Seattle's current butter-and-sugar story is unfolding at Neil Robertson's lauded Crumble & Flake, the Capitol Hill sensation that recently sliced two days off its opening schedule so bakers could spend more time prepping for kouign amann-starved hordes. "This is it, huh?," a recent weekday morning customer asked, looking forlornly at the peanut butter cookies, apricot scones and fill-to-order cream puffs that were the only survivors of an office meeting snack rush that overwhelmed the shop minutes before. "I thought I was getting here early."
We're leaving Crumble & Flake out of consideration, because it's not fair to compare a brand new bakery to its established peers (OK, we haven't gotten there early enough either.) And because if the city's eaters have a deep appreciation for Robertson's high-end pastry, it's largely a credit to the bakeries that have long coached them in the meaning of quality.
Here, our picks for the best bakeries in Seattle. Just like bakers, we stick to the same recipe with every list: Erin Thompson compiles the write-ups, and we list the runners-up in no particular order. The grand prize winner's on the final page.
10. Bakery Nouveau
What gets you first about the twice-baked almond croissants at Bakery Nouveau is the smell: like warm, fresh bread, only sweeter, richer, better. Next, as you take a bite, it's the magic of croissants that surprises you--the way they manage to be crisp and flaky and chewy and soft all at the same time. And after that, you're just into it--fully committed and loving the restrained sweetness of the almond paste and the pure, luxurious kick of all that butter and all that sugar doing wonderful and terrible things to you. The bakery also does a brisk trade in fresh bread; plain croissants; cookies and fist-sized pains au chocolat.
9. Columbia City Bakery
Step into Columbia City Bakery and you'll wish you had a decision matrix to help you sort through the stunning array of baked goods. Just as that bear claw draws you in, your mouth will water over the pistachio snail, which then leads you to the morning bun. But wait, what about the cinnamon twist? This airy bakery offers the perfect croissant: flaky, buttery and served with raspberry jam on the side. There are chocolate and almond varieties, as well as an array of cookies, breads and seasonal specials like Valentine's Day chocolate truffles.
8. Fuji Bakery
The classics are all here at Fuji Bakery--flaky croissants, griottines with shiny, brandied cherries, and gleaming lemon-infused cakebreads. Specialties include the cube-shaped brioche japon with red beans and raspberry puree and the green-tea Danish. There's even a savory nod to the Northwest--a wild salmon brioche. Most elegant of all is the organic sweet red-bean bun. Burnished to a lovely copper color, it appears to have just spent a few days basking on the Côte d'Azur. A splash of black sesame tops the bun on the outside and muddled, subtly sweet red beans fill the inside.
The Grand Central storefront may be tiny, but every day its fan base of lunchers and pastry-lovers fills the vaulted brick entryway out front. It's not just the bread that inspires devotion. Grand Central also makes its sandwiches with local, sustainably raised products: summer tomatoes and Beecher cheese press-grilled between slices of olive bread, a portabella banh mi on an airy Bolo roll.
6. Le Fournil
Le Fournil in Eastlake bills itself as a "True French Bakery." Go for the divine chocolate cream puffs, brioche, croissants, bread, fruit tarts, éclairs, and other French pastries that you can eat there or take home. Try anything that has almond in it, and don't forget to take home a decadent quiche. Everything here tastes as artful as it looks.
5. Le Panier
A respite from the hustle and bustle of Pike Place Market, Le Panier allows you to watch passers-by amidst the aromas of pain du chocolat and espresso. The croissants are perfectly respectable and the coffee is from top-notch local roaster Caffè Umbria. Grab a baguette to take home.
Only so many people at Macrina get a crack at the bialys (New York-style eggy bread with roasted onion) and strata (breakfast casserole, elevated), and boy, are those people lucky. The menu changes frequently, so it's never the same place twice, and that only adds to the allure. During the week, however, there's little problem getting to the wonderful variety of pastries, breads, and quiches that come out of Macrina's oven.
In a city spoiled by a bounty of artisan bread bakers, this sweet spot stands, well, tall. Its extensive lineup of loaves are crafted from organic ingredients and shaped by hand. Beyond the baguettes, the big hits are Irish soda bread, oat and honey and rye. On the sweet side, there are saucer-size cookies, cinnamon rolls that will make you weep with joy that you are not gluten-intolerant and raisin buns that can be and should be slathered with butter and served morning, noon or night. There might be a line out the door at this bakery's famous neighbor--Cafe Besalu--but skip the wait there and hightail it to the Tall Grass instead.
Opening a tiny French bakery within easy biking distance of Cafe Besalu seems like sheer madness, but Franz Gilbertson has made a success of it. His croissants may not top the competitor's, but his eggy, caramelized canalés are unrivaled in this town, as are his airy French macaroons--particularly the coffee, pistachio, and coconut-caramel. The kouign amann, a buttery pastry with a salty caramel top, is one of the city's great indulgences.
1. Cafe Besalu
Is there a better quiche in Seattle than the ones at this hole-in-the-wall on a leafy street in Ballard? If you need incentives to drag yourself out of bed (and wait in line outside the door), you won't find many better than this. Baker James Miller's apple danishes and pains au chocolat are good--and his croissants and brioches are outstanding. Celebrated food writer Corby Kummer of The Atlantic took to Twitter to declare, "OK, I give in. Besalu has the best croissants in the country." But Kummer's admiration wasn't confined to Besalu's buttery croissants, which draw long lines whenever the Ballard bakery's open: "Danish, too," he added, praising the dough.
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