Korean baking talent for dinner or dessert

There's good reason JnJ has such a dedicated following.

  • Name + address: JnJ Bakery Cafe, 62 Barrette St.

  • Type of food: Korean savouries and sweet baked goods

  • Prices: $2-$6

  • Diet: Meat, vegetarian

  • Wheelchair accessibility: No

  • Licensed: No

  • Website: www.jnjbakery.com

I first heard about JnJ Bakery from a friend who told me that the baked goods at this Korean eatery were first rate and that I needed to try them.

I made my way to the tire shop in an industrial area out of which they operated at the time, only to find that they had closed operations. There was a note on the door with a telephone number and it was then that I first spoke with baker Sung Hae Lee.

JnJ owner Sung Hae Lee. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

She told me that she was operating a skeleton business at the moment with her goods available at some distant location.

As it turns out, she has a dedicated following and the reasons are many. Courtesy of Melissa, one of our readers, I was put on the right path and for those of her fans who don’t yet know, Sung Hae is back and putting out a full range of her sweets and savouries.

Located behind the Metro on Beechwood she shares the space with another Korean business, Mr. Poke. (More on that in a moment.)

Savoury croquettes. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Working with a variety of different doughs, Sung Hae makes approximately 18 different buns and croquettes both savoury and sweet.

Her croquettes ($4) have fillings such as bulgogi beef (outstanding), vegetables, ham and egg, and the addictive chicken curry. The dough here is a mixture of wheat flour and glutinous rice flour giving extra structure to the housing and preventing leaking of the moist fillings. It also makes for a sumptuous texture that’s a joy to eat.

I went through the menu with gusto and the reason was simple: this is someone who has a finely tuned palate. Every croquette filling was worthy of elevated praise. Her recipes have no rival in this market and the fact that she creates all these wonderful treats on her own is remarkable.

You may also want to try her K-Twisted hot dog ($4) which, like a Pogo, is skewered with a stick but wrapped in that fluffy, chewy croquette dough. All these items are priced at only four dollars and for that money you are eating like royalty.

Almond tart. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

She learned her craft in her native South Korea and it’s clear that there was a French element to her training. The almond tart ($4) has a lovely short crust and the almond filling is substantial with far less sugar than I’ve ever had in such an item. 

If you enjoy sweet red bean (adzuki) treats then the Red Bean Soboro ($2.75) is for you. Soboro refers to a type of streusel, a bakery topping made of flour, sugar and butter. 

Unlike other red bean pastries available at Asian shops, Sung Hae makes her red bean filling (danpat in Korean) from scratch, a six-hour process that gives you an experience you’ll want to share with your friends. The sugar is held in moderation and the filling is airy and not stodgy.

Buttercream bun. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

I also enjoyed the butter cream bun. She had been mixing the butter cream when I arrived and was kind enough to pipe it into the sweet brioche hot dog bun for immediate enjoyment.

Look, I went through most of her almost two dozen offerings and I came away only with superlatives. Her from-scratch baking is clearly the only way to go and it also ensures a level of freshness not matched by other versions around the city.

I often spend a fair amount of time with business owners to get a sense of what inspires them and to learn more about their philosophy. Sung Hae Lee is as authentic as her creations. She has an artistic soul that refuses compromise and is deeply committed to putting out the best products no matter what it costs in terms of time.

When she learned that I’ve been home roasting my own coffee these last 20 years, she offered me a latté. It turns out that Sung Hae is also a trained barista and her fine palate was once again on display when she handed me the cup. This was one of the best coffees I’ve had in Ottawa, but I suspect she knew I’d say that.

The coffee was a superb roast and came from Brown Bag Coffee Roasters in Gatineau. Having gone through a number of local roasters, this stood out and I will be pursuing a story on this company.

I’ll leave you with a quick dinner tip: buy a few savoury croquettes and serve one (or two) alongside a salad for dinner. Warm them in a 350 degree oven for five minutes. This is as fast as dinner gets and it’s also wonderfully delicious.

Sung Hae Lee is simply heroic in her output and apart from her recipes, the fact that she does it on her own, has my deep respect.

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