By Leah Hughes
Charlotte’s bakeries create scrumptious cupcakes, pies and cookies—standard fare expected behind enticing glass-front counters. But they also serve creative goods cooked up by pastry chefs and international sweets that build a cultural bridge. No matter what brings you through their doors—the craving for an afternoon snack or an upcoming special occasion—these local bakeries hit the sweet spot.
For the best atmosphere
Part bakery, part cafe, part art gallery and part coffee shop, Amélie’s French Bakery is a NoDa neighborhood destination. The company also operates bakeries in: Uptown; South Charlotte; Rock Hill, South Carolina; and Atlanta, Georgia. The NoDa original remains the flagship and the only location open 24 hours, 365 days a year. When you step inside the NoDa store, your eyes dart from the bakery case to the chandeliers made of pots and pans to the chalkboards that feature mouthwatering menu items scrawled in loopy cursive. Colorful, eclectic furniture and artwork fill the interior.
“It’s definitely a quirky feel,” says Stefanie Haviv, Amélie’s marketing director. “It engages all of your senses, visually as well as the smells and tastes.” Amélie’s serves locally roasted blends from Magnolia Coffee. A new hit drink is the Café Marcotter, a layered latte with espresso, vanilla bean simple syrup and salted-caramel sauce topped with sea salt. Amélie’s regulars recognize the sweet-salty pairing from the bakery’s most popular item: the salted-caramel brownie.
For the best savory selections
Jack Parrish has sampled croissants from all over the world, but the croissants inside Sunflour Baking Company are his favorite. He admits his partiality; his wife, Umarin, is the pastry chef. After relocating to Charlotte a few years ago, the Parrishes purchased the bakery, which opened in the Elizabeth neighborhood in 2009 and expanded to a second location in Dilworth earlier this year.
“When people come to visit, we like to create an environment that’s like a sanctuary where everyone can come and enjoy great food and great company,” Jack Parrish says.
In addition to sweets, Sunflour serves sandwiches for breakfast, lunch or a light dinner. The breakfast menu’s No. 4—an egg, bacon and cheddar sandwich—is one of the biggest sellers. It comes on house-baked bread, a cheddar biscuit or croissant. The sandwich pairs well with a cup of java from Counter Culture Coffee, roasted in Durham.
For the best 3 o’clock pick-me-up
When Jill Marcus removed ginger snaps from the Something Classic Café menu in the spring, customers pleaded with her to leave the seasonal selection on the menu. But they knew an equally delicious pastry would emerge.
“They have their own favorites, and they love them, so it’s hard to switch things out every now and then,” says Marcus, president of The Mother Earth Group, which includes the cafe.
Uptown’s Something Classic Café gives Marcus and her catering team an outlet for customers to become familiar with their sandwiches, salads and desserts, which often encourages them to think of Something Classic when they need a caterer.
“We want to be very personal,” Marcus says. “You see the same faces every day when they come in for an afternoon coffee break or snack.”
Something Classic’s most popular bakery items are familiar desserts, like scratch-made old-fashioned chocolate cake, peanut butter cookies and lemon-raspberry bars.
For the best international indulgences
Before Zhenia Martinez’s parents started Las Delicias Bakery in 1997, they traveled to her mother’s native city of Chihuahua, Mexico, and studied baking. They watched traditional Mexican bakers load bread into a clay oven with a wooden handle. Upon returning to Charlotte, they adapted the recipes for their new business. Martinez is now an owner of the Central Avenue bakery.
“I never went to school for it,” Martinez says. “I’ve actually learned making bread and everything just by being around it.”
Many Las Delicias customers search for flavors from their native countries or items their mothers made. Hit treats include churros and passion fruit cake. Martinez’s favorite is a braided bread called trenza with Bavarian cream and raisins. In-the-know patrons order tamales; although not a typical bakery item, the tamales at Las Delicias consistently rank among the city’s best.
For the best lunchtime splurge
Cloud 9 Confections tempts lunchtime patrons inside 7th Street Public Market. Husband-and-wife owners Roland and Erica Horton bring their respective cultures—Southeastern United States for him and Puerto Rico for her—to their pastries. One customer can enjoy buttery pound cake while another samples a quesito, a puff pastry with sweetened cream cheese and guava.
“Everything is baked fresh,” Erica Horton says. “You can see the oven and the bakers pulling things out. … If a customer comes up and wants a hot cookie out of the oven, we are typically able to satisfy them.”
The top-selling Sinful Brownie combines a chocolate-chip cookie, brownie, caramel and Oreo in one dessert. Another must-try item, the Tuxedo Brownie, layers brownie and New York-style cheesecake. Erica Horton’s mom, a New Yorker, oversees cheesecake quality control.
For the best after-dinner dessert
When you walk by Bar Cocoa, located Uptown in the street-level corner of The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, the window display makes it difficult to keep going. The Ritz’s stop-you-in-your-tracks presentation caught the eye of Crystal Broadbent, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, who has since become The Ritz’s pastry chef.
“It’s a new kind of dessert that not many shops have,” Broadbent says. “It’s a very upscale style.”
The coconut cake and red velvet cupcake are the first to fly out of Bar Cocoa’s cases. They recently inspired the bakery to refocus its menu to Southern desserts presented with an upscale attitude. The bakery is gradually introducing these new items.
“It’s the classics you know, like banana pudding, and we’re taking them up a step,” Broadbent says.
Bar Cocoa’s Cocoa Lab gives customers an opportunity to step inside the bakery’s kitchen and take a class alongside professional chefs. The best part: Students get to eat their own creations.
This article ran in the August 2016 issue of Charlotte Happenings.