I haven't lost my sweet tooth, but as I grow older, I have more trouble remembering where I left it. I don't order dessert often, and when I do I share it. I average one candy bar per month, a desperate-breakfast doughnut maybe every other week. And the good stuff? The cacao-rich boutique chocolates? The artisan baked goods? I suppose it's the lingering aftermath of a Jesuit education, but I rarely treat myself.
Of course, you're not supposed to feel guilty for not eating sweets. But that's how I felt when I learned last week that one of my favorite bakeries, and without doubt one of this town's best, La Dolce Via, will close on January 1, 2013, after ten years. Several months had passed since my last visit there. In November 2011, another very good bakery in the city, BitterSweet Bakery, shuttered after a regrettably brief run.
This is my roundabout way of saying that it's time to celebrate Pint Size Bakery & Coffee.
Owner and chef Christy Augustin is a St. Louis native. After attending culinary school in Florida and working in New Orleans for a few years, she returned to St. Louis to work as a pastry chef, first at the late, great King Louie's then for Kevin Nashan at Sidney Street Café.
In May of this year, she opened Pint Size Bakery in a small, stand-alone building along Watson Road just before it merges with Chippewa Street in south city. Actually, calling this space small is overly generous. It's tiny, with Augustin and her bakers working in a kitchen located right behind the counter where the baked goods are on display. There is no seating, save for a couple of patio tables outside the entrance. I'd call it takeout only, but if you can pull out of the parking lot without opening your to-go box, something is wrong with you.
Augustin describes her approach as "[going] back to how people used to bake: seasonal ingredients, real butter, real sugar. None of that fake junk."
Her husband describes her aesthetic as "punk-rock grandma," which, let's be honest, is far catchier.
With so many baked goods, she says, "You don't really know: How many fillers [are there]? How much corn syrup? Is it real butter?
"I'm really focused on using farm-fresh eggs," she adds. "I use so many eggs. The quality of commercial eggs was grossing me out."
Pint Size's menu includes a wide range of sweets: cookies, cupcakes, brownies, scones, muffins and more. As befits a bakery with a seasonal bent, the particulars change often, sometimes from day to day. When I visited last week, for example, local peaches (along with a few not-local blueberries) were the featured ingredient in the "Brown Suga" crumb cake. This cake is roughly the circumference of a compact disc — ask your parents, kids — and maybe an inch thick. Though the flavor had a definite note of brown sugar, the subtler sweetness of the fruit was front and center. Likewise, a plump scone was studded with dried cranberries and nibs of dark chocolate, a lovely marriage of sophisticated sugars.
Not all Pint Size pleasures are so subtle. The "Oatmeal Cream Pies" bring two oatmeal cookies, delightful on their own, sandwiched around a layer of marshmallow-fluff buttercream that will kick your brain into Proustian nostalgia overdrive. One is probably enough for two people to share, but order two (just in case). There's also a "Dreamsicle" that follows the same principle: buttercream sandwiched between two cookies. My dog ate this out of the container when my back was turned. I'm happy to report that Pint Size now offers baked dog treats.
Brownies are incredibly rich with both cocoa nibs and a strong dose of espresso. The "Quart-Size Cookies" are smaller than a Frisbee, but not by much. The triple-chocolate variety will satisfy your chocolate urge for a while. Apparently the hottest seller at Pint Size right now is the salted-caramel croissants, served on Saturdays. I haven't been able to score one as yet. (With my luck, my dog would beat me to it anyway.) Pint Size cooks in small batches and doesn't serve leftovers, so once something's sold out for the day, it's gone.
You can get savory baked goods as well as sweets. A slice of quiche showcases the farm-fresh eggs Augustin triumphs, with a light, pure egg flavor nicely accented with tomato and cheese, all of it atop a thin, ever-so-flaky crust. The "Put Bacon on It" trend is played and then some, but Pint Size's "BLT" muffin earns an exception: a moist whole-wheat muffin with spinach, Parmesan cheese and bacon from Todd Geisert Farms down the road in Washington. Think of it as the best breakfast sandwich that isn't actually a breakfast sandwich, a little sweet, a little tangy, a little smoky.
The savory dishes are generally available only in the morning, and Augustin says Pint Size does most of its business before 10 a.m. as its neighbors pass by during their morning commutes.
"We want to be part of the neighborhood," she says. "I never realized how much fun it would be to get know my customers and see them every day."
Nowhere near Watson and Chippewa? Life is short. Treat yourself.
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