It’s funny how we as human beings often take for granted the things that are in our own backyard. I, for one, am totally guilty of that. As a visitor to a different city, I flock to seek out the latest and greatest food trends and happenings but yet in my own home city, I keep on putting it off. A prime example is Jelly modern doughnuts, which opened up here in Calgary a year ago and yet I’m embarrassed to admit that I STILL have not managed to make it there to check it out even though I keep on meaning to. But when I was in Vancouver last month, I went to Cartems Donuterie three times while I was in town that week so that I could try their various donut offerings. Cartems is a “pop-up” donut shop that surfaced in Gastown in February. Their donuts are made at an off-site commissary kitchen and delivered to this “pop-up” location several times a day. The reason the current location is considered “pop-up” is because their lease is only for six months. Based on their popularity, I’m sure Cartems will have a permanent home soon. There was so much buzz and hype about these donuts that I’d put it on the top of my list of things to try when I was in Vancouver last month.
Like Jelly modern doughnuts, Cartems prides themselves in using fresh, locally sourced and organic ingredients for their donuts. As with anything else, quality products don’t come cheap and these donuts at Cartems are no exception. The donuts are priced at $3 each, $15 for a half-dozen, or $27 for a dozen.
On my first visit to Cartems, I had my heart set on trying the Maple Bourbon Bacon and The Bee Sting, which a local foodie pal had mentioned was his favourite. The Bee Sting is really unique because it consists of a cake donut that is topped with their special house blend honey which has been infused with “cassia flowers”. The donut is then finished with shaved parmesan and a crack of fresh pepper. Unfortunately though, on the day that I went, The Bee Sting was not available at all. And initially, I didn’t have much luck with the Maple Bourbon Bacon either as they were already all sold out earlier that morning. The only flavours left of the non-vegan ones were the Triple Chocolate Threat and The Earl Grey. I decided to get one of each to try anyways since I had heard the donuts were selling like hotcakes and I couldn’t be sure there would be any left on a future visit.
The Triple Chocolate Threat consisted of a chocolate cake donut that’s been topped with chocolate ganache and finished with crispy callebaut chocolate pearls. This donut was definitely very chocolatey but unfortunately, I found the cake donut portion to be a bit dry. However, I loved the crispy chocolate pearls.
The Earl Grey consisted of a cake donut that had been infused with organic earl grey tea and was topped with earl grey glaze and a sprinkling of mallow flowers, which are the purple flowers typically found in earl grey tea. Out of all the donuts that I’ve tried from Cartems, this is one of my favourites. As a huge fan of earl grey tea, I loved the delicate flavour of earl grey infused into the donut. I found this donut to be more moist compared to the chocolate cake donut.
While chatting with the owner, I had learnt that a second round of the Maple Bourbon Bacon would be available with the next scheduled delivery that afternoon. Hence, I decided to go back after having lunch at Motomachi Shokudo Ramen for a second visit to Cartems that afternoon in hopes to get my mitts on one of them. After making a special trip back to Cartems, I was disappointed to discover they were out of Maple Bourbon Bacon again. Fortunately, it was my lucky day as the owner somehow managed to magically find me one from behind the counter. I was ecstatic as I finally managed to score one of these coveted Maple Bourbon Bacon donuts. The Maple Bourbon Bacon came topped with a maple bourbon glaze and bits of crumbled crispy bacon. Upon the first bite, I could see why this donut is such a big hit. I loved how the saltiness from the bacon pieces contrasted against the sweet maple bourbon glaze. This was my other favourite along with The Earl Grey. I thought Cartem’s version of the bacon donut is much more elegant and refined compared to the famous Bacon Maple Bar from Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon.
The next day I went back hoping that the Bee Sting would be available but sadly, it was not. So I got more of the Maple Bourbon Bacon and also ended up trying The Carrot Cake, which consisted of a cake donut with shredded carrot incorporated in the dough and a caramel glaze topping along with crunchy oats. For me, this donut was just ok as I was wasn’t crazy about the texture of the crunchy oat flakes.
I also decided to try the Sweet Heat, which is a chocolate cake donut that had mixture of organic cinnamon, sugar and spicy chilies. I personally didn’t find this donut to be that spicy at all. And again, unfortunately, I found this donut to be a bit on the dry side.
After three trips to Cartems during my visit to Vancouver last month, I’ve practically tried all the donuts that I really wanted to try except for The Bee Sting, which still evades me. I guess this is the perfect excuse for me to have to go back to Cartems again on my next visit to Vancouver in a few months. Overall, though I’m not usually a donut lover, I thought Cartems donuts were very good in terms of flavour. However, I did notice some minor inconsistencies from batch to batch. I guess that’s to be expected since they are still fairly new and are probably still working out the kinks. I certainly prefer these donuts from Cartems over those from the famous Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon and definitely over those from Tim Horton’s.
Cartems Donuterie (Pop-Up Shop)
408 Carrall Street (Carrall at Hastings)