by Alice Levitt
5247 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, 985-9877
Every once in a while, I find food so good in a space so small that I want to keep it all to myself. That's why it's taken me so long to write about Next Door Bakery & Café.
When I mention it to folks outside Shelburne, they rarely know about the spot, which opened at the end of July. But locals keep it humming. Every time I've visited, it's been bustling, but if I wait a few minutes, I'm always able to grab a table.
Nearly everything on the menu at Next Door Bakery is served between two slices of O Bread, including breakfast, which is available until 2 p.m. (Pastries and drinks can be purchased until 4 p.m.) The Breakfast in Bread is among the most popular items: Quirky yet unforced, it's delicious in an unfamiliar and fun way.
Dakin Farms sausage hash has a hint of heat from liberal use of black pepper, but it's counterbalanced by sweet apple-onion chutney. A pillow of scrambled eggs plays endearingly with the crisp focaccia on which it rests. But the secret to the sandwich's success is a slick of mayo — coffee mayo. The sweet and earthy combination gives the effect of a breakfast sandwich affogatto, all held together with Grafton cheddar.
I'm a devotee of Next Door's far-from-plain-old smoked turkey sandwich, which gets its distinct charm from a combination of pickled raddichio, fresh apples, Gorgonzola mayonnaise and crunchy bacon. But instead of going for old faithful this time, I sampled a pair of sandwiches new to me.
The flavor combinations in the Tofulafel are less out-of-left-field than other items on the menu, but it's delicious nonetheless. The name refers to crunchy, falafel-spiced tofu cakes. The tangy, exotic flavors also include pine nut-honey hummus. Roasted red peppers sweeten the deal, and ultra-thin slices of cucumber in creamy sauce are intensely flavored with dill, approximating refreshing tzatziki.
Lunch sandwiches come with a pile of lightly dressed greens in a puckery vinaigrette and a house-cured pickle, which is pleasantly mild, leaving more taste bud space for the creative main events.
The fried chicken po' boy sounds like a hearty steakhouse meal on a roll, but it wasn't as heavy as I feared. Really, there's nothing not to like when confronted with lightly spiced, curly tendrils of crispy battered chicken. Especially when it rests atop a bed of creamed spinach so garlicky that it tastes like spanakopita filling. Those two ingredients were so delicious, the subtle red pepper pesto went largely unnoticed, but I didn't mind.
Anyway, it was time for dessert.
The very first day that Next Door Bakery was open, I tried Lauer's honeysuckle-blueberry muffin, and life hasn't been the same since.
The texture is silkier than I realized a muffin could be. The blueberries are moist and fruity. But it's the strong floral flavor that (literally) stays with me all day when I've eaten one. I'm comfortable naming it the best muffin I've ever tasted.
Though there are plenty of full-sized cakes, as well as cookies, scones and other desserts, I tend to lean toward Next Door Bakery's mini desserts. The Margarita mousse square at right was only mildly lime flavored, which left plenty of palate space to taste the mangoes mixed in and the cashews on top.
I'm no cheesecake fan, but the chocolate cheesecake bites have made me a believer. Their dense texture is similar to a flourless chocolate cake, and the deep, chocolaty flavor conceals the acidity of the cheese. But the reason to try the dessert is the jalapeño. Seamlessly blended into the mix, it lends not only subtle heat, but an unexpected hint of fresh, vegetal flavor. It may sound weird, but I bet you'll like it.
And I bet I'll like whatever is next at the bakery. As I left, a staffer told me that the menu was in for a few tweaks in the near future. I can't wait to try the new creations.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.