Theres no shortage of local bakeries where you can pick up a crusty loaf of bread baked just hours ago or order a pretty wedding cake. The Triangle is keeping up with the trends, too, as a steady stream of bakeries specializing in cupcakes, biscuits and over-the-top doughnuts continue to come online. No doubt, some enterprising soul is working on a plan at this very moment to open a cronut shop.
This week I want to tell you about two special bakeries in Durham. Their styles are as different as their owners, both celebrated local bakers and chefs. But Hummingbird and Scratch share a couple of key traits that set them apart from the crowd.
Both serve breakfast (or brunch) and lunch, for starters, and provide a handful of tables (plus patio seating when the weather cooperates) where you can enjoy your meal before yielding to the inevitable temptation of the pastry case. And both are very good so good that youll want to add them to the list of places you take out-of-town visitors to show off our local food scene.
You dont have to know that Amy Tornquist trained at La Varenne in Paris, or that shes the owner/chef of the noted Durham restaurant Watts Grocery, to be impressed by the bakery that she opened last year on the ground floor of an office and retail building near Duke Universitys East Campus. All you need to do is step inside and take a look at the pastry display case.
There, textbook browned meringue peaks atop individual chocolate and lemon meringue pies will tell you what you need to know. Expertly formed scalloped pastry crusts, and the sugar-sprinkled lattice crust on seasonal fruit pies blueberry in summer, apple as fall approaches supply further evidence. As does the lemon curd between moist layers of a mile-high lemon drop cake.
Theres the perfect blackberry crowning each lemon cupcake with blackberry frosting, one of several options that might also include red velvet and devils food. Not to mention chocolate pots de cremes, shortbread cookies and pillowy cinnamon buns.
If youre the skeptical sort who doesnt trust what your eyes alone tell you, rest assured that your sweet tooth will confirm the evidence.
Youd be doing yourself a disservice, though, if you didnt take time to sit down and sample the savory fare as well. In the morning, you might tuck into a breakfast burrito or a buttermilk biscuit with country sausage, egg and cheese.
Come lunchtime, choosing becomes even more difficult. Do you go with the N.C. shrimp club with thick crunchy bacon and avocado on sunflower bread from Weaver Street Bakery? Or house-cured pork shoulder with barbecue sauce and warm, vinegary collards on a toasted roll? Or something lighter, say, a salad of roasted butternut squash, toasted pecans, goat cheese and mixed greens in a Dijon vinaigrette?
Not to worry. Regardless of which you choose, youll be suitably impressed.
Phoebe Lawless earned her baking chops under James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Karen Barker at the late lamented Magnolia Grill, where she worked for eight years. More recently, she sold pies at the Durham Farmers market for several years before opening a brick-and-mortar shop in 2010.
Clearly, Lawless picked up some serious savory cooking skills along the way.
A chalkboard listing a seasonally evolving lunch selection reflects her strong commitment to the locavore ethic. Sadly, that means that the salad of roasted okra, ripe local tomatoes and house-pickled onion that I devoured just a few weeks ago has already been erased from the board.
But theres plenty of consolation. Theres a good chance that the hot corned beef on rye that I enjoyed the same day an elbow-drippingly juicy sandwich piled high with tangy house-made salted cabbage (a lighter, fresher take on sauerkraut), Thousand Island dressing and a double layer of Swiss cheese is still available.
Youll probably be in time for local pork carnitas with avocado and spicy cucumber salsa on a house-baked bun, too. Or charred eggplant fattoush with chickpeas, purslane and a spicy walnut spread on whole wheat naan.
Time your visit for a Saturday or Sunday between 9 a.m and 3 p.m., and your options might include shirred eggs (a delight rarely seen in these parts; splurge on a pimento cheese biscuit on the side), or sesame waffles with gingered local plums. If youre really lucky, you might score a hash of tasso ham (courtesy of the excellent Roses Meat Market) and roasted okra, topped with poached eggs and tomato hollandaise.
As youre happily munching away, your eyes will repeatedly stray to the alluring assortment of pies on the counter. Sandwiches are filling and portions generous here, so you may be thinking youre too full for dessert. Trust me, youre not.
Personally, I cant come within a block of Scratch without stopping in to see if the Shaker lemon pie is available. Its peerless flaky crust and rich, sweet-tart custard, punctuated with bits of candied lemon peel, call to me from afar.
For you, the siren call may come from apple crumble or chess pie (chocolate or sweet corn) or buttermilk sugar. Come fall, youll surely be tempted by a sweet potato pie that will make you wonder what all the pumpkin pie fuss is about.
Dont even try to resist. You can always have a light dinner.