Marty Merryin'

Marty's Baking is on the rise

It's not exactly in Soulard, and it's not exactly in Lafayette Square, but it's really close to both, and it's certainly just a couple of minutes from the downtown business crowd. (The specific neighborhood is called McKinley Heights now, although some may also know it as McKinley/Fox.)

Whatever you'd like to call the location (1858 Russell Ave. at Mississippi, in the space that once housed the still-mourned Pan Dora's), Marty's Baking, best known as a resource for cakes, breads and absolutely killer brownies, recently expanded its hours and offerings to include breakfast and lunch, and it's definitely worth seeking out. On a recent drop-in for lunch I was rewarded with an Oriental chicken-salad sandwich on what may have been the densest bread I've ever eaten, with a texture that would make a terrific couch cushion. Or maybe airy pound cake? Whatever, there was a thick mortar of chicken and grapes in between, and garnishes included a quarter of a kosher-style dill, four pitted black olives, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and an orange slice. For dessert, I lingered over a coconut macaroon that ethereally dissolved in my mouth.

Other offerings from the rotating fluorescent-chalkboard lunch menu include quiche, spinach pie, empanadas, brisket-in-a-pita and a couple of other sandwiches and soups -- a selection that's heavily reliant on bakery products, for obvious reasons. Random chairs are scattered about outside, and inside, a lovely circular burled-walnut circular dining table dominates the center of the room, dressed with fresh flowers and surrounded by five or six smaller tables for two to four.

"Marty" is Martin Kaplan, assisted out front by Bobby Woo and partnered in a very quiet voice by Robert Duffy, arts maven of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was Bobby who adeptly cajoled me into the aforementioned brownie -- an ideal Borg weapon, assimilation by chocolate -- deftly straddling the fine line between gooey and cakey. If you love sweets, resistance is futile.

MARTY'S BAKING, 1858 Russell Ave., 314-773-6161. Hours: 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Lunch entrees: $4-$5.95.

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