There is, perhaps, nothing better than an inverse relationship between how good your food is and how much it costs. Delicious, affordable snacks popped up all over the city last Saturday—burgers and banh mi, iced teas and tacos served up curbside for only a couple of bucks a bite. Open City excels at making great food accessible around town in what can result in a one-day embarrassment of cheap snacks. But it's the everyday that really counts. And finding a place where you can find a few snacks for $5 any day of the week—that is real joy.
Kee Heong Bakery has been a quiet success story since it opened in 2013. A gleaming display cabinet filled with an assortment of baked and steamed buns, pastries, tarts and flaky cakes is the main draw at this Cantonese bakery, but you can't discount the daily dim sum. Very few things on the menu cost more than $5, with most of the baked goods running only a dollar or two. It's cheap. It's simple. And it's marvelous.
The restaurant itself is nothing fancy: it's a spartan space with just a few tables, the aforementioned display case and a couple of counters. The kitchen is tucked away in the back, silently churning out fresh food. It's a quiet space, with not much more than the chatter of other tables keeping a buzz in the air.
The dim sum menu is small, focused on just a few steamed and pan-fried options, along with a couple of soups and the array of breads, cakes and pastries they specialize in. We scribble our choices onto a notepad, hand them in and wait for the bamboo steamers to make their way to our table.
It isn't until we have already tucked into our pan-fried crispy corn cakes ($3.50 for three) and crispy shrimp dumplings ($3.50 for three) that we are given a chance to ask for hot sauce, soy sauce and vinegar: dipping sauces aren't as free-flowing here as they are in other Chinese restaurants.
The corn cakes are flavourful on their own. The small fritters are crisp on the outside, with a chewy, even slightly gluey interior. Kernels of crisp, sweet corn throughout give each bite a pop of life. I would describe these as A Perfect Food. (Even better with a touch of hot sauce.)
The fried dumplings are big golden-brown crescents, the outer edges bubbling and crisp, packed with delicately sweet shrimp and garlicky Chinese chives that still have a snap of fresh crispness. The steamed pork and chive dumplings ($3.50 for six) are perfectly pleated, plump and glistening with heat. Each explodes with the delicate flavour of the chives.
The crowd favourite, steamed pork buns ($3.50 for two), are sweet and airy, with sticky BBQ pork in the middle. A slightly salty-sweet custard and duck egg yolk filling is in our other buns ($4.50 for three): breaking one open is like cracking into the buttery, round yolk of a medium-firm poached egg. In our other steamed dish, the beef ribs with black pepper ($4.50) are very tender, coated in a savoury black pepper sauce that packs a lip-tingling bite. It's a simple, straightforward pleasure.
We finish our meal, leaving with egg tarts ($1 each) and milk tarts ($1 each) in hand. The custard of the egg tart is creamy and, obviously, eggy, but has the lightness of a Jello jiggle to it, a wobbly texture between crème brulee and flan. The milk tarts have that same wiggle, but a more simple, mildly sweet cream flavour. Each one is like a tiny panna cotta slid into a delicate, flaky crust.
I said it before and I'll say it again: It's cheap. It's simple. And it's marvelous.
Kee Heong Cantonese Bakery
1532 Granville Street
Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat-Sun 11am-7pm
Read more reviews at thecoast.ca/restaurants