Sharing the love of good bread and pastries
by Johnette Rodriguez
382 Spring St., Newport, 846-3377
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.
Open daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Local checks, no credit cards
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
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!