Thursday, July 2, 2009

REVIEW: Village Hearth Bakery- **** / $

The Village Hearth has been baking away for years, and as they've grown, they've upped the ambiance, the size, the menu, and, importantly, the hours. I lived for over a year on the island and never found time to make it there during their very restricted schedule. Now with summer upon us, their hours have seriously opened up; they're closed only Monday and Tuesday. It's unfortunate that they close at 4:00pm on weekdays, since my work doesn't end until then, because I would like to make this charming bakery a more frequent destination.

They have a single bake of the day, starting at about 3:00am. Of course this means that when they run out, they run out. You will get no more until the next day. So unless you want an either non-existent selection or simply a poor one, you better show up early. One of the employees advised me that the pastries are usually extinct by 10:00am, but I've been there on weekdays and even a Sunday when there was a still decent selection. One Sunday, I was able to get a mixed fruit rustic tart and two slices of quiche, but that was pretty much the extent of the selection. Basically, if you want a croissant or sticky bun, be prepared to wake up early.

The Village Hearth has come a long way from its plain, spartan beginnings. They now have a fabulous garden area, with flowers and bushes, a spacious deck and dining area, and large windows, doors, and skylights letting in buckets of natural light. Someone here is a big fan of Seven Stars, because the layout, ambiance, and architectural touches are all very similar. Honestly, though, they nail it here better than Seven Stars. The chairs have a distinctly nautical look to them with wooden slates and brushed metal. The smooth copper tabletops look and feel fantastic. And when the doors are open wide, you can smell the ocean pretty strongly.

The outside dining area is especially nice, and very much needed, since the interior is a bit small. Jamestown can get bustling, but it never gets genuinely busy. Traffic sounds are of the quaint, pleasant variety, and the chatter of passing island-dwellers permeates the building. The roadway is situated north-south, so the windows gets excellent sun from morning to close. Combined with the sounds and smells of such a small island, Village Hearth gels into the nicest al fresco cafe in Rhode Island.

The Hearth hits a home run with its bread. It's easily as good as its most direct comparison, Seven Stars, and a bit cheaper to boot. Their selection is diverse and inventive, with many of their breads bordering on meals unto themselves. I'm generally unimpressed with bread covered in stuff, though. I prefer my bread to be bread and like it when the toppings and ingredients can be used as a sandwich. If the bread already is covered in roasted tomato, cheese, and a thousands herbs, it seriously limits the potential of the bread. Still, I can't directly hold this against a bakery. They're being inventive and I must applaud that. Moreover, I am a bit biased and the variety of breads available means that criticism can't hold up against tea breads or dessert breads like stollen, which are basically meant to be eaten alone. Notably, the bakers here are more inventive than those of Seven Stars. Considering their limited size, they produce an inventive assortment of breads that changes each day. This is what having a great bakery nearby is all about, an adventure cast in dough.

The breads run the gamut from crispy boules to chewy batards. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Flakey and dense. The bakers certainly know how to make bread. A personal favorite was the sunflower seed multi-grain loaf. And on my most recent trip, they had a delectable fougasse. Now that is not a bread you're going to find at the supermarket. It's nice that we have a world-class bakery so far from an urban area.

The pastries, much like the breads, rarely hit a sour note. Again, their selection appears limited by their size and they sell out early. This is the one area where Seven Stars takes the trophy with a longer availability of more items. Still, when what they have is available, it's very much worth a purchase. Two fruit tarts were packed with explosively flavorful fresh fruit, but they tasted more like small pies than tarts, especially the second type, which actually looked like a small pie. Delicious, nonetheless. Simply mis-named, perhaps.

The pecan sticky bun was a knockout success. It was one of the least sweet sticky buns I've ever had, which for me is a big plus. Some pastries have evolved to become so cloying that they are no longer appetizing. A good breakfast pastry should have a fine balance of sweet and savory, ever so delicately falling over the fence into the land of sweet. This what makes a croissant with just a bit of jam on it taste so sinful. Obviously, you'd expect a sticky bun to be sweeter than that, and it is, but it's not dripping with syrupy-sweet goo. This is one of the best pecan sticky buns I've ever had.

One of my only real complaints was the muffin. It was surprisingly bland and a bit small. It was neither very bran-y nor cakey. It was a sort of middle ground that, while good, wasn't something I'd really desire like I would so many of their other creations.

The sandwiches were good. The turkey sandwich I ordered came on their sunflower seed multigrain, which just made the meal. Unlike Seven Stars, who use a bread so dense and chewy that eating it is a freaking endeavor, this bread is much easier on the mouth muscles. And as I mentioned above, this bread is my current favorite, so I like it as much as I expect I'd like any sandwich on it. Otherwise, the sandwich was a sandwich, with good quality deli meat on it for a fair price, it's hard to complain. The quiche was a similar story. Very well prepared, with a variety of veggies like mushrooms and green onions, I liked it even cold. If you're willing to wait a while, you can have them heat up your slice in their oven. It takes a good ten minutes to get it up to temp, but I think it's worth it. I don't come to a bakery to get quiche, but the fact that they have it, and that it's good, continues to elevate the Village Hearth to a legitimate option for a full-on breakfast.

Continuing on with breakfast, we need a drink! And what drink goes best with everything breakfast related? Anyone? What, you don't actually know? Or is no one out there? Out there, in the cold, vastness of cyberspace. Sigh. COFFEE! If you don't like coffee, they have a good selection of teas, and San Pellegrino's Aranciata and Limonata sodas, which are crisp and refreshing... unlike San P's god-awful and confusing website (I just had to mention that). But I, unlike you, you pinko commie, do like coffee, and I especially like espresso. I was encouraged by the visible placement of a La Marzocco Linea espresso machine right next to the register.

I was not let down. My first latte had some pretty poorly steamed milk, and the shot was under-extracted, but that was the exception. Without fail since then, the milk has been well-steamed and the espresso has been dark, but mellow and not over-done. After asking, my suspicions were confirmed as New Harvest Coffee. They provided the machine (I got it wrong. The bakery didn't buy the machine from New Harvest, they simple got a recommendation from them), the coffee, and the training and they did an excellent job. No matter who makes the drink, the espresso is well-pulled and the milk is dense, silky, and sweet. I am so frequently let down by the texture of milk in espresso drinks, but not here. This alone would be enough to recommend them. Add to that the fact that they are the only true cafe on all of Jamestown, the best cafe in any direction for about twenty minutes, AND a bakery, well gaw-lee sarge, this place is the bee's knees.

(The photo references the second latte I received, which was well-pulled, but the milk still had some big bubbles in it. Again, this was the exception so just imagine the drink with better milk.)

I've been racking my brain to try and figure out how to rate this place. What it has is certainly as good as Seven Stars, which despite its name I gave four stars, but its selection is very limited. And the small kitchen, combined with a single daily bake, means pretty much everything is gone well before noon. I'd be less reticent if they had the selection to equal SS, or goods were available later into the day, but even considering that, I think I will err on the side of praise. They certainly deserve it. Perhaps if the drinks hadn't been so damned good, or everything I managed to actually get hadn't been basically perfect; but they were, and for that, The Village Hearth is the equal of Seven Stars, and truly worthy of your time and dime.

They serve wood-fired pizzas on Sunday nights from 4:30pm to 7:30pm. I've tried to make it twice, and both times I've failed because of crushingly long waits. I'm going to try again with a telephone order and simply pick it up. I will update this space after succeeding.

The Village Hearth: ****
Price: Pastries range from $2 to $7. Breads are similar.

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2 Watson Ave
Jamestown, RI 02835-1418

Wednesday & Thursday 7:00am to 2:00pm
Friday & Saturday 7:00am to 4:00pm
Sunday 7:30am to 2:00pm with pizza served 4:30pm to 7:30pm
Friday & Saturday 7:00am to 4:00pm
Sunday 7:30am to 2:30pm with pizza served 4:30pm to 7:30pm


Anonymous said...

I am responding to your comment about the website: "which are crisp and refreshing... unlike their god-awful and confusing website. I just had to mention that"
The web page is in progress the page was posted to give the hours and address. When the website is complete it will have more pages content; bread, pizza, pastries, coffee and tea.
Other than the obvious issue with name which is very long and "villagehearthbakerycafe" and could be confused with another site "villagehearthbakery". It would be helpful to know what you find confusing.

Aaron MC said...

Hi Anonymous,

And thanks for your comment. I DID NOT mean the Village Hearth's website, which was fine. I was referring to San Pellegrino's website. Go to it. You'll know what I'm talking about.

If a person going there didn't know what San Pellegrino did, they'd have a damned hard time figuring out what they sold, where they sold it, or who they were.

So, no, the Bakery's website was totally fine. It didn't exactly what it was meant to. San P's website is shite. I shall make this more clear in the review.