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La Baguette Unplugged 

It's hard to keep a secret in this town, but downtown's La Baguette has done a pretty good job so far. And it's kept not one, but two: First, there's the slightly publicized but highly organized Thursday Night Acoustic Open Stage, and second, there's the special Thursday night menu that accompanies it.

Best known for its freshly baked rolls, loaves and croissants, as well as the genteel menu it offers to the provincial downtown lunch crowd, La Baguette has boldly stepped up to the downtown music and food scene. By offering a venue for local acoustic musicians and an affordable menu to their fans, La Baguette provides a noteworthy community service.

Around 7 on Thursday nights, La Baguette undergoes a subtle atmospheric transformation. Speakers are installed, the lights are dimmed, and host Rick Rodriguez takes the makeshift stage up in the front window. Behind the counter, a new menu board appears, offering pizza, spinach dip and the trendy bruschetta. The menu reflects the crowd -- everyday working folk with a touch of uptown class.

Frankly I never thought I'd see the day when La Baguette branched out into pizza. Pizza seems so, well, common, especially for a place that specializes in hard-to-pronounce breads and desserts. I admit I was skeptical.

But with certain matters, like food, I love to be proved wrong. And in this case, I was. The thin-crust, 6-inch pizza pies hold their own. Served on a homemade, crispy, wafer-thin, lightly floured crust, the sauce is sweet and slightly spicy, the toppings plentiful, and the cheese evenly and generously spread.

The night I was there, the pizza du jour ($5.50) was sausage and mushroom. It was excellent. The sausage was lean and flavorful. The mushrooms were large and fresh. But remember: These pizzas are small. Sure, they're cute, with crispy rounded crusts and pretty toppings, but if you are really hungry, you'll need two, or something else to accompany your pizza -- like, say, bruschetta ($4.25) or spinach dip and veggies ($5).

Basically pieces of bread piled with pizza-like toppings, bruschetta tends to be a good partner to pizza. This bruschetta, however, reminded me of a little concoction I used to make when I was a kid: French bread slices, topped with tomatoes, cheese and sprigs of basil, which I would stick in the toaster oven and melt into oblivion. Even now, I still use this recipe, only I've since added garlic and olive oil to the list. La Baguette's recipe was eerily similar, and, in my opinion, if I can a) make it myself, and b) it turns out even better, we have a problem.

But luckily there is also the spinach dip plate on Thursday night's menu. It is served in a hollowed-out French roll, surrounded by fresh carrots, celery, green peppers, broccoli and the ever popular but rarely consumed cauliflower. The dip is creamy, with shreds of real spinach, and the veggies are crisp. And anytime something comes in a bread bowl, it's automatically kicked up a notch in my book.

Between the new menu and the excellent music offered, the downtown La Baguette has turned into a great place to chill on a Thursday night. With dimmed lights and candles on every table, it feels like a completely different place. And they've done a great job of cultivating a diverse, well-organized open-mike night.

On all other days, the downtown La Baguette is open until 7 p.m. But on Thursdays, the hours have expanded until 10 p.m. So meander on over. The music is great, as is the atmosphere and the new menu.

-- Suzanne Becker

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