Thursday, August 25, 2011

The "Flour Power" House

This post will be a long one because I have to try to do this bakery justice. During my high school years, I used to come home and watch Food Network just to see chefs cook their five-star meals and basically drool. As soon as it hit maybe around 6PM, Food Network at night would kick off. One of the shows was "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" where he travels the country to challenge acclaimed masters in baking, burger building, dessert making and many other culinary skills. There was one episode where he traveled to Boston to go head-to-head with Flour Bakery's owner, Joanne Chang,  in a Sticky Bun challenge. And as a result of this ever-so-grueling battle, it is to no surprise that Joanne Chang came out as the champion! Poor Bobby Flay--looked like the Iron Chef had to resharpen his recipe. But ever since I watched this episode, I have always wanted to try these popular sticky buns! After settling in my college dorm and living on my own, I finally had the chance to check the bakery out!

For the first time, I went to the one in the South End along Washington St. since my dorm was closest to it. I've been to that location three times; clearly it's a guilty pleasure. And just two days ago, I went to the one at Fort Point Channel for the first time since it's close to work. Both places: equally friendly, equally adorable. I'll talk about the Fort Point one. First off, there's an outside seating area which was perfect for the sunny day I went during. Go through that glass door and step into a dream store. While you're in line, there's a lot to see on the way. Let's just talk about how much I loved the design. The furnishing was simple: dark floor, light walls and ceiling with great lighting, some clean wooden tables, and some shiny metal bar-tables. But the detailing was what brought the place together. You will notice the chalk board listing the bakery's selection of sandwiches and salads, varying teas hot and iced, with breakfast choices on one side and daily specials on the other all adorned with cute little doodles. (This is random but that chalkboard was so clean. I notice this stuff.) Their attempt to be as friendly to different eating habits is so considerate. For example, "nf" stands for nut-free for those allergic to nuts and "v" stands for vegetarian and there were much more. As you continue along, there's another chalkboard with a "Quote of the Day" written on it with the weather forecast. Thanks for the inspiration! Then you'll finally hit the spot that you've been waiting for. It is sweet treats galore! I swear Joanne Chang bakes like everything. There's home-made oreos, raspberry crumb bars, ginger molasses cookies, ooey-gooey caramel nut tart, and of course, sticky buns! When it was my turn to order, I had to tell the girl to just surprise me with whatever because there was so much to choose from.

There were two things that set this bakery apart from others. The pastries were in organized chaos formation. They didn't have some fancy display where each good is placed neatly behind the other. I liked how their baked goods were neatly placed in no order, with some cake risers for the tarts, and some baskets for muffins and what not. And instead of your typical printed label, you have name tags sticking out of the containers. It made it seem like there were a ton more to choose from and it was just so much more jovial. Second of all, in most bakeries, all of the action is behind the scenes so you don't see how things are made. Here, it is all visible from the time the pastries are in its doughy state to the moment they come out of the oven fresh and warm. Plus, there's an up side to having your bakery open for people to view. If people notice fresh goods coming out of the oven, they can request those instead of the ones sitting on the display. It makes them happier as customers and it gives the business a great reputation. Together combined, it felt exactly what a bakery should feel like.

So you must be wondering, what did I order? It was lunch time, so i decided to go for a full meal. I wanted to save room for my pastry as well, so I decided to order a half-sandwich of the Roasted Lamb with tomato chutney and goat cheese. The lamb slices were perfectly roasted with a little pink color in the center and it worked so well with the chutney. The chutney had a sweetness that was almost close to the sweetness of chutney made with fruit. With that, I originally wanted the peppermint tea but I guess they didn't have it, so the worker recommended the Moroccan Mint Ice Tea which was so refreshing. I would love to figure out the recipe to it and make a batch of it for a party or something because it's such a great Summer beverage. And lastly and certainly never least was my dessert. I wanted something I haven't tried before, but I didn't know which to choose. So I just told the girl taking my order to recommend something to me. We both agreed that nutella is probably the best spread that exists out there, so she gave me a Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Cookie in a basket. It's pretty straightforward if you ask me: milk chocolate and crunchy hazelnuts. I'm just going to stop there before I start to crave a whole bunch.
Here's a funny story: I work not too far from Dewey Square in the financial district. Sometimes, they have a farmer's market going on. One day, there was a Flour Bakery stand and Joanne Chang was sitting underneath it promoting her cook book. I was pretty excited, actually maybe a little too much. I asked if I could take a picture with her and she was so cool about it. I was slightly awkward and I think a bit overbearing because she looked a little nervous and overwhelmed. I wonder if she remembers that. Sorry Joanne!

I think Flour Bakery understood the idea of an ideal bakery and added its own flavor for uniqueness. I've been telling my friends a lot about this place and they all really want to go. The atmosphere is just so amiable: friendly staff and sociable people. It's really the perfect place to sit back, relax, and enjoy company, all with a cookie in your hand of course. Their concept is to promote the "pure pleasure that mouth-watering pastries and foods and warm hospitality can bring into your life" and I think they do a phenomenal job of doing so. Everything about it is just so authentic and real to the human experience. No matter how much I like other cafes, I still consider Flour Bakery my favorite. Actually, maybe the next time I decide to go, I'll check out the one in Central Square so I can say I went to all three. So how about you guys? What are you going to get when you go to Flour Bakery?

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