Last weekend my girlfriend and I decided that we needed to make a day trip to Milwaukee to stock up on New Glarus since you can’t get it here in Chitown. We ended up at Woodman’s about $100.00 later with every varietal they had and the standard Spotted Cow. We stopped at Tenuta’s Italian Deli for a sandwich and an Italian sausage all made in house. We also stopped at East Points Bar for some of the best spicy dry rub chicken wings in the world. Lakefront brewery was amazing and we had a few pints along the Milwaukee river. They brew in the building featured in Laverne and Shirley and give tours with a glove adorned beer bottle and all. The neighborhoods here are gorgeous and are coming up fast. New condominiums are being built right along the river to accommodate new residents which is nice since Milwaukee has had it’s share of ups and downs in recent years. I could see living here very easily as the cyclists have a designated path almost everywhere here including a sweet bike path under the bridge spanning the Milwaukee river. My love and I sipped pints of Lakefront Brewery’s best offerings while watching boats float down river.
We had some shopping to do for a recently married friend so we stopped at Riverwest Co-Op in the Riverwest neighborhood. I love the vibe at Riverwest Co-Op the minute you walk in the door. Friendly staff and a bevy of reasonably priced goods make this a top shopping destination while in Milwaukee. The two companies that piqued my interest were Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. from Milwaukee and Just Coffee Co-Op from Madison. Anodyne has sleek and smart packaging with minimal coloring and quirky messages about how their coffee “Alleviates Dullness”, “Soothes The Nerves”, “Enhances Well Being” and other commentary.
I find this to be so true as a cup of coffee always seems to bring me back to center and provides a moment to sit and reflect on life….Okay back to the beans. The selection from Anodyne Coffee Roasting was “Round River Blend”, an sustainably grown organic coffee made in honor of Aldo Leopold. This coffee reminds me of diner coffee but not in a bad way. It wasn’t overly bold or bright. Just a mellow blend that went down smooth with the pastries from Panaderia Evita and Ayutla.
The second coffee I bought was a Summer Seasonal Variety from Just Coffee Co-Op from Madison. These roasters are absolutely fabulous and treat every aspect of their business with mad respect for the people and product. They approached the bean farmers directly and cut out middle men to make sure you are getting the freshest beans at the best prices and the farmers get paid really well too. Just Coffee Co-Op is the business model of the future. Put Justice at the forefront of your business model and everything else just follows. These guys are an inspiration as people and as a business.
All the coffee at Just Coffee Co-Op is 100% Fair Trade and Certified Organic. On top of this you get high quality roasts at a good price in sexy packaging. They also deliver by bike and I highly approve of this. This Summer Seasonal is called “Dias Del Sol” which is also a blend of three beans was bold, bright, juicy and I could drink this all day. “Dias Del Sol” is a blend of beans from The Congo, Peru and Ecuador. So sweet and bright, almost juicy. It paired well with the Mexican pastries I picked up at two local Panaderias. This coffee was roasted perfectly and you can tell the blend took some time to get right. I prefer light roast in the french press more than just about any type of brew method at home for simplicity. Drinking espresso is a rare treat for me these days.
Now let’s talk about the wonderful pastries I snagged from Panaderia Evita at 6975 N. Clark and Panaderia Ayutla at 6963 N. Clark. These two Mexican bakeries are tucked in between Morse and Lunt on Clark on the East side of the street in heart of Rogers Park. They are both in tough competition and offer slightly different offering and styles of pastries. For years I have championed Ayutla as the place on Clark to get a quick sugar fix, but that may have changed after trying the less visible and not so well lit Evita. Evita is slightly more expensive and has less selection, but they are better in quality than Ayutla. I selected four pastries from each bakery including two donuts and two puff pasty rings with custard filling.
The first selection from Evita was an individual upside down pineapple cake. It was dense and not overly moist. The sugars browned really well on the edges and I love the fact it looks home made. The texture of the cake is light so the egg whites were most likely beaten to peaks first. The cake has the perfect golden hue and is not overly sweet. The pineapple ring on top and maraschino cherry are doing their job to moisturize and sweeten the cake as well as provide a pop of neon red and yellow.
The second pastry is a cylinder shaped tube of puff pastry more dense and dark than phyllo. When baked this layered pastry turns a very dark brown which looks like a whole wheat dough. Inside the pastry is airy and not overly buttery. The custard is sweet, eggy and light. It goes well with the pastry but is not as light and buttery as a French counterpart would have been. The Mexican pastries have a tendency to be dense unless they are sweet breads.
So the third selection was a cocoa concha which is a staple of Mexican pastries. It’s a sweet bread resembling a Conch shell. The sugar on top breaks apart when the bun expands in the oven and creates a gorgeous effect. You can get about 3-4 flavors of Concha depending on where you go. You will always find the four main conchas which are chocolate, pink, white and yellow. I prefer the chocolate as the other flavors are essentially just dye added to sugar. The Chocolate Concha at Evita is ridiculous. It doesn’t look as good as other conchas I have seen in the hundreds of Mexican bakeries in Chicago. But the lightness of the sweet bread was great and it is the perfect dunker for coffee. These are even great when stale, just dip in coffee.
The last selection from Evita was a yeast raised cinnamon doughnut. I haven’t had a lot of good doughnuts from Mexican bakeries and I was a little skeptical after eating about 12 “chocolate chip cookies” that tasted more like lard that sugar and butter. Surprisingly this doughnut was light, but too dense to enjoy really. It has great flavor, but I want a yeast raised doughnut to melt in my mouth, not require a ton of chewing. It really would have been much better with a finer grade of flour and more air pockets. I guess Tony Donutz is a snob when it comes to fried rings of dough. This is more of a do-not than a donut.
My selection from Ayutla started with a puff pastry ring with custard filling which is very common in Mexican pastry and sometimes you will see horns or cones of cream. The pastry is less dark than Evitas and slightly lighter but overly sweet and the custard is not as good and more yellow in color. It is more like a sweet golden jelly and isn’t very appealing.
The next selection was a chocolate doughnut which was fried well, but didn’t have great flavor in the icing or in the ring. Not much more to say here except that Mrs. Pepper was not happy this imposter doughnut made it into her kitchen. The next selection was a weaved dense pastry made from corn and wheat dough. It was undersweetend and dense. This was not very good and I didn’t enjoy it. It didn’t even deserve a picture it was so ugly and unappealing.
One pastry I really liked from Ayutla was a light and fluffy creme filled pastry that was kind of like a Bavarian Cream. It was a puffy doughnut cut through the middle to look like a pig snout. Two little holes above a cream filled slit and powdered with sugar. This one really hit the spot and the combo of dense cream surrounded by light air filled pastry was perfect. The sugar on top gave the pastry a nice look and sweetness. Overall I liked this more than anything I had at Ayutla. The Conchas here are still excellent and they have so much selecton. 4 pastries cost me $2.00 and 4 at Evita was $2.81 so basically you get a little more quality from Evita and less selection, but if you have a huge family or are having a party go to Ayutla and get a whole pizza tray of pastries for about $5.00.
Basically I was able to taste 8 different pastries from two different bakeries in Rogers for slightly more than it would cost to buy one doughnut at an “artisanal doughnut shop”. Now Tony Donutz isn’t necessarily a purist and sometimes you have to be a little flexible when it comes to doughnuts. Neither one of these places had great doughnuts, but they did have great Mexican pastries for pennies. Rogers Park never stops amazing me with it’s people and culture. And being able to drink a few cups of coffee from Wisconsin just about made this the perfect day. Now it’s time for a ride to burn of all the sugar and fat I just ate. Adios!