Just Butter It: Breakfast at Willie’s Bakery & Cafe

Willie’s is a Victorian institution. I’ll let their main page tell you about that.

Willie’s Bakery, which was founded in 1887 at 537 Johnson Street, is British Columbia’s oldest bakery. At one time the bakery baked over 32 different varieties of bread and produced over 500 loaves of bread daily. The original granite slabs remain outside the Bakery as well as panels of bluish glass cubes that were inserted in the sidewalk to allow light in to the basement.

I’ve gone to Willie’s probably more than any other place in Victoria since I moved here. For some reason, no matter how busy Willie’s is, I get a table within a few minutes.

When the Jam Cafe’s line is too long, and Mo:le’s packed, Willie’s is the fall-back place I go every time.

As they say, it’s been one form of a bakery or another since the 1880s. Today, Willie’s is a tried-and-true all-day breakfast joint offering some nice lunches that also offers walk-in counter service for muffins and other yummies.

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Willie’s Eggs Benedict. I have an issue with the always-fried/roasted-cubes of potatoes most Victoria breakfast joints offer, but at least Willie’s does theirs well — crispy exterior, fluffy interior.

It’s a pretty good breakfast menu with your standard options. They make a good eggs Benedict. I like it for a couple reasons. a) It’s on house-baked brioche bread, and b) They put grainy Dijon into their Hollandaise (which I suspect may be from a mix… John’s Place probably makes the best Hollandaise in town) and I’m just a whore for grainy Dijon. Also, it comes with a fruit cup. Considering the defibrillator-demanding breakfast that is Hollandaise plus eggs plus butter-based Brioche bread with a side of fried spuds, then serving a side fruit cup is like extending your hand to a drowning man. Well done, Willie’s.

Taking my visiting family there last year, I remember my 15-year-old nephew really loving his waffle last summer. When 15-year-old boy looks up at you and comments “These are definitely organic and local berries,” and decides he doesn’t need more syrup, that stays with you.

Are you okay, nephew? Did aliens probe your brain last night? No more syrup, you say?

In fact, my brother and nephew liked eating there so much that they went back the next day for breakfast again. So, that’s a good sign.

In the past, I’ve enjoyed their “skillet” breakfasts served old-school in a cast-iron pan, too. Really hearty eatin’, but not heart-smart.

I was trying to find a happy medium between decadence and my recent diet. Since my last visit to Willie’s, I’ve taught myself how to make incredible eggs Benedict at home, so I’m hesitant to have restaurant versions now, which has always been my breakfast-ordering standby, and I’m turning my breakfast fare preferences to things I won’t make at home.

Like pancakes, because I’m avoiding having white flour in my home. It’s a gateway to all bready evil for me.

So, naturally, I wanted pancakes, because when I was last at Willie’s, I saw a plate go by of the fluffiest pancakes ever, and I, a non-pancake lover, did a jaw-drop and decided I had to come back for them.

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If yer gonna have pancakes, man, have some pancakes. These are a food-coma level of short stack ‘cakes, so I think you need a Segue scooter to roll out of the joint after the full three, but hey, use the Force, Luke.

Well, last week, I did. The pancakes come in the traditional three-stack for $10 or the “short stack” of two for $8. I went with the latter. Fresh blackberries and blueberries were on offer as the fruit included in the price. The bacon is maple syrup-candied bacon that tastes delicious with “flapjacks,” as my dad always called ‘em.

Nearly 1” thick, super-fluffy and a giant sponge for syrup, there was about 1 cup of fresh yummy black’n’blue berries. I found the short stack extremely filling.

I gotta tell you, I wouldn’t call service at Willie’s “friendly,” but it’s very polite, competent, and speedy. I can settle for competent. I had two refills with my breakfast, which is what I expect when I go out. If I get that, I’m generally happy about things.

The great thing about Willie’s is, the food may not be INCREDIBLE, but it’s really good, and they really value LOCAL business, despite being in the tourist mecca on Johnson. This is reflected in their loyalty program where, after you spend $100 on food and beverage, you get a menu item for free the next time you come.

It’s a cell phone/text message loyalty program I was hesitant to joint — “You want my phone number? Uhh…” — but the only unsolicited text I ever got was that loyalty program members got 2-for-1 or something for a week before Christmas. Otherwise, they only text me after I’ve bought something, to update my points total. Realistically, this means every seventh meal, give or take, is on the house. Not bad, in this economy.

They also offer a 2 eggs/bacon/toast/potatoes early-bird special Monday to Friday from 7-9 for $5.95, which isn’t too common downtown.

I think it’s that combination of being in the tourist district but valuing regulars too that is what keeps Willie’s Bakery being a solid long-timer in the downtown breakfast biz. I know I’ll still take folks there when waiting in line for other joints isn’t an option. I suspect the loyalty program will do just that, keep me more loyal. It’s a smart business with a solid menu to back it up. It’s hard not to appreciate that.

Willie's Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

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