A pastry palace and more
For drivers and pedestrians alike, it was a long slog waiting for the Cambridge Street overhaul to end. After nearly four years of traffic backups, the project is finally done, leaving behind a repaved street, new sidewalks, a flower-filled median, and, lucky us, a new bakery/cafe.
At about the same time the last road crew left, the Spotted Apron opened at the foot of Beacon Hill in the wide-windowed spot last occupied by Paris Creperie. The place has the clean-lined look of an Ikea catalog, with white marble counters, free wifi, and walls painted butter yellow and chocolate brown - perfect hues for a pastry palace. The kitchen is partially open, so you can watch bakers scoop batter into cupcake trays and cut scores of tiny dough circles for "checkerboard" cookies. Just be sure to dab away that spot of drool before you order.
The pastries look divine, and many of them taste it, too, like the naturally fruity banana-cinnamon-hazelnut muffins ($1.95) and tartly sweet lemon-cornmeal-dried cherry scones ($1.95). Small oval carrot cakes ($3.85), so very moist, are crowned by silky frosting with an assertive cream cheese tang, while red velvet cupcakes ($3.35) have their own knockout topping: sweet-sour vanilla mascarpone. They're refrigerated, so best to let them come to room temperature before they go down the hatch.
Chocolate terrine (95 cents) studded with toasted nuts and dried fruit tastes like fudge extraordinaire. And I had one of the best brownies ever here: A chewy, deeply rich, "browned butter brownie" ($2.50) made with 70 percent Valrhona Guanaja chocolate.
There are underperformers, too, including pain aux raisins ($3.25) woefully lacking in raisins (mine had two), pecan sticky buns ($3.25) that need more brown sugar/whiskey glaze, and blueberry muffins ($1.95) crying for more berries.
But the Spotted Apron is more than a patisserie. It stays open dawn till dark, basically, and has a modest selection of grilled and cold sandwiches, salads, and empanadas, as well as a daily soup (the only item not homemade) and quiche. Some of the grilled sandwiches ($6.95), served on ciabatta with cornichons and olives, could use jazzing up - a condiment or some greens. And because they're a bit bready, I ate them bruschetta-style, minus the top slice. But they have wonderful taste, especially the goat cheese/roasted vegetable panini (eggplant, red pepper, zucchini) and the one with smoked turkey, tart green apples, and creamy brie.
Cold sandwiches include curried chicken salad with raisins and mango ($6.85), Waldorf tuna salad with red grapes and walnuts ($6.85), and deviled egg salad spiked with Dijon mustard ($6.50). They're only lightly mayonnaised (amen!), and each has great flavor and texture. As for the empanadas ($3.15), which are baked, not fried, and have pretty crimped edges: I love them. There are three types: salty spinach/feta; spicy chicken with cilantro, bell pepper, Spanish onion, and jalapeno; and a classic Argentine version with ground beef, red onion, green olives, and hard-boiled egg.
How's this for a charming touch: Eat-in orders are served on plateware hand-painted with the bakery's signature spots by co-owner Danielle Fishbein's mother.
The Spotted Apron has two main handicaps: Its sometimes princely prices and its sometimes grumpy service. The menu is well within Cheap Eats territory, but nearly $4 for a cupcake and nearly $7 for a small tuna sandwich? This feels steep, even for Beacon Hill. And why does the staff, especially the morning crew, seem so glum?
Cheer up, folks! You spend your days surrounded by cheesecake, coconut macaroons, raspberry Linzer squares, and oatmeal molasses cookies. You're the envy of us all.