[Sidebar] May 7 - May 14, 1998
[Food Reviews]
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Boulangerie Obelix

Sharing the love of good bread and pastries

by Johnette Rodriguez

382 Spring St., Newport, 846-3377
Open daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Local checks, no credit cards
Sidewalk access

Certain streets in New England towns always feel very European -- narrow and winding, houses and shops perched on the edge, no neon, no chain stores. Newport's Spring Street, with its 19th-century wood-frame buildings, many with swinging wooden signs and window boxes dripping with flowers, is like this.

And now, a cheerful and versatile month-old bakery/cafe enhances that mood. Boulangerie Obelix is an offshoot of the classy bistro Asterix and Obelix a few blocks away on Thames (and featured in last Sunday's New York Times). Owner and chef John Bach Sorensen decided to branch out into the Boulangerie Obelix in order to share his love of good bread and pastries.

"We try to make it very simple, very European," he said, with a broad smile, when I encountered him there last week making a delivery of supplies for the noontime sandwiches.

Despite the French slant to the cafe (baguettes, brioche, and boule prevail) the Danish-born and -trained Bach Sorensen pointed to a focaccia-looking bread made with milk and olive oil called cibatta ("soul of the shoe"), which he touted as "a good everyday bread, especially for dipping in soup and sauce." Focaccia was also there, attractively sporting slices of yellow or sweet red pepper in its crust.

The boule that day were prosciutto and fig, sun-dried tomato and garlic, and raisin-walnut. The brioche were white, Belgian chocolate, and rosemary/pignolia nut/orange rind. Bach Sorensen explained enthusiastically that a 100-year-old sourdough starter was due to arrive on May 15 from Montreal!

For lunch, I chose a chunk of a dark loaf of pain de campagne. At $2 per pound, that quadrant (from a large elliptical loaf) weighed exactly one pound, and the entire loaf cost only $10 -- a bargain at any price. This was bread made from whole grain flours, predominantly whole wheat, very lightly sourdough. It was moist and chewy with a large crumb and a wonderful flavor -- almost a meal in itself.

Its sister, the white-flour version of pain de campagne, formed the basis for one of the seven sandwiches offered at Obelix -- grilled chicken breast, arugula and sun-dried tomato, with pesto and lemon mayonnaise ($4.95).

The combination of the ingredients with the fresh-baked bread and the unusual mayo showed what gourmet sandwiches can be when a chef is adjusting for taste. And this proved true for the other sandwich we tried as well -- roasted eggplant with grilled onions and peppers, sliced fresh plum tomatoes and spinach on the aforementioned focaccia, all spread with Vermont goat's cheese and sprinkled with olive oil and balsamic ($4.50). A wrap-up meal, but watch out for the drips!

We also sampled a frittata muffin ($3.75), a delightful construction with sliced red bliss potatoes on the bottom, yellow and red peppers in the middle, and a tomato slice on top, all surrounded by the thick omelet batter of a frittata. Once that was done, our eyes and stomachs turned to the glamourous items of any bakery -- its pastries.

That day, there were blueberry and applesauce/pecan muffins; croissants, both plain and chocolate (although this was called a "chocolate Danish," perhaps an in-joke on Bach Sorensen); saucer-sized Belgian chocolate chip cookies; and awe-inspiring poached pears baked inside puff-pastry.

The cookie ($1) was terrific, although I'd recommend letting it cool a bit for a truer taste of the chocolate. (You-know-who didn't do that when they came straight out of the oven.) The whole Anjou pear ($4.75) stood on its end, with the stem peeking out, swirled with concentric strips of pastry and topped with two pastry leaves. Outstanding!

There are two tiny tables inside the low-ceilinged, open-beamed Boulangerie, tables where you can sip cafe au lait, cappuccino, or espresso with your choice of any of the above temptations. The pansies on the sidewalk, the ceramic hens in the windows, the cornucopia of breads that greets you as you enter all make Boulangerie Obelix a friendly spot to remember when strolling Spring Street -- or maybe just a good excuse for a quick trip to Newport!

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