Look up “hidden gem” in the Encyclopedia of Triangle Gastronomy* and you’ll find East Durham Bake Shop and Layered Croissanterie among the listings. You’ll also find both bakeries cross-referenced under “rising star newcomers.”
*Okay, I made up that title. But really, don’t you wish there was one?
East Durham Bake Shop
406 S. Driver St, Durham
East Durham Bake Shop has been open for a year and a half now (formerly known as East Durham Pie Shop), but if your map of that city’s dining scene is limited to downtown Durham, chances are you’ve never heard of the place. Expand your boundaries to include Old East Durham, and you’ll find this hidden gem tucked in among the modest homes and shops of a historic neighborhood that is showing early signs of making a comeback.
The neighborhood has quickly taken to the cheery little shop at the corner of Driver Street and Angier Avenue, and no wonder. Owner Ali Rudel and her husband, Ben Filippo, are turning out an irresistible assortment of pastries, from ginger molasses cookies to exotica like the tuffet, a pull-apart sticky bun riddled with cashews and perfumed with cardamom and a hint of rosewater.
Don’t even try to limit yourself to one of the nearly two dozen sweet temptations on display on the counter. If it helps, you can start with a savory pastry — an NC ham and cheese croissant, say, or an aged white cheddar and dill scone — and tell yourself you’re getting a square meal.
Then you can feel free to yield to the siren call of that three-tiered pie stand on the counter, where you’ll find the likes of bourbon peach crumble, cardamom pear and an exquisite flaky-crusted buttermilk coconut chess.
As long as you’re here, might as well pick up a couple of those cinnamon-sugar spangled morning buns for tomorrow’s breakfast. Throw in a couple of chocolate chip pistachio cookies for the kids, and — what the heck— a lemon-rosemary cookie for yourself.
Grab a cup of locally roasted coffee and take your goodies to one of those inviting cafe chairs in a sunny window — or, if you’re so inclined, sink into the cushy floral print sofa at the back of the room. Park the kids in the cozy reading nook that’s stocked with dozens of titles from “Madeline” to “There’s an Alligator Under My Bed.”
Then settle in and enjoy. Linger, maybe strike up a conversation with the couple at the next table. Before long, you’ll start thinking of yourself as a regular, even if you don’t live in the neighborhood.
911 N. West St., Suite 107, Raleigh
Layered Croissanterie is just a few blocks from the trendy restaurants and bars of Glenwood South, but it might as well be the other side of town. You may find yourself wondering if you’ve got the right address as you drive past small businesses, warehouses and garages on your way to the old Rainbow Upholstery building where Layered opened in June.
Step inside, and you’ll be transported even further away. In the middle of the room, neatly arranged on museum pedestals, is a display of layered pastries worthy of a Paris shop window. On the back wall, behind floor-to-ceiling glass, is the bakery, where you can watch owner/baker Kawsar Chavez and her crew creating these works of pastry art. (Her husband and partner, Mark, designed the sleekly contemporary space and manages the business side of things).
Tempting as they are, don’t eat the pastries on display. Walk past them to the order counter, and tell them you’ll have one of each.
Okay, so maybe that’s impractical. There’s a baker’s dozen variations on the croissant theme on display. But you really can’t go wrong, whether you opt for a simple classic croissant or something exotic like the kouign amman (KWEEN ah-MAHN), the wickedly buttery, elaborately folded take on a layered pastry theme hailing from Brittany in northwestern France.
You’ll find just about any variation on the layered you can imagine, for that matter, from pain au chocolat to blueberry Danish to twice baked bananas Foster croissant. There’s even a handful of savory pastries, including a pesto chicken croissant and a Danish topped with everything bagel seasoning.
You won’t find a cronut (that’s patented), but you will find a brown butter crookie and a lemon meringue cruffin filled with a tangy-sweet custard and crowned with a beautifully browned meringue swirl.
Add a cup of Counter Culture coffee and a quiet, comfortable place to sit (they’ve got both) and it won’t be long before you’re blissfully transported to a place far away.