Seeking an expertly laminated French croissant? Or perhaps memories of a trip overseas have put you in the mood for a sleek ham and cheese sandwich layered with salted butter and briny-sweet pops of cornichon. Yet it is Sunday, and you’d rather lounge with an actual printed newspaper and a series of coffees punctuated by flaky forkfuls of galette. All this and more are waiting for you at La Boulangerie.
In a city that aims for Francophile authenticity, few places land with closer precision than La Boulangerie. A deeply ensconced neighborhood spot for over two decades, big changes came in 2015 when the bakery was purchased by the Link Restaurant Group. Executive Pastry Chef Maggie Scales oversaw an unenviable challenge – shepherding the restaurant’s transition from an established independent outpost into the bakery arm of a premier restaurant group while at the same time infusing it with her own creative contributions.
It had its fraught moments – page-long screeds of all-caps rants concerning almond croissants told you more about the customers than the bakery – but following a brief transitional storm La Boulangerie has sailed into the clear. Seating expanded from about 8 to 30 tables when it acquired the adjacent space and the addition of a liquor license put the Amarna cherry on top. The Link Group now boasts a stand-alone bakery that does double-duty as a production engine for the other eateries in the group. Did I mention you can also get homemade ice cream here?
Indeed, the reciprocal benefits are huge. The ham for the aforementioned sandwich comes from a little place called Cochon Butcher – perhaps you’ve heard of it. Ditto for the smoked salmon. “Our salmon, ham and bacon all come from Butcher,” Scales noted. “They even make the mustard. And it is vice-versa with us – they get all their breads and desserts from us.”
Laminated doughs – the labor-intensive process by which butter is incorporated between layers of dough in a sheeter – are a specialty of Scales. Plain croissants and variants thereof (almond and Pain au Chocolate, for example) are bedrock items while seasonal riffs pop up depending on available fruits and berries. Sugared and spiced “Morning Buns” beckon, as do Americana hits like blueberry muffins. Desserts like lemon meringue tart and a pastry cream-laden Parish-Brest make one waver between the choice of pastry and dessert for breakfast. Old favorites, shelved for a while because of COVID-related demand and production setbacks, have recently reappeared, such as the chocolate Éclair. Scales’ famous chocolate chip cookies remain a calling card. The coffee is by Congregation, a fast-growing independent local roaster helmed by Link Group alum.
While the bedrock vibe is French, Scales brings a California-informed sensibility as well. “From experiences in Paris I totally appreciate the sitting outside with a bottle of wine and a friend, but I also lived for 10 years in in southern California so I also really appreciate the laid back, calm, southern California feel. I like to see this as a place just to meet someone for something simple and good.”
Along with operating La Boulangerie, Scales oversees all pastry, breads and desserts for the impressive (and diverse) roster of Link Group’s holdings. “Herbsaint is very bistro-y and French, whereas Peche and Cochon are more Southern,” Scales said. “They lean more toward ‘fun’ desserts, less formal and more lively. And with Butcher we do a lot of fun retail there, like the bacon pralines.” Scales collaborates with the chefs at the respective restaurants to compose the dessert menus and this reciprocal relationship also informs the menu at La Boulangerie.
4600 Magazine St., Uptown. Laboulangerienola.com. 269-3777.
ABOUT THE CHEF
Originally from Philadelphia, executive pastry chef Maggie Scales went to high school and then college in southern California. Later she attended Cambridge Culinary, a culinary school in Cambridge, Mass. She and her husband soon grew weary of the brutal New England winters. “We decided we needed to move somewhere warm where food and cuisine was highly valued.” New Orleans fit the bill, and the job she’d been eyeing off and on along the way opened up again soon after moving here. “I love being part of a collected group of chefs with such talent,” she says of her Link Group home.