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Friday, September 14, 2012

Świt Bakery & Cafe: This Bird Has Flown


Be warned. This post is pointless. Or maybe post-pointless. It contains a never-published review written three months ago about a restaurant that closed three weeks ago.

You can stop reading now. Or you can read on if you like looking back on (restaurant) history and seeing signs of what would come to be. Three months ago, we decided not to run this review, which was ready to go to print, once Świt’s owner told us off the record that changes were on the way and asked that we not write about the bakery/cafe for the time being. I did pen a little Omnivore post seeking readers’ thoughts on the quandary of knowing that a review may be totally pointless in a few weeks time if the restaurant were to totally revamp. Our ever-friendly commenters responded with a resounding, “who gives a flying flip?”

So, you probably still don’t give a flying flip, but maybe now that we know Świt will be replaced by the new West & Mill Bistro Bar, the management that has carried over from one incarnation to another can find a few nuggets of constructive criticism of their discarded café worth thinking about. (West & Mill's first service will be dinner tomorrow night, September 15) It sounds like Świt's quasi-European concept will still apply to the new bistro, with Eastern European and French/Belgian influences, and maybe that will work better at night than it did in the AM. Pairing up with beer and cocktails rather than coffee may just do the trick. Or it may not. We shall see.

Back to the time machine we go...

Cheap Eats: Świt Bakery & Cafe (now closed)

Three months old, Świt Bakery & Cafe is a work in process, a freshman in search of the right major. Right out of the gate, its breads and pastries and welcoming space have turned curious visitors into fans. But Świt’s management is already eager to shake things up. Maybe baked goods with a minor in Polish wasn’t the right path. Founder Ewelina Kieley is no longer involved. A liquor license has paved the way for wine and cocktails in the evening, and the dinner menu and dessert program to mesh with that are in the works. So consider the following a report card on a promising student who just might be changing majors next semester, or transferring to another college altogether.

Let’s start with the space. Świt feels a lot like the room described in the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood: the vaguely Scandinavian rustic chic feel, the warm pillows surrounding a fire. It’s a beautiful space that manages to be warm and open and airy - the kind of space you want to linger in. Like Norwegian Wood, Świt starts off with intrigue. You see the bakery, you see the loaves of bread, you note all the space for lazy lounging, and you wonder where it’s going. Like other casual combos of this sort, the order-at-the-counter thing can also confuse. The menu is a little card next to the cash register, fighting for attention with all those pastries displayed nearby. You’re not sure what will be brought to the table, what you need to wait for at the counter. So you sit by the fire, biding your time, wishing for wine.

Despite the Norwegian feel, Świt’s actual inspiration starts off due south of Scandinavia, in Poland. The name (pronounced “shveet,” which seems straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit) is Polish for “break of dawn,” certainly apropos for a bakery turning out pastries and sandwiches topped with over-easy eggs. While I don’t see Atlanta clamoring for a Polish menu, the presence of slightly exotic pastries such as jam-stuffed pączki (Polish jelly donuts) and vaguely eastern European dishes like potato latkes is a welcome twist on the familiar. That’s not to say that the menu sticks to Poland — there are Belgian fries, a Croque Madame, French toast and a turkey sandwich. Yes, the current menu flits a bit from here to there, in need of a bit more focus.

So far, at least, the focus should be more on the baked goods. The display of rustic loaves of bread stacked up behind the counter certainly draws the eye - thick, crusty, imperfectly shaped beauties of the sourdough, farm, and multi-grain varieties. They are uniformly quite good, if not quite best-in-class, with that sought-after synergy between soft center and crunchy exterior that fresh loaves should deliver. And much of the menu on the cafe side of things does indeed draw on the bread — with sections for sandwiches and open-faced “tartines.”

On the sweeter side of the bakery, the pastries are an excellent way to start the day, or brighten up an afternoon. The chocolate-drenched donut stands out, made with brioche dough for a texture that hits a pleasing balance of dense and airy. It’s the Valrhona 64% cacao dark chocolate ganache on top, though, that really makes this sing, with notes of bitter and sour and sweet and decadent. Isn’t it good? The pastry selections, though, have been relatively few each time I’ve visited. There’s room for more.

Of the other random things on the current menu, there are many mediocrities, though at least one delight. The delight is a plate of potato latkes. If Poland had its own Waffle House, they would make something like this in place of the “smothered and covered.” Świt’s latkes show a nice browned crunch around the edges, dotted with green onion inside, topped with a sprig of fresh dill and a plop of sour cream. Topped with a few slices of smoked salmon, this is the kind of dish — simple, slightly unfamiliar, well-executed — that more of the menu should emulate.

But the mediocrities? The Belgian fries and their accompanying sauces — standard variations like truffle mayo and spicy ketchup — are all serviceable, none are memorable. The fries lack the hallmark crunch of twice-fried Belgian fries. A “spicy cucumber tartine” over multigrain bread is anything but spicy. Sure, the bread is lovely, as expected, but the thinly sliced carrot and cucumber need a foil more interesting than the simple sour cream below. Likewise, the Croque Madame misses the toasted over-the-topness that this sandwich should display. It needs more béchamel, more cheese, more toast on the bread to become the indulgent mess it’s meant to be.

After all this intrigue — the artisan breads, the puffy pastries, the Polish/Belgian/French menu - one still wonders where exactly Świt is headed. It’s the bakery right now that shows the most promise, and all that Norwegian wood. Maybe Świt can follow the lead of the Octane/Little Tart Bakeshop combo that has worked so well in Grant Park, a similarly airy space that shifts its focus from pastries and coffee to dishes and cocktails as the day progresses. Or maybe it’s simply that this concept won’t fly here (has this bird flown?). Whatever the case, hopefully this won’t end the way Norwegian Wood does — in conflagration. It would be a shame to lose a good, quirky bakery just because the bread wasn’t enough.

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