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Flour Bakery - Hazlenut Dacquoise and Staffing

StriperGuy Jul 9, 2010 12:32 PM

One of the pastries in Boston that had been mentioned as being particularly worthy was the Hazlenut Dacquoise at Flour.

I just ate one this afternoon. It was sweet and tasty. And probably in the top 20 in Boston desserts, outside of a restaurant, but I won't be in any hurry to mistake it for world class patisserie.

For starters there was almost no dacquoise in that dacquoise. The dacquoise layer was an eigth or so of the height of the 1.50" high cake. The rest was sort of classic Boston: 1/2" of thick, way to dense coffee hazlenut butter cream, and about the same amount of way to dense and thick dark chocolate mousse, then dark chocolate glaze/frosting.

Delicious I won't deny, but about half way through my feeling was that I was sucking down an entire stick of butter. None of the light ethereal blending of textures and flavors that constitute really fine patisserie. I honestly could not eat the whole thing, the last third ended it's life in the trash on Washington Street.

It was just too much. Two hours later I still feel like I swallowed a whale, kind of a gurgly, high butterfat whale. I don't really need to eat that again. Okay, I might share one with two other people some other time, only if washed down with a double epresso. But if I never eat it again that's just fine.

Oh, and the staffing, did I mention the staffing. Line out the door. Not moving at all.

20 people working behind the counter (seriously) mostly staring at each other, looking lost, and making idle chitchat. I was stunned. With 6 competent people and one good manager you could do three times the volume.

The person who served me appeared to be some kind of manager and between chatting with another customer, then the staff, then fiddling with the espresso machine, took 10+ minutes to slice and box one piece of cake.

After that there was ANOTHER line to pay that was 6 people deep and not particularly moving. I finally gave up, threw my $5 on the counter, and told them to keep the change.

I had crossed Flour off my list a long way back. Trying the dacquoise was the only temptation to return. I guess I should stick to my guns.

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Flour Bakery + Cafe
1595 Washington St, Boston, MA

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  1. l
    lergnom RE: StriperGuy Jul 9, 2010 02:04 PM

    One of my kids worked at another Flour. Management of counter staff was not well organized and it was stressful. If stress comes from customers, that's one thing, but stress coming from the work environment is more annoying as an employee.

    3 Replies
    1. re: lergnom
      StriperGuy RE: lergnom Jul 9, 2010 02:35 PM

      Honestly one of the worst-run service counters I have EVER seen!

      And 4 hours later that thing is still rumbling around my tummy.

      1. re: StriperGuy
        s
        Spike RE: StriperGuy Jul 9, 2010 03:15 PM

        Ditto on the worst run service counter....it's pretty comical as long as you're not in the line :-)

        1. re: StriperGuy
          m
          mikeinboston RE: StriperGuy Jul 9, 2010 04:03 PM

          Total agreement on the worst service. I live just a block from the Washington Street store - and Flour fanatics are so jealous, but the whole set up is so unpleasant that I would never consider it.

      2. Pia RE: StriperGuy Jul 9, 2010 04:55 PM

        Agree on the dacquoise -- like eating an entire stick of butter is a good description. I find their Boston cream pie, while delicious, is like that too. I enjoy Flour (the savory items, the cookies, and the bread or brioche-based items, not so much the pastry/cake items) but I don't think it tries to be fine patisserie.

        I usually go to the Fort Point location, where the staff is efficient and keeps lines moving.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Pia
          m
          misscucina RE: Pia Jul 10, 2010 04:17 PM

          I am at the FP location virtually every day and have since they opened. I'm known by sight/name, so I feel like I'm fairly well- qualified to say this and frankly, they've asked me what I think and I've told them so this isn't random complaining. But here's my take on Flour and the lines:

          While I agree the staff is very nice, friendly and try to do their best to move the line along, the biggest problem there is that management simply refuses to appropriately staff the place for the level of business they do. I go in the mornings every day and sometimes lunch too and they NEVER EVER use both cash registers. Yes, they have a dedicated cashier, which helps, but that person can only process things one check at a time. Why would a business decide the least important staff coverage is the point of sale? I mean, it makes no sense to me. They would rather permit a line to run out the door in the mornings (when people have limited time) than force a staffer to stay at both registers so that 2 checks could be processed at once.

          Secondly , they almost always have a dedicated counter person making cappuccinos/espresso drinks, which strikes me as a colossal waste of money. The person makes 1 drink at a time and that takes easily 3-4 minutes per drink, which generally prevents them from helping out with people who want bakery items or iced coffee/tea or drinks that don't require the espresso machine. That strikes me as a huge money waste since one bakery item and an iced coffee is now north of $6 and takes less than 1 minute to serve.

          Third, their whole deal with the throwaway tissues -- yes, latex gloves are not aesthetically appealing, but since they're constantly grabbing items off plates, why not wear a bakery glove? Half the time, the counter people are gingerly hovering over a plate of sticky buns trying to figure out how to grab it with the tissue, like one of those carnival claws in the plastic tank that slowly drop down to try and grab elusive trinkets. It wastes easily 10-15 seconds per item -- not much, but it adds up esp. on weekends when the suburbanites come in and buy a box of stuff.

          I also feel that they do a poor job forecasting their needs -- if one person comes up and says "I want 24 sticky buns" at 8:15 am, they sell them and then they're out of them for the rest of the day. I personally don't eat them, but I've seen many tourists and people who saw the Bobby Flay Throwdown episode who get very upset when they go there specifically to try the sticky buns and they're out of them well before noon. To me, if you're going to promote a specific item on national TV and you want it to be your signature item, then you need to do a better job making sure you can deliver to customers or risk losing them permanently.

          That said, I like most things there (never had the Dacquoise), they have great iced coffee and it's a much friendlier place to go than Sportello, which also has good hot coffee, shorter lines, great croissants and coconut cake, but a weird, unfriendly vibe.

          -----
          Sportello
          348 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02110

          1. re: misscucina
            l
            lergnom RE: misscucina Jul 10, 2010 05:46 PM

            My daughter said the owners seemed disconnected from the realities of counter operations. This was 2 years ago.

            1. re: misscucina
              Boston_Otter RE: misscucina Jul 11, 2010 07:58 AM

              I've only been there a dozen times, max, but on no less than two occasions, there's been someone in line on the verge of tears because of the lack of sticky buns -- both times, tourists. "It's my mother's 90th birthday and I promised her one of those sticky buns she saw on TV, and I drove all the way from Providence to pick it up!" -- no joke.

              1. re: misscucina
                j
                johndory RE: misscucina Jul 11, 2010 07:35 PM

                I'm also a regular at the FP location and agree with almost everything you say, misscucina. At lunch time, the real bottleneck is the sandwich counter, so if the orders were taken more efficiently they would just pile up with the sanwich makers, (which is another way of saying that they should try to get more people making sandwiches at lunch time). But the morning lines could be handled much faster if the staff were better organized and the layout improved. It took me more than 10 minutes just to get a cup of coffee this morning! I've largely given up on Flour for morning coffee and opt for Sportello instead. I found the vibe there a little srange at first, but it's grown on me.

                -----
                Sportello
                348 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02110

                1. re: misscucina
                  opinionatedchef RE: misscucina Oct 5, 2010 09:34 PM

                  missc, sounds like your analysis is a very sharp one. i do wish that 1) CH had a higher profile in the chef community, and 2) that more food business owners actually wanted constructive feedback on their businesses.

              2. lipoff RE: StriperGuy Jul 10, 2010 04:26 AM

                Wow, I just can't disagree more. The Hazlenut Dacquoise is my favourite cake in Boston, and whenever I've brought it to a party or gathering, it receives nothing but unmitigated praise followed by people asking where I got it (I guess it's clear I didn't bake it myself!)

                Obviously something was wrong that day customer service wise, but I've had nothing but good experiences from the Flour Bakery staff. In my most recent experience at Fort Point the staff kept a long lunch-time line moving pretty quickly, while also taking the time to chat with customers and solicit feedback. It's not McDonald's, but seemed just fine to me.

                18 Replies
                1. re: lipoff
                  StriperGuy RE: lipoff Jul 10, 2010 11:13 AM

                  A proper Dacquoise should have 2-3X as much of the actual hazlenut cake and 30% of the cream. The cream should also be fluffier, not a totally leaden, air-free butter cream. It should be whipped a bit. The whole thing should just melt/dissolve in your mouth; not slide down like a wad of fat.

                  1. re: StriperGuy
                    barleywino RE: StriperGuy Jul 10, 2010 11:30 AM

                    i have to agree that the last time I had Flour's Dacquoise, it *was* like a stick of butter. part of that may have to do with the temperature that it is eaten at. it didn't used to be so dense. would like to find a lighter version if there's one out there.

                    1. re: StriperGuy
                      StriperGuy RE: StriperGuy Jul 10, 2010 01:54 PM

                      One further clarification the cake should have several layers of hazelnut cake interspersed with the creme. In this case there was just one wafer thin layer.

                      1. re: StriperGuy
                        s
                        Spike RE: StriperGuy Jul 10, 2010 04:17 PM

                        BTW, do you have a photo of this?
                        Is it the chocolate boob?

                        1. re: Spike
                          b
                          Buddernut RE: Spike Jul 10, 2010 08:11 PM

                          Since dacquoise is such a specific science of composition, texture and etherealness.....wouldn't one think it more than likely it does not "keep" real well and probably has to have some stabilizer-esque ingredient in order to
                          maintain it for a day in a bakery chiller cabinet ? I don't think Joanne Chang puts
                          herself out there as an expert French patisserie. Just a really good cafe with
                          some really fine choices and a few exceptional standouts from her lineup out of those many choices. I give her kuddos for trying to offer some different items; i.e. Oreos, Poptarts, Sugared Brioche, and ....the Dacquoise. I think its a good product, but we do have to keep in mind, we are not in Paris. Just like I would not expect to get an earth-shattering rendition of a lobstah roll or N.E. Clam Chowdah
                          over in France. I'm thinking we need a Striper Guy Cafe. With all your knowledge,
                          I'ld love to try the real MacCoy. You could become a very rich man with a
                          perfect dacquoise in pilgrim land. Oh yeah, did you ever have apple pie in France....sacrenbleau !

                          1. re: Buddernut
                            StriperGuy RE: Buddernut Jul 10, 2010 08:34 PM

                            As part of a much longer other thread, most folks generally think a real patisserie just wouldn't make it in Beantown. The same thread is why I went into so much detail. Heck you don't have to even call it a dacquoise, call it cake, it was still WAY to rich to eat and cloyingly butter laden. I couldn't eat the whole thing and I LOVE sweets.

                            1. re: StriperGuy
                              lipoff RE: StriperGuy Jul 12, 2010 10:41 AM

                              Striper, I'm always impressed by your passion for and knowledge of pastries, and I won't even presume to argue with you about what an authentic dacquoise should be like.

                              But I do know that the hazelnut-almond dacquoise at Flour is my favourite cake in the city, and what I look forward to most from a visit to Flour. I'm not a fan of overly sweet or heavy desserts, and I find their dacquoise to be neither of those. It's just delicious.

                              I've been to both the South End and Fort Point locations a number of times. Not every week, but at least once a month. I've never seen any serious service issues --- I've always found the staff friendly and helpful. Maybe I don't hit it often enough at peak times, or maybe they are inconsistent, but I only know what I experience.

                              One time I tried to order a cake and couldn't get through on the phone even after trying many times. When I finally did get through the staffer couldn't have been any more apologetic. It was after the pastry chef had gone home for the day and she couldn't confirm that the cake could be ready the next day, but I was given a call in the late evening directly from the chef to confirm that my cake order for the next day would be no problem. Whenever I've ordered a cake from them it's ready on time, the writing is correct, its well packaged and universally well received by those who eat it. What more can I ask for?

                              1. re: lipoff
                                StriperGuy RE: lipoff Jul 12, 2010 11:18 AM

                                Hmmmm, à chacun son goût!

                                1. re: StriperGuy
                                  barleywino RE: StriperGuy Jul 12, 2010 11:51 AM

                                  i once ordered a cake from them, went to pick it up and they had no record of my order. i had to get individual slices instead of a whole cake, which was frustrating since it was for a special occasion. nowadays if i order a cake, i try to get the name of the person who took my order.

                                2. re: lipoff
                                  s
                                  Spike RE: lipoff Jul 12, 2010 02:01 PM

                                  Given how consistent the reports of horrible lines are, you must be going during wayyyyy off hours, or you're insanely lucky and you should play the lottery ;-)
                                  I can tell you that weekends are pretty much horrible...

                                  1. re: lipoff
                                    c
                                    cornFusion RE: lipoff Sep 23, 2010 11:25 AM

                                    It seems that this wonderful pastry (call it what you may) has disappeared from the cases - a sad day for the rest of us who truly enjoyed it.

                                    I do not think that my taste (and those of others who have obviously liked this particular cake) - is being judged here. But such conflicting passions, i feel, should not result in the removal of things that some of us actually like. The fact that a baker even attempts a difficult item such as this should be applauded. But alas - another one bites the dust (the first - as far as I know - was Boyajian's).

                                    1. re: cornFusion
                                      y
                                      yanz RE: cornFusion Sep 23, 2010 11:50 AM

                                      what makes you say this? Have you asked the employees? Just because you don't see it in the case when you come in doesn't mean it's gone for good. It's still listed on their website, and I've still seen it on weekends (I come in relatively early). Maybe you've just been getting there too late.

                                      1. re: cornFusion
                                        enhF94 RE: cornFusion Oct 8, 2010 12:07 PM

                                        No particular comment on the actual point of your post, but: dacquoise ain't hard, and I think you might enjoy making it!

                                      2. re: lipoff
                                        c
                                        cornFusion RE: lipoff Jan 3, 2011 09:27 AM

                                        lipoff - I for one fully agree with you. There may be specific ways to make a genuine dacquoise but this one however mis-named is a good pastry and I am one of those who love it. I personally find it hard to understand the critiques coming from our esteemed colleagues - because these are the same ones who favor Chinese-sushi (another thread) over authentic Japanese sushi. Perhaps their knowledge of French cuisine makes them better judges of "french style" pastries - and thus the critiques - even though the chef is Chinese.

                                    2. re: Buddernut
                                      opinionatedchef RE: Buddernut Oct 12, 2010 11:05 AM

                                      budder, just fyi, a dacquoise is actually a very simple, but specific of course, thing.
                                      2 or more layers of nut based meringue(egg whites, sugar, nuts) sandwiched with a buttercream (sugar, egg yolks or egg whites, butter, flavoring).the meringues should be chewy, not dry. it actually lasts a very long time in the frig and freezes quite well. just fyi.

                                      there is no reason that great pastry cannot be made in the u.s.One can find many many great International food experiences in the U.S. It is just so sad that good bakeries are so rare in our country.

                                      and, in the spirit of spreading the fun expressions, it is McCoy and sacre bleu.

                                    3. re: Spike
                                      barleywino RE: Spike Jul 11, 2010 09:35 AM

                                      the chocolate "boob" (aka chocolate bombe or dome) is usually filled with chocolate mousse, right? with a thin layer of cake and possibly marmalade at the bottom. The dacquoise is more layered with flourless hazelnut/meringue layer(s).

                                      1. re: barleywino
                                        s
                                        Spike RE: barleywino Jul 11, 2010 06:46 PM

                                        thx...just wanted to make sure striperguy wasn't talking about the chocolate boob. That's my favorite dessert there, if I can deal w/ the crazy lines and I had a hard time believing it was a butter bomb :-)

                                3. re: lipoff
                                  j
                                  josev RE: lipoff Jul 11, 2010 07:40 PM

                                  I disagree that "something was wrong that day", I live a half block from Flour and used to be a daily customer. The service there really is a problem. I've experienced all of the problems mentioned in this thread -- too many people behind the counter falling all over themselves or seeming to not understand how to move things along,being skipped as they took orders, things are missed often or they immediately fill the order as if it were to go instead of for in the cafe. It got to be so bad that I just quit going there. There are some times where the place is often empty (like around 10:30 am on weekdays) but I've still given up on them even though I like some of their pastries. You shouldn't have to wait in a line that snakes through the cafe. There are times when it's difficult to walk through the space. I went to the Fort Point store and thought it was run much better.

                                  I also think the the Dacquoise too heavy on the cream. I've only had it once because I thought it was too much.

                                4. r
                                  Ralphie_in_Boston RE: StriperGuy Jul 12, 2010 09:38 AM

                                  I went to Flour once, shortly after they opened in Fort Point and experienced the exact same thing. I chalked it up to the location being new, but haven't been back (I don't live or work in the area). I can't believe they haven't corrected this problem, AND that their regular clientele put up with this.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston
                                    n
                                    Nechushtan RE: Ralphie_in_Boston Jul 12, 2010 01:27 PM

                                    I work a few blocks away and occasionally will go for a late lunch as the line during lunch is still as slow as a cold mousse...
                                    I haven't had any of their baked goods, but their lunch sandwiches have much to be desired at the price point.

                                    1. re: Nechushtan
                                      m
                                      misscucina RE: Nechushtan Jul 12, 2010 08:00 PM

                                      Just wanted to add that not only have they raised their sandwich prices by .50 and their pastry prices by about .20-.25 in the last couple of weeks, they recently erected a friendly sign by the sandwich counter that says you should expect to wait AT LEAST 10 minutes for a sandwich after you pay. I mean, even if that's true, how do you decide the best option for all the complaints you presumably get from customers about how long it's taking to get their lunch is to inform them they'll need to wait 10 minutes AFTER waiting in line to order and pay for probably at least 10 more minutes? I mean, it's baffling really. Thank goodness I'm a regular and have special privileges that's all I can say... : )

                                      I'd love to see Harvard Business School do a case study on how they can be so successful while failing so miserably in one key area of customer service.

                                      1. re: misscucina
                                        j
                                        josev RE: misscucina Jul 12, 2010 08:43 PM

                                        Flour has a good product, but, I think the locations have a lot to do with their success. Lack of competition probably helps them in Fort Point, too. There's little else around either location that offers the the range of items they do. In the South End there's the Buttery but the pastry selection is not as broad and they often have the same problem with lines. I cant think of anything in Fort Point or the nearby Financial District that offers anything similar. Maybe in Southie, but I don't know that area well.

                                        1. re: misscucina
                                          u
                                          Uncle Yabai RE: misscucina Oct 5, 2010 06:34 PM

                                          That's rich. Joanne Chang has an MBA from HBS. I guess she got a III on her mandatory first year operations management class.

                                          1. re: Uncle Yabai
                                            lipoff RE: Uncle Yabai Oct 5, 2010 09:16 PM

                                            Joanne Chang graduated from Harvard College with an undergraduate degree in Applied Math in 1991, but she doesn't have an MBA from HBS!

                                            1. re: lipoff
                                              u
                                              Uncle Yabai RE: lipoff Oct 6, 2010 09:01 AM

                                              You're right. Its the co-founder from Finale who has an HBS MBA. Better run place, but doesn't get any love here. Too corporate.

                                    2. y
                                      yanz RE: StriperGuy Jul 14, 2010 12:02 PM

                                      I go to Flour at least twice a week (Saturdays + Sundays for lunch, and sometimes, I'll go more often). I've been going for over 5 years. I almost never wait in line or to pick up my food...because...I call and order ahead, pay over the phone, and go straight to the pickup counter when I get there. Often, I'll take the food home and eat it there. Sometimes, I'll eat at Flour if it's not packed. This is my strategy for both the South End and FP Flours (haven't been to F3 yet), and it hasn't let me down. So for all the people who don't have the patience to wait in line or show up and not get their precious sticky buns, I'm going to say that's your own fault for putting yourself through that.

                                      As for the food...
                                      The sandwiches are objectively very good, but I personally can't eat like that every day. I generally have no problem getting the same thing every time from a fave restaurant or even lunch spot, but I can't do that at Flour - it's like it's too rich or something, I get burned out by their sandwiches pretty quickly and need to constantly order something different. But that might just be me. My husband has gotten the same sandwich every weekend for years and is still going strong.
                                      The bread is awesome, though there are obviously other great bakeries to get bread around Boston. Due to the convenience, I tend to get bread/rolls at Flour, and I'll often bring some to family functions and everyone raves about it.
                                      Cookies, scones, and other such treats...IMO, they vary by item. I *have* tried the sticky buns and they are, in fact, awesome. Some of the scones, I can eat every day (but don't). We gave the cookies away as favors at our wedding. Their apple spice cake is amazingly moist and delish. Everything else I've tried is just ok.
                                      Cakes, tarts, etc...The carrot cake is my favorite in Boston - I love my cream cheese frosting and hate coconut, so Flour's version is ideal for me, but YTMV. I've had the berry bread pudding many times, and while some days it hits the craving, I've had [objectively] better bread puddings in other places. The triple chocolate mousse dome (aka the boob) is my husband's favorite dessert there, and I've gotten a cake version of it (which was actually flat) for a graduation party and it went over very well there. The tarts are buttery and yummy but the fillings are not super-memorable except the gooey nut tart...I often grab a mini tartlet as a snack.
                                      And finally, the topic at hand - the dacquoise: I've had it many times, though not recently. I have found that it goes down much better if you A. eat it at [closer to] room temperature and B. share with others. In those cases, a spoonful will feel like a little bite of heaven. Unfortunately, attempting to eat an entire slice right out of the case/fridge will lead to the just-ate-a-stick-of-butter feeling, which is what happened the last time I got it about a year ago and has made me not crave it since.

                                      I think that's all I have to say about Flour (for now).
                                      PS. yay - 1st post!

                                      25 Replies
                                      1. re: yanz
                                        yumyum RE: yanz Jul 14, 2010 12:21 PM

                                        Great first post yanz! Thanks.

                                        1. re: yanz
                                          StriperGuy RE: yanz Jul 14, 2010 12:28 PM

                                          Nice one Yanz!

                                          I think in your first CH post you have given us THE definitive writeup of Flour.

                                          Welcome to our food obsessed world.

                                          1. re: StriperGuy
                                            y
                                            yanz RE: StriperGuy Jul 14, 2010 12:33 PM

                                            thanks, guys! I feel welcome already :)

                                            I can't believe I've been in Boston for 15 years and have never read CH extensively before. And I've done my fair share of food research...

                                            1. re: yanz
                                              StriperGuy RE: yanz Jul 14, 2010 12:59 PM

                                              If you are looking for out of the way, interesting, and ethnic places, here is a thread that I recently started that ought to keep you busy/full for a while:

                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/718470

                                              1. re: StriperGuy
                                                y
                                                yanz RE: StriperGuy Jul 14, 2010 01:10 PM

                                                Already found it, thanks (along with your pastry lists, which is how I first ended up on CH).

                                                1. re: yanz
                                                  StriperGuy RE: yanz Jul 14, 2010 01:15 PM

                                                  One step ahead...

                                                  Enjoy!

                                          2. re: yanz
                                            lipoff RE: yanz Jul 14, 2010 02:49 PM

                                            Welcome to Chowhound and with such a great post! =)

                                            1. re: yanz
                                              j
                                              josev RE: yanz Jul 16, 2010 08:38 AM

                                              "I'm going to say that's your own fault for putting yourself through that."

                                              Part of the experience of going to a cafe is staying there and enjoying the food. It shouldn't be my job to work around poor management processes. The food is good but it's not THAT that good.

                                              1. re: josev
                                                y
                                                yanz RE: josev Jul 16, 2010 01:32 PM

                                                And I've done that many times at Flour. You don't have to sacrifice one for the other. You can call in and pre-order/pre-pay, get there and find a seat as you pick up your food (without having to wait to order or to get the food, and, FYI, I've never had to wait more than a few mins for a seat), and then hang out and enjoy the cafe experience for as long as you want. Often, if I'm hanging out there, it's for long enough that the line eventually diminishes and I can go pick up some pastries for dessert after eating my meal.

                                                I'm not arguing that they don't have poor management processes. For instance, the Starbucks I go to routinely has a line as long as Flour's, and yet they're able to get people's drink orders while they're in line so that the drinks are made by the time they've paid and the whole thing takes well under 5-10 mins. So I agree that Flour can definitely make some easy fixes to become more efficient. What I'm arguing here is that there's a way to avoid the bad and just get the good, and if more customers did it my way, life could be less frustrating for everyone.

                                                1. re: yanz
                                                  m
                                                  misscucina RE: yanz Jul 17, 2010 06:28 PM

                                                  Actually, I disagree Yanz. It's not "my fault" for expecting that a bakery would desire to serve their customers as efficiently as possible, if for no other reason than they make more money by putting more bodies through the door. So when you see a company react to major complaints from their customers with signs that say in effect "customers need to be more tolerant of the delay in getting you your food," I don't think that's reasonable. It also speaks to a certain level of arrogance toward the customer, but I won't belabor that. Places like Mike's Pastry in the North End, while not the quality of Flour, certainly know how to move people through their store. Same with Al State St. subs -- yes, it's a zoo, but they realize people will not put up with waiting 10-20 minutes at lunch time for a sandwich.

                                                  Also, if you encourage everyone to call in their orders, then the phone doesn't save you any time because it's the same workers answering the phone (not serving people in line) and assembling the orders out of the same kitchen.

                                                  -----
                                                  Mike's Pastry
                                                  300 Hanover St, Boston, MA

                                                  1. re: misscucina
                                                    nsenada RE: misscucina Jul 17, 2010 07:05 PM

                                                    Funny, as I'm reading this, I'm thinking of Umberto's, where I have routinely waited more than 30 minutes for their food. Every time I'm in that miserable line, I think about how I'd love to get a logistics expert in there to help them move the food faster. Still, for their slices and arancini, I don't mind the wait. I don't think it's necessarily arrogance, just lack of organization. Or maybe there really is no way to get the stuff out faster. Maybe someone can do a food network show on this phenomena, and have Gordon Ramsey or someone help "fix" things.

                                                    1. re: nsenada
                                                      StriperGuy RE: nsenada Jul 18, 2010 01:26 AM

                                                      At Umberto, given the fresh, hot, right out of the oven phenomena somehow I am more forgiving. Though I bet a logistics expert COULD improve things.

                                                      Flour just feels like a mess.

                                                      1. re: StriperGuy
                                                        9
                                                        9lives RE: StriperGuy Jul 18, 2010 08:40 AM

                                                        Umberto's could probably put another guy at the counter.They'd have to pay him and it would be more crowded for John and Ralph. Their mother used to sit in the corner and count/make change..:)

                                                        BTW, for histoy buffs, this is the "new" Umberto's. In the late 70s they moved from a storefront next to Sulmona..tiny shop, down a few steps.

                                                        Don't know if this is a factor here but a lot of older NE biz's own the buildings for years and don't have to worry about high rents..or maximizing profits.

                                                        I know of 1 older place that rents their roof space to blue chip cos billboards and take in 6 figures/year before they sell a bowl of spaghetti.

                                                        1. re: 9lives
                                                          StriperGuy RE: 9lives Jul 18, 2010 11:01 PM

                                                          I used to by bread and pizza at the old local which was open until the early 90s.

                                                          1. re: 9lives
                                                            k
                                                            kimfair1 RE: 9lives Jul 19, 2010 08:40 AM

                                                            The last few times I went before the July closure, they did have a younger guy helping beghind the counter. He looked a bit lost at the speed of things however, and the very last time I went he wasn't there. Not sure if he was off, or if that experiment failed. I remember the "old" Umberto's, though I've always gone to the Hanover St location. There was a short time both were open, though the "old" location by then served only bread and pizza. It was quicker when mama used wrap boxes and make change, but I love the place no matter how crazy the line is.

                                                        2. re: nsenada
                                                          itaunas RE: nsenada Jul 19, 2010 11:04 AM

                                                          Umberto's has the two lines. In the past people used to show up and if the eat-in line was too long, they would call in and pick-up to eat in. This will get you royally yelled at (I haven't done it, but have seen it). However, if you are enough of a regular in the neighborhood and encounter a huge line, you stick your head in another establishment and ask their staff if they want something at Umberto's. That essentially gives you carte blanche to then take-in food that that other establishment -- I have even had one establishment plate my Umberto's food for me. I can't imagine anyone doing that in the South End these days, but maybe in Southie!

                                                        3. re: misscucina
                                                          StriperGuy RE: misscucina Jul 18, 2010 01:29 AM

                                                          Who said anything was your fault? yanz is just offering a nice workaround for a place that can't quite get the service that right. If I ever do go there again you can be sure I for one will call in my order.

                                                          1. re: StriperGuy
                                                            m
                                                            misscucina RE: StriperGuy Jul 18, 2010 02:03 PM

                                                            Umm, Yanz did: "So for all the people who don't have the patience to wait in line or show up and not get their precious sticky buns, I'm going to say that's your own fault for putting yourself through that."

                                                          2. re: misscucina
                                                            r
                                                            Ralphie_in_Boston RE: misscucina Jul 19, 2010 10:12 AM

                                                            MIkes, which I personally don't care for, DEFINITELY is able to wait on the hordes of tourists relatively well. Modern, which I love but bypass regularly because I don't have 30 minutes to wait in line, doesn't seem to care.

                                                            .Al's which is fantastic IMO, moves their lines by employing dozens of people behind the counter--they're bumping into each other and running each other over to help the customers. That kind of service gets noted by the customers, who know that their line snaking out the door *is* going to move quickly.

                                                            A little queueing theory goes a long way, if the owners of these establishments care to learn.

                                                            1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston
                                                              StriperGuy RE: Ralphie_in_Boston Jul 19, 2010 10:36 AM

                                                              I think the prob at Modern is that it is just so small, the counter is tiny. I agree that they are not great handling the flow, but there are just so many people you can fit behind that counter. Even under the best management it would be hard to make that line move much faster.

                                                              1. re: StriperGuy
                                                                r
                                                                Ralphie_in_Boston RE: StriperGuy Jul 19, 2010 12:21 PM

                                                                yes, but remember when they remodeled a few years ago? They had a golden opportunity to do something about the counter space and how they could effectively serve customers more quickly. The fact that they (apparently) didn't address this properly sends a message that it wasn't one of their priorities.

                                                                1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston
                                                                  StriperGuy RE: Ralphie_in_Boston Jul 19, 2010 12:59 PM

                                                                  Honestly, the entire storefront is so small that I think give the competing needs for the space, counter, display, refrigeration, a few tables for clients on slower days... that there is no real way they could have improved.

                                                                  What they need is MORE space which probably was not an option.

                                                              2. re: Ralphie_in_Boston
                                                                nsenada RE: Ralphie_in_Boston Jul 19, 2010 12:28 PM

                                                                People (myself included) have no problem with Umberto's lines - the quality of the food is worth the wait. On those rare occasions when I happen to hit it with no line, I do savor the experience, however. Clearly they have no concern about moving enough of the goods to stay profitable, so there's no real incentive to them to change how they do things.

                                                        4. re: yanz
                                                          q
                                                          qianning RE: yanz Jul 18, 2010 08:15 AM

                                                          excellent point yanz about serving temperature for dacquoise. i make one myself every so often for special occasions (savuer recipe) and serving temperature is absolutely key to getting the taste/texture/richness factor just right. i've had the dacquoise from flour and enjoyed it, althought the chocolate ganache to nut meringue ratio titls a little heavily to chocolate for my taste. if i remeber correctly, each time i've had the dacquoise at flour, it has been as a shared dessert after letting it warm up a bit while we had a sandwich or something else first.

                                                          1. re: qianning
                                                            c
                                                            cornFusion RE: qianning Sep 23, 2010 11:34 AM

                                                            Thanks for keeping the discussion on track - and reading the title of this post!

                                                        5. kobuta RE: StriperGuy Jul 15, 2010 10:56 AM

                                                          I've visited the newest outpost of Flour on Mass Ave in Central (Kentrall) Sq, and I think I'm lucky that the crowds haven't flooded this store yet. You can see them doing brisque business, but the line doesn't stop moving to be disruptive in my opinion.

                                                          As with a lot of other cafeteria style delis or counters, I do wait to put in an order and then proceed down the line to the register. The wait for our sandwiches was a bit longer yesterday, but only because we gave them an order for 5 (had to feed the office). I didn't find the wait unreasonable, in any of the lines.

                                                          Again, maybe it's because the crowds haven't quite found the new location yet and most students have left campus, so this is as good as it gets. I finally tried their sticky buns -- OMG!! -- and their bittersweet chocolate chip cookie -- another wow! -- and loved both items. The sandwich I had was good, but not great. I for one can't wait to try more of their baked goods.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: kobuta
                                                            b
                                                            bella_sarda RE: kobuta Jul 19, 2010 02:28 PM

                                                            I have a love/hate relationship with Flour, for many of the same reasons that other have pointed out. Another thing to factor in at the Fort Point location is the fact that it is nearly constantly inundated with children, given its proximity to the Children's museum. If your desire is to relax with a newspaper and a coffee or to get some work done on a computer, Fort Point Flour is not your cafe. If you are charmed by the little ones (or have some of your own), you'll love it.

                                                            My votes for hits/misses on the menu:
                                                            berry bread pudding: bland, practically watery tasting, a big disappointment
                                                            sticky buns: great when they're fresh, just so-so when they're less fresh
                                                            craquelin: best thing they make (brioche rolled with candied orange peel)
                                                            dried fruit (low fat) scone: best low-fat scone ever
                                                            cookies (peanut butter, ginger/molasses, oatmeal, etc.): all good to excellent
                                                            oreo: not my cup of tea (too much filling/too greasy? can't remember)
                                                            vegan sandwich: outstanding, when they make it right, but sometimes it is extremely sloppily put together and the quantity of roasted veggies varies tremendously
                                                            lamb sandwich: also outstanding--eat it for the tomato chutney alone
                                                            carrot cake: too rich/dense for me, but I admit it's quite tasty
                                                            pizza: overpriced, so-so
                                                            soups: hit or miss; spicing can be too aggressive
                                                            rolls: esp multigrain and fruit/nut are excellent and a great bargain
                                                            stuffed bread: can be great but too much food for lunch for me

                                                            1. re: bella_sarda
                                                              y
                                                              yanz RE: bella_sarda Jul 19, 2010 02:41 PM

                                                              I mostly agree with your [more detailed] assessments. I also love the dried fruit scone and rolls (MG and raisin pecan). I will say that the pizza and quiche are sometimes fantastic, but it definitely varies a lot. The berry bread pudding can be very good when super fresh, but [surprisingly] varies greatly by batch. I once had one that was just god awful (tasted spoiled) and we recommended they pull the batch, and I'm not sure they did.

                                                              1. re: yanz
                                                                b
                                                                bella_sarda RE: yanz Jul 20, 2010 07:20 AM

                                                                I guess they need some quality control on the bread pudding and some other items. Chang should know better about the bread pudding, however, since she was the author of a feature on bread pudding in Fine Cooking magazine a couple years back. I never did make it from her recipe, and after trying Flour's bread pudding I'm not so inspired to do so, but maybe the magazine version is good/tested, but in the cafes the execution varies.

                                                          2. h
                                                            heypielady RE: StriperGuy Jul 20, 2010 12:52 PM

                                                            Just had the triple chocolate mousse cake for an office birthday. I have had another bakery's version of this cake before (don't know the bakery but it was out in Worcester) and my BFF (also in Worcester) also makes it herself.

                                                            I thought Flour's version was very good. I give it points for not being too cloying (which can easily happen with chocolate mousse). While the triple chocolate makes it pleasing to the eye, I doubt anyone could discern the difference between the milk chocolate and white or dark chocolate layers in a blind taste test.

                                                            Logistics: We called it in and paid for it yesterday. At 1:45 when my co-worker went to pick it up he said it was packed (with tourists!). That part of Central Sq. is such a no-man's land. Where are they coming from?

                                                            1. opinionatedchef RE: StriperGuy Sep 23, 2010 12:18 PM

                                                              SG, i could not agree with you more. Dacquoise is my very fav dessert in the whole wide world, and I was sooo excited when i learned that Flour had it. I had written off Flour from the get-go, years ago, as I tasted nothing extraordinary or even really really good there. but all the continued CH hype and the dacq. thing, had me return last spring. The dacquoise is totally improperly done, as you so well described. Almost no meringue and way too thick and sweet cloying " buttercream" (NOT, more like fudge) layer.Also too dry. A good dacq. should last a long time in the refrig and be moist and chewy. F's is dry/crumbly; too much suga,r plain and simple. The only worthwhile sweet baked good there is their croissants, imo. Caveat: I was a professional pastry chef and I am the most picky about desserts of anyone I have known. I can count on two hands the truly excellent pastries i have had at a bakery in the u.s. and almost all of them come from a bakery in San Fran.owned by very discerning French people.

                                                              I really believe that the problem with 'too much sugar' comes from prepared foods here that we begin to experience as babies. There is sugar and cornsyrup in EVERYTHING . That fact has corrupted the tastebuds of our entire nation. I firmly believe this; stab me all you will. End of rant.

                                                              If Flour makes people happy, I'm glad. But I am not one of those people.

                                                              17 Replies
                                                              1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                                t
                                                                Torolover RE: opinionatedchef Sep 23, 2010 01:18 PM

                                                                Opinionatedchef, are there any desserts, pastries or baked goods you recommend in Boston? How are the desserts at Espalier?

                                                                The best pastries I've had are in Quebec. Canto 6 in Jamaica Plain is my favorite bakery and not too sweet.

                                                                1. re: Torolover
                                                                  opinionatedchef RE: Torolover Sep 23, 2010 04:31 PM

                                                                  I'm not a l'espalier fan so I don't know.

                                                                  Pastries? Japonnaise Bakery's 'adzuki creams'; danish dough filled with whipped cream and anh (red adzuki beans cooked w/ sugar and pureed)

                                                                  Canto's croissants are good but nothing else there appealed to me the day I went(I'm never in that area.)

                                                                  Baked Goods:

                                                                  Modern Pastry's 'almond biscotti' which are really quare semali(that's what the original older fellow/baker calls them). Modern Bakery's Sfogliatelle( more for the reason that the crunchy pastry fascinates me because it's so unique.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sfogliat...

                                                                  Verrill Farm's chocolate walnut biscotti

                                                                  Iggy's plum/cherry(?) cornmeal almond cake; seasonal

                                                                  Rick Katz's Mocha Chocolate Chip cookies(don't know if he sells them at his So. End place, Picco

                                                                  )

                                                                  Formaggio's Orange Chocolate Tea Cake

                                                                  Whole Foods' layered sponge cake w/Amaretti, Cream, almonds and amaretto.

                                                                  La Verdad's citrus coffee flan

                                                                  Cielito Lindo's(beverly) coconut flan (sans raspb sauce)

                                                                  Pigs Fly Chocolate Bread

                                                                  Pigs Fly Lemon Blueberry Bread Pudding

                                                                  restaurant:

                                                                  Mary Chung, Fulloon and other places: poached rice flour dumplings filled with sweet black sesame paste

                                                                  Gargoyle's Truffle Ice Cream

                                                                  -----
                                                                  Verrill Farm
                                                                  11 Wheeler Rd, Concord, MA, MA 01742

                                                                  Mary Chung Restaurant
                                                                  460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                                  Modern Pastry
                                                                  257 Hanover St, Boston, MA

                                                                  La Verdad
                                                                  1 Lansdowne St, Boston, MA 02215

                                                                  1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                                    StriperGuy RE: opinionatedchef Sep 23, 2010 05:55 PM

                                                                    You might have missed this thread:

                                                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6943...

                                                                    1. re: StriperGuy
                                                                      opinionatedchef RE: StriperGuy Sep 23, 2010 10:50 PM

                                                                      absolutely correct, stripes. thanks so much for linking that; i now have a short list to pursue that i wouldn't have w/out you.

                                                                      1. re: StriperGuy
                                                                        opinionatedchef RE: StriperGuy Oct 12, 2010 06:10 PM

                                                                        o.k.stripes, after a good lunch at Town Diner today, we finally got to do a little jaunt to sample some of your watertown area sweets recs. ( This all originates from your and my agreement that u.s. pastries are mostly dreadful and Adzuki Creams at Japonnaise Bakery- are transcendant.)

                                                                        I'll offer some reactions. Tabrizi was an interesting spot. I got both his walnut and almond meringues. I think they are well made. I was very interested to learn that Iranis eat chickpea flour sweets (i'd not seen that before except in Indian desserts)and that his cookies pair chickpea flour w/ cardamom(my fav spice for sweets) but I did not care for the flavor of his cookies made of: chickpea flour(besan), oil, sugar and cardamom.Had they been made w/ butter I likely would have loved them. His other sweets almost all had rose water in them and I detest rosewater. He protested that the rose water taste was slight in the rice flour cookies but i found out that mild for him is strong for me, so i did not try the others. The 'puff pastry' thingies, while they don't have rose water in them, are made w/ oil and not butter, so i didn't try those either. He defended the use of oil by saying that he could not obtain the old style of butter (from his father's day) and that today's butter has too much water in it.....( but we all know that better butter IS available, but it is more expensive.)

                                                                        the bruleed rice pudding, kazandibi, at sevan- is nice and creamy but I guess I am just not a fan of pastry creams that are based on cornstarch rather than egg yolks.

                                                                        btw, I didn't have the pistachio filled mamoul cookies at arax because, again, of the rose water. But I thought the almond butter cookies were dreadful. If you like theirs, I highly rec you try the ? 's Mexican Wedding cookies sold at WF(in clear plastic tubs). Unfortntly they add walnuts to temper the cost of the pecans, but they are still the best I have had lately.

                                                                        hey, I have an idea for you. Make your own dacquoise, or really, Assemble your own dacquoise.I'm sure WF would sell you some buttercream (the real thing: egg whites or yolks, butter, sugar syrup, flavoring).
                                                                        So spread it on a Tabrizi meringue bottom and sandwich another meringue onto it.Chill to set up and bond. Then remove from refrig and let come to room temp so you can get the creaminess of the buttercream and the flavor of the meringue. Voila, dacquoise by any other name. just not your typical loaf shape, sliced. Now technically, you would whip the buttercream to be the right consistency for spreading, but it's not really necessary for these little mouth-pop delights! They freeze really well (Tabrizi keeps his in the freezer which is smart.) so make a batch and they might last you awhile!

                                                                        -----
                                                                        Tabrizi
                                                                        Watertown,MA, Watertown, MA

                                                                        Town Diner
                                                                        627 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

                                                                        1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                                          StriperGuy RE: opinionatedchef Oct 13, 2010 04:34 AM

                                                                          Wow, sounds like you hit Watertown pretty thoroughly. Those Walnut macaroons are probably my favorite of all of them. Glad you liked em.

                                                                  2. re: opinionatedchef
                                                                    p
                                                                    pastrytroll RE: opinionatedchef Oct 8, 2010 07:26 AM

                                                                    OPC - I totally agree, and rant as well! One of the curses - and blessings, of being a pastry chef is that once you've tasted true greatness, everything else pales - like the nasty and/or mediocre that is Flour.

                                                                    1. re: pastrytroll
                                                                      StriperGuy RE: pastrytroll Oct 8, 2010 11:11 AM

                                                                      Yessssssss. (Even thought I'm not a pastry chef.)

                                                                      1. re: pastrytroll
                                                                        opinionatedchef RE: pastrytroll Oct 9, 2010 11:48 AM

                                                                        Referencing the deplorable state of boston and u.s. bakeries, isn't it sad that even 'sophisticated foodies' are perfectly happy eating desserts made with nestle's choc chips and at least 1/3 too much sugar? so many of them really do appreciate quality and creativity in savories, but with regards to brownies and all things sweet, all i can figure is the baby-taste buds-destroyed-by-sugar theory.

                                                                        i wonder how many of them would be horrified(or not bothered at all?) to know when they are eating pre-made and frozen muffins, restnt desserts, etc etc.

                                                                        and the worst of it is- if, in this food- focused time in our history, people's tastes haven't developed to dictate a revolution in the sweets/ bakery world (as they have dictated in the savory food world) the change is major unlikely to happen. major sighs.

                                                                        btw, the u.s. and boston are not alone in the world of deplorable sweets. just look at all the other english speaking countries.

                                                                        1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                                          Bob Dobalina RE: opinionatedchef Oct 14, 2010 07:49 AM

                                                                          Cooks Illustrated just tested unsweetened chocolates and IIRC, Nestle's ranked the highest.

                                                                          1. re: Bob Dobalina
                                                                            opinionatedchef RE: Bob Dobalina Oct 14, 2010 08:41 AM

                                                                            thnks for that info bob. plse translate IIRC.

                                                                            1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                                              b
                                                                              bella_sarda RE: opinionatedchef Oct 15, 2010 01:20 PM

                                                                              IIRC = if I recall correctly.

                                                                              Also, still off topic (sort of), but even if Hershey's unsweetened ranked highest (which I am not at all prone to agree with, Cook's illustrated be damned), there is no way the standard Hershey's milk chocolate bar could ever compete with anything by Valrhona or Scharffen Berger.

                                                                              However, I disagree that "all english speaking countries" have deplorable sweets. Scones and such are much less sweet in Ireland and England, and are almost a different species, than those in the U.S., and similarly with cookies.

                                                                            2. re: Bob Dobalina
                                                                              Allstonian RE: Bob Dobalina Oct 14, 2010 08:50 AM

                                                                              It was Hershey's, actually, followed by I think Valhrona and then Scharffen Berger.

                                                                          2. re: pastrytroll
                                                                            opinionatedchef RE: pastrytroll Oct 12, 2010 06:18 PM

                                                                            o.k. troll, a few of us are definitely on the same bus, so now puhleese share with us any purchasable boston area sweets that you have found that are really good! much appreciated.

                                                                            1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                                              j
                                                                              josev RE: opinionatedchef Oct 14, 2010 07:11 AM

                                                                              Maybe that should be it's own thread.

                                                                              1. re: josev
                                                                                Allstonian RE: josev Oct 14, 2010 08:48 AM

                                                                                You mean like this one?
                                                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/694363

                                                                                1. re: Allstonian
                                                                                  enhF94 RE: Allstonian Oct 14, 2010 11:33 AM

                                                                                  delete

                                                                        2. opinionatedchef RE: StriperGuy Sep 27, 2010 10:39 AM

                                                                          stripes, a bit irrelevant but just fyi, the old Wild Oats in Medford surprisingly used to make 2 killer dacquoise under the name of coffee clouds and lemon clouds(this version was a round sandwich w/ thick layer of authenticSwiss buttercream (made w/ eggwhites, not yolks, which would be Italian buttercream). there is still a wild oats in williamstown ma i noticed when we were out there last mo. Don't know if they're the same, but you could contact them!

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                                            h
                                                                            hipchickie RE: opinionatedchef Dec 29, 2010 06:49 PM

                                                                            That is incorrect - you are thinking of french buttercream, which is made with a pate a bombe (containing egg yolks)
                                                                            Both Italian and Swiss buttercream are made with only egg whites, the difference being that italian buttercream is a boiled meringue, and swiss meringue is heated over a bain marie before whipping

                                                                            1. re: hipchickie
                                                                              opinionatedchef RE: hipchickie Dec 29, 2010 10:39 PM

                                                                              ha hippie, i knew a CH would jump right in there and correct my memory! but one thing- i have never heard it referred to as a french buttercream. Ms Braker just calls it Classic buttercream and does confirm the pate a bombe nomenclature.

                                                                              1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                                                enhF94 RE: opinionatedchef Dec 30, 2010 11:07 AM

                                                                                I can't believe this damn thread got revived *again.* And that I'm participating.

                                                                                My understanding is any type can contain yolks or not, but most folks much prefer whites-only:

                                                                                French (aka "classic" if you're french): add sugar to egg
                                                                                Swiss: sugar + egg heated over bain-marie
                                                                                Italian: soft-ball (238°F) sugar poured into egg

                                                                                The only buttercream I like is egg-white-only Italian (though I've never had swiss). It also, conveniently, is more durable than the others.

                                                                                1. re: enhF94
                                                                                  opinionatedchef RE: enhF94 Dec 30, 2010 02:37 PM

                                                                                  enh, i guess i don't understand why you're posting this. you must not have read hippie's post or you wouldn't have bothered repeating her post.

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