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July 17, 2012

Alice Eats: Essex Bakery & Café

IMG_440021 Essex Way, Essex, 878-1100

When I moved here from Connecticut in 1998, baked goods from the Essex were a definitive part of my Vermont experience. The chocolate-banana-mousse birthday cakes, the raspberry Charlottes — they were key parts of the taste of my adopted state.

After the resort broke away from the New England Culinary Institute, desserts seemed to flounder. But this spring,  executive chef Arnd Sievers hired pastry chef Perrin Williams and announced that the Essex Resort & Spa would be opening a bakery — the Essex Bakery & Café — in the former Rustico's space in the Essex Shoppes & Cinema. It gave me hope for a brave, new dessert world.

IMG_4397Last Saturday, I finally gave the bakery a try. The savory menu is small, with six sandwiches, three salads and a soup of the day. However, the fresh, local ingredients made everything sound so appealing, it was hard to decide. Though most of the sandwiches, available cold or grilled as a panini, are between $4 and $5, I couldn't resist the $9 Essex Club.

The panini sported Misty Knoll Farms turkey breast, ham and bacon from Vermont Smoke & Cure, plus local cheddar. Served on Klinger's Bread Company sourdough, the salty meats made a great marriage with the mild cheese and herbed mayonnaise. Tomatoes added a pleasant fruity zip, but also softened the less-than-ideally crisp bacon. My other minor complaint was that the pile of meat was so thick that parts of the panini were cold even after grilling. Still, it wasn't an easy sandwich to put down.

IMG_4398I felt the same way about the turkey and brie panini, which we ordered on wheat bread. A caramelized onion chutney gave the sandwich much of its character, with a deep, roasty flavor speckled with sweet raisins. The turkey stuck firmly in place thanks to layers of pungent brie on either side of the sammie. Compared with other sandwiches in the area with similar ingredients, this seemed like a steal at $5.

Some desserts also seemed like bargains; others seemed pricey for what they were. At first glance, $3 seemed like a lot for a salted-caramel brownie. But having tasted it, I would now pay more for the buttercream bomb.

The thick layer of frosting was definitely more butter than cream and cloudy soft in texture. Drizzles of salted caramel on top were intensely salty, but also sweet. It might be too much for some, but I loved the salt over the top of the meltingly fudgy brownie.

IMG_4399But that wasn't the sweetest triumph. That honor goes to the creemee. First of all, the price is right. The "baby" that I ordered, which looks deceptively small in the photo, was only $1. That's low anywhere, but especially impressive in this case. That's because at Essex Bakery & Café, the creemee mix doesn't come from Hood. It's made from local dairy at St. Albans Cooperative Creamery.

The result is a cleaner-tasting creemee. My dining partner compared the lighter, silky texture to frozen yogurt.

I tried a strawberry cone. Though a staffer promised it was made with real, local berries, the strawberry taste was so intense, I compared it to strawberry Quik. Real, healthy ingredients that almost taste like artificial ones? I'm sold.

I think I might have a new favorite creemee. If only Essex Bakery & Café were open past 5 p.m!

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 [email protected].


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