by Alice Levitt
247 Main Street, Vergennes, 870-7157
Run, run, run as fast as you can;
You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerdead Man.
Actually, maybe you can. Gingerdead Men are not as fast on their feet as living Gingerbread Men, and these adorable corpses are available at the Vergennes Laundry through Thursday.
As you can see from the hanging skeleton, the Vergennes bakery is not your average patisserie. Yes, co-owners Julianne Jones and Didier Murat infuse their food and decor with a touch of humor and whimsy (check out the mounted deer head just feet away from the ultra-modern lamp — the bright, white space looks like France by way of Mars). But it's the deadly serious care in creating classics that has commanded raves from the New York Times Magazine and Food and Wine.
Think of the hot chocolate (right) made from steamed milk that slowly melts three handmade crème fraîche truffles. Serious stuff.
But I wasn't impressed with everything I tried a few days ago on a crowded Sunday afternoon. The Gingerdead Man, as visually appealing as he was, had a case of rigor mortis and not enough spice to overwhelm the near-cremated flavor.
Sadder still, the bottom of my canelé (right) was blackened to the point that I needed to separate it from the rest of the pastry and throw it away.
What a pity! The edible portion of the custardy pastry was bliss. The soft, rum-flavored inside melted like a soufflé; the crisp crust tasted of dark, decadent caramel. If only I'd been able to enjoy every bite.
The perfection of the gougère made up for that misstep. It's easy to go wrong with choux pastry, but while it can so readily go too crisp or mushy, the golden puff at Vergennes Laundry was a fluffy and slightly chewy ideal.
As if the simple base weren't enough, fresh herbs and a dash of pepper dressed up the flavor of the Grafton cheddar that defined the pastry.
I was almost as impressed with the morning buns, plump cinnamon buns given sophisticated style with citrus zest rather than thick frosting.
Subtlety is one of the bakery's strengths, but when it came to savory fare, I found it to be a weakness.
The jambon buerre sandwich made use of good, local ingredients on a housemade, rustic baguette. But fine flavors such as fresh-picked sorrel and Vermont Creamery butter resulted in a surprisingly low-impact taste.
The problem was the same in the case of the celeriac soup. Though beautiful and made with excellent local foods, I desperately needed the tall salt grinder provided. Perhaps the cooks just wanted to suit every palate, but I was surprised to have to (heavily) season the basic potage myself.
I won't go so far as to say it was a Halloween horror, but while my next trip to Vergennes will certainly include a canelé and gougère stop, I'll probably skip the soup and sandwich.
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.