All The Perks
Photo Credit: B. Johnathan Michaels
801 7th Ave. N
I’m a sucker for places that wrap you in warmth and community the second you walk in the door (kind of like the set of Cheers, but in real life). That’s how I feel about City Perks in City Park. It’s always been warm, cozy and welcoming, but under the care of owner Coralee Abbott, the place has been recently renovated into everything a coffee shop should be.
Which also makes it a little loud, because everyone wants to be there, to be greeted by Coralee’s sunny smile as she turns out fantastic tortes and cheesecakes that adorn the display near the counter. And there’s great music too — either over the speakers, or live in-person on Sundays.
City Perks is also in a wonderfully central location, which makes it the perfect ad hoc meeting spot, if you can find a table. (I’ve been to meetings there as early as 7:30am, which guarantees you a spot before things fill up.)
(And now City Perks is expanding to the south end of town, in a somewhat unlikely but still welcome location: Ens Toyota in Stonebridge. This location will be turning out City Perks-quality goods, all baked in-house, just like at the original location. So whether or not you’re in the market for a vehicle, if you’re in the south end and craving a really good coffee, you might want to stop in.)
I’m not sure how I manage to resist going past their display case without ordering something every time, but usually the scones and muffins hold enough attraction for me that I forego the temptation: the mocha scone is enough of an indulgence in itself that I don’t really feel like I’m missing out.
But for the purposes of this article (twist my arm, right?), I gave in and ordered a banana peanut butter torte… for breakfast. That sounds like breakfast, doesn’t it? Now that I’ve taken that step, I may no longer have the strength to walk by that display case without giving in.
I know there are many people with wheat allergies who think they need to avoid most baking, but here are several gluten-free baking items available daily, including muffins, cakes, scones and main dishes.
It’s also a willpower challenge to follow City Perks on social media. When I saw a picture and post of a lemon torte, filled with homemade curd and topped with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, I seriously considered the implications of dropping everything on my busy schedule to head to City Perks immediately. Only the realization that I’d be leaving my kids home alone to go buy a piece of cake made me reconsider.
While it seems like half of the city can be having coffee, dessert, breakfast, lunch or a snack at City Perk on any given day, if you haven’t been there yet I’d encourage you to check it out. You can opt for light, vegetarian lunches or breakfasts (like the Green Goddess egg sandwich), or a simple and consistently delicious soup and salad or daily quiche. The individual quiches have a lovely, tender crust, and they’re filled with thoughtfully curated combinations. Most recently, I enjoyed a chicken, asparagus and pecan quiche, with subtle notes of grainy mustard and goat cheese.
The coffee is made from 49th Parallel beans, and the baristas take pride in making pretty coffee art on the lattes. My afternoon treat of a London fog is also always satisfying.
And then there are the decadent treats. Tortes, cheesecakes (like the popular key lime or lemon meringue) and brownies are baked daily. Seasonal flavours abound, and in fact the new fall baking menu is going to be released shortly.
Abbott was pleased to offer up a sneak peek, and once she started, she couldn’t really stop: “Bourbon pumpkin cheesecake with candied bacon and maple whipped cream, cranberry currant spice cakes, chocolate almond cake with Grand Marnier Swiss meringue butter cream frosting, sour cherry pistachio tartlets, the return of our cinnamon buns and the debut of our maple chai buns.”
Maple chai buns? Candied bacon on bourbon pumpkin cheesecake? Boozy Swiss meringue buttercream? Ohmigod.
The real question isn’t when to go to City Perks, but when NOT to go to City Perks. Breakfast/coffee break/meeting — we’ve covered those, but Sunday brunch is also a possibility, with vegetarian and gluten-free options on their fresh sheet. Not to mention a post-brunch dessert…
And very soon they’ll also be offering wine, and likely snack-y foods that would go well with it. Meeting a friend to enjoy a glass of wine and a shared cheese plate while sitting in City Perks’ bright, bustling and art-filled interior sounds like a lovely way to spend an evening. If the weather holds, you might even be able to enjoy it on their patio, which may soon be equipped with heaters.
One of the reasons I brave the lineups, crowds and noise of City Perks, often setting up my portable office space and staying to work for a meal — or two — is that I love basking in a space where everyone loves what they do. The customers are smiling and delighted to be there. The baristas and chef are working toward a common goal, and Abbott’s love for her little shop casts a glow over it all. Put together, it makes City Perks a sweet, sweet place to be.