Whether you prefer your baked goods sweet or savory, Hartford-area bakeries have something to satisfy.
When we need a quick pick-me-up or a comforting food, what do we turn to? Soothing, satisfying carbs. Just looking at a slice of warm buttered bread, a fudgy brownie or a cupcake with its pretty swirl of frosting raises the spirits. With just one taste, we revel in the riches of bakers’ ingredients.
Bakeries are happy places where sugar, butter, chocolate and vanilla are treated like royalty. Many of today’s sweet shops have taken a savory turn, adding lunch-ready sandwiches, stuffed turnovers and pizza to the mix.
Fresh yeast breads and celebration cakes represent a baker’s bread and butter, but any bakery worth its salt needs a wide selection of sweets to tempt customers. If one such treat can claim top billing these days, it is the cupcake. The return to this single-serving wonder a few years ago seemed like a fad. With so many bakeries displaying platters of cupcakes in every imaginable flavor and frosting, the craze shows no sign of abating.
Even supermarkets have greatly expanded their bakery departments, but nothing beats the specialty bake shop, often locally owned and sometimes operated by generations of the same family. Fortunately for foodies, the Greater Hartford area has become home to many ethnic groups and boasts an array of bakeries that proudly display the specialties of a foreign land.
Here are some local outlets that cater to the sweet tooth.
A tour of the area’s bakeries begins on Hartford’s Franklin Avenue, where the old guard still turns out Italian pastries, cookies, cakes, bread, pizza, gelato and ices. Italian Rum Cake with its vanilla and chocolate filled layers and Italian Fruit Cake, sponge cake layers, fresh fruit and whipped cream, compete for best-ever birthday celebration honors. Classic “old-country” pastries complement an espresso: sfogliatelle, flaky clamshell-shaped pastries stuffed with orange-flavored ricotta filling; filled-to-order cannoli, or pasticiotti, single-serving pies with a ricotta, vanilla or chocolate cream filling. The myriad trays of colorful cookies bring to mind a phrase associated with potato chips—“bet you can’t eat just one.”
Embodying this sweet side of baking are Modern Pastry Shop (422 Franklin Ave., 860-296-3647) and Mozzicato DePasquale Bakery and Pastry Shop (329 Franklin Ave., 860-296-0426), which also sells a variety of breads and pizza. Off the avenue, those seeking Italian pastries can visit Roma Bakery and Pastry Shop in Hartford (416 New Britain Ave., 860-527-3809) and Chimirri’s Italian Pastry Shoppe in Wethersfield (1075 Silas Deane Highway, 860-529-2527).
South End Bakery (227 Franklin Ave., 860-296-5225) bakes and sells its share of pastries, cakes, bread and sheet-pan pizza, but its “don’t miss” specialty falls into the savory category. The anchovy pizza, cut into squares, is a cross between focaccia and pizza. Small indentations, about the size of a thumbprint, dot the top of the dough and hold the anchovies. Oregano, black pepper and olive oil complement the saltiness of the anchovies. The reputation of Ciarcia Bakery (366 Franklin Ave., 860-296-0273) is built on its great selection of breads.
For a taste of Portuguese breads and sweets, head to the bakeries in Hartford’s Parkville section, the Park Street stretch between Bartholomew Street and Prospect Avenue. Three bakeries— La Estrella (1916 Park St., 860-523-4545), Bairrada Bakery & Pastry Shop (1800 Park St., 860-586-8314) and Abrantes Bakery & Pastry Shop (1851 Park St., 860-232- 1464)—combine family ownership with old country baking. These outlets turn out the famous soft, egg-yellow sweet bread, Portuguese white bread and rolls, custards, tarts and cookies.
At La Estrella, folks drop in for an espresso, some conversation and a snack. At lunchtime, the bread and rolls are in demand for made-to-order sandwiches. Abrantes, which features cheeses and deli meats in addition to the baked goods, bakes the Portuguese corn bread called broa. Not to be confused with the American South’s cornbread, broa is a crusty, chewy, rustic yeast bread, made with wheat flour and cornmeal and a touch of olive oil.
At the east end of Park Street, not far from the intersection of Broad Street, Sol de Borinquen Bakery (711 Park St., 860-548-9551) combines American-style raised doughnuts and cinnamon rolls with Latino specialties such as Bizcocho Tres Leches, “three milks” cake; flan and Pan Dulce or sweet rolls. At lunchtime, customers line up to order from the extensive list of made-to-order sandwiches, especially the peposo.
A meat-lover’s dream dish, the peposo is stuffed with all kinds of meat, including ham, pastrami, salami, chicken and steak.
In Hartford’s North End, the stalwart Scotts’ Jamaican Bakery (1344 Albany Ave., 860- 247-3855, and 630 Blue Hills Ave., 860-243-2609) continues to draw customers to its signature island offerings of baked patties and soft, sweet coco bread. The Albany Avenue shop sells bakery items—cakes, puddings, cookies, bread and, of course, the baked turnovers stuffed with a variety of spicy meat or vege table fillings. The Blue Hills store expands upon the baked goods with a takeout-only selection of prepared meals such as oxtails and beans, curried goat or chicken, fried fish and soups. These dishes, served with white rice or rice and peas, are slow-cooked and seasoned in the Jamaican style.
Three bakeries in West Hartford take a different approach to the world of sweets.
An old-fashioned white enamel stove, which greets customers as they enter A Little Something Bakery (335 Park Road, 860-586- 8711), seems to symbolize the homestyle approach to dessert and snacks at this charming shop. Fruit streusel cookie bars, brownies, slices of pumpkin quick bread and scones make the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up with a cup of tea. In stark contrast to the decorated cupcakes with their swirled frosting caps and sprinkles are rather nondescript golf ball-size “Dirt Balls,” rolled in cinnamon sugar. The name is eye-catching, and these baked sweets have the addictive texture of a light cake doughnut. Like all of the made-from-scratch offerings at this shop, pies and cupcakes and cakes can turn an evening meal into a special occasion.
The owners and bakers at the Hartford Baking Company (625 New Park Ave., 860-570- 1579) pay attention to quality ingredients and a hand-crafted approach. Bread is king at this shop. Basic ingredients of flour, yeast and salt, golden brown, crispy crusts and an interior crumb of irregular holes are hallmarks of this kind of artisan bread. The store offers a baker’s dozen of French, Levain and Ciabatta breads along with a daily bread special. With Stumptown coffee brewing all day, customers can drop in for a quick breakfast of java and morning scones, muffins or coffeecake. At lunch time, sandwiches on the fresh bread are available as well as sweets such as brownies, bar cookies, cupcakes and cakes.
In West Hartford Center, La Petite France (967 Farmington Ave., 860-231-9255) interprets the patisseries of Paris for the American market. The small café, painted in a pretty blue, has a seating area where customers can enjoy café au lait and a chocolate croissant the way the French do—relaxed and leisurely rather than gobbled on the run. The menu features sandwiches and crêpes, and the display case features a trendy French dessert—pastel-colored macarons.