Boniere Bakery, Alameda: semi-uphill report
I was disappointed when the previous owner -- a fabulous French-trained pastry chef -- had to sell the Boniere and it reverted to a traditional American bakery. Between that and the improvement of the pastries at Feel Good (so good that when you bite into them you almost forget how expensive they are), I haven't made much of an attempt to explore the offerings under the Boniere's new regime.
First, it isn't entirely an new regime -- the "executive baker" and his father before him worked there in earlier incarnations. The owners have been in the bakery business since 1932. Their mission is to preserve the traditional recipes of these old bakeries before they are lost. And that pretty much tells you what you need to know about their baked goods: good, solid, traditional "American" fare. Or to put it another way: don't buy a croissant, buy a doughnut. Yup. That's what inspired me to write this post: how many full-line bakeries these days make their own doughnuts? I felt compelled to buy a buttermilk bar, and it was delicious. Probably the best one I've ever had: fluffy, tangy, not at all leaden or oily.
The other winner among the things I tried today was the florentine cookie. I waffled on whether to get one -- I've had so many disappointing ones -- and the young man who was waiting on me said the baker had just recently started making them again, and they were the best thing he made. He did not steer me wrong: this was an excellent example, with just the right amount of crispness to the cookie and chocolate that was a perfect complement.
Other items I tried: raspberry and apricot "tea tarts": little triangles of pastry with a dab of fruit filling. Only okay. Pumpkin slice: traditional pumpkin pie baked in a sheet and cut into bars -- good but not exciting. Single serving cake (I think it was called "French cake") -- very traditional American creamy frosting cake, the kind of thing you'd see in the bakery case at Safeway, but made with better ingredients. I'm still looking for the devil's food cake I've been craving for weeks now!
A few other things that you rarely see:
petit fours (a recent report was very positive on these)
Parkerhouse rolls (strikes me as the kind of thing they would excel at)
As a bonus, if you're used to the prices at upscale French-style bakeries, you'll be pleasantly surprised by your tab. A doughnut, a florentine, a "cake" and a pumpkin slice set me back a measly $5.70.
The Boniere was at one time owned by my great-grandfather (he was the one who changed the name from something German to "Boniere" because of anti-German sentiment during WWI!), and even though it passed out of the family a couple of generations ago, it's nice to know it's still not only going strong, but in a form that my great-grandfather would have recognized.