Sweet Surrender

Rating: NNNNNBased on the evidence in her display case, Stephanie Pick really is the queen of tarts. And brownies. And.


Rating: NNNNN


Based on the evidence in her display case, Stephanie Pick really is the queen of tarts. And brownies. And crisps. And multi-tiered mousse gateaux.

Pick’s one-person patisserie, the Queen of Tarts, brightens a dreary stretch of Bathurst just south of St. Clair. Opened on Valentine’s Day two years ago, this modest spot has fast become a local favourite and won a deserved city-wide reputation. Most recently, Pick inked a deal with Pusateri’s gourmet hyper-market to supply the upper Avenue Road foodie paradise with her divine desserts.

The space itself defines urban funkitude. Up front, there’s a display case holding the tarts in question. Behind it, Pick bakes in a cluttered kitchen packed with retro refrigerators, industrial cookers and a turquoise four-burner electric range. An E-Z Bake Oven would not be out of place here — if you’ve got one, Stephanie’s interested.

Despite her disarmingly youthful appearance, Pick is a veteran of several local kitchens. Her culinary experience proves itself in the lineup of limited-number-only after-dinner treats.

The mostly traditional lemon tart takes its cue from retro lemon meringue pie but ups the ante with twists of lemon zest. Mocha praline truffle mimics a candy bar — deep coffee-flavoured chocolate topped with chewy slivered-almond brittle (all 4-inch-diameter tarts and 5-inch circular crisps are $3.99).

Under its brown-sugar crumble, bumbleberry crisp features a super-fresh mix of Muskoka berries — black, blue, straw and cran. Star- and moon-shaped sugar cookies stuck into the pie add contrasting crunch. Triangular brownies are pure chocolate debauchery — a swirl of white, dark and milk chocolates mixed with pecans ($2.50).

Pick goes all out with her inspired Mexican chocolate chipotle tart, a spicy yet bittersweet combo of mole, cocoa, 35-per-cent cream and barely-there garlicky hot peppers. These same distinctive flavours do double duty in a six-pack of biscotti ($3.99). Just when it seems things couldn’t be improved, bump it all up with house-made ice creams and sorbets in flavours like strawberry-citrus, vanilla bean, gingery tart Japanese shiro and bubble-gum plum ($5 a half-litre).

However, her days in the nabe may be numbered. Pick’s considering giving up her funky storefront, moving to bigger digs that will also house a small cafe, and — gasp! — has hired an assistant.

Wherever she rules, long live the Queen of Tarts!

Lemon zest

LEMON MERINGUE

(2390 Bloor West, 769-5757)

(2390 Bloor West, 769-5757)

(2390 Bloor West, 769-5757)

Swank Swansea cafe and take-away tempts with house-made tarts, tortes and tartuffos. Desserts from $5 including taxes. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 8 pm, Friday 11 am to 9 pm, and Saturday 11 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Beer and wine only. Smoke-free. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating:

Swank Swansea cafe and take-away tempts with house-made tarts, tortes and tartuffos. Desserts from $5 including taxes. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 8 pm, Friday 11 am to 9 pm, and Saturday 11 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Beer and wine only. Smoke-free. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN

The Swansea shops along Bloor West can hardly be described as the vanguard of cool. Hell, Prohibition was lifted out here just recently. But right in the middle of the sensible shoe stores, weight-loss clinics and Eastern European delis that line this conservative street, Lemon Meringue has gained a following among those looking for something a bit more au courant than borscht.

This pistachio-painted bakery slash cafe is easily the most contemporary-looking spot in the neighbourhood. But it’s the action in the display cases and on the counters that warrants a buzz.

Take Lemon Meringue’s namesake tart, for example — a 4-inch- diameter lemony hub topped with a spectacular 2-inch tower of beaten egg whites and granulated sugar (all tarts $4.25). The mango tart features pureed fruit layered over smooth almond frangipane and finished with red currants, a gooseberry and two tiny drops of chocolate.

Bringing to mind a butter tart minus the raisins, the crushed walnut tart holds together better than most. Some of L.M.’s desserts are extremely fragile and require great care to get them home in one piece. A galette of peak-season Ontario peaches ($4.99) holds up more successfully — its thick flaky pastry-dough almost acts like armour.

Next to the case piled with salads — Asian noodle, creamed cauliflower, Hungarian paprika-red potato — await the savoury tarts. A quiche-like goat cheese tart comes garnished with halves of oven-roasted Roma tomatoes and a basil sprig ($4.25 takeout/ $8.95 with mixed greens in a roasted lemon vinaigrette, eat-in). A 5-inch pizza round layered with sliced artichoke heart, eggplant, red onion, yellow pepper and mozzarella ($3.25) makes a great on-the-run nosh.

With a dinner menu about to be launched any day now, Lemon Meringue will soon be satisfying more than Swansea’s sweet tooth.

Summerhill sweets

CHOCOLATTO


(1009 Yonge, 922-4011)

This choco-holic heaven at the south end of the Summerhill nabe whips up restaurant-calibre after-dinner treats. Desserts from $3.75 including all taxes. Open Tuesday to Saturday 9 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating:

This choco-holic heaven at the south end of the Summerhill nabe whips up restaurant-calibre after-dinner treats. Desserts from $3.75 including all taxes. Open Tuesday to Saturday 9 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNN

At first glance, there’s not too much going on at Chocolatto, a nondescript storefront on Rosedale’s fringe. One wall of shelves is completely empty, and the lone display case isn’t exactly overflowing. But it does contain some mighty fine stuff.

Resembling a miniature of the monolith from 2001, the Marvella is a, well, marvel. Imagine a tall, tissue-thin rectangular shell of Belgian chocolate full of roasted almond meringue. Marvellous.

The concoction called Montezuma resembles a hat designed by Jean-Paul Goode that Grace Jones might have worn onstage during her heyday. Take a cylinder of bittersweet chocolate mousse, wrap it in light almond javanaise cream and finish it up with a crowning gooseberry, complete with gossamer leaves and strident stem. It’s a work of edible art.

Less avant-garde, baba au rhum has a doughnut-like booze-soaked base swirled with crème fraiche and capped with an obscenely fresh strawberry (all desserts $3.25).

There’s a coffee bar serving first-rate lattes and caps (both $2.50) and americanos ($1.50). And for anyone with the munchies, there are bags of almond-orange biscotti and two-tone chocolate cookies (both $8).

stevend@nowtoronto.com


QUEEN OF TARTS


(1378 Bathurst, 651-3009)

Obscenely rich pastries from a modest storefront on an anonymous strip, the Queen bakes truly regal desserts. Strictly takeout, this hidden treasure now supplies treats for Pusateri’s hyper-market, north Toronto’s chi-chi foodie mega-store. Desserts from $4, including all taxes. Open Wednesday to Saturday 11 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday to Tuesday. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Cash only. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating:

Obscenely rich pastries from a modest storefront on an anonymous strip, the Queen bakes truly regal desserts. Strictly takeout, this hidden treasure now supplies treats for Pusateri’s hyper-market, north Toronto’s chi-chi foodie mega-store. Desserts from $4, including all taxes. Open Wednesday to Saturday 11 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday to Tuesday. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Cash only. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNNN

Intense, lime- infused custard tart crowned with shaved mango and papaya

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