gas·tro·bak·er·y

noun /gaˈstrəˈbāk(ə)rē/
gastrobakeries, plural

  1. A bakery helmed by a chef with a strong culinary background in areas other than pastry.
  2. A word I made up.

Years ago when you thought about bakeries, you probably imagined white-haired old ladies with adorable aprons rushing around with sprinkle-laden butter cookies and rich fudge brownies. I’m sorry to say it, but those old ladies are dead. There are new old ladies, sure, but there’s also a new crop of bakeries popping up in cities everywhere and they’ve got a different sort of pedigree. They’re gastrobakeries, i.e. a bakery owned in whole or part by a chef, and I’m sure you’ve seen them, too. Christina Tosi may be the baker behind Momofuku Milk Bar, but she wouldn’t be there without David Chang. In Chicago, Stephanie Izard is set to open Little Goat (the diner companion to her uberpopular Girl & the Goat restaurant) where she’ll also have Little Goat Bread, an in-house bakery dedicated to her love of bread. 

In LA, gastrobakeries have been opening all over the place and there’s more on the way. From Santa Monica all the way to Eagle Rock, sugar hounds can get their fix with baked goods that go far beyond the brownie. Besides, who needs some old lady judging you for buying three brownies for yourself?

1. The Sycamore Kitchen
One of the newest of the gastrobakery bunch comes from Quinn and Karen Hatfield of the four-star Hatfield’s on Melrose. Only a mile away from their eponymous restaurant you’ll find The Sycamore Kitchen, where Karen’s pastry work steals focus from Quinn’s food. Sure, the breakfast and lunch menus are great, but you’re here for the sweets. The chocolate chip rye cookie is a stunner and shame on you if you miss the salted caramel pecan babka or the buttercup, a kouign amann that seems to have had its name changed at Ellis Island. 143 S La Brea Ave. Los Angeles, thesycamorekitchen.com

2. Huckleberry/Milo & Olive
Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan love Santa Monica, and Santa Monica loves them. First came Rustic Canyon, their seasonal New American restaurant that garnered rave reviews and added another burger to the list of the city’s best. Then came Huckleberry, and the West Side cheered. Zoe takes care of all the food, both savory and sweet, backing up an impressive resume that includes San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery and Lupa in New York City.

A little over a year ago, Milo & Olive opened and bridges the divide between bakery and café. At both operations, chances are you’re going to be waiting for a table. They’re just too good to have open seats. The go-to at Huckleberry is the salted caramel bar — an exercise in sugar tolerance — and at Milo & Olive, you have no choice but to order the wood-fired garlic knot, a formidable bread purse filled with olive oil and roasted garlic cloves. Huckleberry, 1014 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica www.huckleberrycafe.com; Milo & Olive, 2723 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica www.miloandolive.com

3. Short Cake
The story behind Short Cake is rather tragic. Accomplished LA baker Amy Pressman was set to open the bakery with longtime friend Nancy Silverton, but sadly passed away shortly before opening. The bakery opened with a new pastry chef, Hourie Sahakian, and the stall in LA’s Original Farmers Market has been cranking out exceptional products ever since. Nancy Silverton has legit baking bonafides. She worked as the pastry chef at Spago and launched La Brea Bakery before segueing into the fast-becoming-legendary Mozza Empire with Mario Batali. She may not be there every day, but her presence is still felt with a namesake chocolate chip cookie. Other favorites include a buttermilk scone with wild dried blueberries, brioche doughnuts and their take on the blondie called a “brunette” with thyme and pine nuts. 6333 W. 3rd St. Stall #316 Los Angeles www.shortcakela.com

4. Auntie Em’s Kitchen
Terri Wahl started as a caterer, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have serious chef cred. Auntie Em’s, her funky retro Eagle Rock café, has been welcoming loyal customers for years. While the food is great, the baked items are even better. Red velvet cupcakes, pear pecan muffins, coconut lime scones — the bakery menu reads like a transcript of my dreams. Eastsiders rejoice, because there’s no place like home. 4616 Eagle Rock BlvdLos Angeles www.auntieemskitchen.com

5. C + M (Coffee + Milk)
Who would have thought an art museum would be home to an incredible restaurant? Not me. With Ray’s and Stark Bar, though, Executive Chef Kris Morningstar along with Chef Joachim Splichal’s Patina Group have made quite the name for themselves. Now comes Coffee + Milk, a casual coffeehouse and bakery from Splichal specializing in handpies, Intelligentsia coffee creations and an organic milk sorbet that gets turned into boozy milkshakes and ice cream sandwiches with housemade cookies. Come for the art, stay for the handpies. 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

6. Dolce Forno
99% of all Angelenos have no idea this bakery exists, but now they — and you — do. It’s the home of Celestino Drago’s baking operation, a large-scale enterprise that makes all of the bread, some of the pasta and all of the pastries for his restaurant group. They also happen to supply Qantas with their baked goods on flights out of LA. It’s a BIG bakery (with another location in the South Bay) but the retail side is fairly small. That’s mostly because it’s on a tiny side street of a miniscule commercial area in Culver City behind a Del Taco. That said, their almond cornetto is definitely worth hunting for. 3828 Willat Ave, Culver City www.celestinodrago.com/Bakery

And coming soon…

7. ICDC
Neal Fraser used to be the King of Beverly Blvd., with the much-loved Grace and casual BLD in his expanding portfolio. Grace has disappeared and Fraser has his hand in a few new projects around town, but now word comes that he’s looking to open a new bakery called ICDC (“Ice Cream, Donuts and Coffee”) with former Grace pastry chef Mariah Swan. Last month, he and Swan tested out a few recipes at restaurant incubator Test Kitchen and presented this gem of a description: “Maple bourbon with bacon pecan donut, pumpkin cream cheese donut, graham cracker milkshake, mini ice cream cones.” Open soon, please.

8. Helms Bakery
The most exciting news of late is the surprising pairing of Sherry Yard and Sang Yoon in a Helms Bakery revival. The iconic bakery has been closed since 1969, but the signage is still there and soon the doughnuts will be, too. Yard has been Wolfgang Puck’s right-hand woman in the pastry kitchen at Spago for over a decade and Yoon (Father’s Office, Lukshon and an awesome test kitchen he let us check out last year) has been taking over the Helms Bakery Complex in Culver City space by space like some kind of Monopoly master. The collaboration will result in a 10,000-square-foot bakeshop producing breads, pastries and who knows what else. All that matters is that it’s happening and it’s happening quickly. They plan to have the whole thing fully operational within the next year. Is it next year yet?

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