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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: September 1, 2014

Congress Street sweets: Nothing random about the new Tandem Bakery

Tandem Bakery is a brilliant addition to Portland’s food universe offering old-fashioned cakes, cookies, pies and artisanal coffee.

Written by: John Golden

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.

Tandem Bakery at 742 Congress St., ,where the old Brakes and Shocks sign is still there

Tandem Bakery at 742 Congress St., ,where the old Brakes and Shocks sign is still there

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.

The lineup on Friday morning of Labor Day Weekend

The lineup on Friday morning of Labor Day Weekend

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.”

Baker Briana Holt tending to business

Baker Briana Holt tending to business

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.

Tandem staff tending to coffee service and breakfast pastries

Tandem staff tending to coffee service and breakfast pastries

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.

Hot-cross style breakfast pastries, chess pie in background and blueberry crumble pie (right)

Hot-cross style breakfast pastries, chess pie in background and blueberry crumble pie (right)

Loaf cakes, Tandem coffee and cookies

Loaf cakes, scones, Tandem coffee and chocolate chippers, waiting in the wings

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.

Tandem breakfast corn muffin studded with bacon and the surprise whole egg inside

Tandem breakfast corn muffin studded with bacon and the surprise whole egg inside

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.

Comfortable indoor seating and picnic tables outside too

Comfortable indoor seating and picnic tables outside too

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.

Signature cake boxes

Signature cake boxes

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!

 

 

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