When lunch means a sandwich and a pastry a good bakery-cafe makes sense, and the Cottage Bakery makes lots of sense. It's a cheery, light-filled place, with tables lining the windows that front on Pembina Highway. The counter opposite the entrance, with a chalkboard menu, is where you place your order (which is served at table). To the left there's a showcase full of enticing pastries and, at the far end, a section where cookies are sold by the package and shelves display the bakery's loaves of excellent breads ($2.50 to $4.50).
There are some deli-style sandwiches, among them a ham sandwich with cheese, tomatoes and lettuce and an inch-thick egg salad, with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, on your choice of white, brown, multi-grain, sour dough or sunflower flax ($4.75 each), both good.
But the standouts are the terrific paninis -- big, complex, on sturdy focaccia, and I'd have a hard time choosing between the house-roasted turkey with tomato, cheese and cranberry salsa and the hot grilled chicken cheddar melt with bacon, tomato and nippy chipotle sauce. The included fries were frozen but ultra-crisp and better than most ($7.99, available between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.).
You can have a soup and deli sandwich combo for $7.50. The soups vary daily, but two du jours -- a tangy tomato bisque and a full-bodied chicken soup with bits of fresh-tasting chicken -- were both satisfying ($3.50 a la carte). I'd skip the mini chicken and meat pies, which yielded little meat and less flavour ($2.25 each), but if you can leave without trying some of the delectable sweets you're made of stronger stuff than I.
They range from 75 cents for a crunchy hazelnut biscotto to $3.59 for a slice of rich schmoo torte. In between there's a superb imperial cookie -- jam-filled, rounds glazed in icing sugar, which crumble softly on the tongue; a homey, old-fashioned date square; a deep, dark brownie; a sour cherry turnover (not much cherry on the thin layer of custard within, but flaky and flavourful); a properly crumbly scone; and an ethereal and ultra lemony lemon meringue tart.
All delicious, but if there's one must it's the killer chocolate dome -- chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse, with a thin streak of soft caramel in the middle, and glazed in dark chocolate icing (not available every day, so phone to find out when).
There's the usual range of coffees, such other choices as regular or white hot chocolate and apple cider, and a selection of loose-leaf teas which come in one of those cunning glass pots I always manage to spill. The staff is wonderfully warm and helpful. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and until 5 p.m. Saturday. It gets busy at noon, with a stream of students from a nearby school, but is serene during off hours.
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FOR some, everything else is prologue to dessert. At Five Guys there are no desserts, and burgers are pretty much the be-all and end-all. It's a huge hangar of a place, with cheerful red accents, boxes of something or other stacked against a wall, and benches laden with sacks of potatoes that are suggestive of a warehouse. The ear-splitting music suggests a boiler factory.
You place your order up front, and pick it up when your number is called. There are burgers, hot dogs and fries, and that's it. The staff is uniformly friendly and helpful, and you get complimentary peanuts to nibble on while you wait. Note too, for those with allergies: the fries are cooked in peanut oil.
Basically what you get is a decent, if unexceptional burger, at prices slightly higher than average. The "little" burger (smaller, I think, than a quarter pounder) goes from $4.99 plain to $6.99 with bacon and cheese; all others consist of two patties, from $6.99 plain to $8.59 with bacon and cheese.
The beef tastes fresh and, well, nicely beefy, with no fillers and no seasonings, but I like mine juicier than the three I tried, and I suspect the juiciness of any burger here may depend on who's cooking it. The cheese had no flavour, the bacon was hard (not crisp) and the buns were insipid, papery and -- since they come wrapped in foil -- slightly soggy as well.
You can have all the garnishes you want -- lettuce, tomatoes, grilled or raw onions, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I liked the sweet pickles, the relish and the fresh jalapenos, but not the flabby, flavourless mushrooms. The fries are fresh and tasty, but not crisp -- $3.49 for a huge regular (hard to season in its deep, paper cup) and $5.49 large. We had our's plain but Cajun seasoning is also available.
And although the cokes come in two sizes -- $2.39 for the inevitably huge regular, $2.79 for the large, but either is refillable free.
Actually what really drew me here was the hot dog, $3.99 to $5.59 with bacon and cheese. The Five Guys' website describes them as kosher-style, and if there's one thing I love more than a burger it's a kosher-style hot dog (they sustained me during years in New York, where even street stall hot dogs had that great flavour). There's no mention of kosher on the in-house menu but they are still very good, although they'd have been better still, and juicier, if they hadn't been split. Nevertheless they are what I'd come back for.
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Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.