Here’s a sample of Toronto’s French-inspired baked goods to whet your appetite
Jennifer Bain, food editor
Carbs be damned. It’s time to fight the cult of Atkins by celebrating scrumptious baked goods.
Pistachio danishes, Fig croissants, French toast crafted from day-old baguettes.
Bagels that would delight a finicky Montrealer. Brioche-like baguettes studded with fine chocolate.
It’s ours for the eating in Toronto.
Let this be the bakery that puts the whole tiresome Montreal bagel debate to rest: The Bagel House makes great Montreal bagels. Period.
Jessie Sahdra, 38 and Sat Chouhan, 36, born in India, worked the Montreal bagel scene for several dozen years combined at hotspots including Fairmount Bagel Bakers and St. Viateur Bagel. They make bagels here using the same simple ingredients (water, flour, sugar, eggs and oil – no shortening), hand-rolled and boiled in honey water to provide a crunchy-sweet exterior, baked 15 minutes in a wood oven fuelled by maple, coated (if desired) with sesame or poppy seeds.
If the stray customer occasionally argues that there’s a subtle difference between Montreal and Toronto water, the Bagel House boys vehemently disagree. “Some people think our bagels are close, but there’s still a difference,” says Chouhan. “There is no difference.”
This bagel story begins in 1999 when Sahdra took over Bagels ‘N Things on Bayview Ave. in Leaside. He changed the bagels immediately and changed the shop’s name in 2003, the same year he and his best friend Chouhan launched a second branch on Avenue Rd. near Pusateri’s Fine Foods. The duo, like many, consider Ontario lightweight bagels to be the bread-like buns with a hole. (This is a hole other debate.) They scoff at Toronto shops that use frozen, pre-mixed dough, machine-roll their bagels or cook them in gas ovens.
Bagel House makes 16 varieties, selling a dozen sesame seed ones for $5.45. (It also stocks chopped liver, smoked meat and more from Solly The Caterer in Montreal.)
Although this congenial baking duo is lauded in The French Side of Toronto, the French connection is tenuous.
“Ex-Québecois, ex-Indian, recently turned Torontonian,” is the way Chouhan describes himself. Adds Sahdra:”we don’t speak much French. We learned only a few words of bagel language. The bagel business in Montreal is owned by Jewish people, so it’s no problem if you\’re not bilingual, and we worked in the back of the bakery.”
Sahdra is proud to say he left high school to work as a cleaner in a bakery. He worked his way up through the ranks doing the bagel rolling, then the bagel baking, becoming a store manager in Montreal and finally a store owner here in Toronto. He’d love to see a third Bagel House in Mississauga, and to stay open 24/7.
In Montreal we used to work 24 hours and never close the stores. Every time you walked in, you’d have a hot bagel and that’s exactly what I want to do.
The Bagel House: 1548 Bayview Ave. (south of Eglinton Ave.), 416-481-8184; 1722 Avenue Rd. (north of Lawrence Ave.), 416-781-0032. Hours: Daily 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.