Within the first 12 hours of my arrival in Victoria, locals started praising seemingly magical pastries. During my afternoon espresso stop, a barista at Habit Coffee called their croissants the best she’d ever eaten in North America. Hours later, during my Veneto nightcap, Glo bar manager Ryan James Malcolm said that he never tried anything he didn’t like at the bakery. Even though my float plane was set to leave from the inner harbor early the next morning, it suddenly seemed imperative to drag my luggage across the powder blue bridge to West Vic at the crack of dawn to reach Fol Epi Organic Bakery, and it ended up being one of my best gastronomic decisions, ever.
Fol Epi is the inspiration of baker Cliff Leir, a Vancouver Island native who started baking at 19 in a brick oven of his own creation. He opened Wildfire Bakery in downtown Victoria, then baked out of his basement and on a loading dock from a new oven while he was waiting for Fol Epi to open in Dockside Green. The eco-friendly, mixed use development is situated in West Vic, over the powder blue bridge, near the end of a bike path called the Galloping Goose Regional Trail, and down the street from a shipyard where the Pacific Yellowfin was up on blocks, being painted canary yellow.
Leir goes to great lengths to achieve baking excellence. He sources organic flour from Saskatchewan and mills the grains in-house. Breads and pastries are then lucky enough to enter the mouth of his impressive brick oven, which was carried in by crane and burns sawdust briquettes that are packed “up island.” Even though the building is state of the art, Leir has crafted a decidedly Old World feel, with irregular brick shelves and windows that peer into the milling and baking rooms.
Breakfast began with a pair of still warm croissants, including a pain au chocolat featuring a layer of molten bittersweet chocolate, and an ethereal croissant featuring an ideal pull-apart texture that was far from a butter bomb. Leir wasn’t impressed with the croissant, saying that his staff baker should have added more sugar. Even with the oversight, the croissant was still great.
My departure time was approaching fast, but I still waited for the first baguette of the day to emerge from the oven. During my anxious wait, I ventured next door to a branch of Caffe Fantastico, which has been roasting coffee in Victoria since 1993. They just installed a copper-plated three-group Victoria Arduino espresso machine with lever controls and some kind of Nuova Simonelli connection. A less-shiny, more-automated equivalent supplied a pretty good espresso.
After waiting for about five minutes, it was time to trudge back to the inner harbor to catch my plane, so waiting was no longer an option. The moment of indulgence finally arrived, and the baguette was terrific, with tangy flavor, a thin crust and pull apart core.
Throughout my walk and sea plane voyage, I couldn’t help but tear at the baguette and think of what it would have been like to sit by Dockside Green for the entire day, continuing to enjoy the various breads and baked goods that emerged from Leir’s remarkable oven.