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.
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.
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.
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.
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