When it comes to bread and pastries, Americans are blessed with near-limitless options. With more than 6,000 retail bakeries in the U.S., there’s a wide variety to choose from. Some specialize in bread, others sell pastries, and some sell both, and even those bakeries vary by cuisine. To determine the best of the best, we took a look at more than 1,400 bakeries in our quest to find America’s 50 best bakeries.
From local mom-and-pop shops to high-end chains, from American favorites to French patisseries, and from artisanal bread bakeries to pastry shops, we took into account all the different kinds of bakeries as we searched for America’s best. Although some bakeries bake only bread or only pastries (in France, for example, you’d go to a patisserie for your pastry fix and a boulangerie for your daily baguette), we decided to incorporate both kinds of bakeries into our search. While it was not necessary for bakeries to serve both, the ones who do received extra points. We also took into account bakeries' originality, how long they've been around for, if they have notable and award-winning chefs, if they make all their baked goods from scratch, and their buzz factor.
So what, exactly, makes a bakery great? We reached out to some of America's leading bakers and pastry chefs to see what they had to say. "If you call yourself a baker and half of the items you sell are outsourced or from premade mixes, you’re probably not doing it in the spirit I would classify as being a great bakery," Roy Shvartzapel, one of Dessert Professional’s 2013 top 10 pastry chefs in America, told The Daily Meal. "Stay true to the craft." Shvartzapel, who recently opened Common Bond, a bakery-café in Houston, adds that bakeries are meant to be a "place where guests are coming to engage all the senses."
Famed pastry chef François Payard agrees that "atmosphere and feeling" are both important to a bakery's success. "You should smell breads and other baked goods being made," he told us. "The bread is really what makes a great bakery for me, as well as a good variety of both sweet and savory items."
Exceptional bakeries are also consistent. "An excellent bakery consistently serves great products," Andy Chlebana, a 2012 Pastry Team USA member and another one of Dessert Professional’s top 10 pastry chefs of the year, told us. "You know what you will get and no matter what it is, you are never disappointed."
As a metric by which to judge a bakery, pastry chef and food writer Ed Morita tries the croissant whenever he visits one for the first time. "If the croissant is flaky, then it is usually a good indicator that that attention to detail transfers into the other areas of the bakery," he said. In addition to overall product quality, "standout specialties" and "good service" are important, too, Serious Eats columnist Kathy YL Chan told us. [related]
Using our criteria and suggestions from our wide-ranging panel of experts (which also included Dominique Ansel, Pichet Ong, and Eric Kayser), we considered bakeries from every state and narrowed our list of 1,400 bakeries to the top 50 bakeries in America. In the end, bakeries from 24 states and Washington, D.C. stood out for their dedication to the craft. New York took the spotlight with nine bakeries on our list. Massachusetts, Pennsylvaina, and Oregon each have four, and California, Florida, and Washington each have three bakeries on the list. The rest are scattered all throughout the country, in cities great and small, from Sioux Falls, S.D., to Franklin, Tenn., to Warrenton, Va. With so many bakeries to choose from, it was difficult to pick just a few. Let us know what your favorite bakeries are in the comments if you think there are some we missed.
Whether you’re craving old-fashioned chocolate chip cookies, freshly baked bread, flaky pain au chocolat, mouthwatering cakes, or fruit-studded tarts, our 50 Best Bakeries in America have something for everyone.