Like other Omaha fans of Le Quartier Baking Company, I received a fabulous early Christmas present in October when the Lincoln-based business opened a boulangerie in Countryside Village, instantly making the city's almond croissant season a year-round affair.
Now there's just one more thing I need. Willpower? Well, yes. That, too.
I was thinking more along the lines of a handheld vacuum for my car.
You see, there's just no way to eat the wonderful almond croissants from Le Quartier (pronounced luh-cart-ee-YAY) without making a delicious mess: Flakes from myriad buttery layers spray the dashboard. Shards of thinly sliced almonds ricochet off the steering wheel and into the cup holder. And even if I manage not to lose any of the luscious almond pastry cream filling, the powdered sugar drifts like snowflakes down the front of my shirt.
Why not just wait until I get where I'm going? Believe me: I've tried. Even when I secure the croissants in the back seat, I find myself reaching with a Gumby arm for that little white pastry bag at the first red light. Within six blocks, I'm covered in crumbs and sugar and high on what I now call “le crack.”
Admittedly, this is a very good problem to have. Prior to the new shop's opening, getting a Le Quartier almond croissant meant rushing to the bakery's stand at the Omaha Farmers Market early on a spring or summer Saturday, before they ran out, or hoofing it all the way to Lincoln. (Crumbs in the vehicle were never an issue with farmers market croissants; most never made it to the car.)
I seem to have more restraint with Le Q's other specialties: the crusty, lacy baguettes; the softer, thicker Parisian loaves; the holey (holy?) ciabatta buns; the nutty and flavorful country bread called pain de campagne; the soft honey-raisin-cinnamon brioche; and the tender, wheaty pizza crusts you top and finish at home. This is probably only because I'd feel more ridiculous driving down the road munching on a whole baguette.
In the new bakery, there are more than breakfast pastries and breads to love. It's a mostly take-out retail location, somewhat spartan, with a few scenes of Montreal (where the founding baker trained) on the wheat-colored walls, a smattering of sweets in the pastry case, racks of breads and a panini press behind the counter and two large communal tables for those who choose to dine in.
Though the range isn't immediately obvious, it includes sandwiches and panini; one or two house-made soups; crave-able, from-scratch, no-mix-no-oil cupcakes (my favorites: cookies and cream, carrot, peanut butter cup and a Red Velvet that actually looks like dark red velvet, not cherry Kool-Aid); and shots of flavored mousses, layered with bits of brownie or cake. There's also a small display of house-made frozen puff pastry appetizers, caramel-pecan rolls and topped pizzas that you bake at home.
In addition to my weekly bread supply, I found enough on visits in November and December to satisfy breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert cravings. It was hard not to just say: “One of everything, please.”
For breakfast, I enjoyed croissants (almond, chocolate, almond-chocolate or plain butter) and pastry cream-filled Danishes (the ones topped with toasted walnuts and house-made caramel are wickedly good).
Great bread is the foundation to a fine sandwich, and a sandwich at Le Quartier makes a really satisfying lunch. I tried two of the panini: a veggie (fresh mozzarella, Roma tomato, roasted peppers and vinaigrette-dressed fresh greens on fresh olive-rosemary ciabatta) and a turkey-pesto (thin turkey slices with bacon, tomato, Swiss and pesto-laced mayo on pressed baguette or plain ciabatta). I also had a lovely chicken salad croissant. The salad on it was simple and wholesome, made with free-range chicken from Plum Creek Farms in Burchard, Neb., mustard, mayo, pepper and celery for crunch. And I think you know how I felt about the croissant.
The tomato-basil soup, available most days, also delivered: a rich, creamy, well-seasoned tomato base with toothsome chunks of vegetables, shreds of basil and buttery house-made croutons.
For a take-and-bake dinner, I chose a Pepperoni Cravers hors d'oeuvre (diced pepperoni, mozzarella and an herbed tomato sauce tucked inside a dozen scored little foldovers of all-butter puff pastry) and a pizza Lyonnaise (their pizza crust topped with bacon, thin slices of mushroom and red-skinned potato, artichoke hearts and a creamy leek sauce).
And for dessert, I sampled several cupcakes and the lone gluten-free item, a chocolate-dipped macaroon they call a Coconut Haystack.
Quibbles were few: Though six other cupcakes I tried were moist and wonderful, with smooth and satisfying frostings and fillings, a lemon chiffon cupcake and a pecan bar were a little too dry. And, perhaps because most of the breads still are baked in Lincoln, I didn't get as much of that yeasty, bread-baking aroma as I'd hoped from such a good bakery. (They do bake pastries on site and plan eventually to bake all the breads in Omaha as well).
I loved the perks that come with buying their goods in a proper shop: There's more variety and you can take your time choosing. You can get half-loaves of the larger breads, and they'll even slice the bread for you (in a shuddering machine that makes perfect toasting slices) if you like. You can pay with a credit card.
And, perhaps most importantly for pastry addicts like me, an almond croissant fix is now a real possibility most days of the week.
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