Hyde Park European Bakeries Tour
Author & Photographer: Nikki Kasal
Whether you’re craving a fluffy croissant, a crispy, custard-filled eclair, or an assortment of colorful macarons, a European bakery is sure to satisfy with a wide variety of French or Italian pastries. With three delicious European bakeries near campus, there’s no need to travel further than Hyde Park to satisfy even the strongest of dessert cravings.
When the sun finally broke through the clouds after a straight week of rain in the last few days of May, I knew it was the perfect time to explore these bakeries and sample what they had to offer.
Bonjour Cafe and Bakery
The first and perhaps the most authentic of the three is Bonjour Cafe and Bakery, a French-owned establishment located on the corner of 55th and Lake Park Ave. The weather was warm with a cool breeze, and there were several people enjoying lunch outside in front of the cafe. Immediately upon walking in, I felt as if I had been transported to a quaint Parisian street cafe. The decor was somewhere between kitschy and classic, with red leather barstools and bright green counters serving as an interesting contrast to the rest of the marble-and-wood furniture. Though the cafe offers an array of savory options (including French classics such as Croque Monsieur, a baked ham and cheese sandwich), I made a beeline for the sweet offerings instead.
After spending an agonizingly long time staring at their selection of pastries, I decided on their famous rose eclair after the Barbie-pink icing caught my eye. One bite and I was in heaven--the choux pastry itself was perfectly crispy, and was filled with a generous amount of smooth vanilla custard. The rose flavor of the royal icing was floral without being overly perfumey, and served as the perfect bold accompaniment to the understated vanilla.
I then made a detour to Italy and stopped by the Bakery at Piccolo Mondo, an offshoot of the Piccolo Mondo restaurant located right next door at 56th and Cornell Ave. This cafe was slightly smaller than Bonjour Cafe, the interior decked out in warm red and yellow tones and filled with plenty of sunlight. There weren’t too many other patrons around noon on a weekday, which only made the atmosphere that much more relaxing.
Though Piccolo Mondo offers a few savory sandwich options, its main focus is its assortment of Italian pastries. I opted for a Sicilian ricotta cake, studded with fresh blueberries and finished with dollops of whipped cream. The dessert tasted a bit like an elevated cheesecake, but crumblier, lighter, and not quite so sweet. The tartness from the blueberries contrasted nicely with the smooth, subtle ricotta taste of the cake,
Lastly, I stopped by Vanille Patisserie, a French-inspired patisserie located at Harper Court. This was definitely the most modern of the three bakeries, with an interior decorated with geometric white furniture and sparkling crystal and glass. Vanille specializes solely in pastries, and it shows--its entremets, chocolate tortes, tiramisus and meringue cakes were beautifully decorated, each a tiny work of art. However, no European bakery tour would be complete without trying the famous macaron, so I picked out a colorful duo of cassis (almond) and red velvet-flavored cookies. Though they were much more simply decorated compared to the rest of Vanille’s offerings, the flavors were just as sophisticated. The red velvet macaron, stuffed with whipped cream cheese filling, melted in my mouth, while the smooth, nutty cassis macaron had just the right amount of chewiness.
With these three European-inspired bakeries located right in Hyde Park, one doesn’t have to travel all the way to France (or even downtown, which can sometimes feel just as far) to get their fill of fresh, delicious pastries.