nicer people. The coffee drinks are very on-point and the pastries (the chilli cheddar green onion scone is a fave) are as delicious as they look in the window.
Fife keeps it damn simple. Coffee, cookies, a couple baked goods, and maybe the best bread in the city. You might as well order online—there’s always demand for their sourdough and they run out quick.
I much prefer the savoury to the sweet, which is the only reason Butter didn’t rank higher for me (they’ve got every bar, cookie and cake you could dream of, but not too much in the savoury department). I did get an apple and cheese scone last week that was literally melt-in-your-mouth—it was delicate and delicious and gigantic.
The sort of place that makes a cheesecake even a cheesecake skeptic can love.
Stacey: Purebread, Nelson the Seagull, Small Victory, A Bread Affair
Neal: Flourist, La Bise, Thomas Haas, Swiss Bakery
Nathan: Livia, Bâtard, L’Atelier, Merci Boulangerie
Alyssa: Beaucoup, Bench Bakehouse, Coco et Olive, New Town
Who made the best calls? And what did we miss? Vote below or share your thoughts on our Instagram page. Voting results will be shared when we come back for our next draft.
Originally published May 2021