Village Baker Downtown

I was excited when I saw that the Village Baker was moving into the main floor of the new 111 Main building in downtown Salt Lake City. I’ve been a fan of Village Baker since I lived down in Draper and frequented their West Jordan location. The new downtown shop opened a couple months ago, and has had a brisk business ever since, without a doubt helped by the continued growth of the downtown workforce and the accompanying strain this growth has placed on downtown lunch spots. I rarely venture out for lunch past about 11:45 because lines at almost every downtown dining spot will be 10-15 people deep. Maybe I’ll develop a new measure of downtown economic growth and base it on the line length at 12pm at sandwich shops.

Breakfast sandwiches, coffee, soups, salads, pizza, sandwiches, a variety of sweets and pastries–you name it, and this place will likely have it. As opposed to Kneaders, Village Baker’s bread selection is less rustic and artisan and centers more squarely on traditional American bread pan breads: honey wheat, honey white, French, and sourdough, with other specialty breads such as sunflower whole wheat, raisin, multigrains, and cinnaburst loaves produced on a rotating weekly schedule.

One popular sandwich is the turkey cranberry ($3.74 for half, about $7 for whole). The turkey, which was somewhat clumsily and unevenly placed in the sandwich, mayonnaise and cranberry sauce were contained by two thick slices of honey wheat bread. This sandwich is one of their more popular menu items, and I can see why: it’s delicious. I wasn’t initially sold on cranberry on my sandwiches, but once I tried it, there was no going back. For an extra $2.50 you can make your sandwich a combo and get a beverage and your choice of either chips or a large cookie. Sorry Lays, but I’m going for the homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookie every time.

On another visit I tried the turkey, provolone, and avocado sandwich ($4.32 for a half sandwich and I think around $7 for the whole). This one came served with thin slices of bread despite my request for the thicker slices, and was, simply put, anemic and a little bit sad. It lacked the filling robustness I’m accustomed to at Village Baker. This sandwich was a boring dud.

The pizza is delicious, and extremely well priced at about $2 per slice. At that price I have to imagine they will give some other downtown pizza places a run for their money. The slices are generous, sauce well balanced, cheese is perfectly stretchy and gooey, and the thicker crust has the perfect chew. I’m a fan.

Their cookies are good, but sadly not as good as those that I remember from the West Jordan location. At West Jordan, the cookies are thick and chewy, whereas at the downtown spot they are much thinner. This results in a crisper, drier cookie that makes me yearn for their more robust southern brethren.

For breakfast, I was impressed by their savory breakfast roll ($3.59), which features hash browns, red and green peppers, mozzarella and bacon. The rolls are packaged for a quick to-go option, but the kitchen is more than happy to warm it up for you, which I would highly recommend if you have the time.

The space itself is bright, cheery, and well decorated. During the warmer months, patio tables are placed outside on the sidewalk, greatly expanding their capacity. During the colder times, diners are restricted to limited seating on the main floor, but Village Baker anticipated this and came up with a brilliant solution: they build a mezzanine floor above the kitchen, where I imagine 30+ hungry diners can fit at any given time.

Service is of the “order at the counter and take a number to your table” variety. I’ve always been helped by cheerful people at the order counter as well as those delivering my food. I’ve had them ask me how things are as they walk by delivering orders to other tables, which is greatly appreciated and shows me they care.

Does downtown seriously need another soup and sandwich place? Yes. While I’d love to see a bit more variety hit downtown dining spots, demand for noontime noshing continues to strain eateries, so it’s nice to have another sandwich spot to help relieve some of the lunch rush pressure. Village Baker is a top-notch addition, and I’m glad they chose to come downtown. Judging by their crowds, I think they’ll do just fine.

Amour Cafe is Open!

Amour Cafe, from our friends John and Casee at Amour Spreads, is open for business! Baker/gelato maker extraordinaire Amber Billingsley is behind the delicious baked goods at the cafe, which features everything from the traditional chocolate chip with Solstice chocolate to a beet root cake with walnuts and bourbon raisins. The baked goods selection varies day to day, as do the gelato flavors. 

Simple, yet beautiful decor throughout, including 120 year old salvaged church pews.

Homemade sodas are flavored using Amour’s very own homemade simple syrup. Full coffee/espresso drinks are offered, as are delicious pieces of toast with eggs, prosciutto, and of course, Amour Spreads.

Check them out at 1329 South 500 East. Open every day from 7am to 7pm. If you’re lucky you will be able to look into their kitchen from the window in the dining room and watch them work their magic in the back.

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Visiting Les Madeleines

“Siri, set the timer for 19 minutes.” No, this is not an Apple commercial featuring Cookie Monster. I’m at Les Madeleines bakery in downtown Salt Lake, visiting with Romina Rasmussen, owner and chef.

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It’s a sleepy Salt Lake Sunday morning, and Romina is experimenting with different yeasts in her croissants, testing and testing again to see if the new stuff yields the same results as her old stuff. Not quite yet, she says. Back to the old stuff for now.

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Romina hasn’t always been a baker. She spent her first chunk of post-college years in D.C, then teaching English in Taiwan, and then on to Hong Kong, working in employee communications and then as the speechwriter for AT&T’s CEO. Romina explained that expats hit a point at about year four of being abroad, in which they start to lose touch with their home culture enough that most have to decide at that point to stay or go home. Romina decided to come home, where she worked for another telecom in Miami, before deciding it was time to take a step out of the corporate world and focus on something else. Next stop: the French Culinary Institute in New York. 

After graduating the FCI and working as pastry cook at the Mandarin Oriental, her brother called with a proposition. He was the owner of Shaggy’s on State Street, and he had a spot two doors down that would be perfect for a bakery. And so began her next adventure: transitioning from hotel-scale baking to now owning and self-funding her own tiny bakery in downtown Salt Lake.

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It started with a rotating menu of baked goods, and then about her croissants from the Trib. But then the Kouign Amann (pronounced “queen amahn”) happened. She was the only employee at the time, baking, running the cash register, etc. So when someone approached her and asked if she had ever made them, she replied that she didn’t have time to experiment. “Well, what if I special-ordered some?” the persistent customer asked. “I guess I’d make some, then” was Romina’s reply. So out went the first special order, and from then on Les Madeleines featured Kouign Amann’s one day per week, which slowly turned into two times, then three, and on until she was making them on a daily basis.

The kouigns were hard to come by, and difficult and time-consuming to make. At first they were in scarce supply and limits to how many one customer could buy. When people came in to buy some, they would “act suspicious, without making eye contact, and would ask for the Kouign Amann.” So the Kouign quickly earned the nickname “crack,” and Romina became “the lady on State Street that sells crack.”

She moved into her new space (the old Urban Bistro space at 216 E 500 S), which had a full kitchen. Romina never intended to offer a full hot menu, but “it would be a shame” to not use the kitchen. About this time, the Food Network called, and featured the Kouign on an episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Romina’s phone battery died from the amount of online orders placed the night the show aired. Despite that this episode aired originally in 2009, it is still her most popular product.

But don’t look past her other creations, as her wall of accolades attests to her broad range of baking prowess.

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I stopped by and tried her Madmuffin breakfast sandwich without regrets (well, one regret–should have ordered two). Housemade English muffin, boar bacon, eggs, micro chives ensured I got my morning off to the right start.

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Ro is humble, and doesn’t feel the need to tout that she makes her own jams from produce she grows herself, or that her gelato doesn’t come pre-mixed in a bag from the factory. She believes that people will see and taste the quality, which is all the touting that she needs. Romina exhibits the entrepreneurial spirit, willing to take risks, jump out of the nest, and do something that others might perceive as risky to pursue her dream. And Salt Lake City is the lucky benefactor of this entrepreneurial spirit. We’re lucky to have her here.

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From Scratch Sweet Shop

We Utahns love our sweets (I type as I eat a bowl of Moose Tracks ice cream). And David Brodsky thinks he has just the think to satiate our sweet tooth. Brodsky is the owner of From Scratch, a restaurant tucked into Gallivan Avenue, that specializes in scratch-made products (all the way down to their ketchup and jams). He has been working on a small little space tucked into the side of the dining area that he has prepped to be a quick-serve counter serving various baked goods, and eventually, ice cream.

Having done the sit-down atmosphere at From Scratch, David wanted to try out the concept of more of a grab-and-go bakery. Bakery customers will be able to choose whether to eat their goods in the dining room (no waiter service in the morning) or take and go on their way to work or school. Publik coffee will be served, but for now, no espresso.

Brodsky plans on offering a rotating selection of pastries, including brioche cinnamon rolls with brown butter frosting, coffee cake, scones, cookies (four chocolate chip, peanut butter, cookie sandwiches), deep dish quiche, muffins with house made jams and butter, and, various breads.

Oh, and donuts of course. David has been experimenting to find the perfect cake donut recipe over the past several months, and has failed more times than he cares to admit. But he feels they have finally nailed it, and will be offering various flavors such as lemon, blueberry cake, traditional glazed, as well as chocolate with caramel.

For the lunch crowd, The Sweet Shop will sell various grab-and-go sandwiches to satisfy the demands of the ever-growing downtown lunch crowd.

Eventually, Brodsky intends to add an ice cream machine into the mix, turning out pints of various flavors. Think Bi-Rite in San Francisco or Salt & Straw in Portland. I’ve always thought it odd that there isn’t a high-end, small-batch ice cream maker in SLC, so this would fill that niche. 

Sweet Shop opens next Tuesday, August 25th. Hours will be 7:30-2pm and is located right next to From Scratch at 62 East Gallivan Avenue.