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Baker's Crust is most definitely a '90's American restaurant.

The Upscale Crust

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Baker's Crust
3553 W. Cary St.
Sunday-Thursday 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
213-0800

When you enter Baker's Crust you step into a European-style bakery and pastry shop. A glass case displays pastries and a plentiful selection of artistically presented cakes and pies. Behind the counter, loaves of freshly baked bread look appealing.

This handsome retail shop, which is the entrance to a full-service restaurant, aptly sets the tone for an establishment that is squarely in the tradition of the '90s American restaurant. The kitchen is partly exposed, the floors laid with red tile, the ceiling high and the tables topped with faux marble. The eclectic menu drops all the right names: portobellos, goat cheese, sashimi-grade tuna, crÅ me fraiche, roasted red peppers, smoked chicken. By now, we know the drill.

Appetizers ($5.25-$6.95) run the gamut from Crepe Sashimi to Louisiana Oyster Stew. Salads ($5.75-$6.95) are presented inside crusty, hollowed-out sourdough boule, and include not only such expected favorites as the Greek and Caesar, but also, a Southwestern inspired Cantina which boasts black beans, barbecued chicken, fresh corn, red pepper, tomato and romaine lettuce with a buttermilk chive dressing. Baker's Crust also offers 15 variations on familiar deli sandwiches ($5.25-$5.95).

On a previous visit for an early evening snack I enjoyed the Tuscan Bruschetta ($5.25) featuring gigantic (but almost too mild) roasted elephant garlic, creamy chevre and roasted red peppers swimming in pool of basil-infused olive oil. When I complained that the kitchen had been too stingy with the grilled ciabbatta (an Italian sourdough), the waiter cheerfully and promptly returned with more bread. A croissant on that late afternoon was disappointingly stale, but I left inspired to return again. And we did on a recent Sunday evening.

When we arrived, the hostess confidently announced that we would be seated in less than 25 minutes. Fifteen minutes later, she escorted us to our table. We flustered the waiter by announcing almost immediately that we were ready to order, but he recovered quickly and provided pleasant and attentive service throughout the evening. Within minutes, he delivered a basket of steaming bread that included slices from an irresistible jalapeno-cheddar loaf.

The Vegetable Garden Salad ($5.75) was nondescript but for the gigantic sourdough boule which makes an arresting presentation. I would have preferred the mixed greens had the kitchen tossed them in the pleasant tomato-basil dressing instead of serving it on the side.

The Roaster ($9.95) was an honest, well-prepared and good-value meal. One half of a rotisserie-roasted young chicken was crusted in herbs, its white breast meat still tender and juicy. A bed of mashed potatoes was creamy, well-seasoned and had the occasional satisfying lump. The seasonal vegetable of the day was asparagus, perfectly cooked in salted water and brilliantly green.

The Pasta New Orleans ($12.95) featured sautéed andouille sausage, chicken, crawfish, roasted red bell and anaheim peppers, are tossed with cajun spices, cream and linguini. The cream sauce takes on an appealing crawfish flavor, and the andouille offers an intense burst of flavor.

The grilled portobello sandwich ($7.95) should bring pleasure to vegetarians. This appealing focaccia sandwich features marinated portobellos, a savory sundried tomato pesto, tangy goat cheese and spinach, and is accompanied by a nice mixed greens salad.

The bartenders at Baker's Crust make crepes ($3.95-$6.95) in the style of Parisian street vendors, using large circular griddles. The Crepe Noisette ($5.95) has a chocolate hazelnut filling, and is served with vanilla ice cream. The Fruit Timbale ($6.95) is a crepe purse stuffed with Grand Marnier pastry cream garnished with raspberry coulis and fresh berries. In a city of restaurants that offer carrot cake, pecan pie, and brownie sundaes, Baker's Crust's crepes deserve special praise.

The wine list (bottles $16-$34; glasses $3.95-$5.95) is as eclectic as the menu and permits patrons to sample 20 different wines by the glass.

Bakers Crust is proof that the trendy and exorbitant urban restaurants of a decade ago have had a remarkable influence on mainstream American cuisine. This is a place that has something for everyone, in a pleasant atmosphere and for a reasonable price. I predict I'll return more than

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