Friday Feast: Sugar overload on North Ave.

January 22, 2010

A few of the goodies at Bake in West Bucktown
A few of the goodies at Bake in West Bucktown

Whenever a new bakery opens in a part of the city, there is cause for excitement (unless you're gluten intolerant).‚  I recall for years - after I first moved to Chicago in the early 90s - the only place we would ever go for the kids' birthday cakes was Bittersweet, the charming bakery on Belmont, helmed by Judy Contino, the former pastry chef at Ambria.‚  Then, seemingly overnight, the city became inundated with high-quality bake shops: Sweet Mandy B's, Angel Food Bakery, Delightful Pastries and more cupcake joints than I care to recall.‚  It was like the drug epidemic of the 80s, except now, instead of heroin, people were getting hooked on buttercream, fondant and pastries - all made using Plugra butter, naturally.‚  "Where did you get the birthday cake?" was often heard around the tables at The Little Gym or Dorby Magoo's as the kids stuffed their faces.‚  "Oh, is it a madagascar vanilla cake with the chocolate custard filling?" I would hear on occasion.‚  We had begun to move beyond the sheet cakes from Jewel and Dominick's, as people started asking questions about what was in the sugary sweets we were feeding our kids.

Chicago's "sweet snobbery" has led to another round of new bakeries. While Bucktown can claim to be the neighborhood where Red Hen Bread opened its first retail location, finding fruit tarts, custom cakes and high-quality pastries made by European-trained chefs has been rare. That is, until about a month ago, as not one, but two bakeries opened along the same block (2200 West) on North Ave. If you haven't guessed by now, that's the subject of my story at 11 a.m. today on ABC 7.

At 2204 W. North, the sixth location of the popular Oak Mill Bakery has not only brought its paczki and kolachky to the 'hood, but also a casual cafe, where guests can sit down to enjoy their treats. They do a big custom cake business, and they're trying to capture some of that commuter foot traffic making its way to the Damen Ave. Blue Line, by offering muffins, turnovers and coffee cakes.

Just a few dozen yards to the West, (2246 W. North), Jennifer Kane and her husband have opened the casual Bake in an old pre-War building. Kane has worked at the Four Seasons and most recently, the Peninsula Hotel in New York City. Her husband is currently the Pastry Chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago. They are trying to offer something a bit more than the usual neighborhood spot: homemade Oreos the size of a small frisbee, whoopie pies, brownie pies and lots of seasonal goodies like pumpkin bread and cranberry-caramel cake. She's also serving Metropolis coffee - a nice touch.

Each bakery is a little different, and Kane doesn't see this coincidence as a problem, but rather, a positive sign. "The neighborhood has really changed lately," she told me. "In New York, there would be several bakeries on the same block, and all of them did just fine." Here's hoping the residents of Bucktown, Wicker Park and Humboldt Park can support these two sweet destinations. I know I've got dibs on the homemade Oreos.

Tonight at 10 p.m., I'm heading West - to a bedroom community that has suddenly popped up on the local foodie radar. If you live in Westmont, Oak Brook or Western Springs, you're going to be psyched.‚  If you're out in Aurora, well, you're still going to have to schlep a bit to get there.

Heavenly BBQ in the Western 'burbs...
Heavenly BBQ in the Western 'burbs...

Here's a picture from one of the three places I'm visiting tonight, can you guess where it is?