From the most basic ingredients, bakers create wonders. It’s that pastry that makes up for getting up early, the cakes that become centerpieces of our celebrations, the anytime indulgences that get us through the day and, it’s even the unadorned loaves that are so tempting we have to tear off a piece before the bread ever makes it home. It all starts with age-old essentials, and the transformative potential of skill and craft.
In New Orleans these days, though, bakers are transforming more than just their ingredients.
There’s a bakery boom underway, and as more small, independent bakeries emerge they are creating new neighborhood hubs in that way that only bakeries can – creating that place for both the quick stop and the long linger.
This new batch of bakeries is highly varied in style and scale. Many double as cafés with breakfast and lunch menus – I’m thinking of places like Breads on Oak, ManhattanJack, Willa Jean, Maple Street Patisserie and Shake Sugary – got to love that name. A few are satellite locations, expanding homegrown brands to different neighborhoods – like Gracious Bakery, which just added a new spot in the Garden District and Bittersweet Confections, which has expanded to St. Claude Avenue. Next up, Laurel Street Bakery is gearing up to expand in the CBD.
You can call artisan baking trendy if you like, but that ignores history and our own New Orleans food culture. This city was once a bastion for baking and it developed a distinctive style as different waves of immigrants put their stamp on the local baking industry, from French and German to Italian to, much later, Vietnamese and now Latin-American. That’s why I’m heartened to see so many new additions. They’re reviving a story of quality and diversity here.
And now, they’re all over the place. Remember the Italian restaurant Eleven 79? It was once a debonair den of veal and red sauce. Now it’s the Bakery Bar, a café with a specialty in doberge cake, and a bar for those times when you want to pair cake and cocktails.
In the Bywater, the aptly named Bywater Bakery opened just in time for Carnival and has reanimated a rambling old corner house where people line up for fresh baked goods in the morning.
And in Mid-City, on Bienville Street, a curious little vintage filling station, empty for years, just came back to life as the Station, a bakery and cafe for sausage rolls and meat pies and veggie pies and delicious little pastries. In the Treme, even the old barroom Joe’s Cozy Corner is now a bakery café, this time a Turkish one called Fatma’s Cozy Corner for baklava and cake and flaky savory pies.
And then, some new additions are roving and temporary, materializing for farmers markets and even pop-up appearances. Leo’s Bread is one memorable example.
These new additions join the old established names, folding their different flavors and styles into the mix of New Orleans baking. With so much variety and personality across the scene, these days no one has settle for a cookie-cutter bakery.
Bakeries and cafes mentioned in this segment of Where Y’Eat:
Breads on Oak, 8640 Oak St.
Maple Street Patisserie, 7638 Maple St.
ManhattanJack, 4930 Prytania St.
Willa Jean, 611 O'Keefe Ave.
Shake Sugary, 3304 St. Claude Ave.
Gracious Bakery + Cafe, 1000 S. Jefferson Davis Parkway and 2834 St. Charles Ave.
Bittersweet Confections, 725 Magazine St. and 2381 St. Claude Ave.
Laurel Street Bakery, 2701 S. Broad St.
Bakery Bar, 1179 Annunciation St.
Bywater Bakery, 3624 Dauphine St.
The Station, 4400 Bienville St.
Fatma’s Cozy Corner, 1532 Ursulines Ave.
Leo’s Bread, various locations, see www.leosbread.com