School Bakery and Café
75 Fraser Street
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $40
A good tip for restaurant reviewers who don’t want to get “made” is generally to try to sneak in under the radar when visiting a restaurant and not make yourself too obvious. But just as the husband and I were both keeners back in our regular school days, we are keeners when it comes to running this site, and in checking out new places. Which is how we managed to be the very first customers through the door at School Bakery and Café when they opened last Sunday for brunch. And not only did we arrive to an empty restaurant, but Chef Brad Moore was there to shake our hands and the staff gave us a round of applause. Talk about being the teacher’s pets.
Moore and partner Sean D’Andrade have taken the old Warehouse Grill location on Fraser Avenue and transformed it into a really fun space full of thoughtful touches that could have verged on being twee, but mostly elicit exclamations of “Oh, cool!” Every detail has been thought out; a wall of clocks are all set to 3:30pm; menus arrive on lined paper attached to a clipboard; apples grace every table and are replaced with apple-shaped candles in the evening; salt and pepper shakers are shaped like blocks; chairs and banquettes are covered in a silk-screened fabric that looks like writing and diagrams on a blackboard; and stools along the counter are straight out of science lab.
Even the servers are dressed in school uniforms with matching black sneakers, and a wall full of shelves stores extra plates and cutlery as well as books, while a visit to the washrooms reveals a hopscotch grid on the floor, with bathroom stalls painted with blackboard paint and plenty of chalk on hand for graffiti.
But, cute accessories aside, any restaurant is only as good as its food, and although it’s their first day open to the public, School gets high marks for flavour, presentation and service.
Our server explains that School will only be open for Sunday brunch until the new year, and that the current card of 9 sweet and 10 savoury items is slated to be revised when they start serving weekday breakfast and lunch in January. Still, this is a nice-looking selection of tasty breakfast indulgences, and it’s hard to decide.
After the multiple choice test that is the sweet side of the menu – do I want cinnamon roll French toast ($10) or the PB &C (peanut butter and chocolate) Waffle Wich ($11) – I indulge in a true childhood treat and go for the banana split flapjacks ($10) which is five banana pancakes topped with strawberries, pineapple, caramel, chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Only the pancakes make it at all breakfast-like – this is really dessert – but they’re light and fluffy, and I giggle mischievously, feeling very much as if I’ve gotten away with something by having a sundae for my breakfast.
Across the table, the husband contemplates the savoury offerings. His first choice, the chicken curry waffles with mango chutney ($10) is a no-go – apparently the waffle iron isn’t working, a small kink in an otherwise pretty decent service. Instead, he goes for the chipotle biscuit sandwich ($8) with a fried egg, pepper jack cheese and back bacon. He digs in when it arrives, raving about the fluffiness of the biscuits. For sides we order the home fries ($3.50) which are more hash brown like and slightly greasy, and an order of bacon ($3) that is gorgeously sweet and smoky.
We also purchase some of the baked goods to take home, since this is where School will be doing a lot of their business, as locals working in Liberty Village stop by for a coffee and a pastry on the way to work. The selection is slated to change regularly but all of the biscuits we tried ($3 each) were beautiful – crisp on the outside, flaky and light on the inside. And I need to make my own version of Moore’s cardamom biscuits or I’m going to find myself on the doorstep of School every morning waiting to get my fix. There’s also big honkin’ brownies and root beer chocolate cupcakes ($3) that are actually mini-Bundt cakes and are more than enough to share.
Most restaurants need a few weeks of steady service to work out the kinks, and a visit by “inspectors” on opening day usually isn’t done – most restaurant reviewers give the places they cover at least a week or so of grace before they arrive to write their reports. But School seems to have its lesson plan down. Despite the freezing temperatures outside, the place fills up fast, yet service remains prompt and efficient, and every dish we watch come across the pass makes us want to order more.
I’m curious to see what Moore will offer once he opens full time in January for breakfast and lunch (the space will be closed in the evenings and is available for special events) – the neighbourhood can always use more places to grab a coffee or a sandwich, and if the menu stays as interesting and well-executed as it was on opening day, I predict it will become one of the most popular spots in the area. Based on preliminary testing, School gets an A+.