When a restaurant opens without a name, the first few days are bound to be a little slow, but that’s how Jesse Lauer wants it. Last week, the Bearded Frog’s pastry chef quietly oversaw the opening of the still-unnamed newest addition to chef Michel Mahe’s culinary empire, which includes the Black Sheep Bistro in Vergennes and Bobcat Café & Brewery in Bristol. Lauer says the Bearded Frog team has tentatively decided on the name Next Door Bakery & Café for the currently sign-less occupant of the former Home Ecology space.
There’s plenty of color inside: On opening day, twin pastry counters were covered with Lauer’s signature sweets, including five-spice carrot-cake roulade, strawberry-Champagne tiramisu and peach-tarragon cheesecake. The creative chef also crafts more common options, such as chocolate chip cookies and homemade Milanos. But, he says, “You can only make an oatmeal-raisin cookie for so long before you can’t make it anymore.”
The café, open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, serves Vermont Coffee Company java. For now, coffee drinks are basic, but once the baristas find their groove, Lauer hints, guests may get quirkier sips, such as hickory-smoked cappuccino.
Breakfast is served until 11:30 a.m. and all day Sunday, with prepped-to-order dishes such as Breakfast in Bread, a sandwich with eggs, Dakin Farm breakfast-sausage hash, apple-onion chutney, Grafton cheddar and coffee mayo. Breakfast pastries include croissants and muffins in flavors such as chocolate-bacon and blueberry-honeysuckle.
Lunch runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., when the shared kitchen gives way to dinner prep at the Frog. Options include a miso-glazed haddock wrap; “tofulafel” with pine-nut hummus; a venison sloppy Joe with pickled fennel and Gruyère; and a marinated-veggie sandwich dressed with Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery chèvre and strawberry salsa.
No matter what he serves, Lauer plans to keep it fresh. The menu “will never be set,” he says. “That would kill the fun and spontaneity of baking. I like to say, ‘Let’s do this today’ and see how it turns out.”