Bread is nothing new to New Orleans, home of the po’boy, the muffuletta and bread pudding.
But in today’s low- or no-carb, diet-conscious world, where bread products are “bad,” it is notable that last year Bon Appetit named the city’s modern sandwich haven, Turkey and the Wolf, the “Best New Restaurant in America.” It may be about what’s on the sandwiches—fancied-up throwbacks like handmade bologna and chips—but the vehicle to carry the works is no slacker: thick slices of butter-rich white bread from Weiss Guys Bakery, the same craftsmen who make tons of buns for Company Burger.
While some restaurants have eliminated its bread service, others—such as Emeril’s, Coquette, Patois and Carrollton Market—continue to whip up an array of freshly made brioche, muffins and focaccia, or drop filled-to-the-brim baskets of locally sourced bakery breads on the table. Roll in places that make their own pizza dough, pita, naan, etc., in addition to a proliferation of independent bake shops, and it’s evident there has been a noticeable rise in artisan, brick-and-mortar and pop-up bakeries all over the city.
A couple years ago chef Donald Link bought La Boulangerie, a long-popular Magazine Street corner bakeshop, and installed pastry chef Maggie Scales to reinvigorate the place with fresh takes on all of the breads and expand the pastry offerings.
Most people come in for a coffee and croissant at breakfast, stay for a lunch of ham and Brie on baguette and leave with an armload of breads (ciabatta, blue cheese-walnut, olive fougasse) and sweets (apple turnovers, cinnamon rolls, almond croissants).
In the Garden District is an outpost of chef Megan Forman’s Gracious Bakery. Her pastries are clever—the “cruffin” is a croissant-muffin—and swoon-worthy, as are the chewy, crusty breads and bagels. Forman’s tart chocolate babka and flourless chocolate-raspberry bites are musts.
Returning to pastry after an interior design stint, chef Beth Biundo recently opened Beth Biundo Sweets in a residential neighborhood just behind the Columns Hotel. Off the beaten path, the shop is perfect for chilling out with a coffee and a wedding cake cupcake or an almond brittle cookie. Her tarts—the chocolate-hazelnut is a personal favorite—are silky-centered with crisp crusts. Not far away, chef Christina Balzebre operates Levee Baking Co., a Saturday pop-up inside a shared-space/shotgun home.
Head further Uptown, and a stroll up Oak Street will lead you to Breads on Oak, where baker Sean O’Mahony turns out a big selection of breads and baked goods, including some gluten-free bits. If there is a vegan in your party, this is bakery mecca. Don’t miss the yeasty miche, olive parisienne or, with luck, the aromatic sourdough dark rye. Grab a buckwheat biscuit for later, and have them tuck a gluten-free double-chocolate fudge brownie in your bag.
The Central Business District is restaurant rich, and there are a couple of top-notch hybrid bakery/cafés in the area.
Willa Jean, near the Superdome, has a retail bakery in front that stashes crusty breads and flaky biscuits also used for sandwiches—nothing beats the boudin with collard greens, fried egg and Creole mustard—killer chocolate-espresso cookies, Nutella sticky buns and banana bread.
Near the World War II Museum and Contemporary Arts Center, Bittersweet Confections’ housemade honey-oat bread is the base for a particularly good avocado-cherry tomato toast. The scones, bagels and sweets are special here, too.
Croissant D’Or has been holding down the French Quarter scratch pastry front for close to three decades. It likewise uses baguettes and flaky croissants for sandwiches; the paté with tiny, tart pickles is divine.
In the Marigny neighborhood is New Orleans Cake Café & Bakery, where chef Steve Himelfarb bakes his breads and pastries on-site. The case is filled with stellar tarts, cupcakes and a few delightfully quirky creations, such as the tomato-and-egg-stuffed bagel, the Quicheant—a filled tart with a quiche-croissant crust—and, on weekends, stunning handmade donuts.
Further downriver you’ll find Bywater Bakery, where hungry crowds pile in for chef Chaya Conrad’s stunning baked goods, including the farmer’s white bread. Peruse the cases for cake and be sure to get one of the giant slices; peanut butter-chocolate scratches the itch.
WORTH THE HUNT
Louisiana’s expanded cottage food laws give leeway to bakers by easing commercial kitchen requirements. The result is bakery entrepreneurs who test the market before taking a bigger plunge.
Arrow Café has had some fine bakers pop up, including Ryan McDougall who makes gorgeous quick breads and coffeecakes, and on occasion there are baguettes and homeade jam to devour. Port City Pantry also pops up at Arrow and at Solo Espresso with some of the most ethereal savory and sweet baked goods in town.
Graison Gill’s Bellegarde Bakery brings to life Old World bread production and product. The bread’s aroma and deep, dark and properly dense crust is special for long fermentation, grain sourcing and Gill’s giant stone mill, among the nation’s largest. This is the kind of bread that often doesn’t make it home from the store. It’s worth seeking out Gill’s rye, ciabatta, country loaves and baguettes online or at local grocery stores and specialty wine-and-cheese shops.