SARATOGA SPRINGS — The supermarkets in our area are really upping their game in the bakery department, offering more elaborate and attractive sweets, but there is nothing like going to a real bakery to elicit the oohs and aahs.
The Bread Basket does just that, with hearty homemade breads, homestyle cookies, captivating cupcakes and exquisite cakes. All baking is done on the premises and there are no mixes or preservatives used, ever.
First opened in 1990 by Joan Tallman as a bakery, it’s since added breakfast and lunch to the menu, and her two sons to the staff, Chad as head chef and Matthew as operations manager.
The location is great, just across from Congress Park on shady Spring Street, and the Bread Basket has an off-street parking lot, which makes getting there easier than most places in Saratoga.
You might expect Snow White or one of the dwarfs to emerge from the front door of the adorable bakery, an English Cottage-style building that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The Pure Oil Company built these eye-catching gas station buildings, with signature steeply pitched, often blue-tiled roofs and round-topped doors. This one, built in 1933, started its life at 522 Broadway as Kiley’s Gas Station and narrowly missed demolition due to urban renewal. It was moved to Spring Street in July 1978, and was home to a Citibank branch before the Bread Basket moved there in 1993.
The original building has been expanded and there is a shady, large patio in front that overlooks the park. Inside, there are tables lining the outside walls, but it is not a big space.
That’s because much of it is taken up by counter and display cases, and the traffic pattern, as Patrice said, “doesn’t work.” The bakery cases mesmerize and you end up wandering, invariably getting in someone’s way.
In the center is a large wooden table displaying packaged breads and sweets for sale, and that’s where you can grab one of their clipboards with menus. Specials and tea menus are listed on chalkboards and signs behind the counter.
An employee called to us over the glass display case, helped us choose lunch, and took our orders and payment. Take a seat if you’re staying; they’ll holler your name and you can pick up your food at the kitchen counter.
It was a sunny, cheerful day, and we chose a windowsill table. The bakery was almost full and there were plenty of customers who were passing through. By the time we left, it had warmed up enough that most of the patio tables were occupied.
The Bread Basket has both breakfast and lunch menus, although breakfast is available all day. Eggs are from Thomas Poultry Farm in Schuylerville. Choose from a selection of pastries, scones and muffins, or French toast ($8) made from their own cinnamon swirl bread. An egg sandwich with cheese is $5.50; add a bit more for upgrades such as bacon or sausage, avocado or sautéed arugula.
It’s harder to choose at lunch. The soups, salads, hot and cold sandwiches on homemade bread all look good. Try Zoe’s roast beef sandwich ($8.50), with mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers and horseradish mayo and lettuce and tomato on their rye bread, or a hot chicken or roast beef panini ($8.75) on garlic basil bread. The super salad is made with turkey and cheddar and includes, in addition to what you’d expect, cranberries, toasted almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts. ($9.75).
We each had a cup of soup and half-sandwich ($8.99). Patrice loved the light, creamy leek and spinach soup made with big chunks of potato and carrot. “Mind if I drink the rest?” she asked, eyeing the dregs of the cup. “That was absolutely delicious,” she said.
I had corn and kielbasa chowder, a combination new to me, now a favorite. Bread Basket uses big pegs of roasted corn in addition to fresh potato, carrot and celery. The sausage is lean and flavorful. The first taste is of sweet roasted corn, the salty kielbasa a pleasant contrast.
“This is a really nice combination,” said Patrice of her tarragon tuna sandwich half served on honey wheat bread. They use sunflower seeds, sliced crisp apple and fresh tarragon in their all-white tuna salad.
A half-sandwich is necessarily made of one slice of bread, and the halves don’t always match, as I was finding out with the bacon, lettuce and tomato on toasted garlic basil bread. The fresh bread is so tender and soft it struggles to contain the crisp bacon and thick tomato slices. They use hearty and sweet smoked bacon, with flavor that jumps out at the first bite. But it was very satisfying, and by the time I was almost done I wished I’d gotten a whole sandwich.
It was just as well, because we still had dessert to go. It was fun choosing from the array of colorful, appealing pastries in the display case. I settled on a lemon cupcake (a large special cupcake, $4.50), and Patrice picked a hefty chocolate brownie with mint frosting.
With a hot cup of peppermint tea ($2.75) for Patrice, we sat back down and tasted our desserts. Nearby was a serving station, supplying us with plastic knives; it holds everything you’d need in addition to your food: lids, sugar, cream, cutlery, napkins, that kind of thing.
The lemon cupcake, topped with a small fruit slice candy and dotted with yellow and white nonpareils, was about the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. The swirl of yellow buttercream was artistic and tidy, and a surprise lemon filling within had fresh lemon flavor and some tang.
The vanilla cake was dense, moist and sweet, though not too much so, and tasted like homemade. It tasted as good as it looked.
Patrice enjoyed a bit of the dense brownie, which she said was, “Not super-sweet,” but the bright green icing, embellished with more chocolate, was. The strong mint flavor offset nicely the chocolate taste of the brownie, she added.
The tab for our lunch, with two drinks and a hot peppermint tea for Patrice, came to $34.41, plus a few bucks in the tip jar. We each took home most of our dessert.
So visit the Bread Basket and experience the wow factor of real bakery goods for yourself. Summer is coming. Grab a table outside and enjoy. And don’t forget dessert.
Bread Basket Bakery
WHERE: 65 Spring St., Saratoga Springs; 518-587-4233; www.saratogabreadbasket.com
WHEN: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, closed Mondays January through April, Christmas Day, Easter, Thanksgiving.
HOW MUCH: $34.41
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. Parking lot in rear. ADA compliant.