Sunday, March 16, 2008

REVIEW: Seven Stars Bakery- **** / $$

I wasn't going to review Seven Stars. It's not a restaurant, and it's not really a cafe either. Still, I reviewed Emilio's Bakery, so I guess I should attach a star review to this, as well. I dunno'. I'm confused and scared. Where are my pants? Regardless, Seven Stars Bakery thoroughly impressed me and it definitely deserves those four stars. The bread is excellent, the pastries excellent, and the coffee & espresso rate amongst the best I've had. Put this place on your short list of establishments at which to gain a pound or two.

Seven Stars has two locations, both of which are mobbed all day. The location on Hope Street at least has sufficient parking, alleviating some of the headache. The Hope Street location is also the original and as such is inferior in aesthetic to the Broadway location. The Broadway location is much more finely textured and warm, compared to the wide, blank, almost warehouse-like feel of the other. The Hope Street location has a (very cool) large, chrome baker's oven door on the wall, styled circa 1945. It's a glorious touch to an otherwise unimpressive interior.

Both locations have lots of windows, which let the light come in, with tables pressed against them so you can while away an hour or two, basking in the sun and the delectable aroma coming from the back room. During the summer months, they erect some tables and chairs outside to provide some reprieve to the chair-less hordes waiting for a place to sit. On busy days, even these aren't enough.

Now down to business: all the baked goods. They make sandwiches on bread that is so amazingly chewy my dining partner was unable to eat the sandwich. I'm sure there are many who enjoy a sandwich that makes you work for your meal, but rendering your food inedible to some people is just dumb. Luckily for us and them, this is as bad as it gets. It's all uphill from here.

The pastries are excellent across the board. The cinnamon twist is layered, crispy, flaky, and ever so lightly flavored with cinnamon as to just set your heart aflutter. The cream cheese danish is equally flaky, with a dollop of sweet, smooth cream cheese in the middle. It is the best cheese danish I've had in Rhode Island. Muffins remind me of muffins my parents used to eat when I was young. I remember not liking muffins at that age because I found them too rough and bready. I had sometimes wondered how the hell I couldn't like muffins considering that most of them are basically cake. Now I know why. These are muffins. Not the cloying pieces of child-sating sweetness you get at Dunkin' Donuts.

Now that I've said that, I really like those cloying pieces of child-sating sweetness. I certainly appreciated these muffins and enjoyed them, but I still think I'd go with the cakey ones. Go ahead. Call me uncultured. Just don't call me late for dinner. Oh ho! Buddum bum ching. The pecan sticky buns were illegally delicious; dense with caramel (care-a-mel) and sweet but not too, which was very well done. The brownies were a personal favorite since they tasted like the ones I make at home. Dense, not too cakey, and most importantly, a very subtle sweetness.

The croissants are as perfect as I can imagine a croissant to be. Large, flaky, light, and buttery. I only wish I could be there to get the croissants fresh from the oven, like they should be eaten. The only pastry that didn't leave me impressed with its quality were the scones. Calling them bad would be inaccurate, but they were not excellent. They were... good. I would have no qualms about buying them, but unlike many of the other offerings, I wouldn't make a drive for the scones.

I also wouldn't make a drive for some of the breads. The bread, here, is a mixed bag. Some of the bread is well-priced, such as a French baguette for $2.99, but others are alarmingly priced; alarmingly to the tune of $9 for a single loaf of bread. Freshly made bread is an experience. The freshly made bread at Seven Stars is no different, but loaves like the cheese bread, with cheese baked into the boule, were dry, and the cheese means you can eat the bread as it is or... with more cheese. Perhaps on a sandwich, but why pay extra for cheese in your bread when you can simply add it yourself?

They must also compete with some large-scale bakeries producing their own, good breads. Ecce Panis, for example, makes some damned good bread and makes it for $3.99 a loaf. Seven Stars does little to make a value proposition for their breads which cost more than twice as much. I will go so far to say that Seven Stars is better, but not enough so to warrant the prices. The pastries are not covered in this criticism. The pastries are all very competitively priced. For example, the muffins and croissants are $2 each, which is right in line with what most other places charge.

Seven Stars Bakery is more than just a bakery, it's a cafe and a trendy hang-out, emphasis on the trendy. The pretentio-meter went off the scale during one visit to the Hope Street location. Hemp bags, soy lattes, judgmental stares, and a judicious helping of facial metal were de rigeur. I'm not sure why I got so many disapproving looks. Was my fly down? Did I have something in my teeth? Did my 220 pounds not mesh well with their chic, vegan frames? I guess we'll never know.

As any trendy hang-out needs, Seven Stars has good coffee and espresso. Very good, in fact. The chai was... strange. Overly floral with bitter notes made it more like east Asian tea and not chai. It was alright, but when I order chai, I expect chai. The tea selection in general was pretty thin. Stock a few bags, it's not hard. The espresso, though, did not disappoint in the slightest. Every time, deep and powerful, with milk steamed very well. On one trip, I received one of the best lattes I've ever gotten; something I was not expecting from a bakery.

Some credit can undeniably go to New Harvest Coffee, who provided the beans. They consistently produce some of the best coffee the state has to offer and it shines through loud and clear. They choose a one of the heavier roasts, with dark, chocolate notes as opposed to the lighter, nuttier roast I get more frequently. All taken in, better coffee can be had a bit of a ways down Hope street on Wickenden, at Coffee Exchange, where, interestingly, they also carry baked goods from Seven Stars. I guess it's a toss-up as to which is more important on any given trip. You'll get better coffee at CofEx, but the pastry selection is pretty lean.

I came away from Seven Stars Bakery suitably impressed. Good atmosphere compliments a wide array of delicious, well-priced pastries and very good espresso and coffee. Since discovering it, I've made the 30+ minute trip on multiple occasions, and will undoubtedly do so many times in the future. It's hard to deny a place that does everything it sets out to do so well. Nothing is notably lacking. The coffee and espresso reveal owners who care about the cafe as something more than to just satiate the caffeine-crazed coffee hamsters there for the pastries. Seven Stars is one of Rhode Island's best bakeries and one of her best cafes.

Seven Stars Bakery: ****
Price range for two: $10-$20 (I kinda' improvved this. It's the price for two coffees and pastries)

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342 Broadway
Providence, RI. 02909
Monday through Friday 6:30am to 6:00pm
Saturday & Sunday 7:00am to 4:00pm

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820 Hope Street
Providence, RI. 02906
Monday through Friday 6:30am to 6:00pm
Saturday & Sunday 7:00am to 6:00pm

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