Friday, September 10, 2004


We are back from the bakery trip. It was 5,000 miles of driving and many bakeries visited, both planned and unplanned.

Wolf's Bakery, in Antrim PA, has an interesting set up, one which we may partially emulate. They made rows of work tables for each type - I liked that. We might do something similar: rows of workstations for nut-free, meat-free, and anything goes, with their own sinks; ovens along one wall; heavy equipment along another; ingredients through a third, with the customer area taking up the rest. Very nicely done at Wolf's, and hopefully well done at the Cracked Cauldron when we're done.

They also had really good soft pretzels, the salt pretzels were dipped in melted butter after being cooled, then sprinkled with coarse kosher salt. I think the butter is what made them fabulous.

Wolf's Bakery didn't have a dining area for customers to eat on the premises. Instead, the dining area was filled with local crafts and products to sell, fresh produce (insanely cheap pumpkins and tomatoes and fresh corn), and locally canned jellies and vegetables.

The Keltic Krust Bakery and Deli kept some really odd hours - open from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., then from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and we arrived at precisely the wrong time with to little time to wait, so we peered into the windows. Their set-up was very similar to the village bakery where I grew up - the display counters of bread and rolls and pastry with a central cash register, and the decor was very Celtic - knotwork borders and Celticish banners on the walls. There was no seating, and they sold a variety of jams and jellies and bakery accessories.

Sonsie's was much more a deli and bistro than a bakery, offering sandwiches and wine. Expecting a bakery, we were a bit disappointed to discover it was actually an upscale restaurant. This isn't the first time we've been taken in that way, either - remember the "bakery" in Texas that had valet parking and nary an edible baked good in sight? Sonsie's at least had baked goods listed on the menu. Having bakery treats on the menu didn't make them a bakery, though, so we skipped Sonsie's.

Au Bon Pain (a chain - we encountered more than one of them, and they were all pretty similar) was more a deli than a bakery, in my opinion, as they focused on specialty sandwiches, much like Schlotszky's or City Bites, although they did have self-serve shelves of breads and rolls, as well as self serve refrigerators of milks and juices.

Their decor was stark and efficient, and the seating arranged for maximum turn-over. They, alone of all the bakeries, sold only food and drink.

Paradise Bakery (another chain, we saw more than one of them) was another mostly sandwich shop - a recurring theme for bakeries we found on the East Coast. Bakery seemed interchangeable with Sandwiches in Connecticut, Massachusets, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia.

The best bakeries, the ones which came closest to what we are seeking to do here, were found in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In Ohio, we visited Benevolence, Omega, Mozart's, Gaelic Imports, and Fidoul's. They were all under one roof in the North Market Mall, along with many other food related places.

Except for Gaelic Imports, they all had their bakeries set up inside the mall, the largest (Fidoul's) took up less than 2,000 square feet, and that only because Fidoul's also offered take-out meals of Middle Eastern cuisine. Fidoul's had many different kinds of baklavas. We watched the gentleman layer together and bake a few, all within less space than my bathroom. That was an impressive display of compactness and efficiency.

Benevolence was a vegan bakery, displaying their wares from tables, and their ovens and work tables would not pass the local health department requirements. They were scrupulously and obsessively clean, but we have requirements on placement and number of washing sinks and prep sinks and surfaces that they ignored in order to fit it all in. Ohio has different standards, and to me, at least, their standards are more workable.

Omega's displays were in the baskets we'd been looking at from several difference manufacturers, and a tiny cold case for the chilled pastries they offered. We arrived just as their first loaves of the day were coming out of the ovens.

Like Fidoul's, they made effcient use of the tight space they had. Again, they had only a single basin sink for food prep and clean-up - something that would have the OK Health Dept. screaming in horror - they require a triple sink for clean-up and separate sinks for food preparation - one for meat based foods, and for other foods, and we'll add in a nut-free sink as well, even though that's not required simply because we want to reduce even further any allergy contamination.

We spoke with the head baker (a charming flirt) and the bakery owner. Like Manager, she's a young woman. The bakery has been open less than a year, and she said it was more successful than she'd hoped for. That was encouraging, since she had 4 competitors under the same roof, a challenge we won't be facing.

Mozart's was all desserts, Viennese pastries and tortes. The baker spent much of his time constructing the tortes, and again, had a very effcient use of the small space alloted to him. His wares were displayed in a single small cold case.

Gaelic Imports wasn't really a bakery, but a distributor of frozen goods imported from the British Isles, so there was no kitchen to see. However, they carried a few classic British baked goods, like bakewell tarts and Empire Biscuits. They suffered severely from the freezing and thawing, however, fresh, they must have been quite good. I like the concept of lining a muffin tin with a pastry crust, dolloping in some jam or fruit curds, topping that with cake batter, and baking, then frosting it. It makes an interesting contrast in crisp crust and soft cake with a sweet fruit burst.

We stopped at several roadside Amish stores in Indiana, all of which contained cheeses, freshly churned butters, and freshly baked breads.

From several, we acquired Amish recipes for cherry butter, strawberry butter, and apricot butter, as well as their soft molasses cookies, and several hearty meat pies. These stores were not bakeries - all the foods were prepared off-site, but the foods themselves gave us good ideas.

The bakeries in Illinois were similar to the ones we encountered on the East Coast - more deli and sandwich shop than bakery.

We didn't find any bakeries in Missouri, but then, we didn't make prior arrangements to visit any there. We'd heard of a few, but since we didn't make prior contact and didn't want to take the time to seek any out, we just drove straight through Missouri and on home.

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