People who knew me in high school and my first year or so of college might remember that my career goal for quite some time was to get a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts and then open up my own bakery. It was going to be called Dana’s Delights. (I still sometimes toy with this idea, entertaining fantasies of a literary-themed bakery with author’s names and titles and literary movements influencing both the name of the bakery and the names of the dishes. In case reality is suspended and this dream one day comes true, I will refrain from sharing those names here. Just know: some of them are pretty genius.)
I love bakeries. The smell of them, the gigantic gadgets and tools and mixers they house in their beautiful kitchens that I know – know – are dusted with a fine snowy layer of flour. Bakers do God’s work, which is one of the reasons I’m so happy fellow blogger movita beaucoup (whose blog you should follow immediately) is now going to baking school. I’m living vicariously through her Facebook posts and blog entries about her textbooks and equipment and uniforms. I had a similar feeling when I taught English at a culinary school (one of the best gigs EVER): I walked past kitchens where students were playing with chocolate and pastry dough, and I thought, yes! I will teach you commas and rhetorical strategies, and you will bring me pastries! (They never held up their end of this bargain, probably because I never voiced it. Whatev.)
On Saturday, Amanda and I met up with friends at Artisan’s Bakery in Portsmouth, Virginia, for breakfast. One of the girls we met up with, Mary, has been telling me to go to Artisan’s for months, throwing around words like “amazing” and “blueberry croissant.” I can tell you: she was not over-selling it.
Artisan’s Bakery is situated in Olde Towne Portsmouth, just a couple blocks away from High Street, in a large three-story brick house with a lovely front porch, complete with white columns and a sweet flower garden out front. The entire first floor is dedicated to the bakery, and the kitchens are easily viewed from the foyer, employing half-doors so that you can stand in the doorway and watch the baker’s do their work.
The bake case was stocked with cake, tarts, quiche, scones, cookies, and croissants. As Amanda and I discussed our strategy to divide and conquer, tasting two different items (rather than ordering the same thing – so wasteful), we considered the ham and cheese croissant, the almond croissant, the fruit tart, the salted caramel tart, and the chocolate croissant. In a burst of spontaneity, I chose the sweet monkey muffin, a smaller version of monkey bread, one of my favorite guilty pleasure breakfasts. She got the chocolate croissant (God love her), and we each got a cup of coffee, which came in white cups and saucers.
(Really, is there anything more wonderful than coffee in a clean, beautiful white cup and saucer? Such color contrast, such classic presentation. I can’t help but feel like I’m in a Victorian novel drinking tea, except that it’s very sweet coffee and I’m not wearing a corset and I have the right to vote and own property.)
The sweet monkey muffin was lightly flavored with cinnamon and sugar, and I could taste butter in the light, flavorful dough. It wasn’t as heavy and sticky as I expected (or as I make mine), but it was a lovely way to have an individual monkey bread experience.
The chocolate croissant, for me, stole the show. Big, fluffy, layered croissant dough, baked up to a perfect golden brown, and inside was a layer of chocolate chips, like a trail of chocolate breadcrumbs leading me to the sad, sad finale: my empty plate. I’m a big fan of chocolate croissants, and this did not disappoint. I loved how it was shaped, like a big bail of hay, except that hay is buttery croissant with chocolate inside.
From the bakery, it’s just a short walk to the Olde Towne Farmer’s Market, at the corner of High Street and Court Street, and that is definitely worth checking out if you’re in Portsmouth on a Saturday morning. But no matter when you’re there, make sure you visit Artisan’s Bakery. It is, in a word, delicious.