I should be getting mileage for this job.
First I find Christine's, a bakery and sandwich shop in Rockrimmon -- off my beaten path, to say the least, but highly addictive.
Christine's carries a lovely selection of baked goods, from softball-sized muffins baked every day from scratch, to jewel-like fruit tarts, scones, croissants, cinnamon rolls, biscotti, cookies and a cherry oatmeal cake that had me fighting my children for the last crumbs. The very best feature: On Fridays, all the pastries are half-price. This would be the perfect place to stock up in anticipation of a weekend picnic.
Or even a weekday picnic. Christine's has some truly marvelous panini and sandwiches both hot and cold. They bake all their own breads, so whether your sandwich is grilled on focaccia or stuffed into a dinner or hoagie roll, you're getting the freshest base possible for your meal. The veggie sandwich ($5) is a marvel. Grilled zucchini, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and cucumbers, seasoned with a hint of garlic and tarragon, held together by melted Swiss and accented with a light lemon basil vinaigrette. But let me clue you in on a little secret. You can ask for any of the house-made dressings on your sandwich, and the Ale Onion Ragout is a condiment that would liven up anything. It's thick, robust, tangy and slightly sweet from the onions. The house dressings change regularly; the creamy cucumber is subtle but flavor-packed, and the berry vinaigrette also gets raves.
Hot sandwiches at Christine's range from $5 to $6.50 for the hot pastrami topped with sauerkraut, grilled onions and Swiss. You can also design your own sandwich for a little over six bucks, with your choice of meats, cheeses, vegetables and breads. Salads run the gamut from $4.25 for a simple tossed salad of greens, cukes, tomatoes and sprouts to $5.75 for an Italian salad with provolone, salami, pepperoni, onion and sweet peppers. If you happen in on a cool day be sure to check for the soup of the day. I had a magnificent minestrone with spicy sausage that had me licking the bowl.
Don't forget the bakery part. Your family will love you if you remember to pick up a rustic French loaf, white table bread (hearty and delicious), cracked whole-wheat loaf or Venetian olive bread for dinner.
That comment about mileage? The other caf and bakery I visited was Jamie's, in their new location at Country Club Corners, way down on the south end of town -- also not in my neighborhood, also very worth the trip.
First of all, Jamie's must be where cakes go when they die and go to heaven. There is a refrigerated case full of the most beautiful, luscious and decadent-looking cakes, pies, tortes and tarts that you've ever seen, all around $3 per slice. To get to them you have to pass a case full of bagels, cinnamon rolls, Danish, scones, muffins, coffee cakes, date bars, croissants and more ($1-$3). And then pass the case full of salads, which might include coleslaw, kidney bean and cheese salads, marinated green beans, pasta salads, marinated grilled vegetables, tuna pasta salad and many more. I succumbed to the ambrosia, which was light and sweet without being cloying, a delicious creamy blend of oranges and pineapple and coconut without too many mini marshmallows in the mix. I couldn't pass up a beautiful salad of emerald-green baby spinach leaves, mingled with mandarin oranges, tender, juicy chunks of white chicken and walnuts, served with raspberry vinaigrette. And the homemade pickled beets are truly delicious, lightly seasoned so the earthy flavor of the beets is accented, not overwhelmed.
For the main event, you can design your own sandwiches on your choice of whole-wheat, white or rye bread, all baked on the premises, for $5.50-$6.95. For hot sandwiches choose from the panino of the day (I tried the excellent pastrami and grilled onions), or the traditional favorites of Reuben, grilled chicken breast, grilled cheese or tuna melt ($4.95-$7.50). Or delve into the grilled side of the menu with burgers, a steak sandwich, gorgeous, plump all-beef hotdogs or beer brats.
If you have a hard time making up your mind when confronted with a vast array of delicious food, grab a menu when you walk through the door and then stand to the side to peruse it. You order at the counter and get a number, then your food is brought to you, whether it's take-out, indoor seating or outside on the spacious patio. Jamie's also has an extensive breakfast and Sunday brunch menu that I haven't been able to sample yet, with stuffed croissants, buckwheat hotcakes, crepes, quiches, eggs Benedict and more.
Regardless of where you live, one of these bakeries can't be too far from home. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to rotate my tires and gas up my car.