‘It looks like they’ve still got the ‘Bee Sting’,’ I remark to my TOQUE co-pilot Cai as we peruse the menu to see what’s for lunch. Unable to suppress a rush of excitement, I add: ‘That was always my favourite pizza at Bread Bar.’ Spicy salami, red sauce, mozza, basil, lemon ricotta, chili oil, and honey (by Thurston Honey Bee Co in Guelph) – what’s not to love? ‘And ‘Princess Pickle’, too,’ Cai adds, spotting the fabulous ‘za that was always a dark horse treasure on the Bread Bar menu we remember. White sauce, mozza, chicken, garlic, breadcrumbs, chili flake, ranch, and of course sweet pickles and dill. I keep scanning and spot a handful of other ‘old faithful’ pies: ‘Meat Mountain’, ‘Apple & Bacon’, and the classic ‘Margherita’ too. I am relieved. After all, Bread Bar was a go-to spot for Cai and me precisely because its fantastic menu items – pizzas and sandwiches and pastas and salads and more – were always inventive, ever inspired, and consistently delicious. 

When we heard that the former Bread Bar (one of several branches of Pearle Hospitality, the superpower hospitality and development group that also owns the stunning Elora Mill Hotel & Spa, Cambridge Mill, Whistle Bear Golf Club, and more exquisite destinations) was about to re-name itself Bardō, we were nervous that the proverbial baby (or, in this case, ‘Bee Sting’) might be thrown out with the bath water. At first glance, though, it appears that Bardō has done right by its devoted Bread Bar fans – very nicely evolving (without exploding) the brand. We’ll have to keep digging (read: eating) to find out more. 

It’s a Tuesday in March, just after noon, and Cai and I have traveled into Hamilton from Guelph to find out what this re-naming, Bardō, is all about. And while we probably could have done this research in the Royal City (after all, Guelph has a fantastic Bread Bar-turned-Bardō location where my oldest kiddo works as a cook), we’ve come to the Hammer because it’s here, in a charming old building on Locke Street, that Bread Bar was born. And it’s here, at the original Bread Bar location, where the Bardō brand has been fully realized with a half- million dollar interior makeover. While other Bardō locations (in Guelph, as mentioned, and on James Street in Hamilton) are also open for business, they have not, as of yet, undergone major interior revamps. 

As Cai continues to read the menu, I look around. Just a few weeks ago this space was dominated by darker hues – smoky blues and crimson reds – that generated a moody atmosphere. Now it has been transformed into an exercise in light and airy minimalism. Large white textured and back-lit abstract art pieces hang on brilliant, white-painted brick walls. Off-white tables paired with uncoated wooden chairs (featuring pumpkin-orange cushions) rest on wide-plank chevron wood flooring. Light wood accents (including the ceiling supports, lattice work above the bar, and host station) create a breathy, natural vibe throughout. Floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the restaurant allow the natural noon- hour light to splash across the first couple rows of tables and contribute to the airy feel. These are complemented by the pseudo open concept kitchen at the back, which validates the restaurant’s transparent approach to quality ingredients. Indeed, the only darker tones remaining in the completely overhauled establishment are a few teal-coloured accent walls that serve beautifully to tie everything together. As if on cue, behind me a small group saunters through the front door and exclaim how cheerful the place looks. Mission accomplished, then. Now back to the food. 

After almost no debate, Cai and I land on what we’d like to share for lunch: a ‘Bee Sting’, of course, along with an ‘Heirloom Beet Salad’ (another favourite) and ‘Loaded Fries’ (a daily creation that, on this Tuesday, is an Asian-inspired concoction with a green onion and sesame glaze). And for drinks: pints of Cowbell Brewing Co’s ‘Hazy Days’ IPA from the restaurant’s ever-revolving taps. It’s not long before our food is served and I’m indulging in the curiously complementary flavours of spicy salami, lemon ricotta, and local honey. ‘This has got to be among the best pizza in the whole region,’ I mumble to Cai as I stuff a renegade hunk of ricotta into my mouth. Right up there with Roy’s (Guelph), Willibald (Ayr), Shorty’s (Hamilton), La Fontana (Elora), and Graffiti (Kitchener). Near the back of the restaurant, a line of patrons order pizza by the slice for take-out. Cai and I spot someone we recognize from Dundurn Market and Mulberry Coffeehouse who grabs pizza to-go before joining a friend on a bench on the other side of the restaurant’s front window. All around us diners revel in their food, their friends, and these new digs. Above the din, I make out some divine harmony by Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit. Lovely. Upbeat. Digestible. Like everything in this luminous place. 

Some time during our meal, Bardō Executive Chef & Culinary Lead Cameron Bell, who has been busy with his team in the kitchen crafting home runs for today’s lunch, swings by our table to answer any questions we have about the new place. I’m quick to ask about menu changes, hoping that much of the Bread Bar menu will indeed be absorbed at Bardō. ‘There actually haven’t been any out-of-the-ordinary changes,’ Chef Cam tells me, adding: ‘We’re continuing to offer the same classics alongside some seasonal changes and additions twice  a year.’ He goes on: ‘And our motto, ‘Good Ingredients Matter’, remains the same.’ A watchword that’s presented proudly in backlit letters on the wall just above the opening to the kitchen – and an ethos that Chef Cam and the Bardō team take to heart. Indeed, the Bardō menu not only prioritizes quality ingredients from regional partners (like the aforementioned Thurston honey, for example); it also incorporates many ingredients sourced directly from Pearle Hospitality’s ninety-seven- acre farm (located in Flamborough). ‘From late spring to early fall, the majority of the greens we use in our salads are sourced from the farm,’ Chef Cam tells me. ‘ Moreover,’ he continues, ‘each year the farm’s Operations Manager Carl Lesli works with me and other Pearle location chefs to plan which organic vegetables we’d like to use in the coming season.’ Bardō’s motto is indeed its word. And, as the Wu-Tang Clan taught my generation, word is bond. 

As Cai and I chat with Chef Cam, I notice the long wooden table beside us (a perfect companion to the smaller white tables throughout the rest of the space) being laden with a small army of dishes: a ‘Margherita’ pizza, and ‘Calamari’ (with cocktail sauce, lemon, chorizo, chilies, and garlic), ‘Creamy Hummus’ (with crispy chickpea, lemon zest, parsley, za’atar spice, and house toast), ‘Bread Plate’ (with roasted beet butter, pepitas, pome fruit & caramelized onion chutney, hummus, and cheesy toast with za’atar), ‘Loaded Fries’ (this time with loads of parmesan), ‘Umami Burger’ (with beef patty, mushroom, pickled red onion, truffle aioli, parm crisp, and umami sauce), and more. ‘We thought you might want to try some more of our menu items,’ Chef tells us before motioning Cai and me to the larger table. 

I’m more than a bit overwhelmed. While I may have a reputation as someone who can put back food, this spread will certainly test my mettle – in the tastiest way. Although Cai and I don’t manage to clear the table, we do put a good dent in it. And enjoy every bite. I make a mental note to order the ‘Umami Burger’ next time I’m in. Cai can’t stop talking about the ‘Calamari’. And we’re both impressed by the ‘Creamy Hummus’ and the ‘Bread Plate’ – replete with smoldering rosemary sprig. 

As Cai and I cheerfully divide left-overs and pack them to enjoy at home, I’m already scheming my next trip to Bardō – either here or closer to home, in Guelph. For lunch again. Or dinner – which features a more expansive menu including Bardō’s widely-loved pasta dishes. Or for Sunday brunch – a fan favourite for which reservations are certainly recommended. 

The nineteenth-century French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is credited with having invented the proverb, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ After our delectable adventure at Bardō, Cai and I agree that his insight is well worth pondering.