Each morning, Saf Haq and Lisa Brow come to work and ask, “What are we going to make today?” Whether they choose triple-layer mini cheesecakes, gooey cinnamon buns or cheesy biscuits, the menu at Tart & Soul is constantly reinvented.
The cafe and bakery opened in June on Coburg Road, where Springhouse closed its second location. The small space is a homespun combination of whimsy and dorky. “It’s like you’re walking into grandma’s house for tea,” Brow says. “She’s going to hug you when you come in.”
You do feel hugged by the charming atmosphere. There’s a cross stitch of the wifi password (“tartlife”) at the counter. Small plants potted in antique tins dot the tables. There is a shelf that displays a collection of miniature baked goods, including tiny bagels and cookies. And almost every post on the Tart & Soul Facebook contains a pun.
Haq and Brow have been a tightknit duo since they met in 2013 through the baking and pastry arts program at NSCC. After graduating, they dreamed of starting a project that would give them complete creative freedom. While brainstorming menu ideas, they leapfrogged together to different cafes and bakeries. Haq and Brow were both working at Two If By Sea when they saw an advertisement for a quaint cafe-sized property in the south end and decided it was time.
In terms of creativity, as long as it’s made from scratch, there isn’t much that Haq and Brow won’t try. “If it’s delicious, then we put it on the menu. If it’s not, then we don’t,” says Haq.
Brow’s favourite dessert is the oreOMG—a cheesecake disk hugged between two chocolate shortbread cookies. With Haq as her witness, she attests that they’re good enough to sneak from the baking tray. Haq’s favourite menu item is the breakfast bialy. It’s a Polish bread similar to a bagel and traditionally stuffed with onion, but at Tart & Soul the onion is replaced with egg, cheese, veggies and bacon.
The pair’s baked goods are available at several local cafes, including Weird Harbour, Lucky Penny, New Scotland Yard and Anchored Coffee. Part of Haq’s morning routine involves dropping off deliveries to wholesale clients. “It’s nice to be so connected,” Haq says about the cafe community. “It’s feels like we’re all holding each other up.”
Many of the ingredients and materials Haq and Brow use are locally sourced. Anchored Coffee provides Tart & Soul’s medium roast, while Java Blend supplies the dark. The bottled cold brew is from Low Point, tea selections are from World Tea House, and the bacon in the breakfast bialy comes from craft butchery Vessel Meats.
As they approach three months since the grand opening, Haq and Brow confide that—while this has been their shared dream for awhile—neither started out with an affinity for baking.
Brow says as a kid she followed her grandmother around the kitchen by the apron, but it wasn’t until she took the bread program at NSCC that she realized she wanted to pursue baking. Likewise, Haq associated baking with burnt batches of Pillsbury cookies until she started making cookies for friends in university as a break from coursework.
For both, the best part of their day is creating something for people to enjoy. “There’s nothing quite like that feeling of being able to give fresh bread that you made to someone,” Haq says.
Brow nods and laughs, “Seeing someone’s face as they bite into a cinnamon bun—I wish I could just capture that.”