It is a truth generally acknowledged that Haight Street needs a bakery. “Generally acknowledged” might tend toward hyperbole, but this deficit is one that crosses my mind most days. I’ll concede that I’m more enthusiastic about bakery goods than is the average citizen, but a well-appointed street like Haight shouldn’t be without a bake shop. By way of example, consider that my street has every other desired amenity: a natural foods store, a hardware store, package stores, bars, and restaurants*, a chocolatier, a music store, and a taxidermy shop. But no bakery.
Fortunately, Boulange de Cole is a few short blocks from my house. The Boulange Bakery empire began in 1999, when Pascal Rigo opened La Boulangerie (2325 Pine St.). Since then, the bakery group has added eight additional locations in San Francisco and four outside the city. Reflecting the Bay Area’s tendency toward seasonality, the Boulange bakeries have rotating specialties in addition to their fixed menus.
In most cases, I shy away from chains, both in disagreement with what they’ve come to symbolize (and what they often take away: from a neighborhood, from a city, and from our economy as a whole) and because their product is often inferior to those produced by small operations.
Not so with La Boulange. For one, the chain is a local chain, which in my book is not quite so egregious as national-chain status. More importantly, though, their product is outstanding. I’m gonna tell you straight, I’ve eaten a lot of croissants in my day, and La Boulange’s are among the best I’ve had. (Acme Bread’s croissants are also praiseworthy.) My dad joked that I should be getting comped for how aggressively I promote La Boulange, but he was a believer once he tried the Ham and Cheese Croissant.
My favorites are the Chocolate Hazelnut Croissant and the Almond Croissant; I order each with roughly equal frequency. The chocolate-hazelnut duo is one I came to love while studying in Berlin, where Nutella wasn’t reserved for dessert (or used as crepe filling), but was a standard breakfast spread. Where hazelnut was a common candy bar ingredient. La Boulange’s croissant is breathtakingly flaky; I sigh in contentment thinking of how much butter must have gone into the production of that dough. Wrapped inside the croissant are small pieces of chocolate, about the size and heft of charcoal drawing pencils. Not every bite includes chocolate, but the chocolate taste is strong enough to bridge the gaps.
The Almond Croissant is richer than its chocolate-filled cousin; I reserve it for occasions when I’m exceptionally hungry, when I plan to linger over my breakfast, picking individual slivered almonds from the crossaint’s exterior. It is devastatingly good with a cup of coffee (with just a splash of milk) and a few of the bakery’s gherkins, served in a canning jar alongside the other condiments, sweeteners, and coffee sleeves.
I realize I should count my blessings; Boulange de Cole isn’t that far away, and its [extremely-relative] “distance” from my house prevents me from going there four times a week. Still, having a Boulange right around the corner would be perfect: on lazy days, I could get a croissant to go and eat that croissant in my still-warm bed, reading my internets and sipping stove coffee**. On more ambitious days, I could get showered and dressed(!), eat at one of the bakery’s antiquey, rough-hewn tables, and gaze longingly at the display counter, considering what to try on my next trip. Think about it, La Boulange: I’m making an offer you can’t refuse.
*Albeit not great restaurants, but there are a few taco shops and a below-average diner with great art nouveau murals.
**Percolated coffee, which I make once in a while, usually on weekends. Weekday mornings are too hectic, yo.