Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bleeding Heart Bakery, Chicago IL

As an advocate of healthy eating and the total avoidance of trans-fats, High Fructose Corn Syrup, and other horribly unnatural ingredients I must admit I avoid most bakeries and almost all pre-packaged goods. With that said, a good bakery is a thing of beauty and while baking is something anyone can do, it is something is truly special when it is done well. A great bakery that is also organic and delivers Ace of Cakes quality presentation? I couldn't resist.

Arriving in Chicago around 10am on 12/30 and starving from a long drive, our first stop was indeed Bleeding Heart. Parking was easy, cheap, and directly in front of the building - something we'd not experience on the rest of our trip. Entering the building one is instantly struck by the punk-ethic, crazy decorations, and the delicious smell - this ain't your standard "organic
smelling" store. The line was approximately 5-6 people long and while we made our myriad selections we got a good chuckle out of the skinny girl asking the punk-chique clerk about the carb content of a muffin...."Get out, this is a bakery you jackass" would've been my response, but the clerk handled it slightly more professionally :) While waiting I also wandered to the back and
saw the owner and 4 others mixing batter in the back room which was full of ovens and other kitchen tools, all incredibly clean.

For our selections we opted for a good mix - A vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Cupcake, a Red Velvet Cupcake (a must at ALL bakeries), an Elvis Brownie, a S'mores tarte, a key lime bar, and a serving of the fresh made Pear And Apple Bread Pudding (Bread Pudding is my favorite dessert item, by far.) The total bill was $20 for a whole lot of food and we sat down to enjoy the items at a booth in the back. Browsing the wall art I was very impressed that all the pieces were for sale, alas when I inquired about the price of an intriguing heart wearing an apron the clerk was unable to provide me with the information and the artist was not reachable by phone. Digging in, we each sampled the selections and were wowed to varying degrees by each item.

Of the two cupcakes, both were plenty moist and good representations of the genre, but both suffered from far too much topping and far too little texture to the cake. The red velvet, while tasty, was overpowered by the sweetness of the frosting and paled in comparison to many others - especially the versions at Yummy in Santa Monica and Bouchon in Vegas but also the one later tasted at Fox and Obel. The Pumpkin Chocolate was excellent, however the chocolate was undetectable under the heavy handed flavor of the pumpkin spice.

Next up, the Smores Tarte - decent, but not great. Served cold from a chilled case, the texture was creamy enough, but the marshmallow seemed a tad dry and rubbery while the graham cracker was burried under the thick texture of the carob/chocolate gnache. The Elvis Brownie, like the Tarte, suffered from a very dark chocolate obscuring the taste of the peanut butter and banana - another "decent but not great" choice.

Impressed that the food was organic, but unimpressed by the tastes thus far we next tried the key lime bar - Holy cow! While I admit I'm not a big fan of Key Lime Pie in general, I have had some stunning representations in Florida and at Mastro's in California - this bar topped them all, by far. Smooth and creamy, tart yet sweet, a little bitter and balanced with a buttery
crust....a great palate cleanser after the heavy chocolates.

In a hope that I was saving the best for last, we next opened the Bread Pudding container that had been topped with just a little bit of warm vegan caramel. Without overstating I can definitively say this is the best fruit based bread pudding I've ever experienced. Better than that of Thomas Keller, better than the Refectory......possibly better than the non-fruit version at
Gramercy Tavern.......possibly the best ever. Dense brioche, wonderfully sweet fruits (There were some unadvertised cherries in there too), and flawless density without being "heavy" it was perfect.

All told, Bleeding Heart is a revelation and something much needed in America - no, its not health food and no you shouldn't eat it every day, but if you're going to indulge why not do it with top quality ingredients prepared by a chef who truly believes in what he/she is doing? If you love super dense chocolate I imagine nothing would disappoint you one bit, but if you prefer a lighter touch I'd suggest checking out the fruit based items - especially that transcendent bread pudding.

No comments: