Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cinn city, here we come

Blogger bikes anywhere in his quest to find the best cinnamon bun in town

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Today we toast the cinnamon bun -- a treat so revered in its presumed country of origin, Sweden, that government types there have designated a day next month as Kanelbullens Dag, or National Cinnamon Bun Day.

"We found that the cinnamon bun was the best symbol for Swedish home baking," explains Birgit Nilsson Bergstrm, a member of the Scandinavian nation's baking council. "I don't think there are any Swedes who don't like them."

Closer to home, we asked Winnipegger Tom Hardern if he was aware Oct. 4 was National Cinnamon Bun Day abroad and, furthermore, if he had any special plans for that Friday?

"No and no," Hardern said. Surprising responses considering the Westwood resident has spent the better part of two years on a quest to find this city's primo cinnamon bun.

In July 2011, Hardern and his wife were travelling on Highway 6, headed for Steep Rock. At one point in their journey, Hardern made a pit stop in a hamlet whose name he can't recall. The self-described "sucker for bakeries" spotted a quaint-looking, mom-and-pop establishment on the side of the road and headed inside to soak up the sights and smells.

"My wife and I both thought their cinnamon bun was heavenly," Hardern says, pausing to ask the waiter at Lilac Avenue's the Frenchway Caf© to make sure the bun he just ordered is grilled, not microwaved. "And that sparked a thought in my mind: if I ever needed to find a cinnamon bun as good in Winnipeg, where would I go?"

The next week, Hardern searched the Internet for an answer to his query. He spotted websites harping on best burgers, best pizza and best chicken wings but zip going to cinnamon buns. So he figured dough, er, d'oh, why not do it himself?

Cinnamon Bunz Rule (www.tomhardern.wix.com/best-bunz) is a blog devoted to the sweet things in life. Every Saturday morning -- weather permitting -- Hardern gets on his bicycle and heads out for breakfast. No need for a menu: when it comes to the most important meal of the day, Hardern has a one-track mind.

"The first thing I do after going in to a place is ask if they serve cinnamon buns. If the answer is 'No,' I walk out, it's that simple."

To date, the 60-year-old father of two has sampled buns from 32 different locales, including one laden with blueberries his son's girlfriend brought back for him from Prince Edward Island.

Which leads to Hardern's first tenet: less is usually more when it comes to cinnamon buns.

"What I've discovered in numerous instances is that places think they are improving their bun by putting something on it, like caramel or raisins or nuts," Hardern says with a scowl. "De Nardi's (on Taylor Avenue) puts these huge pecans right on top and OK, I get that. But another place I went to served theirs with a side of jam. I was like, 'Really? Is it so bad that I have to put jam on it?'"

Rule No. 2 is big-name chains like Tim Hortons or Robin's need not apply. Thirdly, the native Albertan has adopted a been-there, buttered-that approach to North End institution Gunn's Bakery.

"I always ask if buns are baked in-house and if the answer is 'No, we get ours from Gunn's,' I'm outta there," Hardern says. "I like Gunn's, don't get me wrong, but I don't need to try another one."

When it's time to post reviews on his blog, Hardern is a man of few words. For example, his appraisal of the product at San Vito Coffee House, located at 2293 Portage Ave., was "very decent." And after visiting the Oakwood Cafe on Osborne Street, he wrote, "Truly hard to beat."

"I'm not out to slag anybody because, let's face it, you can't really have a bad cinnamon bun," Hardern says. "And seriously, I'm just one guy and what am I basing things on? It could be my mood that day or the server or the ambiance so I try to be careful with what I write."

That said, Hardern did agree to dole out a few "awards," based on his experiences to-date.

-- "Presentation counts and the place that has the best -- even on their takeout -- is Promenade (Cafe & Wine at 130 Provencher Blvd.)."

-- "The largest one I've had was at the Headingley Grill (180 Bridge Rd. in Headingley). That's the only place I've ever seen a bun cut in three -- it was that big. Johnny's Maples Pizza (670 Sheppard St.) was a close second. It was a meal in itself."

-- "The best bargain was at Cottage Bakery (1382 Pembina Hwy.). Three bucks for a bun and coffee? I think they're giving it away."

-- "Biggest surprise was Buccacino's (155 Osborne St.). We went for Sunday brunch and I spotted one with almond drizzle. I didn't do the brunch, I just did the bun."

-- Based solely on taste, Hardern cites Tall Grass Prairie (859 Westminster Ave., and The Forks Market), Stella's Cafe & Bakery (seven locations) and Jonnie's Sticky Buns (941 Portage Ave.) as his Top 3, in no particular order.

Hardern isn't sure how many more cinnamon buns he's got in him this season. He'd like to hit a few spots in the North End before the snow flies -- he's heard nothing but good things about Luda's Deli on Aberdeen Avenue, for example. But because he makes a point of getting around on two wheels he is somewhat limited in regards to where he can chow down, next.

One project Hardern will tackle soon is adding a soundtrack to his blog. No, it won't include Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl. He is leaning more towards k.d. lang's Sugar Buzz.

Oh, and don't get all preachy, telling Hardern his pursuit isn't good for him. Right now he's reading Wheat Belly, so yeah, he understands your concern.

"But I'm too old to worry about that," he says, snapping a quick pic of the bun that just hit the table, before diving in. "And besides, if you believe the crap you read on the web, there are lots of medicinal benefits associated with cinnamon."

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 D11

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