TABLE TALK: Get BakedAfter 9/11, the media reported that people were “cocooning” more than ever, satisfying a need for togetherness. Comfort food, cocooning, dining out as therapy, we all know the drill: to seek a bit of peace in a warm, clean environment, one with hearty, feel-good foods and where we can take respite from the recovery of the city’s and our own personal disasters. Lately we can find peace and tranquility in the bakery/café hybrid – often a small, charming eatery that bakes fresh breads, cakes, pastries and bagels. Here we can sit at a small table with muffins and magazines, or iPods, brioche and a mug of coffee as the yeasty, sugary smell of baked goods fills the air. Lest you think the bakery-café is a passing fancy, new bakeries are opening around New Orleans.
Around the corner from one of my favorite shops, Octavia Street Books, is a newcomer, Laurel Street Bakery. I work a weekly stint in the kitchen here, but even before that, I had been a frequent visitor for bags of buttery, crisp palmiers (a k a shoe soles), egg-rich brioche, quick breads, carrot cakes, muffins, oat bars and coffee, all lovingly made by chef/owners Hillary Guttman and Susan Lafaye. During one visit I had a square of focaccia with tomatoes, but I haven’t seen that savory item reappear. Delicate sandwiches such as croissant with ham and cheese or turkey and provolone in a challah are available. The quiches, two with meat and one vegetarian, are light yet satisfying. Bagels from Laurel Street are boiled and baked in the traditional manner, resulting in a golden crust and an airy interior. Eat them plain, buttered or with a smear of creamy, tangy, garlicky, sun-dried-tomato cream-cheese spread. What makes Laurel Street’s baked goods special is that they are handmade fresh, from scratch, daily.
At O’Delice bakery, chef/owners Nancy and Francis Nguyen bake luscious cakes with flavored buttercream icing. Her pastries are graceful whorls and swirls of sugar, cream and chocolate tucked into flaky, golden dough. Éclairs and cream puffs are sublime fluffs as well. During Carnival season, king cakes flew out of the door as fast as they could be baked – same with plain and raspberry-, chocolate- and almond-filled croissants. O’Delice has no tables for folks to sit and enjoy their goods on-site, but that
doesn’t stop the inevitable bakery/café chit-chat from taking place between customers, Nguyen and the cluster of “friends” that seems to hang out here; a homey environment leads to heavy repeat business. The baked goods travel well, and at lunch, nibble on a take-away sandwich at a picnic in Audubon Park or back at your desk.
La Boulangerie is not new but parts of its menu are. Café tables inside and outside on the sidewalk allow diners to relax for a while. Make your selection, order a cup of coffee or an Orangina and sit at a table amid heady aromas. Bakery brothers Dominic and Bruno Rizzo fire up the ovens and turn out aromatic and flavorful breads. The olive-rosemary loaf is notable for its tender interior and salted crust. It is sold in a family-size or an individual loaf. The chefs halve the smaller loaf and top it with blue cheese, tomatoes, jalapeño rings and a thick slice of bacon, or a blend of tomatoes, cheese and egg, and bake them toasty-warm for a new take on pizza that works for breakfast or lunch. Sandwiches on narrow baguettes are reminiscent of those found at the Paris markets with their balance of sour, sweet and salty flavors and soft and chewy textures. Purchase a take-home stash of freshly baked, crusty and slightly sourdough French bread, ciabatta and other bread varieties.