Bloom Bake Shop blossoms with sweet, savory, kindness

December 14, 2018

Those of us getting too many buttery, sugary treats at this time of year may try to ignore a place like Bloom Bake Shop. But, beside sweets, the charming Monroe Street bakery offers a good variety of savory items for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

First, a warning: It’s better to visit on a weekday because Saturdays and Sundays can get nutty. A sign instructs customers not to sit down before ordering at the counter. The policy, while smart for busy weekends, made me uneasy as I surveyed the full room and waited in line to order. A hostess helps customers find a table, so it’s not as intimidating as it first appears.

Breakfast is served all day, and I had the most success with the scrambler ($11), a pricey, but enormous plate of food with four eggs, cubes of sweet potato, along with spinach, a generous showing of maple-glazed breakfast sausage, and Parmesan. The ingredients, which recently changed with the cafe’s new winter menu, came together nicely.

A small portion of greens, dominated by spinach and arugula, came on the side and was well dressed in a distinctive vinaigrette. Owner Annemarie Maitri later told me the dressing is made with roasted vegetables and fennel.

Another winner was the Cubano sandwich ($11), a tall, compact sandwich on a square, flaky flatbread bun made from the bakery’s amazing pastry dough.

The sandwich’s only downside was that the thick slice of ham inside had a troubling area of gristle that had to be pulled out and excised. The other elements all worked well: Pieces of slow-cooked pork, Swiss cheese, homemade pickles and tangy mustard.

The biggest disappointment was the omelet ($11), but maybe I just had high expectations because one of the employees raved about it after hearing us discussing it in line.

The eggs were heavy-handed, instead of light and fluffy, and the three types of mushrooms could have been better seasoned. Some wood ear mushrooms were oddly crisp. The omelet had lots of spinach, but seemed to need cheese or another element to tie it together.

At a station where customers pick up silverware and napkins and bus their dishes, are bottles of a fantastic, mild poblano sauce that really helped punch up the omelet.

I was unfamiliar with the brand, Co-op Sauce, but learned the company has been working with Midwestern farmers and raising money for youth arts and entrepreneurship programs in Chicago since 2003. That’s pretty cool.

The savory rice bowl ($8) could have had more Brussels sprouts along with its cucumber, roasted corn and red onion. The house teriyaki sauce was a tad sweet, but an over-easy egg on top added interest.

The rice bowl also just changed with the seasons. One thing that won’t change is the fried hash cakes ($4). Otherwise, there’d be an “outcry,” Maitri said.

The two round cakes, fried like a potato pancake, were a pretty color, made with sweet potatoes, russet potatoes and beets, but they were underseasoned and surprisingly greasy. So, no outcry from me if they went away.

I enjoyed the yogurt parfait ($7) served attractively in a little jelly jar and made with local Quince & Apple raspberry rose jam, housemade granola and topped with seeds. I appreciated the balance between tart and sweet, but my daughter who ordered it gave up on it after a few bites.

She liked her hot chocolate ($3.50), and said it had some vanilla flavor, which Maitri confirmed. The rich coffee ($2.50) was brewed strong and an employee came around promptly with refills.

Another reason to eat at Bloom is its inviting environment, complete with complimentary sparkling water.

My daughter’s favorite brownie ($4), made with sea salt, comes from Bloom, and Bloom’s sweet potato doughnuts ($2.50) are famous for a reason. Light, cake-style, and dusted with cinnamon-sugar, the sweet potato flavor is faint. I recently got a box of six for my birthday and it was a great treat.

Maitri opened the original — and tiny — Bloom Bake Shop almost nine years ago in Middleton, and added the Monroe Street location with an expanded cafe and menu in early 2017.

Now the original location, on Parmenter Street, is called Bloom Bindery, and Maitri has turned it into a cookie bakery, coffeehouse and bookstore with a mission of promoting a love of reading.

Maitri is a hands-on owner who was on top of every detail at the cafe on my two recent visits: helping seat people, seeing if they needed more coffee, and just being ridiculously nice in a genuine way.

For instance, I overheard her checking in with a nearby table. “How are things going?” she asked. “Are you happy?”

It’s really impossible not to like her. The baked goods, it turns out, aren’t really the sweetest thing about Bloom Bake Shop.

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