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Evin (left) and Evrim (right) bake Sub Rosa’s bread in a wood-fired oven. Photo by Beth Ferguson
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Yeasted coffee cake at Can Can Photo by Ash Daniel
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Tracey Winslow Photo by Ash Daniel
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Hispania’s dark chocolate and dulce de leche cookies get a sprinkle of sea salt. Photo by Beth Ferguson
Out-of-towners have told us that Richmond is a city with an unusual amount of bakeries. We didn't believe them, but when we looked, we discovered that we'd never have enough pages to mention every single one. We tried to choose a little bit of everything, from bread to cupcakes, and vegan to gluten-free. What follows is a guide to some of our favorites that's by no means all-encompassing — but never will steer you wrong.
Sub Rosa Wood Fired Bakery
620 N. 25th St., 788-7672, subrosabakery.com
The first thing that you notice walking in the Sub Rosa Wood Fired Bakery in Church Hill is the massive brick oven. Large and imposing, it's styled from the artisanal ovens of France. Then a quick look into the case will get your taste buds tingling. The selection is stunning. A friend of mine who trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris swears this is the best croissant outside of France. And he may just be right. I treated myself to a chocolate croissant, and the flakiness of the crust, contrasting with the creaminess of the chocolate filling, returned me right back to my neighborhood in Paris. There is a wonderful variety of things coming out of that magnificent oven, including crusty peasant breads and a killer rye. Baker Evrim Dogu and his sister Evin trained and apprenticed many places, but the fact they are milling their own grain, sourcing as many ingredients as locally as possible, and bringing New World passion to Old World-style baking will make them a hit in Richmond. —Hollister Lindley
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sub Rosa bakery has been closed since April 3, when a fire destroyed the apartment above the bakery and Sub Rosa sustained considerable water damage. They are currently working to reopen.
Mo's Sweet Minis 902 W. Broad St., 643-CAKE (2253), mosminis.net Aleesha Richards earned her nickname "Mocha" at VCU. Her eponymous bakery, Mo's Sweet Minis, specializes in made-from-scratch muffins, cookies, banana pudding and cupcakes in both standard and two-bite mini sizes. The bakery bustles with students popping by for an energizing combo of Lamplighter coffee and mini chocolate-cream cupcakes, which look like the Hostess cupcakes that you know from childhood, but taste so much better. "I bake everything fresh, every day," Mo says. "No box mixes, no canned frosting." Richards earned her pastry certification from University of Richmond and baked professionally for five years before opening her midtown shop. Mo's Sweet Minis sells as many cookies as cupcakes, reflecting a national trend. "Cupcakes are out and cookies are in," says Richards, "[but] my favorite treats are still the minis. I like variety and bake over 50 flavors of them. Berry strawberry and red velvet are my best-sellers." —Genevelyn Steele The Desserterie 6161 Harbourside Drive, Midlothian, 639-9940, thedesserterie.com "I take my nieces and nephews here if they do well on their report cards," says a woman at the gelato case. "It's our special treat." Her sentiments bounce off mounds of rococo icing, hand-molded chocolate-cake art, and slices of carrot cake with more layers of crumb and frosting than baker and co-owner Pierre Tocco can say boo over. Double cases of Spring-like lemon cheesecake and strawberry-bejeweled tarts earn A-pluses for this Midlothian patisserie and bistro. "What separates us [from the competition] is the product we put out — a true European style of pastries and cakes," says co-owner Brian Bumbalo. Rocky Road affogato — two scoops of gelato sluiced with creamy Lavazza espresso and topped with whipped cream — is even better with a shot of Kahlua on the side. Don't miss the popular chocolate Disaronno cake, available by the slice or the whole cake. —GS D'Lish Bakery & Cafe 11844 Chester Village Drive, Chester, 717-CAKE (2253), dlishbakeryandcafe.com After three years of turning out fancy desserts for hotels, co-owner and classically trained pastry chef Drew Thomasson was ready to nurture his own daily bread. Thomasson's forte is brioche, which he sells by the dense, chewy loaf or as oversized burger buns. Fresh daily croissants are buttery and come plain or brimming with almond or bittersweet chocolate. "Most people come in to try the baked goods," Thomasson says, "but it's the breads that I think I do best." Artistic confections such as cream puffs and cupcakes fly out of the case as fast as he can stock it. A steady list of sandwich basics, such as chicken salad and veggie panini, keep neighbors happy and the business coming in. "My big seller for Valentine's Day this year was bacon jam," he says. "I reduced bacon, onion and garlic to a spread and then canned it for retail. It sold out." —GS Can Can 3120 W. Cary St., 358-7274, cancanbrasserie.com When Phil Hodal and Chris Ripp started planning Can Can's in-house bakery, they decided Richmonders sorely needed a lesson in European breads. Hodal spent a year developing and testing recipes before the now-established spot opened its doors to an eagerly anticipatory Carytown crowd. His unwillingness to take short cuts with his bread has been one of the most important aspects of the restaurant's success. "Baking is something everyone can do," says Hodal. "There's no mystery to it. You just have to put some love into it to do it well." Can Can's bread selection travels the regions of France along with the rest of the menu, changing 10 times a year to spotlight the rustic and the refined from all over the country. But Hodal takes it a step further and uses bread-making techniques from across the continent. Barista items like yeasted coffee cake and croissants are equally as popular, luring early birds in for buttery treats and rich coffee. —Susan Howson Carytown Cupcakes 3111 W. Cary St., 355-2253, carytown-cupcakes.com At Carytown Cupcakes, you can belly up to the cupcake bar and watch the decorating magic happen through a 12-foot viewing window into the kitchen. "I've always enjoyed watching other people cook when I go out to dinner, and I knew that I wanted it to be that open experience [for customers]," says owner Dawn Schick, whose baking team also creates small cakes for weddings and special occasions. Cupcakes are the main focus, though, and the sweet shop in the heart of Carytown has about 16 flavors a day with at least two vegan and gluten-free options. But wait, there's more. Five of these flavors are designed around common themes like wine country, ice cream flavors and Italian desserts. The themed menu is posted online, so you can plan your visit based on what appeals to your sweet tooth. —Rachel Machacek Shyndigz 5716 Patterson Ave., 938-DIGZ (3449), shyndigz.com Winner of "Best Dessert" in our 2012 readers' poll, this mostly evening spot sells its signature cakes by the slice in a whimsical, dine-in cake café. An avalanche of demand has owners Bryon and Nicole Jessee on the hunt for a larger space to capture business lost due to the building's size limitations. "We have a dream of a space that we can grow into over the years. A space where we can spread our wings," says Nicole, the cake creationist. Crowd-pleasing picks include fresh, fruit-filled cakes and their most requested dessert, salted chocolate caramel cake, a gooey, fudgey, rich concoction that should come with its own cow for supplying bottomless glasses of milk. The secret to this cake is Nicole's choice of chocolate — plain ol' Hershey's — and that she uses more butter than confectioner's sugar in its icing, yielding a richer, less sugary frosting. "We are the only late-night dessert place in town," Nicole says. "We also offer gluten-free options."—GS WPA Bakery 2707 E. Marshall St., 716-9797, wpabakery.com As Church Hill continues to grow and develop, WPA Bakery has quickly become a local favorite. The day I visited, there were families with children, local residents and smiling people at the counter. I ordered a cup of coffee and one of the most delectable small pastries I've ever tasted. It was almond-apricot and perfect for a morning snack. It became evident that this place is spending much more time on craft than quantity. This little pastry was flaky and delicate, with just enough almond taste to balance the sweetness of the apricot. Baking is a precise culinary science; you can't just grab a handful of something and toss it together with something else and hope it works out. This is edible chemistry of the finest sort, and vegan and gluten-free options are plentiful. —HL Hispania South of the James Market, 874-1013, Hispania Bakery on Facebook Hispania is a tiny operation. Right now, Maria Onsel is the only employee, so that makes her owner, master baker, dishwasher and accountant. She was baking at home until about six months ago, when she moved production to a commercial kitchen. Onsel began baking European-style pastries, but decided to bring in Latin American flavors to reflect her heritage. Experimenting with cinnamon, guava and caramel, Onsel brings a different perspective to the baking scene, and she's a real fan of filled cookies with flavor combinations like spicy chocolate diablo or chocolate dulce de leche with sea salt. Right now, her products can be found primarily at South of the James Market. The attention to detail, the high standards of freshness and the fusion of flavors make her products well worth looking for. —HL Petite Sweets 7313 Hancock Village Drive, 739-1631, petitesweetsva.com It's all in the name here at Petite Sweets, where the focus is on small and even smaller cake treats. Cupcakes, mini cupcakes and lollicakes (aka cake pops) are made fresh daily with all-natural ingredients. "Our cupcakes have no artificial flavors, no preservatives, and we stay away from using dyes unless we have to, like for our red velvet cake," says owner Paula Morgan, who also steers clear of bleached flour in favor of unbleached instead. Don't believe for a second this limits their offerings. The menu is 30 flavors long, and the bakery sells up to 15 flavors each day, including Guinness lager, pomegranate and the best-selling chocolate/chocolate made with French cocoa. For Easter, Morgan's staff will bake cupcakes in hollowed-out eggshells decorated like Easter eggs. For those in need of a grand confection, the bakery takes special orders for custom three-dimensional cakes. Past designs have included a camera, a car and a John Deere tractor. The shop also holds decorating classes and has space for private parties. —RM Lucille's Bakery 719 N. Meadow St., 204-1524, facebook.com/lucillesbakery Gerry Fortin and his team at Lucille's Bakery prefer to be challenged by their customers. On Facebook, they show off pages and pages of creative cake decorations, as well as individual sweets like tiramisu and eclairs that their Fan neighbors have come to love. "We welcome variety rather than just the typical round cake," says Fortin, who learned the baking trade in hotel kitchens and amassed a loyal following during his tenure as pastry chef at the College of William & Mary. When Lucille's opened in 2006, it baked and sold bread wholesale for restaurants, but when a perfect space on Meadow Street opened up in 2011, Fortin expanded the operation to include a storefront. Now, the busy bakery tempts Fan residents to stop in and sample a slice of homemade bread, which quickly converts the taster into a repeat customer. —SH Simply Southern Pies South of the James Market and Williamsburg Farmers Market, 240-7130, simplysouthernpies.com Owner Tracey Winslow grew up clutching the apron strings of her chef grandfather, who not only passed down generations of recipes and techniques, but also an inherent love of good food. Winslow knew she was onto something when the pies she'd been making for years started winning blue ribbons at the State Fair of Virginia. Shortly thereafter, she tried her first farmers market, bringing only 30 pies she'd made right in her own kitchen. The response was so strong that Winslow was convinced Richmonders had an aching need in their lives for good, home-style Southern pies. Her special-order business receives an average of 400 pies a week during farmers market season, with big bumps in sales at major holidays. "We just pay attention to quality," she explains. "We have flaky, buttery crusts, and we don't use colorings or preservatives, only fresh fruit." And it's easy to hear Winslow's grandfather speaking when she says, "There's just something about making people happy through food." —SH Norwood Cottage Bakery South of the James Market and St. Stephen's Farmers Market, 539-1110, norwoodcottage.com The rise of farmers markets in Richmond coincided perfectly with a new state law that gave home bakers a little more commercial leeway, and Mark McIntyre recognized it as the right time to leave his advertising career and expand his baking hobby into a full-fledged business. Five years later, he's hand-making up to 400 loaves of bread for area farmers markets every Saturday. "It's the bread," he explains. Norwood Cottage specializes in artisanal loaves of all different kinds, as well as crowd favorites like bacon brownies and coconut cake. McIntyre's interest in baking began at the age of 7 with his sister's Easy-Bake Oven, and as he got older, he found that he couldn't stop. "I love getting up in the morning. I love the whole process. It's part of my DNA and I absolutely adore it," says McIntyre, who still handles everything from kneading the dough, to wrapping and labeling, and to managing his website. —SH Pearl's Cupcake Shoppe 5812 Grove Ave., 285 -CAKE (2253), pearlscupcakeshoppe.com This On the Avenues shop near Libbie and Grove calls to mind days of white gloves and afternoon tea. A candy table in the middle of the room hawks fireballs and Dum Dums from jumbo glass jars. Dainty, ice cream parlor chairs decorate the shop, which is open for breakfast with scones and frittatas. Preppy pastel cards with pretty lettering tag cupcakes, cake pops and cheese straws, commemorating Southern socials and a reminder of owner Laurie Blakely's grandmother, Pearl Gentry Chapman. Pearl's specializes in baking for customers with dietary concerns, and it bakes gluten-free and vegan cupcakes daily. Its roster of 140 flavors of cupcakes, such as Hearts on Fire, a spicy Mexicali chocolate flavor bomb, was voted best in town by Richmond magazine readers. "As long as it's not a loaf of bread, we'll bake it," says Blakely. She and partner Laurie Condrey, have built their business on accommodating clients and a "whole lot of butter and sugar." —GS Frostings Bake Shop 11331 W Broad St., Glen Allen, 360-2712, frostingsva.com On any given day, the Frostings Bake Shop's display case is loaded with gourmet cupcakes in seasonally inspired flavors. Owner Matt Fraker packs personality into his portion-controlled treats. Expect old standbys like chocolate and vanilla, of course, but there are craftier concoctions too, like Mexican hot chocolate and tiramisu. "If you have a bad day or are celebrating something, you can enjoy it without feeling like you've indulged in a huge piece of cake," Fraker says. But, of course, there's cake, too — 6- and 8-inch layered cakes (all special order) that can be replicated to look like just about anything, from a zebra print to a fighter plane in space. Frostings also is a learning environment, a nod to Fraker's past life as a teacher, and there's an on-site decorating space for instructor-led cupcake decorating classes. Kid's birthday? Check. Girls night out? Yes, please. Those with food allergies or specific diets can special order vegan, and nut- and sugar-free cakes and cupcakes, or there are three gluten-free cupcake flavors available every day. —RM