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.
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
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