Once in a while I pass a place and just feel the need to drop in out of nothing more than curiosity. After breakfast, I was walking down Adelaide and saw Porh Pawh’s etched on a window covered with frosted glass. The name could suggest a spa or even a “spa”. It might also be a good name for a dog groomer (bring your dog’s Porh Pawh’s to us and we will make them feel better). The only real indication that something is inside is a small sandwich board on the sidewalk. What’s more confusing is when you look at the entrance there are pictures of retail listings listed beside the front door leading one to believe they may be buying a duplex as opposed to a salad.
I ventured inside. It looks very regular, like any building entrance, until you get around the corner. At this point you see a small. modest counter. Suddenly a small Chinese woman appears with a cloth around her head as she bustles around the kitchen preparing lunch. It reminded me of the scene from Gremlins when Billy’s father walks into the shop to find a unique gift and eventually leaves with a Mogwai.
The woman quickly came to the counter as I was staring at the menu which consisted of standard breakfast and lunch items mixed with Asian influenced salads. In front of me were baked goods in containers that looked like they were about to be carted off to a school bake sale. Since I just ate I was more interested in grabbing something for the road as opposed to a full lunch. I asked about the bake sale containers and I was told they were shortbread cookies, date squares and rice krispy treats. Further explanation informed me that her main intention is to try and make these goods as healthy and possible and I got a very detailed explanation of each. For example, the addition of oats and milled flax seed to the shortbread adds fibre and counters the absorption of the butter while the hidden chocolate centre enhances the flavour without the need for additional fat and sugar. In addition, the marshmallow component of the rice krispy square is minimized and replaced with cranberries and sesame seeds as healthier and alternate flavours.
I was compelled and ordered all three as well as a coffee which was fair trade, organic and made with the rarely used Aeropress method and served with a biodegradable lid and cup. It was a decent cup of coffee although it can’t replace a good, more traditional Amerciano. As I waited another patron came in and she greeted him by name and asked if he had a minute to talk after she was done. He grabbed a date square and said sure. I love shit like this and only imagined the conversation that would ensue.
As for the baked goods, I was honestly shocked. I’m not suggesting for a second that this is health food but it is certainly better than anything Starbucks will ever offer. It was unique and much fresher than the mass produced Starbucks garbage. The combinations of flavours in all three were almost bang on to their less wholesome alternatives. The sesame in the rice krispy square was brilliant as was the chocolate in the shortbread and the walnuts in the date square. She also gave me a sample of a gluten free muffin she was “testing”. She makes batches, freezes them and then periodically tastes them to assess their integrity over time. I think it was lemon poppyseed and was tasty although it still had that obviously gluten-free texture.
I love a good coffee shop/cafe and Toronto has no shortage of them. They are, however, usually overrun by hipsters and serve the same old cookies and squares as everywhere else. Stumbling into the almost hidden Porh Pawh’s was like walking into Mr. Wing’s mysterious shop in Gremlins. The soup was boiling, the goods were displayed and conversation was a bit like a high school chemistry class. The experience and the goods were as magical as Gizmo himself so I made a note to come back for lunch sometime soon and reminded myself that it might not be a good idea to get anything wet or eat the date squares after midnight.