Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Avalon International Breads, Detroit MI and Just Baked, Troy MI

…I’d left Slow’s with plans for dessert before heading north to shop at Somerset – I had dinner plans with an old friend for later in the evening but plenty of time for something sweet. Driving through the apartments abutting Wayne State’s Medical Campus I was struck by the number of homeless persons – I’d heard things were bad in Mo-town but hadn’t been in town since the recession hit. Parking close to my destination, Avalon International Breads, I was greeted almost immediately by a thin woman with a thick accent requesting change and by the time I made it to the door I had another woman requesting “anything I could spare for her class trip.”

Entering the small artisan bakery the scenery changed drastically – while the disadvantaged stood outside in the rain, the inside of Avalon was warm and full of well dressed folks with laptops drinking coffee, eating pastries, conversing, and reading books. With minimal standing-room between the counter and the door (largely due to the enormous open kitchen full of bakers preparing any number of delicacies) I integrated myself into the line and browsed the goods – breads, cookies, cakes, bars, pies, tarts, pastries – all formulated with Avalon’s philosophy of “right relationship with the earth; right relationship with the employees; and, right relationship with the community.”

Greeted by a friendly young lady who had just finished answering an almost unimaginable number of questions for a short elderly woman (mostly questions about the Focaccia sandwiches and soups – she apparently just couldn’t understand the concept of a 1/2 and 1/2 combo) I asked a single question of my own regarding the different sticky buns and settled on two pastries before paying and making my way to the door – there was simply no seating to be had inside.

Avoiding the requests for financial assistance and settling into my car I first decided to sample the Sticky Bun – the Pecan version came strongly recommended by the clerk. Somewhat more crispy and flaky than the standard sticky bun the overall feeling of this honey laced bun was actually more akin to Baklava than a traditional sticky bun. Light and not “doughy” at all I must say the roll wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it was certainly tasty – and at a mere $2.50 quite the bargain given its substantial size.

My second selection – well, it too wasn’t exactly what I expected – it was simply stunning. Ordering a “Date-Bar” largely because I love dates and it looked rustic yet tasty I expected it to be good – I did not expect it to be one of the best things I’ve eaten so far in 2010. Featuring a buttery pie-style crust topped with a textural puree of cinnamon and nutmeg accented dates and then topped with house-made honey granola the simple $2 bar featured a wonderful interplay of smooth and crunchy, buttery and sweet, sugar and spice that wowed the taste buds.

All said I only spent $5 at Avalon but if I lived closer I’ve no doubt it would become my go-to for all things pastry. While I can’t say I fancy the neighborhood and loitering you can’t really blame the establishment for that and their food, business model, and practices are all quite enviable.

Following my trip to Avalon I next headed north on I-75 to Somerset Mall – certainly no disadvantaged persons to be found there…as a matter of fact, it is one of the few places in the Midwest where I feel poor. Looking specifically for a new watch band at Tourneau I ended up spending nearly 4 hours shopping in the mall and on my way to the food court for water I noted a new Bake Shop entitled “Just Baked” featuring free samples. Browsing the selection and chatting with the pleasant young server I was told I could sample whatever I like – Chocolate, Banana, or Cherry Chip - so I tried all three. Featuring a soft cake base and creamy buttercream frosting I very much liked the Cherry Chip and Banana but didn’t really enjoy the Chocolate as it was rather bland and the cake too dense.

Finding out that the small shop was part of a growing chain – this being their fifth store and having opened only 3 days prior – I decided to sample a couple of cakes. Browsing their impressive selection (20+ options to be sure) I settled on the standard, a red velvet, and something new – Banana Split. Tasting the Red Velvet first I was duly impressed by the moist and flavorful cocoa accented cake but less impressed with the cream cheese frosting which was appropriately tangy but far too thick and heavy for the soft and delicate cake.

Moving on to the Banana Split I have to admit I was impressed – described excellently by the server the cake featured a vanilla wafer “crust” topped (in order) with fresh banana cake, milk chocolate, strawberry, pineapple, and finally graham cracker crumbs. Topped finally with a maraschino cherry the total effect of each bite was very much like the real thing, minus the coldness of the ice cream. Well thought out and excellently constructed the Banana Split was one of the better thought out cupcakes I’ve had recently and it alone would justify a return visit to taste options such as Sweet Potato Pie, Tiramisu, and the Fruit Cobbler Cupcakes.

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