Fresh from the oven 

Two unique bakeries serve up satisfying treats

With Starbucks and Caribou Coffees lining streets almost as thickly as kudzu lines country roads, it's easy to get in a daily rut of mass-produced coffee and thawed-out refrigerated pastries. There's no need to settle, however, when a plethora of bakery options, both ethnic and traditional, stretch across the city offering their own creations baked fresh every day. On different sides of town, two independent options satisfy the crave for a change.

My way, the highway: Choosing just one Indian eatery along Lawrenceville Highway can be a task in itself. Even the most miniscule convenience store boasts fresh pastries alongside lottery tickets. Royal Sweets Bakery, however, offers some of the best vegetarian samosas in the city.

Inside, the only adornment is a small strip of yellow-flowered contact paper tacked underneath intersecting glass cases, within which lays assorted Indian treats so appealingly colorful, they more than make up for lacking decor. With no menu save a dry-erase board featuring hot treats freshly prepared, the owners must guide gringos through their wares, typically forgoing Indian names in favor of English descriptions.

Pocket feast for pocket change: At 75 cents each, I expected the samosas to be small and ordered four. The joke was on me, however, as the deep-fried pockets of potatoes, peas, lentils and fennel seed proved so massive that I could barely finish one. Though mingling red pepper flakes provided quite a bit of heat, it was easily cooled by the traditional servings of spicy-sweet red sauce and cooling cilantro sauce. I managed to gobble a second before a doughnut-hole-like dessert bobbing in a pool of sweet honey sauce, also 75 cents apiece, began calling me. Those who are nuts for nuts will find dense cashew and sweet pistachio barfi fudge squares (yet again, 75 cents) pleasing. A return voyage is in the works to try more since everything within eyesight and finger's reach looks, if not pronounceable, certainly enticing.

Take the high road: Closer to home, Highland Bakery in the Old Fourth Ward's Bakery Lofts is filling a much-needed gap in the neighborhood's eateries. Open at 7 a.m. on weekdays, their fresh organic coffee ($1.50 for a large) and whole grain breads (price varies according to type), cinnamon rolls ($1.75) and bagels offer a welcome alternative to the morning grind.

With one bank of large loft windows framing downtown and another revealing the bakery itself, the Highland Bakery is all sunlight and ambience. Original artwork rests along walls painted to mimic exposed brick. Loaves of fresh, stone-ground, chemical-free bread are set on simple wooden shelves behind the counter, producing the feel of an old world bakery.

Not half-baked: Highland Bakery seeks to be a true neighborhood bakery where people stop in to buy fresh bread daily. It also offers a limited number of breakfast and lunch selections. Stop by for a simple bagel with cream cheese ($1.75), or to create a personalized breakfast sandwich, add your choice of toppings including egg, bacon, turkey, ham and cheese (sold a la carte, prices range 50 cents to $1) to a daily selection of bagels ($1.50 each). The limited but solid lunch menu features sweet turkey and barbecue pork sandwiches ($6.25, served with a side of chips), as well as robust daily soups in hearty wheat bread bowls ($4.95). Just a short jaunt from downtown or Midtown, it's certainly worth the trip if for nothing more than a quiet reprieve from the cramped crawl of city streets.


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