Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday. bakery day.

On Sundays I like to head down to some bakery - the Columbia City bakery, near my old home, Le Panier, in the Pike Place Market, the Macrina Bakery, in the Belltown neighborhood just north of the market, or the Essential Baking Company, in Madison Park - for bread and pastries and perhaps a sandwich or a slice of quiche for lunch later on. It is a ritual, not a weekly one - though I wish it were - but it gives me a chance to buy bread somewhere besides the supermarket, to figure out which place has the best éclairs (Le Panier), the best baguettes (Columbia City), the best croissants (again, Columbia City), the best quiche (hard to say), and so forth. Macrina has wonderful brunches; the Essential Baking Company has savory or sweet crêpes. What should I have today?

While drinking my morning tea and eating buttered English muffins (the food of the gods) over the Sunday paper I find myself thinking of a savory crêpe, filled with ham and cheese or mushrooms and herbs or smoked salmon and crème fraîche. I have to go to work later; provisions must be made for the day that stretches ahead. And so I find myself driving through the rain towards Madison Park. Luck is with me; a parking space is open directly in front of the bakery, which only happens when you come early enough to beat the lunchtime hordes.

Even though it is gray and wet outside the bakery seems to be full of light; as with most bakeries there are large windows and fake-stone-topped tables and chairs made of pale wood and menus written on blackboards and a bank of espresso machines hissing away. One glass display case is filled with baskets of croissants and scones and slices of pound cake and coffee cake; another has perfectly glazed chocolate tortes - the kind that are dense and rich, all chocolate and no flour - and fruit tarts, chocolate pyramids, slices of opera cake arranged on white doilies, and small quiches like golden suns. There is no line to wait for service; only half the tables are occupied. (The last time we came here we had to wait for a table, and the line stretched back to the door). The only bad thing about not having to wait is that I have no time to decide what I want. I ask for a ham-and-cheese crêpe, a small round quiche Lorraine, several croissants filled with a) raspberry jam, b) chocolate, c) spinach and feta, and d) ham and gruyére, which I will reheat for lunch in the toaster oven at work.

There are couples talking and drinking coffee, parents with small toddlers feeding their children bits of chocolate croissants. I drink my cappuccino - it is one of the best cappuccinos I have ever had, capped with the thickest, creamiest foam imaginable - and watch one determined toddler take off at a run, disappearing around the partition that conceals the entrance to the bathrooms and the kitchen. My crêpe arrives, an enormous thin round filled with equally thin layers of Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese, folded neatly in quarters, the only garnish a sprinkling of chives. The crêpe is eggy and has that faintly caramelized taste of lightly browned batter, savory with the warm melted cheese and the rich taste of ham. I sit at my table and read my book and eat my crêpe and drink the remains of my cappuccino, a moment of quiet before heading off to work.

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