Nicole Francois's email popped up on my Sidekick as I was getting ready to drive down Montlake, on my way to lunch in Madison Park:
"I suggest wandering a little father south to Sweet & Savory on 31st Ave. S. Great homemade soups and noshies for lunch and to-die-for pastries for dessert. The owner trained at the Ritz bakery in Paris. Sweet & Savory is yet to be discovered by those outside of the neighborhood. It's the best kept secret in Seattle!"
So I did. Since I had a couple hours before I had to return to work I took the road less traveled: meandering the curvy, tree lined streets, impressive homes, gardens and lovely views of the Cascades and Eastside, driving through Madison Park, Madrona and Leschi.
Lucky! It seemed I had just managed to grab the only parking space available in the area --near the sign that marks the spot where the Mount Baker Ridge Viewpoint Park will be located, perched high up on the hill, between Mount Baker and Leschi.
And there it was, across the street, hidden almost from view, a small sign in beautiful cursive that read Sweet & Savory, Hand Crafted Pastries.
I went in and found a seat right away. It was a cold December afternoon but the warmth of the sun and the gorgeous light filtering in filled the cozy and lovingly appointed room (with a few small tables and chairs and a long counter with stools, vintage lamps, fruit and cookie platters, antique cake stands and shelves brimming with cooking and baking books, Harney & Sons teas and local honey from Moon Valley) with a beautiful glow.
"What's good today?", I asked. There were two kinds of sandwiches, a tin full of festively decorated cookies, orange date scones, pain au chocolat and a soup du jour.
It was while reading the menu board that I spotted the "Housemade French Hot Chocolate". I quickly ordered a cup and watched closely how they prepared my beverage, stove top, slowly and carefully, aided by what seemed like an improvised bain Marie.
"Here you go. Enjoy!", the friendly server said.
Bliss! This hot chocolate--served in a demi-tasse, with accompanying dish of fresh whipped cream-- was thick and intense, with a hint of spice. A bit of heat even (cayenne, perhaps?).
"The last time I drank hot chocolate this good was in Paris, three months ago. This is amazing!"
The amazement and delight did not stop with the made to order chocolate. The soup was also divine (roasted cauliflower) and so was the pain au chocolat I took home with me.
It has been three months since Nicole's email. Three months of weekly visits tasting as much as I can of the ever changing array of beautiful pastries, tarts, sweet and savory croissants, sandwiches and cookies that owner and head pastry maker Cynthia Brock and her staff bake every day.
Ever since then, there have been lots of little conversations about food, books, pastry, Paris, baking, Seattle neighborhoods and restaurants, new kids on the block, the challenges of the independent. local owner.
Over many short chocolate and tea breaks and late lunches, bagels (the best I've had in Seattle), croissants, soups, sandwiches (the Salami is amazing) scones and cups of tea, I've learned so much about what makes this little shop so special, so endearing to the community--yours truly included.
Cynthia Brock, the owner of Sweet & Savory has been in the food business for over 30 years. And she's done it all: from personal chef to prominent Seattle families, caterer, offering home meal services before anyone else was doing it in the city, to owning the previous incarnations of Sweet & Savory in both Bainbridge Island and Ballard.
But it is her impressive hand at pastry making (and did I mention the French Hot Chocolate?) that sets her apart from the rest.
You see, she studied (the friendship continues to this day) under the careful eye of a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (or MOF, Best Crafts Worker of France), Monsieur Bernard Burban (éminent professionnel, anciennement professeur à l’Ecole de Boulangerie de Paris, reçu MOF Boulanger en 1979 et créateur de la boulangerie du Ritz), author of Pains et Fantaisies, and former head baker at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris.
It is a credit to both teacher and student that I have been unable, try as I may, to select just one thing to mention for this years's edition of the Independent Food Festival and Awards.
Every croissant and every tart and every tiny cup of chocolat chaud I have at Sweet & Savory is redolent of all that is delectable, special and dreamy about French bakeries and chocolate shops, the Parisian ones in particular, the ones I keep going back to year after year.
I must admit the pastry, chocoholic and perennial Francophile in me has been utterly smitten. Every single thing I've tasted, whether at the shop or at home (a couple pastries to take home are de rigueur whenever I drop by) has been superb.
And every time I leave the shop I find myself thinking of opportunities to stop by for their French Hot Chocolate. And dreaming of Paris.
Not only is Sweet & Savory a real gem, hidden in this lovely corner of the Mount Baker neighborhood--for the past year and a half-- but just like Nicole wrote," the best kept secret in Seattle".
Well, perhaps not so much a secret anymore...
Sweet & Savory
1418 31st Ave S.