Bread, Glorious Bread

Alphabet des artisans / G. L. Lauve, G. (18..?-19.. ; illustrateur).  Source  / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Alphabet des artisans / G. L. Lauve, G. (18..?-19.. ; illustrateur).
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

By Corinna Lothar

Bread. Bread, glorious bread; it is indeed the staff of life. And so are pastries. Georgetown with its six bakeries is becoming like Paris with a boulangerie/patisserie every few blocks. Not all bake bread. Some of the best bread is baked by Paul, a branch of the French cafe-bakery founded in France in 1889; Boulangerie Christophe, a joint venture between two friends from St. Tropez, France—entrepreneur David Martin and third-generation baker Christophe Roux; and by Fresh Baguette, Georgetown’s newest bakery with branches in Bethesda and Rockville.

Paul’s baguette is a chewy one, Christophe’s is more akin to the traditional Parisian baguette with a crunchy exterior and a soft interior. The baguette at Fresh Baguette comes in various styles and forms. The latter, although unlike authentic Parisian bread, is perfect for a breakfast “tartine” (bread, butter, and jam) with a slightly chewy exterior and an interior a little more soft than usual.

All three establishments bake several other breads, priced between $3.50 and $9.00. We were disappointed with Christophe’s apricot hazelnut bread ($5.50). The bread is bland, overly crusty with little flavor. By the day after purchase, it was good only for toast. On the other hand, the “bread of the month” at Fresh Baguette is a tender, slightly fruity fig loaf, good for any purpose.

The croissants at these three bakeries are delicious, perfectly flaky, buttery, slightly fluffy with layers of delicate dough on the inside. Mini croissants ($1 at Paul, $1.65 at Christophe, and $1.95 at Fresh Baguette) are available. For fans of Nutella, Fresh Baguette makes a lovely Nutella knot brioche ($4.50).

Paul’s croissants and some pastries are available at Georgetown’s newest cafe, Cafe Georgetown. The airy, blue-and-white cafe makes excellent sandwiches with Paul’s sesame baguettes. The cafe specializes in coffee, including Turkish coffee, and has a wine bar in its back sun room. In addition to coffee, wines, and pastries, Cafe Georgetown serves soup, sandwiches, and salads. In a separate section are Kosher salads and bagels.

Two varieties of bread are baked at Dog Tag Bakery. The ciabatta loaf is good but overly crusty, contrasted with a softer and light interior. Good for toast, but not for sandwiches. Half a loaf is priced at $3.25. Croissants are large and neither delicate nor buttery.

Patisserie Poupon has long been the queen of French patisseries, and continues to carry the crown for its pastries, tarts, cakes, and chocolates. The variety is extensive and each is delicious, be it a fruit tartlet or a Christmas Bûche de Noël. A specialty is the Gateau Breton, a rich, buttery tea cake from Brittany. For Christmas the bakery makes a number of special cakes, as does Fresh Baguette, especially Yule Logs. Patisserie Poupon’s bread, however, which is not made in house, is not the bakery’s strong point. At a recent visit, only very large loaves, including large brioches were available, all priced above $7. The brioche makes excellent toast, but is overbaked, not fresh and soft enough to eat without toasting. Sad to report, the croissants, once the pride of the city, are no longer as crisp and fresh as they once were.

All of these bakeries, except Fresh Baguette, also serve breakfast and lunch items such as salads, quiches, sandwiches, and other bakery-connected dishes at reasonable prices, as well as individual French pastries. Fresh Baguette prepares a number of sandwiches and a fine selection of pastries, including coffee and chocolate mini eclairs.

Baked & Wired is another good source for croissants. Although theirs are the larger American (as opposed to French) version, they are very good, deeply buttery with many layers of soft dough on the inside. The croissants and bread—baguettes, focaccia, and sour dough—are made by Baked & Wired’s sister restaurant, A Bake Joint.

In a pinch, there’s always the Georgetown Safeway bakery which makes fresh, reasonably priced, and acceptable loaves.

Baked & Wired. 1052 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, (202) 333-2500

Boulangerie Christophe. 1422 Wisconsin Avenue NW, (202) 450-8344

Cafe Georgetown. 3141 N Street NW, (202) 731-3241

Dog Tag Bakery. 3206 Grace Street NW, (202) 407-9609

Fresh Baguette. 1737 Wisconsin Avenue NW, (202) 333-2598

Patisserie Poupon. 1645 Wisconsin Avenue NW, (202) 342-3248

Paul. 1078 Wisconsin Avenue NW, (202) 524-4630