Courtenay’s Sweet Surprise offers many delights

Pastry case at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

The pastry case at Sweet Surprise is bursting with delectable gluten-free goodies

I have always been a sucker for interesting-looking restaurants and cafes.  Whenever we travel we are always on the lookout for unique dining experiences and, with very few exceptions the places that look like they have character are the ones that serve up some of the best food. And so it was that we landed, quite unplanned and unexpectedly in  Courtenay’s Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Café..  We drove by and I couldn’t resist the charming curb appeal of the place. So we back-tracked.

Strata at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

The strata is a perfect combination of flavours

Gluten-free macaroni and cheese with spinach and chicken

Gluten-free macaroni and cheese with spinach and chicken

Let me make it clear that neither my husband nor myself have any major food sensitivities, although our aging stomachs occasionally protest at some off-the-wall dining experiment.  We don’t generally frequent gluten-free restaurants, but we are not averse to sampling their wares on occasion. And, as I have already mentioned, the curb appeal of Sweet Surprise just got me. We also had a friend who is gluten-free travelling with us so…..we had a bunch of good reasons to step through the door into this undeniably cute café.

Dining table at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Sweet décor at Sweet Surprise – casual, warm and welcoming

What we found at Sweet Surprise was a happy combination of reasonable prices, hearty portions of good food and an interesting history.  Opened in July, 2014, the café was an offshoot of a farmers market vendor booth – which was a consequence of, of all things, an international student.

Purple chandelier at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Baklery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Not your average chandelier!

The international student staying in the home of the Sweet Surprise owners was a celiac, so for the entire length of the student’s stay the entire family ate gluten-free.  After the student left the family returned to ‘normal’ eating, but discovered that a couple of family members weren’t feeling as well with the re-introduction of gluten.  So, it was back to gluten free.  One thing led to another, which turned out to be a vendor booth at the wildly popular Comox Farmers Market and that eventually evolved into the charming mother/daughter operated café where we landed on a recent wintery afternoon.

Gluten-free fruit tart at Sweet Surprise Cafe and Bakery, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Gluten-free fruit tart bursting with flavour – a sweet surprise indeed

The menu at Sweet Surprise changes daily, with offerings of delicious soups, pizza, gluten-free sandwiches and a mélange of other options, depending on the day. The three of us settled on a cross-section that included soup that was bursting with flavour, a generous bowl of macaroni and cheese with chicken and spinach, a liberal slice of strata with the perfect balance of herbs and a vegetarian sandwich stuffed with roasted vegetables. We shared three desserts – a luscious cupcake infused with fresh fruit, a slice of heavenly dense chocolate mint bar and a lemon tart, also filled in the center with fresh fruit. All of it was tasty and left us in a happy haze of satiation.

The café is small, but the unusual colour scheme of green and purple works nicely, adding to the coziness and quaint atmosphere.  We enjoyed good, cheerful service, along with the local art (offered for sale) on the walls – it all added up to a pleasant break in a busy day.

            You can find more about Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Café and their daily offerings  on their Facebook page at:

Sweet Surprise is located at 526 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay

Price rating: $

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.691165  Long. -124.996859

N 49 41.470 W 124 59.812


About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers. In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.
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