Photo by Anthony Mair
Photo by Anthony Mair Megan Romano
Photo by Anthony Mair Tomato soup served with toasted homemade croutons and pesto.
I’ve often groused about the dearth of breakfast options in town, but no longer. The east side has Bread & Butter, and now, the west side has Megan Romano’s Chocolate & Spice Bakery. Charlie Palmer’s loss is the local dining scene’s gain. We should all be so lucky.
During her long tenure at Palmer’s Aureole, she created fancy desserts, ice cream and chocolates. Privileged diners left with goodie bags embossed with Romano’s name and logo, a sort of purple Fleur de Lys, after dining there. That same logo is painted onto the walls of her new bakery, breakfast and lunch digs, which seats about 60.
Breakfast is a simple affair: fluffy frittatas, textbook-perfect croissants stuffed with ham and cheese, and a variety of pastries. My favorite has to be the ham and Gruyère cheese brioche, with a blueberry scone a close second. Naturally, there are a variety of coffees, teas and drinks, such as a cinnamon-flavored, Mexican-style hot chocolate.
But the bakery is serving lunch as well, plus incredible desserts and handmade chocolates, stuff that puts most of the competition to bed. Chocolate & Spice is perfect for that afternoon pastry that you’d have in Paris or Vienna, except that some of these desserts—such as a red velvet cupcake or chocolate peanut butter and jelly bar—are immutably American.
The lunch menu is short, to the point and appealing. A grainy tomato soup is served with toasted homemade croutons and a dollop of pesto. A veritable tub of mac and cheese (more than enough for three) is light on cheese but long on flavor thanks to a surfeit of buttery breadcrumbs and bacon.
Sandwiches are flawless. My first choice is a roasted turkey and Gruyère cheese sandwich, a generous-size item done on multigrain cranberry bread smeared with apricot mustard, aioli and Bibb lettuce.
I’d also give high marks to a Black Forest ham sandwich with a roasted tomato compote, caramelized onion and balsamic vinegar on the house ciabatta (slipper-shaped) bread.
For vegetarians, there are choices such as a mozzarella and vine-ripened tomato salad, roasted eggplant, basil and balsamic vinegar, or a fusilli pasta done simply with broccoli and Parmesan.
Romano plans to expand her menu as her clientele evolves. It won’t be long.
Meanwhile, the pastry and chocolate selection is enormous. It would take weeks to eat one’s way through all the choices. Homemade ice cream is limited to four flavors at the moment—the big three, plus mint chocolate chip. This is rich, deeply flavored, creamy stuff, perhaps not as high in butterfat content as Ben & Jerry’s, but at around 17 percent, definitely high enough.
Most of the desserts have little extra touches. Sugar cookies have a lemon-lime icing, while the amazing dark chocolate-caramel Linzer tart has crushed hazelnuts blended into a gooey caramel top.
Romano’s artisan chocolates are pricey, but no more so than those at an Ethel M outlet, if purchased individually, and much more creative. A blackberry-Chambord bon bon ($2) is wonderful, and so are the bars at $4, especially the dark chocolate-orange and apricot bars.
Romano is also doing custom cakes, gaudy, decorated ones using pastillage, a sugar sculpting method. The cakes, which are competition-worthy and oeuvres in their own right, start at $45, and happen to taste good to boot.