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Peggy Grodinsky

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Posted: May 29, 2018

Belleville makes a beauty of a baked good

Written by: Peggy Grodinsky

The charming Belleville had me at hello – before hello, actually.

As I approached the small, sunlit bakery/cafe on Portland’s Munjoy Hill, a woman exited the place and jogged down the stairs, holding a brown paper bag about the size of a CD. A chunky Labradoodle leashed to a nearby post watched her intently. The woman reached into the bag and broke off a scrap of pastry for the expectant pooch.

It’s pain aux raisins, she told me. “He loooves carbs. He really loves the baguette.”

I’d come for the ravishing-looking croissant ($3), which I’d eyed on a previous visit and foolishly passed by. At that time, around 11 a.m., the nearly empty glass case at Belleville held just a few salted chocolate chip cookies ($2.50) and a lone croissant. Now I was here a few hours earlier, and on a mission.

This time, the case was crowded with temptations, a treasure trove of sweet and savory laminated pastries, including chocolate-pistachio, croque-monsieur and prosciutto-provolone croissants, as well as cinnamon buns and the lately ubiquitous kouign-amann, a butter bomb of a cake that originated in the Breton region of France; prices range from $2.50 to $6. With difficulty, I stuck with the plan – a plain (but by no means ordinary) croissant and a coffee, which Belleville stocks from Tandem coffee. (A real mug, as opposed to a paper cup, would have been nice.) I sat down, turned on my computer and – like several others at the few tables and the counter seats that line the window – I typed between sips and bites and wished that all my mornings began exactly this way.

The decor at Belleville is low key – French cafe chairs, a geometric backsplash, blonde-wood shelves and succulents. But despite its clean lines and air of simplicity, the place has a mystery: a framed old-fashioned sketch of a serious little girl in a party dress. The counter woman said it was baker Chris Deutsch’s French grandmother (who lives in the Paris neighborhood of Belleville, hence the cafe’s name). He told a different tale. In fact, he said, he found the rolled-up sketch in the walls of the building during renovations. Someday, he hopes, a customer will come in and recognize the girl.

Breakfast drifted into lunch. As the pizzas baked, the air in the cafe smelled exponentially better and better, and the promise of pizza held me there. Around 11 a.m., the counter gal set down several freshly baked trays. The place was filling up with a cross-section of the neighborhood, so I bought a square of shiitake-gruyere pizza ($5) to go. How I managed to carry it to my office without devouring it en route, I don’t know.

Belleville does three things, mostly, and it does them extraordinarily well: outrageously buttery, crackly laminated pastries; superb baguettes ($3) with heft and chew; and fat squares of inventively flavored and flavorful pizza (fig, rosemary and onion, for one; salami, for another). They offered a delicious-looking banh mi ($9) on a baguette one day and a meatball sub ($10) another.

Pizza, croissants and coffee don’t seem like obvious bedfellows, I told an acquaintance I ran into on the street after my first visit. That’s where you’re wrong, she replied. Those are exactly what Portlanders want.

Like the dog, she had it right.

Belleville

WHERE: 1 North St., Portland, 536-7463. On Facebook.
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WAIT: Depends on the time of day
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Probably not. You need to climb four exterior steps to get in the door.

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