by Todd Abrams
Pinwheel Bakery owner Ann St. Peter learned the baking business at a small, now closed, Royal Oak restaurant where everything was made fresh from whole ingredients. Back then, she just assumed everybody cooked that way. When the time came to open her own bakery, she used this philosophy, along with her grandmother's killer recipe for banana bread, as a means to create a unique little spot in Ferndale.
It's a cozy neighborhood bakery. Replacing the traditional tiered wedding cakes in the front displays are whimsical dioramas that change along with holidays and seasons. The scenes compel strolling couples and families to stop and linger for a while. St. Peter recruits her friends and family to help construct the scenes, and sometimes even has guest designers produce them. She admits it's a creative outlet and just likes to have fun. It shows.
Inside, behind the displays on either side of the entrance, are short, built-in countertops and tiny chairs where children can read or draw with material from the well-stocked activity center. Seating consists of a few small tables.
The space is open and bright with walls painted a shade of Key lime. A curio holds the coffee dispenser and other odds and ends, such as hand-dipped birthday cake candles. A small collection of aprons hangs from a shelf, and children's drawings line a wall along the narrow hallway that leads to the back door. Hanging from the ceiling are colorful paper pinwheels. St. Peter has always had a fascination with them.
Oftentimes, the space will become a gallery and host local artists' work that fits with the general vibe of the place. Carl B. Oxley III has been featured in the past, and the newest show, starting May 21, is Kill Taupe's Vicious Delicious — Cannibal Cupcakes and Carnivorous Things. During these shows, St. Peter will use some of the artists' pop surrealist images as inspiration for her colorful sugar cookies.
Pinwheel is also a gourmet bakery. In contrast to the bakeries with long display cases of cakes, tarts and pastries that are sometimes just shallow concoctions of sugar more pleasing to the eye than the palate, Pinwheel focuses on mostly simple, made-from-scratch delights. There are a variety of bite-sized cookies sold by the pound and boxed with a ribbon. These are fun, sweet and savory combinations much bigger in taste than size. Choose from cardamom-walnut rounds, cappuccino coins and vanilla-bean buttons edged with sparkly pink sugar. Shortbread comes in orange-cranberry, lavender and rosemary, or try the powdered sugar coated Chai-almond and Mexican tea cakes among the many options.
The scones are among the best we've had, moist and soft on the inside, crisp on the outside, coming in such cool flavors as cinnamon-cherry and ginger-toffee. The popovers are exceptional. They have the spirit of a hearty country breakfast in a delicate body and are typically consumed in a few enthusiastic bites.
We've yet to come across a treat we haven't liked. There are such old-school indulgences as mini bumpy cake, bread pudding and oatmeal cream pies. And there's something St. Peter believes is the new cupcake, French macaroons: a sort of sandwich of baked almond meringue around a buttercream filling. They're both crunchy and chewy and flavored with pistachios, apricots, blackberries and the like.
If you're in the mood for something more substantial, panini sandwiches on ciabatta bread are made fresh daily and grilled to order. The classic is the "Italian Caprese" of fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes and basil. You can get them filled with meat too. The "Ferndale Cuban" is stuffed with ham, turkey, Swiss cheese, pickle slices, stone-ground mustard and a touch of garlic mayonnaise. The "Turkey Havarti," besides meat and cheese, sports its own tomato-onion chutney and fresh greens. Our favorite was actually the vegan "Mediterranean Mix" of hummus, roasted portabella mushrooms, tomato, cucumber, red onion, lettuce and red pepper-eggplant spread.
Wash everything down with an espresso or their unique, crowd-favorite New Mexican piñon coffee. Milk, juices and quality fruit juice sodas, including Izze and San Pelligrino, are available from the cooler.
Besides all the quality baked goodies and sandwiches available at their West Nine Mile Road storefront and kitchen, Pinwheel will whip up a custom-made cake for your special occasion or a platter of treats for your business meeting. You can also buy their goods at various other gourmet places about town. Anita's Kitchen, Café 1923, Goldfish Tea and Mudgie's Deli all carry something from Pinwheel. And though they are looking to expand this portion of their business as well as the vegan offerings, Grandma St. Peter's banana bread is still a big in-house seller.
Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; closed Sundays and Mondays.
Todd Abrams dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.