Patisserie Lebeau, Vancouver.

Any time.

This is been my favourite bakery for almost as long as I can remember. Olivier and Penny Lebeau feel like old friends, although I know hundreds of their regulars are on a first-name basis. They moved from their original location at 1st and Cypress many years ago, but everything mercifully stayed the same.

Olivier is a perfectionist, and magnificently conservative in his habits. He gets it: when you’ve got a good thing you don’t mess with it. From the beginning he’s never been afraid of sugar and these days that’s rare. I don’t know of better basic French-Belgian baking in the city and in fact haven’t found superior croissant or French bread anywhere including France. His specialty is waffles, which are wonderful, but he’s still the best dessert man in town, with whoever owns Thierry a close second, for my money. But it’s the breakfast that really steals my heart.

I thought I was going to have to go on medication several years ago when they discontinued the custard danish. Penny will make it if I call a couple of days in advance, but it’s not on the menu if you just show up. A soft buttery wheat-flour danish crust cradles sweet jam, topped with a delicate custard tasting of egg and sugar. The fruit danish, which is available every day, is a figure-of-eight with an apricot or peach on one side and cherries on the other, which sit on a thinner layer of that same custard. It comes close but for a sugar-and-cream addict like me it’s not the same as that full centimeter of custard.

You can, however, order the same custard in quantity dropped beside your Brussels waffle. And when I’m in the mood for serious breakfast that’s what I do, with real maple syrup. Unbelievable treat. The filled waffles are also fabulous. Sweet and savoury ones can be eaten fresh on-site, but I love to take warm savoury ones home and top them with a soft poached egg. Lebeau Benedict. I don’t think they are doing me a favor by letting me buy their tiny frozen un-risen croissants for about $1.25, which I can set to rise in the evening and then quick-bake in the morning to astound overnight guests.

Olivier has reduced his repertoire of deserts a bit, but the pear tart and the Belgian rice pie with its fruit variations are enough to keep any insulin-adoring addict coming back. Perfectly poached pear slices fan out on contrasting almond purée, captured inside a crisp cookie of pate sucree. Moist, varied, and succulent. The Belgian rice pie is chewy and fabulously sweet. I’ve never tried, but others have told me that for lunch his sandwiches in fresh baguette are on the same level.

I’m not sure Olivier’s enterprise of frozen waffles sold in supermarkets is in the same league with his fresh products. When I’m in town and have time in the morning, I find a way to get myself over to the Kits shop and have that same irreplaceable experience. If you haven’t tried it don’t miss it: the fresh waffles and danishes are as good as breakfast gets for me. 9.2

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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