Bakers & Baristas to bring a taste of Vienna to Penn Quarter

The WashingtonPost
By Becky Krystal
January 21, 2015

Aaron Gordon thinks that by the time customers walk out of Bakers & Baristas, his new Danish-heavy bakery and coffeehouse in Penn Quarter, they will have forgotten about the glazed rounds they may have been used to buying in those blue-and-white boxes found in many a grocery store.

"The pastry is just killer," Gordon says of the Viennese-style doughs that form the basis of many of the offerings at the bakery, which is scheduled to open Thursday morning.

Bakers & Baristas takes over the space formerly occupied by TangySweet, Gordon's frozen yogurt shop, which also happens to be adjacent to his cupcake shop, Red Velvet Cupcakery.

With a proliferation of fro-yo shops in the neighborhood, "we saw the writing on the wall," Gordon says. "We didn't want a seasonal item in here. So we needed to make a change. We needed to transform."

While in his 20s, Gordon spent a year traveling through Europe and ended up crashing for a month in Salzburg, Austria. When he couldn't hang around in hostels, he went to the bakery-coffeehouses. A return trip to Vienna about a year and a half ago reminded him of the concept, and "it went into my book of ideas." A bakery seemed to be what the Penn Quarter neighborhood needed, Gordon says.

Gordon worked with Naomi Gallego, pastry chef at Blue Duck Tavern, to develop the menu. Lindsay Meehan moves from Red Velvet to take the reins as executive pastry chef of Bakers & Baristas.

Gordon describes the Viennese bakery and coffeehouse as elegant and fancy "but not frou-frou." So the design of the shop is clean and modern -- orange walls, simple pendant lighting -- while taking advantage of the building's architectural charms -- expansive windows adorned with ironwork topped by stained glass squares.

Gordon and his team have left the visual flair to the pastries.

Colorful options include filled Danishes, including a strawberry cream cheese pinwheel and a blueberry envelope -- topped with actual pieces of fruit, not gelatinous goo. Other featured Danishes include a spiral filled with pastry cream and chocolate chips, and kringles stuffed with frangipane (baked almond cream).

A yeasted brioche dough forms the basis of the zucker brötchen, a spherical sugar bun that fits in the palm of your hand.

For an indulgent treat, look to the butterkuchen. The pillowy, lemon-scented brioche is baked into a large slab, stuffed with pastry cream and topped with perfectly toasted -- brown, but not too brown! -- sliced almonds and crunchy pearl sugar. Oh, yeah, and then the whole thing gets a nice shower of cream after it's baked.

Midday will see lunch sandwiches made on baked-in-house bread, and in the evenings, the sweet side of the menu will transition to Viennese desserts, such as sachertorte and cheesecake. Savory turnovers will be available as well.

"The idea is that we can be morning, noon and night," Gordon says.

Expect coffee service throughout the day, too. Bakers & Baristas has partnered with Compass Coffee to develop its program, with a Viennese twist. The melange, for example, will feature one or two shots of espresso, mixed with steamed milk and topped with hand-whipped cream.

Gordon says he thinks there will be some need to explain the concept of a Viennese bakery to customers who may be more familiar with the French variety, even though many of the pastries we think of as French actually have roots in Vienna (hence the name viennoiserie). But he believes most won't blink an eye and will instead focus on the labor-intensive treats that are made over the span of almost 24 hours.

"It's very, very difficult to make," Gordon says of the laminated croissant and Danish dough, which requires several rounds of folding and rolling. "It's a craft."

Bakers & Baristas, 501 Seventh St. NW. 202-347-7895. Open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. (Hours to extend to 11 p.m. on Feb. 5.)