Most supermarkets’ in-house bakeries are so mediocre—all those spongy rolls, brick-hard brownies and wan baguettes—no self-respecting food-lover would ever buy cookies or pie at the same place they bought their cereal and pasta. But the new addition to Fresh Fanatic, the two-year-old grocery in an old chocolate factory on the corner of Washington and Park, is the delicious exception.
With help from pastry chef Michael Allen, a 30-year baking veteran with a café on Fulton Street in Clinton Hill, the market will soon be making canelé, croquembouche and croissants, fresh baguettes and bagels and all manner of superlative sweets, like salted-caramel peanut brownies, olive oil gelato, sour-cream apple crumb cakes and pumpkin pecan pies.
Over the past year Allen had already been supplying Fresh Fanatic—in a quiet ’hood called Wallabout that’s literally in the shadow of the BQE—with sweets made a few miles away at his four-year-old shop near Grand Avenue, aptly named Desserts by Michael Allen. But when the supermarket got to talking about adding house-baked breads and custom cakes, says Andrew Goldin, who owns the business with his brother David, they figured Allen might as well make those, too. So Allen will shutter his shop this month and move to the kitchen the supermarket built just for him. By late December, he should be making all the breads and sweets found in the store.
The 55-year-old pastry chef has plenty of experience with high volume production. He’s a second-generation bread man—his folks ran a commercial bakery on Long Island, so he was raised around flour and yeast. Nearly 30 years ago he was hired by Hisae, a celebrity-packed Chinese restaurant on Madison Avenue, where he baked cakes for the likes of Joe Namath, Lauren Bacall and Dustin Hoffman. Since then, Allen has worked in dining rooms of the United Nations in the 1980s, served as founding pastry chef at the re-opening of Delmonico’s in the 1990s and was hired on at Water’s Edge in Brooklyn before launching his own place in 2008—which also served coffee, sandwiches and gelato to a part of Brooklyn then seriously lacking in café culture.
Just as his old ’hood is now on the rise with dozens of new restaurants and bars, Allen also has high hopes for his new corner—a warehousey, sparsely populated place he thinks packs serious retail potential.
“This,” he says of his new bakery home, “is gonna be the next Dumbo.”