H. and I drove to Centerville this morning to the Royal Bake Shop for some Thanksgiving treats and had breakfast in the cafe there. It’s nice to go to a real bakery for a change–we don’t have one in Vermillion anymore. I don’t count bakeries attached to grocery stores as real ones–even if they do bake their own breads and make their own cakes (Sorry Larry & Monica!).
To me, a real bakery is one that makes all kind of baked goods–breads and pastries. They have a little bell on the door. Their windows are steamy. They might have sandwiches for lunch or not, made with their own fresh bread, but they always have that Bunn coffee maker going, and they smell like a yeasty sweet heaven.
They have a few tables so the regulars can sit down and have a bearclaw or a glazed doughnut and a cup of coffee, but the most space in the place is taken up by the ovens and the glass cases and the racks of breads and rolls and brioche (if you’re lucky) and fritters and Bismarks. They have waxed paper bags.
When I was little and we lived right in Middlebury, my parents would send my brother and I out on our bikes on a Saturday morning with a little cash, and we’d ride over to the Bakery Lane Bakery across from the Grand Union grocery store for yeasted glazed doughtnuts and sugared doughnut holes, wrapping the tops of the waxed paper bags over our handlebars to get them safely home. That bakery is gone now–Middlebury Bagel and Deli has taken its place, and the grocery store is a Shaw’s rather than a Grand Union.
After we’d moved up to the mountain and I was in my late teens, I worked early counter shifts for about six months at the Otter Creek Bakery. We made everything from hearty breads to fancy cakes, tarts, and eclairs (the bakers let me help separate eggs for the cream centers once), plus croutons (I nearly cut my thumb off helping with that), salads, and sandwiches. I had a crush on the head baker, who had brown eyes, a dark full beard, and workingman’s hands, and who also worked as a gardener at Shelburne Farms.
I loved coming in at six in the morning and getting the coffee going, immersed in a warm bath of bakery scents, and nibbling on a Danish while I got the till ready and stocked the bags. We didn’t sell doughnuts–I remember this well because it was a point of snobbish pride. We were too near the college to vend such proletariat fare. Still, almost every morning some old duffer would come in asking for them and wondering just what kind of bakery didn’t have them.
I still have the plastic mug they gave me to mark my official acceptance into their employee fold. Once you worked there for a few weeks, one of the cake decorators would take a plastic mug and fashion your name in caulk in a fancy script, and that’s what we all used for our morning coffee and afternoon tea while we were there. I probably won’t ever drink out of it again–since I’ve been using it for the past several years as a dog food scoop.
Still, it’d be interesting to see what would happen if I walked in there after all these years and presented it for a refill. I took my son there last winter and Ben, the owner, was still working the counter. I didn’t expect he’d recognize me after the better part of two decades had elapsed, so we just ordered our hot chocolate and muffins and headed back out into the cold, the sweet yeasty scent still trapped in the fibers of our woolly coats.