Tandem Bakery is a brilliant addition to Portland’s food universe offering old-fashioned cakes, cookies, pies and artisanal coffee.
Food, more food and even more food. It’s growing by leaps and bounds in Portland. Restaurants, bakeries, food purveyors—can the city absorb it all? By the looks of it, the answer is a resounding yes—the good establishments are not complaining one bit.
The sweetest of the newcomers is Tandem Bakery, where a baker extraordinaire (truly) wields her magic whisk. It opened last week in the old Brakes and Shocks/ Bubble Laundry building that has sat empty at 742 Congress Street for several years.
On opening day (last Thursday) baker Holt’s sweet musings were sold out within the first few hours. Obviously it’s exactly what this popular West End neighborhood needed, rounding out the worldly restaurant row of nearby Longfellow Square. Residents can now walk down the block and pick up some biscuits, cakes, pies, pastries and good coffee from namesake Tandem Coffee Roasters, owner-operator of this enterprise.
Briana Holt perfected her craft the old-fashioned way—she baked and baked by her mother’s side as a child and her passion for baking developed. She was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard where, she said in a brief interview, “It’s still an old-fashioned place. Lots of chowders, cakes and pies, good old homey New England food.”
Part of her lineup includes some unusual items. I tried the rye shortbread, made with rye flour and scented with orange rind and lots of butter. These crisp, buttery cookies are a cookie-jar classic. I could have woofed down a pile of them.
Then there’s her breakfast pastry line up including sticky buns, scones and a fabulous corn muffin—light and fluffy, studded with bacon and a whole egg inside. It’s a great relief from the usual gooey bacon-egg-cheese sandwich, heart stoppers that are getting way to big.
Then there’s the pies. I tried the blueberry crumble and the lemon buttermilk chess pie, a mainstay of the southern pie making and one of my all-time favorites, which I make all the time at home.
The custard of the chess pie was flawless, thick and rich with the tang of citrus and buttermilk. The bottom crust wasn’t soggy, either, though the overall shell was a bit unusual. It’s an all butter crust, but I’d like to know what Holt is doing to it? It’s not flakey but crisp instead.
The blueberry crumble-topped pie was another perfect piece of pie. The filling wasn’t overly sweet but just right and I loved the crunchy, candylike topping.
There will also be a full complement of cakes. Holt loves loaf cakes, Bundt’s and towering old-fashioned layer cakes. These will be available soon. For now there’s a whopping carrot cake.
I have a few very minor comments, some nitpicking if you will. I think it would be better to prepare and present the pies in metal pie plates rather than the throw-away foil pans that the bakery uses. Metal pie plates are cheap and reusable and the presentation would look so much better.
Perhaps this next comment is purely personal. But I’ve always disliked coffee served in clear glass cups, which is the practice here. Tandem coffee is excellent, even if it costs a whopping $20 per pound, and deserves typical heavy pottery mugs or porcelain cups.
In any case, this is a great addition to the neighborhood and the bakery has parking on premises so there’s no excuse not to get there and stock up!