Setting The Bar High

July 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

I was sharing a bottle of prosecco with a friend of mine this week, and over the delicate glasses of bubbles she told me about a time in her life when she was searching for real “quality.” This search coincided with our first meeting, actually. I was working as a barista at a Starbucks and she would come in late in the evenings for her usual venti latté. That latté was consistently the same, and she loved it: hot, freshly steamed whole milk with just the right ratio of espresso, milk, and froth—prepared the same way every time. Now I don’t think everyone would agree that Starbucks is the textbook example of what the word “quality”ought to mean, but I do think my friend was on to something when she consciously embarked on a quest to find these items of quality, and, upon finding/identifying those things, revered them. Loved them. Devoured and indulged in them. In that spirit, I went on a little quest of my own. I didn’t go far—I decided to pay a visit to two local cafés I love for different reasons. One, The Bikery is a café that’s near and dear to me because I worked there last summer, riding my bike through morning mist at 5:45 in order to roast and sell coffee to the neighborhood. I know the pastries to be exceptional—and nothing compares to eating chocolate croissant bread pudding still warm from the oven with one’s fingers. I don’t know if that’s quality, but it’s something. I absolutely love their kalamata bread, which appears in a purpley-colored boule with slivers of olives in the soft bread only certain days of the week. The Bikery’s all-star quality bakery item is their Belgian chocolate brownie: It’s dense, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, more like fudge than cake. I love that it’s so chewy and cocoa-buttery. I mean, if I didn’t have teeth, I could still easily enjoy this brownie. I don’t know if that’s a good selling point: “You don’t even have to use your teeth!” Anyway, when I took home the morsel yesterday, I was not disappointed. Quality. Quality brownie.

After catching up with The Bikery folk and admiring their new interior decorating, I moseyed across the street to the Chilkoot Café, the newest kid on the block. I recently wrote a review about the place for Heavy Table. Since I hadn’t yet had much of a chance to taste the contents of their bakery case, I figured I’d bag a couple of things and taste through ’em. Here’s what I walked out the door with: A Blondie. A cinnamon bun (made with flakey-buttery croissant dough). And an oatmeal raisin cookie (classic).

I brought everything home, cut them into bite-size pieces, and shared the desserts with the fam. The resulting family favorite, in case you’re interested, was the cinnamon roll. I think it came in neck and neck with the Belgian brownie, actually. Whaddaya know, turns out we all like the bakery items with the most butter in them. The oatmeal raisin cookie was good, but I was hoping for more chew. More raisin. Maybe some walnuts? Less fluff and more density. I’m such a butter-lover. And as for the blondie? Of course it was delicious—though not the typical blondie I’ve had before with gobs of cream cheese. Again: more of a cakey consistency. Lighter. More subtle flavors happening—not so in-your-face extreme dessert. I think I could eat a whole blondie and not get a belly ache. Whereas, every time I’ve eaten a brownie from The Bikery (more than once, I’ll tell you), an evil, whining monster has produced itself in my stomach. In keeping with the “quality” theme, I guess I’m trying to be more of a critic in the world of pastry and bakery. Mind you, it’s very difficult for me because I love eating these foods so much. Discrimination, I’ve come to realize though, is nice to develop. It’s hard for me to do—assign things an order—because that was definitely not how I was raised. In a Minnesotan household with one of the world’s sweetest, most generous, big-hearted mothers, we never picked first prize, second prize, third. The family consensus was always: “They’re all good.” Thus saving us the burden of defending a choice or heaven-forbid, hurting someone’s feelings. (i.e. Rachel drew a lovely picture of a mouse. Kelli drew a very fine giraffe. Who’s better at drawing? Impossible to say! Both good! Ice cream and cake for everyone!)

Well, that’s all fine, but at some point after you grow up and stop taping your Crayola drawings to the wall, you have to differentiate. Knowing preference and know why you prefer one brownie over another blondie—that’s the thing. Oftentimes, this is where quality comes into the picture. It’s a great open-ended word that can mean you sense that this thing—this brownie, let’s say—has been thought about, has been experimented with, has some history, some weight behind it. Some serious butter content, all right? When we can discern what the “brownies” in our lives are, when we can taste something that’s paramount in its own category, that’s when we ought to sink our talons in. Indulge. Stock up. Savor.

I’ve got some Belgian-brownie-quality friends. I’ve got some Belgian-brownie-quality books on my shelves and music in my iTunes library. I’m learning to pick out what’s quality for me, and I’m a lucky gal—it hasn’t been too hard to come by.

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