A Taste of Cellar Door Cake & Catering Co.

Earlier this month, I mentioned that The Cake House (12415 107 Avenue) was no more. A sign posted on the door said that a new establishment would take its place soon, called Cellar Door Cake and Catering Co. I was curious as to what they would be offering – more savoury or sweet items? I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Cellar Door

A few weeks ago, owners Darren Zwicker and Maria Chau extended a tasting invitation to us. Darren is the Executive Chef with over ten years of cooking experience, and has worked with the Canadian Pacific and Westin Hotel chains, and most recently, for the Royal Mayfair Golf Club as Banquet Chef and Executive Sous Chef. Maria is a lawyer by day, but fully supports Darren in his first solo venture.

Darren and Maria

Darren had started catering about two and a half years ago, and at some point decided that he wanted to pursue the business full-time. He and Maria started looking for spaces downtown so he could be close to office towers, but rent was prohibitively expensive. They eventually came across this location just off High Street, with previous tenant Silvia Salas rendered unable to work due to an injury and thus looking to end her lease.

The new tenant

While Darren’s main focus is on catering, Cellar Door does offer take out items, including two daily soup options ($6) and a chicken caesar salad ($8). They also carry a half dozen desserts, from lemon, blueberry and strawberry tarts ($3.25), pecan tarts ($3.50) and a mini blackforest ($5.50). Though they had considered selling coffee and tea, without a publicly-accessible washroom, they are unable to do so. Cellar Door offers specialty cakes as well.

 

Specialty cake and pastry case

Though we expected a more informal tasting – perhaps a glass of wine, and casual plates of appetizers, it turned out that it was an intimate affair, with only two other people invited. Darren and Maria had set-up a full sampling of Cellar Door’s different catering options.

Simple but pretty set-up (I love the warm brown space and the white curtains)

Twenty minutes passed and we realized they weren’t coming – it would be just the four of us. Having just met Darren and Maria, it could have been a really awkward evenning, but I am happy to say it wasn’t. Darren and Maria are easygoing and not surprisingly, love food, so we had a good time chatting about favourite restaurants (Darren’s pick is the Red Ox Inn), travel (they most recently trekked to Hawaii), and our mutual love of hot dogs (convincing them that they need to check out Calgary’s scene of Tubby Dog and Le Chien Chaud).

Cool parting knives Darren had received as gifts from the Royal Mayfair

We started with a duo of soups – caramelized onion in a red wine broth and a hearty minestrone. The red wine broth was nicely flavoured and not overwhelming, but our favourite actually turned out to be the minestrone. Naturally thickened with softened beans and chickpeas, it was brimming with tender vegetables and pasta.

Caramelized onion and hearty minestrone soups

The crostini, topped with chipotle-marinated chicken and an apple slaw, was a great example of simple ingredients done right. The chicken was fantastic, seasoned well, and I loved the subtly-sweet addition of the julienned apple.

Chipotle-marinated chicken and apple slaw crostini

Darren’s puff pastry flatbread is a favourite of his catering clients. I loved the presentation on the wooden paddle, and though it was a bit greasy, the trade-off of biting into a buttery base topped with cheese, tasty Italian sausage, and the perfect amount of caramelized onions was worth it.

Puff pastry flatbread with caramelized onion, Italian sausage and basil

The sample entree was a meal in itself, starring a Boursin-stuffed chicken breast, accompanied with a potato-bacon hash, green beans and a white wine velouté. I wouldn’t have thought to use Boursin as a savoury stuffing, but it worked well, lighter than ricotta and a good match with spinach and onion. Mack agreed that the star of the plate, however, was the sauce – creamy and rich, we didn’t hesitate to swathe every bite in the velouté.

Stuffed chicken breast in white wine velouté

For dessert, Darren prepared apple galettes as well as his signature ginger molasses cake, containing a layer of pear compote and iced with cream cheese. Made with a short crust, the rustic tarts were delectable, with a beautiful glaze on the edges. With the cake, Maria had warned us that the ginger flavour would be quite pronounced, but as a non-ginger fan, I didn’t notice it. The molasses, on the other hand, made the dessert quite dense, so between our dinner at home that night and this second meal (I felt like a Hobbit), I unhappily admitted defeat.

Ginger molasses cake and apple galette

With their warm hospitality, we felt well taken care of, and grateful for the opportunity to taste Darren’s fare. I am sure their business and profile will continue to rise, if tonight’s food was any indication. Best of luck Darren and Maria, and I hope to stop by again soon!

Cellar Door Cake & Catering Co.
12415 107 Avenue
(780) 451-8882
Store hours: Monday-Friday noon-6:30pm, closed weekends and holidays
Call anytime for catering and consultations; e-mail Cellar Door
for a copy of the catering menu

Spring Gallery Walk 2010

Mack and I have lived in west Oliver, just five minutes from the Gallery Walk district, for nearly two years now, but have never taken the time to visit any of the galleries. I suppose it felt a bit daunting to just walk into the intimate spaces, all exhibiting art available for purchase. However, I knew that the Spring Gallery Walk, a twice-yearly event encouraging the public to tour the galleries, was just around the corner, so planned to go.

Gallery Walk sign marker in front of Electrum Design Studio

It was a beautiful day on Saturday, and it was great to see many Edmontonians taking advantage of this pedestrian-friendly event. Signs and festive balloons were a welcoming sight, and marked the entrances of each of the seven member galleries. Cookies and beverages were served at many sites, a nice reward for the children we saw along for the ride.

Inside Peter Robertson Gallery

The exhibits were diverse, with some galleries focusing on just one or two artists, and others that showcased dozens. Our favourite galleries overall were the Agnes Burgera Gallery and the West End Gallery, which for us, had more accessible art, and some memorable cityscapes and sculptures. Tu Gallery was also notable for featuring some stunning handcrafted furniture.

In an inspired tie-in, patrons were invited to collect stamps from each of the member galleries on a postcard-sized passport. If five stamps were collected, the bearer would be entitled to free admission to the Art Gallery of Alberta (we saw AGA Executive Director Gilles Herbert and AGA Board Chair Allan Scott pounding the pavement today).

My completed passport!

Of course, the area businesses also benefited from this event, with many patrons stopping by area shops on their way to the next gallery. We decided to celebrate the sunshine with some stellar gelato from Bueno Gelato (12325 102 Avenue).

Raspberry and banana gelato

We also stepped into Flur Designs (10260 124 Street), a lovely little floral and gift shop that has been in business for two and a half months. A clean, bright store filled with gorgeous flowers and great gifts (like Vanishing Creatures Chocolate, where the packaging can be repurposed into a floating candle display), it’s a great addition to High Street. I couldn’t resist picking up a bouquet of fresh white flowers.

Flur Designs

The Gallery Walk (and the excuse to take time to explore the neighbourhood) was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I’m also happy to say I feel like I wouldn’t need the pretense of the Gallery Walk to visit their exhibits in the future.

The Walk continues on Sunday, April 18 from noon-4pm – check it out if you can!

Shopping on High Street

Working on an article on Saturday, I kept looking up from my laptop, distracted by the scene outside of freshly fallen snow glistening in the warm afternoon sunlight. At some point I decided I needed some fresh air, and to kill two birds with one stone, wandered over to High Street to get some Christmas shopping done.

Paul Kane Park, en route to High Street (or as Jim Diers would call it, a “pocket park”)

Though the sidewalks were slippery, it was a pretty nice day to spend outside, wandering in and out of some of my favourite stores in the city. Many other people thought so too, as some of the stores were jam packed with shoppers.

High Street

I picked up a few things at The Tin Box, one of the best shops in my opinion for unique gifts. They had a rack of animal hats and gloves that were ubiquitous in Banff’s gift stores.

Hats and gloves at The Tin Box

Carol’s Quality Sweets is a nice store to satisfy the kid in all of us –I love the brightness of the store, and the colourful candy jars that line the shelves. For just a few dollars, your retro candy craving can be taken care of.

Candy behind the counter at Carol’s Quality Sweets

Notables is another great store, and in recent years it seems they’ve expanded their selection of offbeat giftware. Staff are super-friendly, and you won’t find a better assortment of greeting cards anywhere else in the city.

Christmas display at Notables

My last stop was Call the Kettle Black, a kitchen retail store. I almost always end up buying something if I enter the store, so a visit is a dangerous one for me. Luckily, I balanced a purchase for myself (a lightweight Epicurean cutting board) with the purchase of a gift for someone else. What wasn’t in my shopping basket were these onion goggles – although they might be effective, I think they’d take up too much room for just a single purpose.

Onion Goggles

Other than the stores I’ve listed, Acquired Tastes Tea Company, Floc Boutique and Ginger are a few other shops I like to patronize.

Boulevard trees on High Street

In addition to finding unique gifts, it’s a nice change from wandering within the confines of a mall. Especially during Shop Local Month, I would encourage you to consider doing some of your holiday shopping at High Street.

Edmonton’s Newest Bakery: Duchess Bake Shop

Life is all about the little things. Watching the leaves fall from the trees in autumn. Drinking in the mid-afternoon sun. Savouring that first sip of morning coffee. Or, finding that a new bakery opened up in your neighbourhood.

Thanks to Nate Box (who will be opening his own restaurant, Elm Cafe, soon enough), I found out about Duchess Bake Shop, located in the High Street area within walking distance of Mack’s place, and right along my homeward bound bus route. I stopped in on Monday to check them out, and found that they had only been open a whirlwind three days.

Interior

The shop has a chic, sophisticated feel about it, with hardwood floors and a dominant white interior. A chandelier and a handful of tables and chairs round out the space, helpful for those looking to stay and pair their indulgence with something from the bakery’s cafe menu.

Owners Garner and Giselle Beggs have been thinking about opening a bakery for years. Fresh from a four year sojourn in Tokyo, they decided the time was ripe to return and make their dream a reality. Although Duchess offers many French-inspired treats (croissants, macarons, madelines), Garner says they aren’t restricting themselves to a French repertoire, with apple and banana cream pies also available, among other treats. Everything is made from scratch without preservatives – even the food colouring they use is from natural sources.

Macarons

I picked up two croissants ($1.50 each) for Mack and I to serve as a savoury bridge to dinner. They smelled of butter, and on first bite, had that crispy-crunchy texture I look for in a croissant. Mack didn’t like it as much (he prefers the softer variety), but I’d buy it again.

Croissants

Duchess also serves croissant sandwiches, which would make it an interesting destination for lunch. Or, like the couple who filed into the shop after me – for those looking for something to “make a bad day better”. I will be back.

Duchess Bake Shop
10720 124 Street
(780) 488-4999
Hours as of October 26, 2009: Wednesday 9am-6pm, Thursday-Friday 9am-8pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 10am-5pm, closed Mondays and Tuesdays