4605 Butler St., Lawrenceville
The baguette was warm, and I had already eaten about a third of it while still on the bus to work. It had been another successful "research" stop at La Gourmandine Bakery, followed by an utter failure of willpower: Also in my backpack, a lemon tart, a chocolate croissant and chouquette.
The traditional French bakery, located at 46th and Butler streets, has been open barely a month, and already fans of baked goods are flocking to Lawrenceville. La Gourmandine is run by the husband-and-wife team of Fabien and Lisanne Moreau, both of whom were born and raised in France. (Lisanne's mother is from Pittsburgh.)
The small storefront venue keeps it simple, offering a handful of pastries (both dessert and breakfast), bread, pre-made sandwiches, coffee and soft drinks. But even half-a-dozen sweets -- selection changes daily -- are enough to sow crippling indecision.
Colorful fruit tarts predominate, their buttery shortbread-like crusts sporting various toppings. Tartelettes aux framboises feature fresh raspberries set atop almond paste, while strawberries nestle in pastry cream in the tartelettes aux fraises. Less gooey are tarts featuring apples (sliced thin and layered in a pinwheel) and half a pear. Other sweets include éclairs au chocolate (filled with chocolate custard), fruit-topped mousse cakes, cream puffs and the multilayered Napoleon. The dessert offerings are agreeably small -- sized for the more restrained French palate rather than the bigger-is-better American style -- and similarly priced, at or near three dollars. Breakfast-style treats include impossibly flaky croissants (plain, almond and chocolate), cinnamon rolls (more croissant-like than cake-y), pain aux raisins, brioche and chouquettes, bite-sized balls of puff pastry sprinkled with sugar. Combine one of these with a coffee for a petit dej ("breakfast") for a mere $3.
La Gourmandine sells two traditional loaves -- country bread and the heartier pain aux céréales -- but the skinny baguettes at $1.95 are irresistible. They're perfectly sized to be consumed in one day -- for breakfast (Lisanne suggests adding butter and a piece of chocolate for a sweet start); for a lunch-time sandwich; and as an accompaniment to dinner.
The bakery also sells prepared baguette sandwiches: Le Parisien (with Swiss cheese and ham), Le Campagnard (Swiss, turkey, lettuce and tomato) and Le Pêcheur (tuna salad and onions). Quiche lovers have two choices: the traditional ham-and-cheese Lorraine, or a veggie pie made with goat cheese and spinach.
The staff at La Gourmandine all speak French, so when you pop in, welcome them to Le Burgh with your bilingual ordering skills. Or, like me, make an impression by buying far too many pastries.