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Fresh From the Oven 

Thirteen recommended bakeries

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Pasticceria Natalina

Pasticceria Natalina

A. Jackson

Alliance Bakery

1736 W. Division | 773-278-0366

$

BAKERY, COFFEEHOUSE | 7 Am-9 PM Sunday, other days 6 AM-9 PM

Formerly a Polish bakery, Alliance was sold to a French pastry a few years back and is now turning out wonderful-looking (and affordable) French pastries in addition to offerings like quiche and, in a nod to the neighborhood, kolacky. Strong Intelligentsia coffee and espresso drinks are available, in addition to Naked juices, hibiscus lemonade, and a few upscale sodas. The well-maintained 1930s interior is warm and charming, and the coffeehouse space next door has free WiFi. Claire Dolinar

Angel Food Bakery

1636 W. Montrose | 773-728-1512

$

BAKERY, AMERICAN, BREAKFAST | 9 am-2 PM sunday, 7 am-5 PM Tuesday-friday, 8 am-5 PM saturday | CLOSED MONDAY

At Angel Food Bakery the window's filled with elaborate cakes—there might be a pink single-layer number with bright orange flowers, a four-tiered white meringue wedding cake, and a winter-themed creation decorated with white snowballs and snowflakes made from fondant—but I love owner Stephanie Samuels's takeoffs on Hostess favorites: the Twinkie-like Airstream, an imitation Sno Ball called the Igloo, and a chocolate-covered whoopie pie that tastes like a Ding Dong. (She makes a homemade version of a Fig Newton too.) Angel Food's less whimsical fare includes tart lemon squares, dense carrot layer cake, and rich fudge brownies. Each day there's a special Commuter Sandwich for breakfast; on one morning it was a scrumptious combination of prosciutto, Brie, and fig jam on a slender ficelle (a tiny baguette). —Laura Levy Shatkin

Austrian Bakery & Deli

2523 N. Clark | 773-244-9922

$

BAKERY | 7 AM-8 PM SunDAY-THURSDAY, 7 AM-9 PM FRIDAY & SATURDAY

The ryes at Chicago Polish bakeries where owner Michael Mikusch used to work are "compromised," he claims, with "wheat and some coloring." His signature bread uses "100 percent rye flour, genuine sourdough, and little yeast" to yield a dense, naturally moist loaf, with a "shelf life of five days." This small but busy Lincoln Park shop showcases European recipes and baking techniques and deli imports from Wisconsin, Canada, and Europe. The sunflower-seed bread's flavor is "from the ground," Mikusch says, and the key to the dough of his apple strudel—the traditional sweet he's most proud of—is to make it with olive oil and "stretch it paper thin." Other desserts include Sachertorte, bienenstich, and delightfully light Pertikus and Linzer butter cookies, which I couldn't stop eating. If you don't want to grocery shop for rarities like Bavarian Weisshurst, Debreziner, and Westphalian ham, you can sit down for frittaten or goulash soups (the best goulash I've ever had—sorry, grandma) or create your own sandwich. There are also several salads and an array of birthday and wedding cakes sans artificial flavors. —Ryan Hubbard

Bittersweet

1114 W. Belmont | 773-929-1100

$

Tuesday-Friday 7 AM-7 PM, Saturday 8 AM-7 PM, Sunday 8 AM-6 PM | closed monday

The delectable sweets of Judy Contino, former Ambria pastry chef and Lettuce Entertain You corporate pastry chef, are the attraction at this Lakeview bakery. Each day there's a light lunch menu—a soup, a couple sandwiches, salads, and quiche. Dessert might be a rich butter-crusted apple bistro tart, but the absolute winner when it comes to pastry is the brioche, its buttery egg dough by far the best in town. Ice cream, made in-house year-round, is also outstanding: "In my gastrocosmology," writes Reader critic Nicholas Day of the chocolate, "this is the ice cream that immediately precedes the rapture." —Laura Levy Shatkin

Bread 'n' Bowl Company

7239 W. Dempster, Niles | 312-388-8494

$

BAKERY, POLISH/RUSSIAN/EASTERN EUROPEAN | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS

Georgian immigrant Arkady Kats and his wife, Rita, opened Bread 'n' Bowl Company in a Niles strip mall in July 2008, offering 16 soups—all natural, never frozen—at ridiculously low prices. While they're tasty and include some unusual varieties (beef tomato and apricot, spinach lemon and turkey meatballs), they're enhanced immeasurably by a piece of the Georgian flatbread—the round puri or the cocoon-shaped shoti—baked daily behind the counter in a massive barrel-like brick oven called a toné. A cousin of the Punjabi tandoor, the toné is the essential appliance in traditional Georgian cuisine, which draws on both European and Asian influences and is popular all over the former Soviet Union. Kats also offers a few eastern European cakes, and handmade dumplings (pierogi and pelmeni) and puff pastries (pirozhki). Specific Georgian varieties include the cheese-filled puff pastries known as khachapuri. Traditionally these are filled with a cheese called suluguni, but in this case it's a frozen, ground mixture of mozzarella and several fetas.The toné can handle about 40 puris at a time. When it's reached capacity, the first are puffed and blistered. Baker George Gelashvili grips a long pole in each arm—one with a hook on the end, and the other with a spatula—and plucks the loaves from the oven. He can do hundreds each day, and does so when the bakery has orders from a half dozen or so supermarkets and restaurants. But nothing beats the hot, chewy, stretchy bread pulled straight from the oven. —Mike Sula

First Slice Pie Cafe

4401 N. Ravenswood | 773-506-7380

$

AMERICAN, CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL, BAKERY | Monday-Thursday 9 AM-7:30 PM, Friday-Saturday 9 AM-6 PM, Sunday 10 am-4 PM | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Mary Ellen Diaz put in time as head chef at Printer's Row, as chef-owner of her own place, and as a corporate chef for the Lettuce Entertain You empire. But her dream had always been to work in a restaurant modeled on Jane Addams's community kitchens. In 2002 she launched First Slice, a nonprofit that makes hand-cooked meals for the homeless. To fund it Diaz originally used money from her subscription meal service; in 2005 she opened the First Slice Pie Cafe in the Lillstreet Art Center to further increase the amount. In the tiny space—there are just a few tables—she offers slices of several truly scrumptious pies, from basic apple to red wine and poached pear, plus cakes, cookies, bars, and fair-trade coffee. Savory offerings include simple, hearty dishes such as creamy tomato soup, turkey chili, black bean tamales with pepita salsa, a shredded duck sandwich on sourdough, and a grilled number with goat cheese, roasted vegetables, and poached pear. There's now Sunday brunch from 10 AM to 2 PM. —Susannah J. Felts

Hoosier Mama Pie Shop

1618½ W. Chicago | 312-243-4846

$

BAKERY, COFFEE SHOP | BREAKFAST, LUNCH: TUESDAY-SATURDAY | DINNER: TUESDAY-FRIDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY, MONDAY | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Former Trio pastry chef Paula Haney's rise from farmers' market vendor to Queen of Tarts has been well documented, and this permanent home ought to make every fan more secure in the knowledge that her laboriously created heritage pies can be had five days a week in one spot. From the slim, delicate crispy-topped vinegar chess pie with its subtle hit of acid to the buxom coconut cream with enveloping strata of toasted coconut, there's a rotating seasonal selection of seven pies on hand (out of a repertoire of dozens), available whole or by the slice with a hot cuppa Metropolis. Currently there are also quiche and two savory pies on offer, a pork-apple-sage and a fantastic chicken potpie with tender, juicy irregular knobs of poultry and big chunks of vegetables and potatoes cooked to an apple-y snap. This tiny three-table shop could be to pies what Hot Doug's is to sausage. —Mike Sula

Kristoffer's Cafe & Bakery

1733 S. Halsted | 312-829-4150

$

BAKERY, MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | 7:30 AM-7 PM MONDAY-FRIDAY, 8 AM-4 PM SATURDAY-SUNDAY

Lactose intolerants, consider yourselves warned. The tastiest dessert at this Pilsen cafe is the traditional tres leches cake, made with whole, condensed, and evaporated milk; no less than Rick Bayless has said it's the best he's ever had. Owners Carlos and Cristina Chavarria offer the classic vanilla rendition as well as a bouquet of variations, all startlingly moist. Cristina does the baking, a craft she learned while apprenticing at her sister's small home-based bakery in Guanajuato, Mexico. The tres leches recipe is her sister's, but Cristina's favorite dessert, flan with cheese, is her own creation. Made with cream cheese, it has an almost fluffy texture, like flan-flavored cheesecake. Besides breakfast, desserts, and Intelligentsia coffee, the menu offers standard sandwiches and salads, plus a couple of ethnic dishes. Tamales come in two forms: Mayan (wrapped in wet green banana leaves and filled with potatoes and chicken) and Mexican (bundled in the usual corn husks and stuffed with jalapeños and cheese). —Anne Ford

La Patisserie P.

1050-52 W. Argyle | 773-878-3226

$

BAKERY, ASIAN | 8 AM-7 PM Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday; 8 AM-6 PM Monday; 8 AM-8 PM Friday-Saturday | Closed Tuesday

This Argyle Street bakery offers Southeast Asian treats along with European-style layer cakes, cookies, and sweet rolls from a graduate of the French Pastry School. Soft savory buns are a mainstay, with stuffings like barbecued pork, chicken, Chinese sausage, or bean paste. And Peter Yuen's croissants are so exceptional he's represented the U.S. at the World Cup of Baking. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Lutz Continental Cafe & Pastry Shop

2458 W. Montrose | 773-478-7785

$$

GERMAN/AUSTRIAN, BAKERY | 7 am-7 PM Sunday-Thursday, 7 AM-8 PM Friday-saturday

Perhaps best known for its strudel, cookies, and specialty cakes, Lutz also has an old-world-style dining room, now renovated, and a lovely garden in the warmer months, and the offerings—classic sandwiches, quiche, goulash soups, and crepes—are worth every pfennig. Just be sure to save room for dessert. The cafe's open from 11 AM-5 PM daily. —Holly Greenhagen

Molly's Cupcakes

2536 N. Clark | 773-883-7220

$

BAKERY, BREAKFAST, ICE CREAM | 9 am-10 PM Sunday-thursday, 9 am-midnight Friday-Saturday

This open, airy space has cute-as-a-button grade-school decor and an endearing backstory: the cupcake recipes are inspired by engaging owner John Nicolaides's third-grade teacher Molly, who would bring her students the treats on their birthdays. I was predisposed to push back from the preciousness on principle alone, but no such luck: these moist cupcakes in a Leary-esque kaleidoscope of flavors and sizes coupled with silky, rich house-made ice cream in five flavors won me over with barely a struggle. Even a simple combo of a vanilla cupcake with chocolate ice cream had a subtle hint of cinnamon highlighting the flavors. —Gary Wiviott

Pasticceria Natalina

5406 N. Clark | 773-989-0662

$

bakery, italian | noon-8 PM Wednesday-Saturday, noon-6 PM Sunday | Closed Monday, Tuesday

Since opening their pastry shop Pasticceria Natalina, Natalie Zarzour and her husband, Nick, have labored to the point of exhaustion to introduce their customers to the culture of Sicilian dolci, where there are no shortcuts, the cannoli are filled to order, and it's appropriate to indulge in something sweet anytime but dessert. In addition to more common items like cannoli, Zarzour's been rolling out an exotic, ever changing selection: orange blossom or rosewater rice puddings; a boozy rum baba; zeppole, deep-fried fritters filled with custard and sour amarana cherries, traditionally served for Saint Joseph's Day; spicy iced fig cookies called cuccidatti; shell-shaped, ricotta-filled Neapolitan sfogliatelle; and delicate, savory fazzoletti ("little handkerchiefs"), puff pastries filled with combinations like peas, prosciutto, and mint or artichoke hearts, capers, raisins, and pine nuts. You can also get exotica like cassatine, or miniature cassata, the elaborate glazed and fruit-bedecked Sicilian Easter cake. Choosing among the offerings can be agonizing, and they're expensive. But that's the price you pay for quality ingredients and painstaking, labor-intensive authentic recipes. —Mike Sula

TipsyCake

1043 N. California | 773-384-4418

$

BAKERY | 10 am-3 Pm sunday, 9 am-6 Pm tuesday-saturday | MONDAY by appointment only

Sydney native Naomi Levine is something of an ambassador for Aussie treats in her Humboldt Park hood, offering lamingtons (jam-filled rectangles of sponge cake soaked in chocolate and dredged in dried coconut), pavlova, "banoffi" pies and cakes, and tipsycake, a traditional English dessert of sponge cake soaked in bourbon or brandy with pastry cream and preserves. Scones are another specialty—wonderfully craggy mounds that are buttery rich. What you won't find is a display case of layer cakes and pies to go: each one is made to order. —Susannah J. Felts

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