New Orleanians have three fresh reasons to avoid their ovens this summer.
For two years, baker/owner Christina Balzebre of Levee Baking Co. sold her rustic breads and pastries at farmers’ markets and as a weekly pop-up, with demand routinely outpacing capacity.
Balzebre found her new storefront in the Irish Channel, just off Magazine Street (the space that formerly housed Cloud Nine Bistro). The vibe is both cozy and contemporary — wooden tables and stacks of cookbooks against an airy backdrop of exposed brick and a concrete floor. On opening weekend (June 29-30), trays of croissants, chocolate babka, peach hand pies, and kouign-amann lined the counter, as well as a trio of cookie options (two of them vegan). Savories included flatbreads topped with seasonal fruits and vegetables and a poppyseed-sprinkled croissant filled with farmers cheese, house-made mustard and caramelized onions. The beverage selection highlights local producers such as HEY Coffee Co. and Insanitea Kombucha.
Levee’s signature items are its breads — the crusty country loaf and focaccia sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary — and its ever-changing selection of pastries. Offerings reflect the inventory of local farmers markets — currently a blend of peaches, blackberries and tomatoes. Soon there will be figs, which Balzebre will incorporate in hand pies, jams, atop flatbreads and nestled in pastry with goat cheese and fresh herbs.
Balzebre plans eventually to roll out a small menu of lunch items, including salads and sandwiches, and will offer cake by the slice. She also wants to host evening pop-ups and eventually obtain a happy hour-friendly liquor license.
In Broadmoor, Omie Johnson has transformed a quiet corner into a sugary oasis: the Tiger Bakery, which she opened in early June with the help of her three children. The name refers not to a university mascot but a children’s book about a tiger who crashes an afternoon tea and gobbles a tableful of treats.
The menu draws inspiration from many sources, including New York’s Italian-style bakeries (Johnson originally hails from the Northeast). Rainbow sprinkles adorn cookies including classic chocolate-dipped sandwich cookies with raspberry jam filling. Savory Italian options include flatbreads with a variety of toppings as well as ravazzate, Sicilian buns stuffed with either tomato and meat or mozzarella and summer vegetables.
Cinnamon rolls, crackly-shelled cream puffs, tarts and cookies (including a standout sesame dulce de leche) round out the pastry menu.
For an original take on summertime refreshment, Tiger offers the sno-flower, the love child of New Orleans sno-balls and Hawaiian shaved ice. Its visual artistry is enhanced by house-made syrups, with flavors ranging from traditional (lime, strawberry) to exotic (jasmine cream, matcha chai).
The bakery offers a full coffee and espresso menu and a selection of house-made cold beverages. A corner banquette with several small tables allows customers to linger while gobbling their treats, tiger-style.
Local chef favorite Bellegarde Bakery saw its star rise in March when its country boule graced the cover of Food & Wine magazine’s “Makers Issue.” Bellegarde will open its first retail location July 13 in the Leonidas neighborhood near the intersection of South Claiborne and South Carrollton Avenues. The shop, which will be open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, will offer a selection of Bellegarde’s house-milled flours and grits as well as loaves and a special cold drip blend from Congregation Coffee.
There’s always something new to try in New Orleans.