La Gourmandine Bakery
4605 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-682-2210 or www.lagourmandinebakery.com
Story by Jessica Server
Consider this the next time you find yourself trapped in traffic outside a tunnel: Road congestion can change your life. That's what happened to Fabien and Lisanne Moreau, owners of La Gourmandine. If they hadn't gotten stuck in traffic back in their former home of Toulouse, France, their Butler Street French pastry shop may never have existed,
"One day we were in traffic, just sitting there," says Fabien, a Paris native. Traffic jams were a daily occurrence, but this one sparked what he says was a "crazy idea."
"We said to each other, ‘Should we try to go to the U.S.?' ...We just said, ‘Yeah, why not? Let's try it.'"
Soon after, in 2006, the pair arrived in Pittsburgh, where Lisanne had family.
Fabien worked in kitchens from Olive Garden to Eleven, but found it hard to find some of the desserts he could get in France. A French bakery seemed like a natural business opportunity — but first Fabien would need to become an actual French baker.
He returned to study at the Lenôtre School in Paris. "Mr. Lenôtre was classic in his food," with an emphasis on consistency and traditional flavors, remembers Fabien. "I'm trying to reproduce the flavor that I had in France, because I miss my country, my food."
When the bakery finally opened, in June 2010, Lawrenceville embraced it. From the Toulouse-inspired exposed-brick wall to the menu of elaborate desserts, Danishes and fresh-baked breads, La Gourmandine is meant to recreate the feel of neighborhood bakeries found throughout France. (Although in France, a bakery this size wouldn't have any seating.)
So what on the menu appealed to City Paper readers' sweet tooth? Breads and Danishes aside, each day brings 12 pastries, from French classics like éclairs au chocolate and macarons, to the seasonal and unique, such as autumn's apple-based feuílleté aux pommes, and tartelette á la cítrouílle (pumpkin tart).
When asked how he creates new recipes, Fabien demurs. "I never create a recipe," he insists. Relying on centuries-old techniques, "I just assemble, and put things together."
His knack for "putting things together" has the shop bustling, even at 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, as loyal customers purchase almond croissants or a baguette for dinner. At La Gourmandine, high-quality ingredients (some imported from France) mix well with classical training and a dash of creativity to keep you coming back.
So, it's a dream come true, right?
"I think it's dangerous for restaurants to be a lifelong dream," Fabien warns. "I love what I'm doing, I love food. But people ask, ‘Is the bakery your baby?' and I say, ‘No, I have two babies at home.'"
Not that you should worry about the Moreaus abandoning Lawrenceville any time soon. After all, Fabien says, "at 4 in the morning" — when he and his wife drive in to the bakery — "there is no traffic."