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Don't Miss Bakeries?

Suebee May 16, 2009 09:29 AM

I'm on the lookout for the best cupcakes, cakes, cookies, etc. in Chicago. What are your favorites in the following hoods?

River North

Downtown (Art Institute/Millenium Park)

Wicker Park/Bucktown

Downtown (River Tour/Magnificent Mile)

Lincoln Park/Old Town

I've got Molly's and Suthport Grocery on our list but I know there are many more.

Thanks!!

  1. nsxtasy May 16, 2009 11:14 AM

    Here is how I would rank the Chicago-area (city and suburbs) bakeries, I've tried, from the very best (#1) to the very worst (#21). (If you're looking *only* for cookies, go straight to #9.)

    There are six that are head and shoulders above the others, the first two of which are in the suburbs:

    1. Three Tarts Bakery (Northfield, www.threetartsbakery.com ) - Their quality is uniformly excellent, but the variety of pastries is somewhat limited. Great eclairs. Great pear almond tart. They have a variety of small cookies (linzer, etc) that are excellent. My personal nominee for the best pastry shop in the Chicago area.

    2. Gourmet Frog (Highwood, www.frenchrestaurantschicagocatering.com ) - They have a variety of cakes available by the slice. A few are great; most are good. Best French macaroons in town, great cookies, and great soups. They're the carry-out adjunct of Froggy's restaurant.

    3. Vanille Patisserie (Clybourn Corridor, www.vanillepatisserie.com ) - I really love their entremets. And their croissants are excellent as well. Not a lot of variety, but what pastries they do, they do exceptionally well.

    4. Fox & Obel (River East, www.fox-obel.com ) - Their quality is consistently excellent. Their tres leches cake is excellent, and I love their bread pudding, as well as their chocolate version that they call chocolate brut. (Pop 'em in the microwave briefly before serving warm - mmmmm!) Best bran muffins and best cinnamon rolls ("swirls") I've ever had. If you're looking for cupcakes, they've got good ones. (Of course, they have a lot more items than just pastry, including wonderful breads as well as meats and prepared foods etc. But this topic is about sweet items.)

    5. Swedish Bakery (Andersonville, www.swedishbakery.com ) - I love their marzipan roll - one of the few cakes anywhere with both whipped cream and pastry cream, in different layers - and I love their marzariners, small almond paste based tarts.

    6. Pasticceria Natalina (Andersonville, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/372142 ) - They have some wonderful things, and some others that are just okay. Their specialty, Sicilian pastries, is something you don't find elsewhere.

    Here are others that I've tried:

    7. Angel Food Bakery (Uptown, www.angelfoodltd.com ) - The most whimsical of our bakeries, with a retro tone to the pastries. I tried several things here; some were just okay, but a few were exceptional (and I'm sorry but I forget what they were).

    8. Bittersweet (Lakeview, www.bittersweetpastry.com ) - I recently went there for the first time. Again, like so many places here, the variety of pastries is limited, but they have a few good things. Their scones are the best I've had anywhere. I was disappointed by their various macaroons.

    9. Al's Deli (Evanston, www.alsdeli.net ) - Not really a bakery, primarily a carry-out sandwich shop, but the real baked treat is their cookies, especially their chocolate chip cookies. If you can think of the very best homemade chocolate chip cookies you've ever had in your life - from the recipe on the Nestle's bag, of course - that's what these are like. Note - they're only open for lunch (11-4, I think) and closed Wednesdays.

    10. Bennison's (Evanston, www.bennisonscakes.com ) - A very conventional bakery, nothing absolutely to die for, but a lot of things are decent, including good black and whites and rum balls.

    11. Tag's (Evanston, www.tagscakes.com ) - Another very conventional bakery, with very good almond macaroons, and known for their florentines.

    12. Lutz (Ravenswood Gardens, www.lutzcafe.com ) - This place has been around forever, and is the most European of all our bakeries. Nothing to die for, but a lot of things are decent.

    13. Café Selmarie (Lincoln Square, www.cafeselmarie.com ) - Like Lutz, this is a place where I have pleasant memories of eating in the café. Some decent items, but nothing to die for.

    14. Patisserie P (Edgewater, www.lapatisseriep.com ) - Asian as well as European pastries, nothing really impressed me.

    15. Sarah's (Gold Coast, www.sarahscandies.com ) - I tried a bunch of things here and the only thing I really liked was a savory item (a ham and cheese brioche).

    16. Dinkel's (Lakeview, http://www.dinkels.com ) - very conventional, nothing really impressed me.

    17. Foodlife (Water Tower Place, http://www.foodlifechicago.com ) - very ordinary fast food carry-out, nothing really impressed me.

    18. House of Fine Chocolates (Lakeview, www.houseoffinechocolates.com ) - very conventional, nothing really impressed me.

    19. Sweet Mandy B's (Lincoln Park, no website) - "American comfort food" bakery items, like cookies (consistently undercooked and bland), pies (eh), puddings (banana pudding with very little banana flavor; cabinet pudding (possibly pre-frozen). Very disappointing.

    20. Deerfields (Deerfield, www.deerfieldbakery.com ) - very conventional, and consistently disappointing.

    21. Bleeding Heart Bakery (Lakeview, thebleedingheartbakery.com ) - HUGE disappointment. Visually unappealing muffins, layer cake slices (dreadful, I threw most of it out), croissants (okay but nothing special). And all ridiculously overpriced. Stay away!

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy
      Suebee May 24, 2009 07:28 PM

      Thanks so much for such a thoughtful and thorough post! We're only here until Thursday and limited to just a few neighborhoods, but I'll make sure to check out your recommendations if they're close by.

      We tried a couple cookies at Fox and Obel this morning, an oatmeal raisin and chocolate chocolate chip. Really good and just .89 each!

    2. q
      Querencia May 16, 2009 04:53 PM

      I think nsxtacy was kind of hard on "conventional" bakeries, which perhaps lean more toward the classical than the trendy. Dinkels is a dependable, all-around bakery with decent pastry. House of Fine Chocolates has a reliable selection of classics like Napoleons and brioche and bakes its coffee cakes in a tube pan, which makes them easy to cut nicely for a group. Swedish Bakery has excellent tea rolls (plain or cardamom), sticky pecan rolls, Julekaka, and limpa. Bennison's has a following that's willing to pay around $10 for its pecan bread and is one of the few places that have bienenstich. As for trendy offerings, my young neighbors all faint at the mere mention of Mandy B's cupcakes. I would add to the list the Tel Aviv Bakery on Devon for its seeded rye bread and its onion rolls, reminiscent of Ratner's in New York. And Turano's little shop at their commercial bakery on Roosevelt Road in Oak Park has the Italian version of croissants, I forget what they're called but it starts with C, that will make you think you're in Italy. Unfortunately, Chicago's downtown is not strong on bakeries. It helps to know the location of bakeries around town so you can stop in when you're on another errand nearby.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Querencia
        nsxtasy May 16, 2009 08:58 PM

        I don't think that's true at all. The fact is, I like conventional bakeries when they are really, really good at everything - IOW just about anything you get there is wonderful, a great example of its kind, from cookies to cakes to pastries. And that's exactly what Three Tarts and Gourmet Frog do so well, which is why I rated them at the top, even though they are very conventional indeed. Unfortunately, I find that the other conventional bakeries around town just don't measure up across the board. Bennison's is a great example; as I mentioned, their black and whites and rum balls are fairly good, and they do great palmiers. But their layer cake slices are ho-hum, their cookies are okay but nothing special, anything with almond paste has no almond taste (their marzipan slices suffer by comparsion with Swedish Bakery, the French macaroons suffer by comparison with Vanille, etc.), the croissants are nothing special, etc. Same thing for Dinkel's (their sweet rolls and croissants are decent, but not on a par with the best in town), House of Fine Chocolates (ditto), etc.. The conventional bakeries that do a great job are the ones I rated at the top; the others don't do a great job, IMO.

        Also, I assumed from the first post that the OP is asking about sweet items, rather than breads. Thus Tel Aviv's seeded rye and onion rolls really don't qualify. They do a nice job on poppyseed danish (as they are usually called in New York) or sweet rolls (as they are called here in Chicago), but that's not quite in the cakes and cookies category either. I like their sugar kichel, if that qualifies. But since they are kosher and pareve, the lack of cream and butter prevents them from having richer pastry items. Similarly, I didn't mention the limpa or other items you raise because they're not sweet items, and the OP does not sound interested in finding out about breads (although I rated Swedish Bakery quite well for their pastries).

        1. re: Querencia
          Suebee May 24, 2009 07:30 PM

          Yep, we're definitely hitting Mandy B's. Thanks for the Tel Aviv Bakery suggestion. I happen to adore Jewish bakeries, so if it makes sense with our itinerary, we'll make sure to stop by!

          1. re: Querencia
            s
            sunbrace Oct 19, 2012 04:48 PM

            House of Fine Chocolates has sadly closed. La Boulangerie opened a new branch on Belmont and Clark close to the brown line Belmont stop. I love their almond croissants. I haven't tried the Lakeview branch yet though.

          2. f
            food_nut May 23, 2009 07:24 AM

            My new favorite bakery is Le Flour, located at the Edison Park Metra Stop (actually Oliphant and Olmstead... just off Northwest Hwy beyond Harlem. It opened in
            early 2009. AMAZING french pastries, tortes, cakes, cookies, bars, cupcakes with the best buttercream I have ever tasted.

            They used only the best ingredients and it shows. They serve a limited menu (salad, soup, a few sandwiches), and... of course... dessert. How can any place that serves Metropolis coffee and Gale Gand's root beer be bad?

            6701 N. Olmsted Ave
            Chicago, IL 60631
            Phone: 773.631.1400
            Fax: 773.631.1401
            info@leflour.com
            http://www.leflour.com

            2 Replies
            1. re: food_nut
              Suebee May 24, 2009 07:24 PM

              Le Flour sounds great but unfortunately I don't think we're going to be in the area. Thanks anyways!

              1. re: food_nut
                nsxtasy Nov 8, 2012 04:29 PM

                Le Flour is not open during most of the day (as I found out by making the mistake of stopping by this afternoon). They close at 10 a.m. I am guessing their business primarily consists of donuts and croissants for morning commuters at the train station, and custom cake orders, not for customers who might be interested in seeing a nice selection during the day.

              2. q
                Querencia Oct 18, 2012 09:36 PM

                The South Side isn't getting much attention. South Archer is a treasure-trove of bakeries, just west of Midway Airport. Google the websites of Pticek's, Weber Bakery, and Racine Bakery in an old Slavic neighborhood awash in kolachkys, sauerkraut rye, bacon buns, Croatian Walnut Cake, paczkis, and amazing coffee cakes with fruit and nut toppings. When I am meeting somebody at Midway I actually go 'way early, with a shopping cart, to fill up my freezer.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Querencia
                  f
                  ferret Oct 19, 2012 07:53 AM

                  I appreciate that this is a very old thread but after the new shout-out to the South Side I'd be remiss in not mentioning a few worthwhile and fairly unusual stops up North.

                  Argo Georgian Bakery on Devon is a take-out spot with a variety of unusual beads baked in their custom brick oven (looks like a cross between a brick oven and tandoor). Their signature hachapuri is like a savory cheese croissant - fantastic.

                  Chimney Cake Island is farther East on Devon and is a charming spot baking "chimney cakes", traditional Transylvanian pastry/coffee cakes which are made with long strips of dough wound around a wood spindle to form a hollow tube which is browned on the outside only. The cake has a lemony undertone and is delicious by itself but they offer varieties rolled in sugar, cinnamon, Nutella and even peanut butter. You can eat in or take out.

                  Libanais is a brand new spot on Touhy in Lincolnwood, just East of New York Bagel. I've only tried a few items but they have a large selection of Lebanese and French pastry, wonderful croissants and a variety of baklava that are possibly the best I've ever had. If you stop at the strip mall for bagels make sure you visit this bakery!

                  All three spots are run by their owners who are very knowledgeable and helpful.

                  1. re: ferret
                    nsxtasy Oct 19, 2012 08:14 AM

                    This is indeed an old topic. In the three years since it was posted, I have continued to post updates in the extensive discussion of bakeries for pastry at www.chow.com/topics/542316 Here's a quick summary of the changes since then. Pasticceria Natalina has closed. Two other French/European-style bakeries have opened in the city and I highly recommend them. Floriole ( www.floriole.com ) is in Lincoln Park, just a few blocks east of Vanille's Clybourn location, and is my favorite bakery in the city. They have pastries including caneles (the only bakery I'm aware of that has them), desserts usually including panna cotta and pot de creme, and some amazing breads as well. Toni Patisserie ( www.tonipatisserie.com ), a longtime bakery in west suburban Hinsdale, opened a second location in the Loop, and they have great French-style pastries and breads. Also, the French Market in the train station just west of the Loop also opened since then, and Vanille has a stall there. If you're looking for French/Swiss style pastries, these three are my top picks in the city. Fox & Obel continues to have the best breads IMHO. Gourmet Frog and Three Tarts continue to turn out high quality baked goods in the northern suburbs.

                    The "chimney cakes" sound like baumkuchen (which translates as "tree cakes"), which have long been available at several places on the northwest side including Sweet World Pastry and Lutz.

                    I look forward to trying the brand new Libanais - thanks for the tip!

                    1. re: ferret
                      q
                      Querencia Oct 19, 2012 08:03 PM

                      Well then, Ferret, while you're on Devon hit the Tel Aviv Bakery for 1) very fine rye bread 2) decent babka (apple, cinnamon, or chocolate-filled and 3) some large onion-filled rolls with the odd name of French rolls. I have never tried their challah. Kiddush Cake is not bad, s yeast dough rolled up with honey and nuts. I never think their other stuff looks all that good but what I've mentioned is good.

                      1. re: Querencia
                        nsxtasy Oct 19, 2012 08:44 PM

                        Tel Aviv Bakery has the best sugar kichel in Chicagoland.

                        They have good poppyseed danish also.

                        1. re: nsxtasy
                          weinstein5 Oct 20, 2012 01:19 PM

                          Second the kichel recommendation -also try their challah, rye bread and french onion rolls -

                  2. q
                    Querencia Oct 19, 2012 08:16 PM

                    While we're at it, how about Middle Eastern bakeries? I haven't found one yet that uses quality ingredients in pastry and prefer to make my own baklava etc with real butter, real pistachio nuts that I roast myself, and a little orange and lemon and cinnamon in the honey syrup. Commercial places seem to be using cheap schlocky ingredients. But I can be persuaded if anybody knows of good stuff. Meanwhile, Middle Eastern Grocery and Bakery, at N Clark & Foster, bakes its own pita bread and spinach pies in the back room and they are GOOD.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Querencia
                      f
                      ferret Oct 19, 2012 08:33 PM

                      Check out my mention of Libanais above.

                      1. re: ferret
                        nsxtasy Oct 19, 2012 08:49 PM

                        There isn't much about Libanais on their website, but I found this Tribune article about it: http://business-announcements.chicago...

                        1. re: nsxtasy
                          f
                          ferret Oct 20, 2012 04:14 AM

                          As I posted, I've only tried a small fraction of their baked goods but they were all excellent. They have a variety of baklava, walnut, almond and pistachio, each with distinctive preparations. Hoping to return this weekend.

                          1. re: ferret
                            nsxtasy Oct 22, 2012 01:15 PM

                            I went to Libanais this morning and tried a lot of different things. Some were very good; others weren't.

                            I tried two of the Lebanese/Middle Eastern items. I'm the first to admit, I'm no expert on Middle Eastern baked goods. I know a lot of items are variations on baklava - filo and nuts, with the filo sometimes layered in sheets, sometimes sliced up and made into a "birds nest", and with different kinds of nuts. That description applies to many of the Middle Eastern items at Libanais. They have baklava with different kinds of nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews - each a separate kind of baklava), and with different appearances. I tried one of them and it was a very good and very fresh, not overly soaked; it was an excellent representation of baklava. (I brought home a container of assorted baklava, which they have prepacked.) Querencia, this is exactly what you're looking for - fresh baklava, well made with quality ingredients. I also had a piece of kenafe. Kenafe is a flat breakfast pastry consisting of "birds nest" type filo and a filling made with cream cheese; they have it in a warmer and serve it with rosewater drizzled over it. I liked it!

                            The French pastries were hit and miss, with more misses than hits. I tried a plain croissant and a chocolate croissant; both were nicely flaky but unusually greasy, which made them less appealing than average, with a slight off taste. They also have refrigerated French pastries, including whole cakes/tarts (they had a nice looking almond pear tart which I did not try), individual sized pastries (about the size you would expect for a dessert ordered in a restaurant, about the same size as the entremets at Vanille Patisserie), and mini sized pastries. I tried a mini eclair (maybe 3" long) and it was not good at all; in particular, the custard filling had no vanilla taste whatsoever and had a "tang" to it that was unpleasant. The shell was also a bit hard, perhaps slightly stale. I tried a mini mango mousse bar, about the size of a small petit four, and it was not good either, with not much mango taste and a bit of an "off" taste to it. I tried two of the individual sized pastries and these were much better. One was labeled as a marjolaine, although marjolaine usually has a crunchy meringue layer and this one did not. Call it a chocolate mousse entremet and I'd say it was pretty good. Even better was a pistachio mousse entremet with a thin layer of chocolate crust on the bottom; that was very good indeed.

                            I also tried a container of their cinnamon rice pudding, and it was not good at all. (IMHO rice pudding should be rich and creamy, and this was quite the opposite, with very little taste.)

                            If you go there, their sign is a bit hard to read from the street, as the font used consists of very thin lines. As noted above, it's a few doors east of New York Bagels and Bialys in the same strip mall on the north side of Touhy; it's just west of Hot Nails and just east of State Farm.

                            The proprietor was very friendly, and this is a place that's worth supporting. However, I think they're doing a far better job with the Middle Eastern items, as I found too many of the French items disappointing.

                            Libanais Sweets
                            4708 West Touhy Ave.
                            Lincolnwood IL 60712
                            847-329-5060
                            www.libanaissweets.com (Note, they're still developing their website, but it's already way better than it was a couple of days ago when ferret first mentioned it.)

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