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Why are there so few good bakeries

It's nearly 20 years since Marvelous Market opened. In the early 90s there was a burst of bakery activity, but it appears to have died. Marvelous isn't so marvelous anymore. Firehook isn't so hot. Uptown sort of disappeared. Philadelphia has the wonderful Metropolitan Bakery. Where are ours? The Swiss Bakery is so so. Le Pain Quoditien often burns their bread. Heidelburg is fine. Atwater is really good, but they only sell in DC on the weekends. Why don't we rate some good bakeries?

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  1. Our local favorite is Cenan's ("ch-nons") in Vienna.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Meg

      What do you recommend from Cenan's? The bread looks great but I haven't tried any. I have tried the croisssants (good buttery flavor but dry, like they were day old), eclairs (on the hard side, again but eclairs are hard to keep with since they need to be refrigerated and it ruins the shell) and a key lime cake that was pretty good but it didn't wow me. It was sponge cake w/ key lime syrup and mousse. I admit I'm really picky when it comes to baked goods. I love supporting small local stores like this so if I could find their strengths, I'd frequent it.

      1. re: chowser

        Cenan's farmer's bread is great for sandwiches, particularly The World's Greatest Sandwich (from "Spanglish"). They yoosta have a chocolate bread on occasion that was barely sweet and but I haven't seen it there in some time.

        1. re: Potomac Bob

          I'll give it a try, thanks! Do you get the sandwiches there? They also sound good but I haven't been there at meal time.

          1. re: Potomac Bob

            I went back today to try out the bread and also have lunch. I had the basic smoked turkey on a baguette which I really enjoyed. The baguette had good flavor, a nice crust, still crispy. The smoked turkey was, well, smoked turkey. But it's made to order and far better than the turkey on baguette I got from Pastry XPO. I also got a ham and cheese croissant for my daughter--again the flavor was good but still a bit dry, maybe it was overcooked. For dinner, I picked up a small loaf of farmers bread and a baguette. The farmers bread was nice and hearty and made good paninis. It would be perfect for the Worlds Greatest Sandwich (which I've never had but sounds amazing). The baguette was disappointing, especially compared to the one I had for lunch. It could be that it was hours later but the crust was chewy, no crispness and it was pretty tasteless. It didn't taste any better than ones from Giant. So, I'd go to Cenan's more for the bread end than the pastries but still be picky because, as with places with a large variety, it's hit or miss on what they do well.

      2. Breads Unlimited in Bethesda is another good local place. They make fairly good rye breads, and their danish are the best I've had in the area. I also happen to prefer their bagels to any of the bagel-only places around.

        Breads Unlimited & Heidelberg made good products which they sell at fair prices. Both seem to have loyal followings and are located in areas where people will spend the extra money compared to supermarket prices and products.

        Does anyone remember Bakers Place? I liked their breads. They were bought out by Marvelous Market which then gradually got rid of the Bakers Place breads. One guy at Marvelous Market told me they got rid of them "because they weren't traditional European breads." Who cares? They were delicious.

        People like bakeries. The lack of bakeries is one reason I can think of that a place with lousy products such as Cakelove is able to survive. They seem to be located where there aren't many alternatives.

        3 Replies
        1. re: potrzebie

          Perhaps it is the local taste buds that allow Cakelove to survive, not to mention Whole Foods lousy bread. Maybe there are just too few of us panaholics.

          1. re: ChewFun

            I really don't think your comments are helpful. Why is it you feel the need to attack locals? What is so great about being a panaholic? If you look at comments on this board, people are not fond of Cakelove. This area has much to offer, why don't you try to enjoy what the area offers.

            1. re: Martha

              I agree with the premise that we should insist on better bakeries. It might be more helpful to figure out what exactly we are lacking. In Miami, for example there are so many Cuban and South American bakeries that have excellent products: Cuban pasteles kept warm buttery, and gooey, (there is no equivalent here), Venezuelan tequenos (cheese sticks wrapped in pastry) , Colombina arepas.

              Or how about bureka? Simit and Kabob in Fairfax used to have some stuff that was ok, but they've cut back their offerings and now the boureks are just plain scrawny if they have them at all. It wouldn't kill us to have good Armenian lahmajeune, either.

              I suppose I could go on..... but I am not a bakery nut, just someone whe is dissapointed with what we have in the DC area.

              There are a couple of goodies to be had: logenbrotchen (pretzel rolls) at Hiedelburg, and of course the Ciabatta at Breadline. Specific items at isolated places.

              But I wish there was more and better.

        2. I believe if you were to look at many major metro areas, there would be a lack of quality bakeries. Rents are high, people are much more health conscious and in a hurry. How many people are going to make a second trip to a bakery? I was lucky enough to live near the original Marvelous Market when it opened, so I could easily walk to it. Their olive bread was to die for IMO. I was also in my 20s and didn't have children. Then I lived near the Reston Marvelous Market, and could go to that easily with my first child. Now I have two children, shop at Whole Foods, and buy my baquettes, sour dough bread, and olive bread there. We like the bread, and I'm not sure any difference in taste would warrant an extra trip. But I do miss having a good local bakery as we had when I was growing up, but those simple days are gone. When I go to Europe, I also wish we had good local bakeries as they have. Alas.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Martha

            "Rents are high"

            You nailed it with those three words. Any time you're scratching your head wondering why a good business failed, it's usually rent that kills it. Seems many landlords would rather hold a property vacant, than give an inch on the rent.

            Rant on rents over.

          2. There are some excellent ethnic bakeries in and around DC. I tried some small baguette-style rolls made in a Latino bakery downtown and sold in the local bodega. Excellent toasted, with a good bready-flavor. There's also a Middle Eastern bakery in Woodbridge I believe that sells a long lavash-style bread. Shoppers used to carry it but dropped it. Then I found it at the local halal store. Great for pizza, wraps, or just drizzle a little olive oil and herbs and bake for 10 minutes.

            1. Several reasons but mostly profit margin. Let's look at the market: many people in this country simply do not know what good bread is, and will settle for the supermarket "baguettes" that are wrapped in fancy paper bags but are really just white bread inside. So there's little incentive for wide-scale baking in the Parisian tradition because the larger public doesn't demand it.

              Running a bakery along european tradition is expensive and carries a very small profit margin. In France, there's a wide social safety net, so low-margin businesses are able survive. I think the reason Marvelous Market and Firehook started out good but then slipped was that they became popular, but had to make compromises in the form of automation to keep up with new demand.

              You can good bakeries in cities, but in the burbs, consumers are used to getting everything they need in grocery stores. So that's even less business for the small bakeries.

              Bread and pastries are a very central part to French and Italian food traditions (like rice in Asia, if you ask me), which is why you see boulanger patisseries on nearly every block in residential neighborhoods. Here, too many americans are fine with Wonder Bread.

              That being said, Marvelous Market is still my favorite baguette (parisian -- not the sour dough). What they call the "Striatta" is nice too. I don't care if it's not the "best" in the city ... it's within walking distance to where I live, and not having to go far for something as fundamental as good bread makes it taste even better.

              18 Replies
              1. re: MartinDC

                "Several reasons but mostly profit margin"

                Is that because of the rising cost of flour?

                Or the lack of demand, expensive rents, and labor issues?

                1. re: WestIndianArchie

                  I forgot to mention the rising cost of wheat. But they are all reasons.

                  But it always comes down to demand. If enough people patronized good local bakeries, then there would be good local bakeries.

                2. re: MartinDC

                  I think you are probably right. It's a combination of taste and economics. I do like Marvelous Market's baguette. Also, why do most artisanal bakeries opt for French and Italian models and not German/Austrian? Perhaps it is because France and Italy are synonymous with good food in the American mind and Germany/Austria are not. However, Germany/Austria may have a more rich bread tradition than France and Italy.

                  1. re: ChewFun

                    heidelberg is german/austrian model....

                    i thought firehook's baguettes used to be outstanding. i'd get one at arrowine for my cheese. it always sold out fast. haven't been there lately, though...

                  2. re: MartinDC

                    Unfortunately, even France is suffering from mass-produced, awful baguettes. The more we're in a hurry, quality often is the first to suffer. When I was last in France, I had to worst baguette I've ever tasted. Fortunately, we were staying in St. Remy de Provence and the bakery there (Le Petite Duc) had wonderful baquettes, baked goods, and the best hot chocolate.

                    1. re: MartinDC

                      What you've said seems to make sense but there are some great bakeries in SF and NYC, also high cost areas. Maybe it's the market more than the cost/price of bread. I agree w/ others that people are happy w/ grocery store bread and can't tell the difference.

                      1. re: chowser

                        I was going to write something similar. I agree in NYC--despite high rents--there are many bakeries around. In the DC 'burbs (VA) I've seen some people try to set up independent bakeries, but sadly, they fail--even the good ones. I think that around here people only want to buy their baked goods from the supermarkets, which is too bad. If there were more decent bakeries in the area, I would make the extra trip. There's one bakery in old town Herndon that makes good breads--Harvest (I think that's the name? I know where it is but am blanking on the name.). I go there every now and then but often parking in the area during the day can be an issue.

                        1. re: MizYellowRose

                          The bakery in Herndon is Great Harvest. The Great Harvest in Vienna does not bake its own breads - they come from the store in Herndon.

                          1. re: Potomac Bob

                            Thanks for the info! In fact, I'm planning to stop by Great Harvest in Herndon tomorrow.

                            1. re: MizYellowRose

                              My brother and his wife live in Reston, and I stopped in Herndon to get Great Harvest bread for them when I went over for dinner one evening. I was very disappointed. It was all bread baked by the direct method--though some loaves had some interesting grain combinations. You need time to let the enzymes bring out the flavor in a loaf. The experience made me wonder whether people around here have been exposed to good bread. In the past, the only wheat raised in the area was soft wheat. As far as I can gather, breads in the Tidewater area were either based on maize or were quick breads like biscuits. A baker can made world-class bread, but if people won't buy it, he or she will not succeed. That's why I welcome things like the Bittman-Lahey Loaf and the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I think they raise awareness about what a baker can really do. Still, I recall one day in Wisconsin, where I had baked weekly for our monastery, the cook put out a supermarket "Italian" loaf. One of the friars enthusiastically asked if I had baked it. I was amazed that he couldn't tell the difference. If you were raised on the sandwich loaves of the post war era, you may not so easily recognize an honest loaf of bread.

                              1. re: Father Kitchen

                                I agree that people aren't exposed to enough good bread to tell the difference. For a while, I'd bring home made bread to my in-laws--from bread that took a couple of days to make to no knead to a fairly quick focaccia and everyone thought I picked them up from Safeway. I don't bother any more for them because it was far too much time (there are 30 of them when we get together) when no one appreciated the difference. Don't get me started on home made pasta...

                                1. re: chowser

                                  The irony is that in Bodega Bay, of all places, Alan Scott has been baking three days a week and selling just one kind of loaf, mainly to local restaurants--his desem loaf. So if you learn the taste of bread, you keep coming back. I admit, though, that in 1967 when I went to the seminary in Rome, I didn't appreciate the bread at first. Fortunately, we had a very good artisan bakery, and it wasn't long before I looked forward to it.

                                2. re: Father Kitchen

                                  You know, 'not recognize' and 'not appreciate' might not be the right way to put it. A lot of people actually DISLIKE what the people in this thread would consider real bread. I love the bread from Bonaparte bakery at Savage Mill. One time I was eating in their cafe and watched a couple who'd ordered sandwiches - who'd obviously had no idea what they were going to get. They were clearly appalled. I heard them complain about how hard the bread was to chew. They really seem to have never seen anything like it. They left most of their lunch on their plates.

                                  And really, you have to feel sorry for them. I mean, if you put it in the context of expecting supermarket bread, you can see why it might be a kind of inexplicable and nasty experience. And it's
                                  certainly not that they couldn't tell the difference - they sure could, and they were NOT happy.

                                  This is why the rest of us can't get artisan bread on every streetcorner. We are a specialty market. Not everyone wants what we want. That couple was exposed to what I would call good bread right there and then, but it did not make them want to buy it. You know, for all we know, in the old days, there were people who would have much rather had Wonder Bread, if only it had been invented. So nowadays, maybe not everyone would like 'real' bread no matter how much exposure they had to it.

                          2. re: chowser

                            Understood, but it's a regional think I imagine. NYC and SF are similar in that small neighborhood markets flourish there. There is a tradition of buying food in specialty shops and not stocking up so much on more than a few days worth of food. DC in comparison has lost nearly all of its specialty shops. Which is odd because of its particularly high international population.

                            1. re: MartinDC

                              The culprit is the 1958 DC zoning law. Small shops interspersed in residential neighborhoods were zoned out. The ones that existed were allowed to continue but when they closed, the space couldn't be converted to other uses. If it was a dry cleaners, you couldn't open a grocery. If it was a grocery, no bakery. The existing use was "grandfathered." If the storefront was left vacant for a designated period of time, the right to any commercial use lapsed.
                              Rules were passed about sales of any alcohol near schools and churches plus giving neighborhoods the right to contest licenses - although that is as it should be.
                              That's why DC doesn't have corner markets and other conveniences like NY, Boston, SF, Paris, and "real" cities.
                              Even the process for setting up a farmers' market is a nightmare of regulatory redtape at DC's Department of Regulatory and Consumer Affairs.

                          3. re: MartinDC

                            The Parisian boulangeries aren't even baking in the Parisian tradition anymore. Do an internet search and you'll discover the growing trend for local French boulangeries to buy dough from huge commercial bakeries and simply bake on premises. This is from a country which, as you say, puts bread at the center of its food traditions.

                            I'm surprised as posters moan about the lack of good bread in the DC area, someone isn't mentioning the good bread that is available at Farm Markets. I know I've gotten excellent bread at the Montgomery County Farm Women's Market, although I don't go there often enough to supply the stall name.

                            1. re: Indy 67

                              The problem with the Farmer's Markets, is that they aren't really that convenient. And were I to buy a baguette from a Farmer's Market on Sunday, it's not like I can save it for a meal on Wednesday.

                          4. Praline in Bethesda for pastries. http://www.praline-bakery.com/
                            Stella's in Rockville for cakes.

                            I also like Four Corners Bakery, but I've been going there for 40 years.

                            1. I beg to disagree - if we're not strictly limited to DC, we've got (in no particular order):

                              Best Buns
                              Heidelberg (oh ... you already mentioned that)
                              Great Harvest (not "traditionally gourmet breads" but pretty good for what they do)\
                              Pastries by Randolph
                              Shoppers in-house bakery (yeah, yeah, but a really good everyday French loaf and a few other things)
                              Don't have the name, but an interesting Asian bakery in Annandale
                              The marvelous little Buzz Bakery in Alexandria
                              And ... shoot, what's that one kind of hidden at the West end of Falls Church, on Rte 7?

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: wayne keyser

                                I think it's wrong to make a blanket recommendation for some of these places. The cookies at Heidelburg are boring (probably no better than those international-cookies-in-a-tin that I get from National Wholesale Liquidators), and my last cake at Pastries by Randolph was icky sweet.

                                Though Baguette Republic (Falls Church Rte 7) does seem like a winner... WIll have to get out there more often. Thanks for the reminder

                                1. re: Steve

                                  This is a great point--bakeries carry such a wide array of goods and rarely do them all well. Having a recommendation of what to get, in addition to where to get it, is helpful. One reason I love Victoria's Cakery is that it does cakes well and that's all it does. I found the same icky sweetness with my last cake from Pastries by Randolph but my SIL had her wedding cake made there and it was good. I've found Shoppers bread to be spongy, almost gummy and it fell apart when we tried to make paninis. Great Harvest is good for what it is--a step above grocery store breads but you can't get good artisanal bread there w/ nice crust and crumb. I will have to check out Baguette Republic and Buzz Bakery.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    Realize, please, that Buzz doesn't do bread (as far as I know). Great pastries, though.

                                    1. re: wayne keyser

                                      I should have been more specific in my post. I was referring just to bread. By the way, the best patisserie in DC is sadly no more (gone for at least 15 years). Le Bonbonniere,

                                      1. re: wayne keyser

                                        That sounds good, though--I can make a decent loaf of bread myself w/ minimal effort but making some pastries takes far too much time, plus I like the variety. I'm always on the lookout for things that are harder to make. Can you eat there, or is it take out only? Thanks!

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          You can eat-in at Buzz. They even have board games you can borrow and hang out and play whatever while sipping coffee drinks and munching down.

                                          1. re: weezycom

                                            My wife and I have been to Buzz three times now and each and every time have been extremely underwhelmed by what we had. I don't remember exactly what we got, but it was cake twice and a dessert pastry once. We've returned because it's a nice little place to spend an hour or so at late in the evening even if the desserts are just average at best.

                                2. Ask why there are so few good bakeries anywhere. During the 25 years we lived in the DC area we saw all the bakeries disappear one by one (I would be willing to do something illegal if only I could visit Danny's Bakery, archaically of Silver Spring, and buy a pecan Danish). We have now lived 17 years in Chicago and the same thing has happened here---once there were dozens and dozens and now there are, basically, two. None of the explanations I hear makes sense. High rents? There are bakeries all over Paris, including downtown. Healthful eating awareness? Not while fast food prospers. Maybe a baking professional can explain this mystery?

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Querencia

                                    As a baking professional (bread), I don't feel any more qualified than others to answer the question, but here's my take:

                                    Paris (Europe as well) has a culture and history that has always supported neighborhood bakeries. In the past, people shopped on a daily basis for staples. Pick up your produce, meat and your bread, greet your friends and neighbors, and while daily shopping was still a chore, as habit, it became ingrained into your everyday life.

                                    State and local governments provided price protections, the apprentice system was strong and vibrant, and people simply didn't have the time or inclination to travel across town to look for a different type product.

                                    Whole Foods were what you found at the corner produce cart or shop, Giant was the boule from Poliane and Super Fresh was the bread from your neighborhood boulanger. Trader Joe was the guy with the cart, selling housewares each Saturday across from the local tavern.

                                    I don't find the lack of bakeries to be any great mystery. Time marches on and habits change. Too, so many have no idea what a good loaf of bread, or a baguette tastes like. Thankfully in some places, there is something of a resurgence regarding breads at least, and more people are discovering how wonderful a "real"loaf of bread can taste

                                    1. re: tbw

                                      May I recommend Upper Crust as a source of good bread and some cakes. Their scope is broad ranging from artisinal (splg) to breads with nuts. IMHO they have only two flaws - they tend to under bake their breads and their selection drops off by 11:00 am as they sell out early. They are in a small shopping center at Randolph Rd and New Hampshire Ave in the north end of Silver Spring.

                                      IMHO the Heidelburg Bakery, while still good, is a shadow of its former self, the self before it moved. Also I have found Stella's cake/pies to be wonderful.

                                      1. re: tbw

                                        But neighborhood bakeries didn't just sell bread and where I lived the people didn't know from baguettes. The bakery of my small-town Midwestern early childhood had wonderful fruit-topped coffeecakes, Danishes (called "sweet rolls"), big sugary cinnamon buns, fat round ginger cookies, Charlotte Russe, cream puffs, cream rolls etc---and if people will buy a 'way inferior version frozen, surely they would buy the fresh. About a good bakery it's "if you build it, they will come", only nobody's building it.

                                        1. re: Querencia

                                          Baltimore has a few of these old-style bakeries left, such as Fenwick Bakery on Harford Road in Northeast Baltimore. Right now is the season for their wonderful peach cakes.There are also some (some kosher) along the Reisterstown Road corridor from Northern Parkway up into Pikesville.

                                          DC doesn't have many of these "time-warp" neighborhoods, so it's not surprising that it doesn't have "time-warp" bakeries either.

                                    2. The biggest reason is density.
                                      We forget how dense European cities are. Their apartments and homes are smaller than our and more closely packed with many people living above retail spaces which isn't the case in Washington. Mile after mile along Conn. and Wisc. Avenues have no retail within easy walking distance and it doesn't exist in the suburbs.
                                      In most of the Metro area, people have to get into their cars to got to the store. They're not going to make a separate stop to pick up a single loaf of bread on the way home daily as part of a 45 minute commute.
                                      If they live in Dupont, Georgetown or Capitol Hill, it's easy to pop into Firehook, Marvelous Market, Eastern Market or a corner store that gets a daily delivery of a few artisan loaves on the way home.
                                      DC has the highest percentage in the country of people who walk to work and a very high percentage of people who don't even own cars.
                                      If you live in the suburbs, you are more likely to pick up bread at a one-stop supermarket when you buy everything else.
                                      That means you settle for the in-house bakery. Probably once or twice a week.
                                      The in-house supermarket bakeries use par-baked product for consistency. Did you think they were scratch baking?

                                      In Europe, it's more likely that the baker owns his building and has for some time, possibly generations and may live above the store. Particularly in DC, rents and property and other taxes have soared, driving small businesses out. The DC government has given tax breaks and incentives to big businesses rather than independent local small businesses and many have closed or left the city.
                                      The bakery business is hard, requiring very long hours and the return is small. Shelf life is short and, as the public has gotten out of the habit of buying baked goods on a daily basis, it has gotten harder to make enough profit to sustain a viable business in Washington or anywhere in the Metro area.
                                      Baking has become a sideline to coffee, sandwiches and ice cream. Or a few have turned to wholesale. The product has suffered.

                                      The cost of wheat is the least of the baker's problems. His rent, taxes, utilities, insurance, and labor costs have increased far more.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        In Paris, shopkeepers often own their shop. It is like a commercial condo. In the US, all that commercial space is leased.

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          Commercial space in DC is so expensive that bread is baked off-site. The tiny Firehook sites. Marvelous Market outlets. Everything is baked/prepared at a central location and delivered.

                                          The ownership situation in Europe, which is the same in Latin America, really changes the equation. It also makes a difference that the trade stays in the family, that it's passed down through the generations.
                                          We have a little of that in DC. Like Mangialardo's and Litteri's - the families own the buildings and the second and third generations run the businesses. Several of the vendors at Eastern Market are second/third generation too. How many kids want to do that today?

                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                            I think that the message is that they can't afford to build it and if they do, people will come for coffee and not a loaf of rye.

                                      2. This thread has been very good. I agree that economics and culture all enter in. But I hope changes are around the corner. I lived in Berkeley and in the Seattle area during a period of an explosion of fine artisan bakeries. I think if a discriminating public demands good bread and is willing to pay for it, the bakeries will survive. Even in Paris things are improving--see Kaplan's "Good Bread is Back." However, I think a major obstacle in the D.C. area (and the U.S. in general) is that our bakeries try to do everything. We don't distinguish between bread shops and pastry shops. And our bread bakers often produce such a range of breads that little is done in a superior way. It reminds you of the Napa wine situation in the 50s when most wineries attempted a dozen or so types of wines. In New York, I was impressed by the fact that Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery (now in Hell's Kitchen) has a tiny store-front retail operation and a very limited selection of superior quality breads. I'd hope someone could make a go of a similar bakery, perhaps in our North East near the Brookland Station. As for pastry shops, we don't have the tradition of Europeans. But I'd love to see a good pie shop that sells something better than Marie Calendar pies. But again, that takes a discriminating public. I'm not sure Americans are ready for that. I recall one midwestern eatery that was famous for its home baked pies. Even a local paper raved about them. The restaurant owner bought them at Costco and fiddled with the streusel topping. I can't believe people were taken in.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                                          Do folks remember when Marvelous Market first opened on Connecticut Ave? People were lined up and I think they even rationed the number of loaves people could buy. They expanded too fast and the business fell apart. MM 2.0 expanded too much, as well. They stopped making their own baguettes and subcontracted it out to an entity which made an inferior product, and I stopped buying. Last time I was in one, the breads were all pre-packaged. What were these folks thinking?

                                          1. re: potrzebie

                                            I remember when MM opened -- it was a revelation in DC. Good bread, finally, and amazing olives. I also remember when Firehook opened in Alexandria! Both made great bread. Unfortunately, neither is the same today. Good bread can still be had here but its not around the corner for most of us.

                                            The best artisanal breads I've found in a while is Quail Creek Farms, in West Virginia. They sell on Saturdays at the farmers market in the VRE parking lot in Burke, but you can only get it on a Saturday, not much help the rest of the week but worth trying out. Don't know if you can get their stuff anywhere else in the area.

                                            Another guy who started selling traditional French breads last year is Frenchman Bernard Houlier, who sells real baguettes, flaky croissantes and other breakfast pastries, country loaves, fruit tartes and more at Saint Michel Bakery, 5540 Wilkins Court, Rockville, and at the Montgomery Farm Women's Cooperative on Wisconsin Ave, Bethesda, on Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays. It definitely the best bet if you live in that area.

                                            Wegmans has a quite a respectable bread bakery, but going there is not something I can or want to do every day.

                                            Breads Unlimited on Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda is still pretty good, although I remember when they opened too and its not as good as it was twenty five plus years ago.

                                            Best Buns in Shirlington still produces very good breads.

                                            Never understood the attraction of Great Harvest. Flabby and uninteresting sponge.

                                        2. Spring Mill bakery in Bethesda is pretty good too (great cinnamon rolls, and good breads) and the people there are extremely nice. Across the street from Pain Quotidien and probably half the price.

                                          1. I know that its been mentioned before in this thread, but the Woodmoor Bakery at Four Corners in Silver Spring is one of those old-type bakeries that many of said they missed. Its still going strong and you can still get terrific bread, rolls and pastry.

                                            1. Wegmans (Fairfax or Ashburn) beats Whole Foods. They have many varieties of artisan loafs as well as pasteries and other goodies. Try their Marco Polo. Beautifully textured with a rice flour crust. That and a 1/2 lb of Kerrygold butter makes for a great breakfast.

                                              1. Upper Crust in Colesville is my favorite, although items besides the baguettes can be a bit pricey. The bread at Pasta Plus in Laurel is great if you want an Italian-style loaf (and maybe a pizza).

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: nopomo

                                                  A year and a half after starting this discussion, there is no movement on the bakery front. I have been going back to Breads Unlimited in Bethesda. Their European Rye is wonderful.

                                                2. It might partially also be because while each area or part of the world has its own culinary traditions, the DC area is home to so many people from all over that no one tradition can find a critical mass of potential clients. There aren't enough German/German baking enthusiasts to support more than one bakery. There aren't enough Portuguese bread lovers to support any. That and the lack of knowledge of what good bread is like, or excellent pastries, the distances we travel making us unwilling to go out to get groceries daily (after a long commute!), and the fact that most supermarket breads are 'good enough' - not revolting or horrid and most supermarket pastries are nice and cloyingly sweet which Dunkin Donuts's success proves people want.

                                                  All that said, what do people think of Raulin's in Beltsville?

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: AngloAmerican

                                                    In Philadelphia, there is Metropolitan Bakery. I think they are outstanding. Why do they have this an we don't or are they just an anomaly? I think they are just an anomaly. Breads Unlimited is in Bethesda and that area has a large Jewish population. We love our rye bread and probably take bread more seriously than most ethnic groups in the area. My in-laws (besides my wife) from Southern Virginia have no interest in good bread beyond something really spongy. The Asians are not traditionally bread people. Middle Americans are not traditionally bread people. Hispanics are not traditionally bread people (and why don't we have a tortilleria in the area??) . We don't have that many Italians and precious few Germans/Austrians. The breads at the Russian markets are pretty good, but are also brought it from far away and thus are super fresh. I mean look at the bread at Whole Foods. It is basically junk. Sure, you can get a good baguette around here, but baguettes are not all there is to bread.

                                                    1. re: AngloAmerican

                                                      I haven't tried the cakes, but it's my favorite donut spot. The chocolate glazed/peanut butter filled donut could have a stronger peanut butter flavor, but I still love it. The vanilla cream is really good as well.

                                                      1. re: Mer_Made

                                                        Have you ever tried Firehook Bakery? They make fabulous breads. Some restaurants use their breads. They have a number of locations in DC and Virginia.

                                                        1. re: beefivore

                                                          I haven't had Firehook breads in years, probably becauseI tend to prefer sweets to straight bread.

                                                          1. re: beefivore

                                                            Firehook is just okay. They have some breads that are pretty good, but mostly they are just above average.

                                                        2. Does anyone know if the Heidelberg Bakery in Arlington is under new management. I was there on Saturday and it seemed...different. I can't put my finger on it, just different.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: AngloAmerican

                                                            No, they still have the original owner and his wife. I never see him but you se her in the front of the store.

                                                            1. re: AngloAmerican

                                                              right before christmas it was still the same original owners....

                                                              i think they're pretty young, so hope they stay until retirement age (and beyond).

                                                            2. Bread? One place is Best Buns in Shirlington; another, Le Pain Quotidien in Clarendon and in Alexandria; and Firehook in Alexandria. I think my favorite is Le Pain. Oh, I forgot: Great Harvest near the Fern St Pizzaiola Cafe and Reunions.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: BarbHelm

                                                                I feel like the last time I bought a really, really good cake around here, it was from Radfords Bakery in Aspen Hill. I guess they've been gone 20 years now? It was one of the now nearly extinct neighborhood bakeries that just made your head explode with that fresh bakery aroma. It has been years since I have experienced that.

                                                                I do recall reading years ago that one of the reasons Europe is less tolerant of crappy baked goods is that their bakery tradition goes back hundreds of years. The USA, on the other hand, has a much greater tradition of home baking. Apparently, we now value the convenience of crappy baked goods over doing it ourselves.

                                                                1. re: pgreen

                                                                  no one will want to hear this (well, maybe SOMEone), but harris teeter's cakes are excellent quality -- really delicious. their carrot cake is fabulous, but i think my favorite is the rich butter yellow cake with the chocolate ganache frosting. although....i did have another chocolate cake they had the other day (not an "opera" cake, but some similar kind of a fancy name), and it was dark chocolate frosting, chocolate cake, with a chocolate mousse filling in between the three layers. oh YES!

                                                                  and the great thing is, if you get a cake craving, and want just one slice, they have those, too!

                                                                2. re: BarbHelm

                                                                  Le Pain Quotidien would be a very good alternative, but fail in two regards: 1) Too often the bread is somewhat burned and 2) Way to much burned flour on the top. The top doesn't need flour, though it makes the loaves look more dramatic. If they solved those two problems, I would buy their bread again. In the year and a half since my original post, I still haven't found a place as good as Metropolitan in Philadelphia.

                                                                3. Guys, you have a great, truly Parisian bakery right under your noses on Wisconsin Avenue -- Patisserie Poupon. Oddly, it is not mentioned in any of the posts below. There is a sister store in Baltimore -- it +Atwaters = all of your bakery needs.

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                                                                  Patisserie Poupon
                                                                  1645 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: lawhound

                                                                    Atwater's appears at several of the farmers markets in the area. There is another bakery which shows up in Arlington which is much, much better - though the name escapes me right now (their sign is fairly modest). Really fine cookies, brownies, European style breads.

                                                                    1. re: lawhound

                                                                      Atwater is good and I haven't been to Patisserie Poupon in a while (where do you park?). When I meant bakery, I don't mean patisserie (though there aren't enough of them either)

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                                                                      Patisserie Poupon
                                                                      1645 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC

                                                                    2. Uptown sells at the Bowie farmer's market. I think they have stalls at several other markets too.