Warmth, sweetness, comfort, pleasure. These are the feelings inspired by three simple ingredients: lemon, cinnamon, and honey. Add a bunch of nuts and you are half way to understanding the magic of this new, big-hearted bakery in Little Italy.
In Greek baking, walnuts are revered in the same way that pistachios rule the kitchen in Lebanese pastries. So in the Nutty Greek Bake Shop (apparently Ottawa’s first Greek bakery in 26 years!) you’ll find walnuts that are crushed and rolled, layered upon, and sprinkled overtop many of the dozens of treats on offer. They are outstanding, for instance, as the crumbly adornment for a traditional moist, cake-like cookie called the Melomakrona (say it with me: meh-loh-mah-KAH-roh-nah). Dipped in honey syrup and flecked with orange zest, I could’ve eaten a thousand of those things.
And then there is the Baklava cheesecake. Are you listening to me, people? I said: Baklava cheesecake. Has there ever been a better example of fusion cooking? I think not. It’s the brainchild of Anna Papadopoulos, who co-owns the shop with her entire family — sister Eleni, brother George, and parents Christina and Tom. Anna is a fan of baklava but finds it impossible to enjoy more than just a bite. So she had the idea of combining the essence of the traditional baklava — walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar — and turning them into the crust for a classic cheesecake base (you’ll never enjoy a plain old graham crumb crust again). She drizzles the top with honey syrup and more nuts. The result, as you might imagine, is awesome.
There is another cheesecake, too — slightly more savoury, but no less awesome. It has feta within and a topping of traditional sour cherries that are grown, picked, and preserved in Greece. Where has this dessert been all my life? I was equally impressed with the more familiar treats like the vanilla kataifi — shredded filo pastry layered with butter, cinnamon, and walnuts, baked until crispy and then saturated with honey syrup. Next it gets layered with vanilla cream custard and hand-whipped whipped cream. Hello.
There are too many outstanding treats to describe — I speak from experience since the owners sent me home with an enormous box of “samples” (enough for a football team) when I popped in to say hello. When I marvelled at their generosity and confessed I had expected the samples to be bite-sized, Eleni laughed and said simply: “Nah! We’re Greek!”
Nutty Greek Bake Shop, 490 Rochester St., 613-680-0806.
Hours: Monday to Friday (lunch served weekdays) 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday & Sunday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.