There's no cooler downtown in the metro area than Ferndale. It's got just about every type of retail establishment a shopper or a diner could ask for, crammed into a strollable strip. And as of Sept. 30, the downtown's offerings became even more complete, when the Strawberry Moon Bakery opened its doors.
Owner and baker Jonathan Glab is a rare phenomenon in America: He didn't grow up on Wonder Bread. The regular family visit to the bakery is his fondest childhood memory. Today, using organic flour from Owosso, he and a raft of family members are offering not only baguettes and other loaves at a very reasonable $3 to $5.50, but cookies, pastries, rolls, muffins and pizza, also at good prices. His coffee is fair-trade Jim's Organic, and he offers bottled drinks ranging from the sublime (Italian Orangina) to the ridiculous (Orange Crush). I tried Izze's sparkling clementine flavor, and it was fine, but not like Orangina.
With this range of offerings, Glab is attracting both lunchers and those who want a good loaf of bread with their jug of wine. His concept is not just bakery, but pizzeria and café as well.
I liked the Moon's original pizzas: a Caesar, a Reuben and a breakfast. More traditional toppings are available, too, and interesting cheeses like Gorgonzola and Asiago, or, if you must, soy cheese and soy pepperoni. A 16-inch pizza costs $9.99 with five toppings.
Crusts are chewy, crunchy and yeasty, with lots of bread flavor. On the cheesy Reuben, the sauerkraut adds interesting sweetness. In the justly popular chicken Caesar, the cheese is Romano, salad dressing replaces pizza sauce, and lettuce and tomatoes are added after baking. Sounds weird, but it works.
With the breakfast pizza, available on Saturdays, I forgot I was eating pizza, as the crust is puff pastry dough. Generous amounts of egg, bacon, mozzarella and cheddar provide all your breakfast indulgences in one bite. Or, if you prefer your breakfast excess the Continental way, ask for pain au chocolat: layers of puff pastry around a solid stick of Rapunzel chocolate.
I mostly chose to eat in at the bakery the place is spacious, with sofas, armchairs, tables and Wi-Fi, although the downside is that you're served on Styrofoam, with plasticware. But one of my favorite purchases was a take-home bag of half-price Asiago rolls. (Customers arriving after 6 p.m. will find some real bargains.) They were perhaps a bit heavy, but very cheesy. I added a slice of good tomato from my garden, and had a sandwich with no further ado.
A two-foot baguette was also not as airy as the French would expect, erring on the side of substantialness rather than crisp and crackle. A lemon Danish was bready rather than flaky as well; my preference is for a lighter touch. Glab seemed more at home with an American-style coffee cake with a thick brown sugar topping. And there was nothing to complain about in a chocolate chip cookie 6.5 inches across larger than normal, but at the same price ($1).
By far the bakery's biggest seller in the bread department is a simple pain de campagne, a French country loaf, for $3. With it, says Glab, he's fulfilling his "mission to help the masses enjoy organic products." He also offers rye, Italian, cherry, jalapeño cheddar and cinnamon raisin, although not necessarily all breads every day. I enjoyed a zucchini flatbread that was anything but flat and almost quiche-like in its consistency.
The bakery has a signature cookie: the crescent-shaped Strawberry Moons. They're painted with pink icing, and I bought one out of duty, expecting that artificial pink flavor that has no correlate in nature. Biting down, I was momentarily puzzled what was that taste? It was strawberries! The secret is that all the liquid in both dough and icing is pureed strawberries, an inspiration from Glab's sister. Try these for a taste of spring.
The crescent moon in Strawberry Moon's logo is a logical symbol for a bakery: crescent = croissant. But Glab is, laudably, holding off on introducing croissants until he can perfect his technique, which he calls "a real challenge." A good croissant takes layering, buttering, rolling, time and patience, I don't care what they're selling at Dunkin' Donuts.
Strawberry Moon will, however, begin serving sandwiches in January. The bakery is open 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.