This month, Laughlin's Bakery celebrates three years in the Short North.
France's great gift to humanity, the baguette, seems a simple thing. It's nothing but water, flour, yeast and salt—and yet in the right hands it becomes magic.
Every day but Monday, that kind of magic is being conjured by Jonas Laughlin, proprietor and chief baker at Laughlin's Bakery in the Short North. The bakery's 21-inch yeasty baguette, crisp on the outside and somehow both substantial and pillowy on the inside, comes out of the ovens around 10 a.m.—just like in France. In my opinion, this is the best baguette ($3.50) in the city.
If the baguettes are sold out (sometimes by noon or sooner), then console yourself with another nearly perfect Laughlin's creation, the rustic white boule ($5) that boasts a thick, crackly crust and super-soft inside. Or grab a loaf of the whole wheat sourdough ($5)—earthy, hearty and almost smoky in character.
Laughlin's is one part boulangerie and one part patisserie, so the magic does not end at bread. Upon entering the little Second Avenue shop, you are confronted with three small tables, a handful of chairs and a multilayered display of—inhale—beautiful pastries, cookies, tea cakes, pound cakes, muffins, scones, bars, candies, pies and tarts. In service to my avocation, I have sampled as many of these wonderments as my visits permitted, and I can report that everything—yes, everything—is very well-crafted and a joy to the taste buds.
Channeling Julie Andrews, here are a few of my favorite things:
The cheese straws (little cracker-like rectangles) are to die for—supremely buttery and cheesy on first bite, followed by a burst of heat from cayenne that enhances the sharp cheddar cheese flavor ($5 per bag).
In the category of pastries, the Chausson aux Pommes ($3), a heart-shaped puff pastry, merges butter, apple and fall spices beautifully. The cheese Danish with local Cloverton cheese and lemon zest is terrific ($3), while one of the prettiest things available is the mini pear tart, in which latticework pastry covers the soft pear inside ($4).
Various tea and pound cakes are available whole or by the slice. I recommend them all, but in particular the almond citrus pound cake—it's one better than the lemon poppy seed cake with the addition of almond nuttiness ($3 per slice; $22 for a loaf).
The bakery also offers a line of full-sized cakes, from red velvet to carrot to German chocolate ($45–$55). The slice of carrot cake I sampled ($3) was vegetal and rich—Laughlin is not afraid to highlight flavors like carrot and pumpkin rather than cover them up with sugar.
The negatives are few, but I'd note that the macaroons and croissants are merely quite good. We live in a Pistacia Vera world, after all, where these things are perfect. And if you are in a rush, be aware that the bakery counter is usually staffed by one person.
Laughlin was at one time in training as an opera singer, an art that demands extremely hard work and near-perfection, before vocal cord damage caused by an infection stopped his dream. As sad as that is, I am glad that his passion for hard work translates to the baked goods here. Laughlin may no longer sing, but his handiwork surely does.