This cafe is fairly new to the Hasting-Sunrise area. They deal in handmade pies and specialty coffees, a first for the neighbourhood. Who doesn’t love a good pie? The idea of warm ingredients wrapped lovingly in a flaky blanket is most appealing, and here the pies come in both in the savoury and sweet varieties. So you can have pie for dinner and another for dessert.
The cafe’s exterior isn’t very exciting, its orange awning sign is bright enough and the red stools along the front are bold enough to catch in the corner of your eye, but as a whole it is nothing to have you taking a second look or stopping your car by. And then there was the name, I wished they choose a moniker that better represented their cafe. Something more unique to reflected the specialities that lay inside. Something that would create a buzz in the online community; that would stay planted in minds and ever flowing out of mouths. Reading the sign I would assume they were just another coffee and tea shoppe with mediocre day old pastries at the ready. A cafe more of the sake of having one in the area, instead of the gem that they are. “Pocket pies” would have been my first choice for them. It is not only reflective of their offerings, but rolls off the tongue with alliteration. Anything but the generic “Renfrew Cafe” that only speaks to a their location, on a street that runs far.
As mentioned we almost missed it in this slower neighbourhood. Though parking was as easy as pulling up to the curb. Walking in, despite two of their six tables being seated it was just as slow inside as it was on the other side of the door. Given the quite of the room and the pace of the area I found it the perfect location for studying students and chatty neighbours to congregate at. Exactly who was in today. The wordless melodies playing in the background set an easy breezy tone. Its peacefulness ensured that those working could do so with some quiet, and those wishing to chat could do so without much interference. This perfectly matched the demeanour of the staff/owners. A family run operation with a man and woman at the helm today. Both were soft spoken and gentle in their nature and actions. Communication was left at a minimum, you were allowed to enjoy the space at your own pace. The young man directed the cash desk, connecting with patrons and making suggestions when asked. The woman ran the kitchen with her apron over her head.
The decor was simple, they seemed to be going for a minimalist approach with industrial features. It was simple wood tables on a matte wood floor. Most interesting was the use of lengths of red yarn. They hung off the ceiling, and wrapped around the beams that supported the lights. The lights, a single bulb suspended by a cord. I am sure the installation had a greater significance other than just decoration. I just don’t understand art. Also worth mentioning is their collection of children’s story books and box of old toys. Its purpose was to keep children busy, and its presence lead me to believe this was also a good, or one day would become a popular destination for families and mothers, or even nannies lunching together to meet up in the neighbourhood.
The extent of the menu was showcased on a sheet of chalkboard paper adhered behind the counter. Printed in coloured chalk were their available savoury pies in detail and the going cost of their dessert pies. The dessert ones were pre-made and stored behind a glass showcase at room temperature. They were heated and plated as needed. Given the time it took, I believe the savoury ones were made ahead of time too. However these were not on display, instead they were brought out as ordered, and plated with a side of coleslaw.
Already seeing the sweet ones behind the glass I knew what was to come. Each pie came on its own plate, differing between sweet and savoury. Though it was easy enough to tell one from the other. The savoury ones each seemed to smile with a couple of eyes and a crescent mouth, slits made in the dough to let steam out. The sweet ones came without faces, but were dusted in sugars or powders instead. Sadly the pies were not what either of us expected them to be, not what we thought of when we heard the word “pie”. We expected a filled circular pastry. These were half circles, a round sheet of dough folded in half sealing all the ingredients within. We both wanted full pies with 360 degree crusts, not these pockets folded in half. It’s like those who prefer their pizza in a round versus those who like them as a calzone. Though putting looks aside these were some tasty snacks.
The ham and cheese pie was made with 100% natural local ham, mozzarella cheese, homemade tomato sauce, and organic pineapple. Speaking of pizza pockets, this was like a Hawaiian one, though instead of chewy dough they used a buttery, flaky pastry crust; making it the adult version of a Hawaiian pizza pocket. The ingredients tasted fresh, the seasonings were layered with flavour, and you just didn’t feel guilty about inhaling one.
The mushroom and spinach pie was their vegetarian option; made with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, mozzarella cheese and homemade tomato sauce. Agreeably this was not as preferred as the classic ham and cheese above. The earthy quality of the mushrooms was dominating, and when partnered with the spinach it was a soft rubbery texture paired with a wilted one. The pie crust was the only equalizer and there just wasn’t enough of it. I think their third option, the kimchi beef would have been great and made for a one of a kind flavour combination. Sadly we did not try it.
When asked, the classic apple pie made with stewed Granny Smith apples, was recommended to me as the most popular of their choices. Upon first bite I could see why. It used the same crust as the savoury pies, but fared better as a vessel for sweeter ingredients. The apple flavour was a great improvement on the ready to go apple snack pies from McDonalds, with larger chunks of tart apple and fresher grounds of cinnamon. It was a strong flavour that my guest actually found too tart. I on the other hand liked the sharpness and the apple, and enjoyed the chunks that still had so crispness to them. The larger pieces of non mushed up apple slices were enjoyable, but I would have liked them cut up a touch smaller, in easy to bite chunks and more to go around per inch of pastry. And although I realize they use the same dough base for their dessert and savoury pies, it would have been nice to add some cinnamon and sugar to the pie dough too, and if not maybe as a generous glaze on top?
The “Matcha mochi anko” pie was truly something something special. This was the first time I have seen the use if mocchi in a pie. Who knew it would taste so good and work so well as a filling? Its chewy texture was an opposite of the flaky crust, therefore making it and its red bean companion stand out all the more. Though red bean, green tea, and mocchi are a winning combination in their own right. Overall it wasn’t too sweet, and naturally would be good with a cup of tea. I just wished there was a stronger green tea presence. And like with the apple pie, I wished for some of the matcha powder in the actual pie pastry. It would have been a nice twist, giving the exterior a nice green tone too.
I have great respect with such start ups like this, a one of a kind shoppe with a great idea. If their business ever expands, I would like to see more offerings at the ready. A line of folded pastries in salty and sweet, with international flavours and vast seasoning offerings. As one who admittedly eats with her eyes I would also like to see each pie stand out more visually. Each with its own marker or embellishment, something to have the food photographers swarm and their business thrive. A stamp of a banana for their “moca banana pie” and the crust dyed blue for their blueberry. More than just the awkward smiles that each of their savoury pies dawned. Anyone can make a pie, but what will have “Renfrew Cafe” standing out is the risks they take and twists they make. What more interesting ingredient pairs can the come up with? What else can they offer to shock the food world. Hamburger pie? Poutine pie? Cheesecake pie? The possibilities and creations are endless. I can see them going far with their concept.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I liked everything but wouldn’t necessary make a trip out to this part of town just for a pie pocket. It was good, but the savoury flavours were nothing new, nothing unique that would have me craving them again. And the three other dinner and dessert pies not tried would also not be enough to compel a return visit. However I wouldn’t miss having one at my own connivence. If I passed by the cafe I would not hesitate to step in. Or better yet, if they were offered off a food truck downtown I would grab several. Don’t deny your cravings.