A surge in small bakeries around New Orleans signals a revival for local baking traditions in more ways than one.
Empty lots in an old city like New Orleans usually have a story behind them, and the one attached to a Canal Street lot down the block from my house in Mid-City has stuck with me for years.
That’s because a neighbor once told me how someone had planned to build a bakery on that lot, and then this guy proudly crowed about how he and other residents had stopped that plan cold. They were worried about parking and delivery trucks. It would have been a nightmare, he explained. But to me it sounded more like a dream — a neighborhood bakery where you could just walk down to get your morning pastry or bread for the evening’s dinner.
Well, that neighbor moved away, and the lot has since been developed. It’s now home to a nail salon and a credit union. When I walk past, sometimes I still think of the bakery that might’ve been.
But elsewhere in New Orleans, and really all over town, that ideal of the neighborhood bakery is becoming a reality. The city has had a surge in small, independent bakeries, with at least a baker's dozen of them opening within just the past few years. This new batch of bakeries is highly varied in style and scale. Some double as cafés with breakfast and lunch menus, while others are small production bakeries operating behind the scenes and farming their goods out to different venues.
It adds up to a boom time for great baked goods here, from baguettes to bagels to cinnamon buns. And it all represents a reversal of fortunes for part of the city’s culinary heritage that, until recently, appeared to be on the ropes.
In fact, New Orleans was once a bastion for baking and it developed a distinctive local style, one that began with the city’s French colonial roots and evolved through the 19th century as later waves of immigrants from Germany and Austria and Italy began to dominate the local baking industry. Turn back the clock a century or so, and you’d see New Orleans neighborhoods filled with small bakeries where oven men and master bakers produced dark, hearty breads, Italian loaves and the lighter, brittle-crusted numbers that would become the indispensible New Orleans po-boy bread.
What happened to all that? Well, shopping habits changed with the post-war rise of the suburb and the supermarket, and baking itself changed with mechanization and a turn toward preservative-laden dough. These were all interconnected culprits in the decline of baking across America, and New Orleans was not immune. Po-boy bread has persevered, thank heavens, but the homegrown baking industry itself was whittled down to a few stalwarts of the craft.
Which is why today I’m so heartened to see more small, independent bakers opening up. They’re restoring some of the quality and diversity in craft baking that New Orleanians once enjoyed as a birthright. You can find their products in their own bakeries, of course, and also at farmers markets, at wine shops and specialty stores, and at restaurants and coffee shops. And, who knows, if there’s an empty lot near you maybe this time around it will be a bakery as this promising trend keeps rising.
Below, a list of New Orleans bakeries that have opened or expanded in the past few years:
3138 Magazine St., 504-309-7557; www.artsbagels.com
A Northeast-style bagel shop just off Magazine Street
A production bakery for distinctive breads; sold at wine shops and farmers markets.
Breads on Oak
8640 Oak St., 504-324-8271; www.breadsonoak.com
Gorgeous loaves, pastries and grab-and-go sandwiches, with an expansion on the horizon.
2440 Chartres St., 504-943-0010; www.nolacakes.com
Pastries, breakfast and lunch from a former door-to-door cake salesman.
1000 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy., (504) 301-3709; www.graciousbakery.com
Opened in 2012, serving sandwiches, pastries and breads.
Laurel Street Bakery
5433 Laurel St., 504-897-0576; 2107 S. Broad St., phone n.a.; www.laurelstreetbakery.com
Bagels, pastries, bread and sandwiches, with a Broadmoor location due this summer.
4930 Prytania St., 504-357-2003
A long display of daily croissants, bagels and pastries, with sandwiches in back.
Maple Street Patisserie
7638 Maple St., (504) 304-1526; www.maplestreetpatisserie.com
Pan-European specialties from Polish-born baker Ziggy Cichowski, an expansion in the works.
Norma's Sweets Bakery
2925 Bienville St., (504) 309-5401; 3221 Georgia St., Kenner, (504) 467-4309
A newly expanded Latin American bakery for bread, cakes and sweet/savory pastry.
6601 Veterans Blvd., Metairie, (504) 888-9094; www.thepeacebaker.com
A gluten-free bakery, specializing in vegan items as well.
4226 Magazine St., 504-371-5558
A farmers market vendor’s new café/bakery, serving breakfast and lunch.
3600 St. Claude Ave., (504) 355-9345; www.shakesugary.com
A tiny Bywater spot, open Sat./Sun. only for pastries, pies and tarts.
Bagels and breads, sold at farmers markets, cafés and by delivery.
7217 Perrier St., (504) 866-4860; www.tartineneworleans.com
Hidden Uptown, serving breakfast and lunch and breads and baked goods to go.