Woodbridge shop's light, fluffy and ricotta-stuffed zeppole a 'memorable' pastry fix
Sweet Boutique is at 471 Jevlan Dr. in Woodbridge
When it comes to all things Italian, Woodbridge, Ont., is ground zero. No other neighbourhood in the Greater Toronto Area measures up to the high quality and just about authentic Italian foods.
I was first introduced to the suburban community by Toronto chef Massimo Bruno, who runs a very popular supper club in the east end of Toronto. Years ago, he invited me on a tour to show me some of his favourite places in Woodbridge. Since then, all of his favourite places have become mine. He introduced me to locally made ricotta and burrata at Quality Cheese. He introduced me to Roma-style pizza, veal sandwiches and his favourite takeout pasta joint. It was all good, but what was immediately noticeable at these places was a sense of commitment to product and welcoming hospitality.
During one tour, Bruno asked me if I cared for amaretti, a specialty of northern Italy. I shrugged, implying that I was indifferent. My previous experiences outside of Italy — consisting of store bought amaretti that was bland, brittle and stale — had been disappointing. His response was simply, "Not this place, trust me. Let's have some amaretti and espresso," and he quickly turned in to one of the industrial plazas off Jevlan Drive.
Anthony Macri opened Sweet Boutique in 2000 in the industrial drag of Jevlan Drive. Back then, Jevlan Drive had maybe a handful of food shops. They were mostly hidden and separated from the main artery of Highway 7. The separation might be a good thing. Jevlan Drive is filled with independently-owned mom and pop shops while Highway 7 has an inordinate amount of chain restaurants.
As the Italian community grew, the industrial stretch continued to blossom with a variety of shops. To this day, it mostly remains as an oasis for Italian food stuff for locals. I'd argue that most visitors to Woodbridge don't know that this culinary micro-neighbourhood exists. Suffice it to say, if you want the good stuff and you want it in one somewhat walkable area, Jevlan Drive is where you need to go.
We walked into Sweet Boutique, a small, modernly designed café, like something you'd see in Via dei Condotti in Rome. It was a bustling place, dressed with glass cases filled with dozens of colourful pastries and desserts. There was an endless parade of locals making stops for large, white boxes of pastries, and the grinding, whistling and gurgling sound of coffee brewing never seamed to cease.
We were handed a plate of brightly coloured amaretti cookies by owner Anthony Macri.
"At Sweet Boutique, we love to present pastries from all over Italy. The amaretti [biscuits] are very popular and we make many different varieties of them," he said.
One bite of the almond cookie transported me back to the animated cafés of Italy. It had a thin crust with a chewy, almost brownie-like centre and was only slightly sweet. It was an addictive experience. I left with an overstuffed box of assorted amaretti biscuits. Ever since then, whenever I am in Woodbridge, I'll stop by for sweets and try something new.
One time, I overheard Macri talking to a customer about his acclaimed zeppole.
"They are one of our most popular items. We serve them from January until Easter," Macri said.
The zeppola is an Italian pastry that looks somewhat like a stuffed and topped doughnut. Traditionally, it is made from choux pastry that is deep fried.
Macri has his own version: "I bake my zeppole. I don't fry them. That's the main difference."
Over time, the zeppola spread throughout Italy and evolved into a variety of versions. In Reggio Calabria, there are savoury versions where it is served as zeppole con le alici — anchovies stuffed in the centre. The Sicilians took a sweeter route, filling zeppole with a variety of creams.
"There are many rumours but it originated in Naples. They would serve it for the Feast of Saint Joseph on March 19. The original version was plain without any filling," Macri says.
During the winter months, customers drive in from different parts of the province for Sweet Boutique's zeppole.
"We even have zeppole going to Sault Ste. Marie," Macri says. Every January, Macri presents a menu of half a dozen types of the dressed pastry. During the time the café features them, Macri makes close to 10,000 zeppole every week.
I love the croissants and amaretti at Sweet Boutique, but the zeppole are worth the drive up to Woodbridge. The large, round pastries are light and fluffy with silky creamy centres. Ricotta or pistachio are my personal favourites.
"The ricotta is our best seller. We run out of zeppole quickly but the ricotta is always the first to go," Macri says.
Sweet Boutique, as Macri says, is an all-encompassing Italian bakery that highlights regional pastries and sweets from all across Italy. From the northern amaretto and cornetto, to the shell-shaped sfogliatella of Campana, and of course, Sicilian cannolis. Everything is memorable here. The quality and consistency are always high.
Sweet Boutique is at 471 Jevlan Dr. in Woodbridge.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
Do you know a GTA restaurant that Doss should visit? Tweet us @metromorning or send us a message on Facebook. And if you try any of the places he features, we want to see photos!