Pacific Grove’s celebrated bakeries do battle.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
The only time I skip morning coffee and pastry is when I sleep until lunch. And since that option went away with my college degree in the ’80s, it’s fortunate that I live in Pacific Grove, home to three outstanding bakery cafés. My waistline, however, dictates that I choose only one, and therein lies the daily question– which one?
Those in the know share my predicament, and so it was with a sense of civic duty that I recently embarked on an epic mission– three bakeries in three days– to crown a local champion.
Pavel’s Bäckerei (219 Forest Ave., 6am-6pm Mon-Fri, 7am-4pm Sat, closed Sun) invokes tunnel vision. Although vaguely aware of voices or shadows in the periphery, you can only focus on the tiers of mouthwatering pastries, cakes, cookies and breads in the display case– including danishes delicately crisp on the outside yet so light and flaky on the inside (with a variety of scrumptious fillings like peach-apricot and mixed berry-cream cheese) and cinnamon rolls so big you could share just one with the entire office (but you won’t). Pair anything with a “recession proof” cappuccino ($1.25) and have a seat. This can’t wait until you get home. When you do leave, be sure to grab a sweet baguette for lunch– just add cheese or maybe a little butter and red sea salt. And by all means, do not forget the chocolate chip cookie, but beware– they’re addicting. Trust me on this one. The only negative I can cite with Paul and Johanna Wainscoat’s bakery is that it’s closed on Sundays, and they occasionally run out of cookies before I get there.
After 20 years baking for the Lodge at Pebble Beach, Kevin Fournier decided it was time to open his own place. And he did. Then, about five months ago, he moved it from the Crossroads Center to Pacific Grove. PG 1, Carmel 0. Fournier’s Bakery Café (650 Lighthouse Ave., 8am-5pm daily) serves up a fine array of muffins, danishes and croissants in addition to house-made granola, lemon bars and cookies (try the Grove cookie). Although these are delicious indeed, nothing compares to the pies. Their golden, flaky crust with a thick outer ring of pressed dough cradling cherry, apple, ollalieberry or strawberry rhubarb fillings– just like Mom used to… Wait a minute, Mom didn’t bake pies this good! So heed the sign on the wall and “Eat Dessert First.” Just try not to say “Mmmmm” too loudly. Mind the huge clock, however, or you’ll end up staying for a lunchtime panino. Chances are you’ll see Kevin in back, working a huge hunk of dough into one of his magnificent pie crusts. He’ll be working even harder when they begin dinner service soon. Yay for us.
Patisserie Bechler (1225 Forest Ave., 7am-6pm Tue-Sat, 7am-noon Sun) has an unbelievable assortment of artistic cakes, mesmerizing tarts and designer desserts. By comparison, the pastry case looks ordinary, but don’t be fooled. Tasty specialties like apple coffee cake, French-style almond croissant and beehive brioche await. If you can’t decide, they offer “mini” versions of popular items like their cinnamon snails, perhaps highlighting chef proprietor Gerard Bechler’s European roots. The standout, however, is the quiche– spinach, Lorraine or when available, salmon. It’s pure quiche perfection. Enough said. Go get some. Patisserie Bechler is also open for lunch so you can enjoy their fabulous gratinée and quiches in the simulated French garden of their quaint dining area.
I intended to select a winner. What I discovered was that each bakery has a specialty that the others cannot beat. Lest I be accused of wimping out, I would, if pressed, choose Pavel’s, only because they offer the best of what I went to find– a morning pastry. In reality, we locals are the true winners because our town is graced with three exceptional bakeries. Go ahead, see for yourself.