The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

Tag: MarieBette Cafe & Bakery

Three Years Later: Inventing the Bronut

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Three years ago today, at MarieBette Cafe & Bakery, I had my first brioche feuilletée. I enjoyed the flaky French pastry so much that I wrote a glowing review that very morning, joking that it might be more popular if it had its own publicist. In today’s era of social media food crazes, I imagined, the hard-to-pronounce brioche feuilletée would be a sensation if only it had a more hashtag-friendly name. Since it resembled both a brioche and a donut, I suggested “bronut”, a revolting name posed as a cheeky alternative to the croissant-donut hybrid from renowned pastry chef Dominique Ansel. The cronut, after all, had become so popular that it needed one of those ®’s by its name to signal it’s really special, or at least valuable. So, why not the “bronut”? LOL.

And then something crazy happened. The next day, Eater picked up the bronut, declaring it “totes the new cronut.” Thrillist promised the bronut would “make you forget the cronut ever existed.” Others followed suit: Redbook said they were “hoping for a national movement of bronuts”; NBC 29 news reported on the “bronut sensation”; My Recipes touted it the “darling of 2015”; Savory called it a “playa”; and, Food & Wine even ascribed volition to the pastry, saying it “strives to be more trendy, less fratty than it sounds.” As Business Insider summed up in its headline, “A Virginia bakery inadvertently invented the ‘bronut.’”

Of course, none of the reporters behind these articles had ever tasted a bronut. Nor could they have. It didn’t exist. It was just an age-old French pastry, re-named in jest by a Virginia lawyer. A tongue-in-cheek parody of social media sensations caused the very phenomenon it gently mocked.

A tongue-in-cheek parody of social media sensations caused the very phenomenon it gently mocked.

And, the public lopped it up. Here in Charlottesville, lines formed before the bakery even opened and lasted throughout the day. The same pastry that a day earlier sat sadly in the display case unnoticed suddenly sold out every morning. Unable to keep up with demand, MarieBette imposed a limit per customer, among other rules. I recall visiting the bakery amidst the craze (for a canele), when a woman in front of me was disappointed to learn that they were out of “bronuts.” After her request to reserve some was declined (per bronut policy, of course), she asked how long until the next batch would be ready.  20-30 minutes.  “OK, I’ll pay now and wait in the car.”

The rest of the world took notice as well. Orders poured in by phone and email from all over – Florida, Arizona, California, to name a few – all of the orders declined because, who’s going to sell a stale pastry? It caused a particularly big stir in Indonesia.

MarieBette handled it all perfectly. On the one hand, they didn’t change the essence of what they are – a classic French bakery and patisserie doing things the right way. So, there were no gaudy signs in the style of a Myrtle Beach T-Shirt shop boasting MarieBette as the “Home of the Bronut.” In fact, even amidst all the hype, there was nary a mention of the word “bronut” on the display counter, leaving confused customers wondering what to order when they reached the front of the long lines. “Umm . . . do you have a bronut?” they would sheepishly ask.

Yet, MarieBette didn’t run from the attention either. Owners Patrick Evans and Jason Becton have children after all, who one day may need college tuition. As tennis legend Ivan Lendl once said: “Don’t spit on somebody who’s trying to give you money.” And so, Becton and Evans gracefully did press interviews. And, they embraced the social media sensation as well, even creating a section of the bakery’s website about the brioche feuilletée.

Meanwhile, uneasy with the “fratty” sound of the name of their overnight sensation, MarieBette employees turned the term “bronut” into a positive, even a term of endearment. “Hey, bronut!”, one would say to the other in the kitchen. Or, “What’s up, bronut?” Of the sudden need to make brioche feuilletée before croissants, they adopted the slogan “bros before cros.”

I have often wondered what lessons there are to draw from the bronut craze. At times, it reminded me of those old TV shows where one of the characters would inadvertently start a dance sensation after hopping on one leg grabbing his foot because someone had stepped on his toe. But, the analogy is imperfect because a brioche feuilletée is actually good. While the happenstance of social media may have fanned the flames, it was the quality of the product that started the fire and helped it last. Had it not been delicious, I would never have been moved to write about it and others would not have swooned as well. Though the attention it received may have been disproportionate, over-appreciation strikes me as preferable to under-appreciation.

Oddly enough, MarieBette did invent a version of the brioche feuilletée warranting its own name, when MarieBette started filling their brioche feuilletée with things like orange creme or pumpkin mousse. I am not aware of anyone ever doing this before, and it was genius. In my view, MarieBette’s filled brioche feuilletée improve on the original. And, I’m not alone. One top local chef in 2015 called it the best thing he ate all year.

The morning I first tried a brioche feuilletée, sales of the pastries had been so slow that MarieBette planned to stop making them that week. I was headed to Shenandoah Joe for coffee and, on an impulse, stopped at MarieBette. Good thing I was feeling peckish.

Five Finds on Friday: Jessica Hogan

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Jessica Hogan of Farmacy, a health-focused food trailer coming soon that will showcase local and organic foods. While the trailer remains under construction, tomorrow morning at the Tom Tom Fest farmer’s market you can be the very first to enjoy a sneak preview, when Hogan and her boyfriend and business partner Gabino Gonzalez will be offering their breakfast tacos and burritos. Follow along here for updates. Hogan’s picks:

1) Buttermilk Pancakes at MarieBette Café and Bakery. “MarieBette is one of my favorite places to go, especially for breakfast. In my opinion it’s the only place to get good buttermilk pancakes with strawberries. Quality ingredients are what make the difference. Delicious!”

2) Chicken Salad at Feast! “Feast has many things I like, but my favorite is their organic chicken salad. It’s perfect on a salad or in their chicken salad sandwich made on fresh ABC ciabatta. It is the perfect consistency and spice and tastes great. I am also a fan of their concept – a grocery store supporting our local artisans and farmers. I am all about supporting local and eating organic food.”

3) Pupusas at Beer Run. “Sunday Brunch at Beer Run is amazing. I have worked there for five years and yet I have even chosen to have my birthday brunch at Beer Run before! Where else would I go? The food is local, organic, and incredible. The pupusas and the strata are two of my brunch favorites, but in all honesty you can’t go wrong any day of the week. It’s just so tasty, and is actually why I wanted to work there to begin with.”

4) Gnocchi with Truffled Mushroom Ragout at The Local. “The Local has great food,  and my favorite dish of theirs is gnocchi. Since I don’t eat beef, they are very accommodating and let me put their truffled mushroom ragout on them instead, and it’s absolutely lovely! I love that they use three kinds of mushrooms in it from Sharondale farm.”

5) Chocolate Praline Crunch Cake at Albemarle Baking Company. “Albemarle Baking Company has so many things I like. Hard to name a favorite. The chocolate praline cake is so moist and delectable, with its layers of chocolate and praline. It’s creamy and crunchy, and made with some of the finest ingredients.”

Five Finds on Friday: Jeff Latchum

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come Jeff Latchum of wine importer Williams Corner Wine. If you’re shopping for wine and unsure what to buy, check the labels on the backs of the bottles. Find one that says “Williams Corner Wine,” and you know it will be good. This Sunday, Latchum, a natural wine expert, will be at Blenheim Vineyards Library Series to teach a natural wines class, showcasing some of the finest natural wines in the world. Just fifteen tickets will be sold. Call (434) 293-5366 for yours. Details on this and other Library Series events here. Latchum’s picks:

1) Jamón and Rancio Sec at MAS Tapas. “Yes I’m shilling for something we sell and writing my entire piece about wine. Catalan tradition of completely oxidized, non-fortified wine that pairs well with literally anything salty and savory, from jamón to seafood. Ask for Domaine de Rombeau.”

2) Shad Roe and German Riesling at Tastings. “Tucked away from the hoi polloi, have a glass or two from the dozens of open bottles or grab a bottle off the rack and enjoy it for a small corkage. Idiosyncratic and proud of it, also the best place to buy a special occasion or specific vintage wine. He might even still have shad roe to nibble on with a dry German Riesling (ask for Ulli Stein or Peter Lauer).”

3) Meatloaf and Champagne at Bizou. “An often overlooked list for thoughtfully chosen wines at a reasonable price, especially the Champagne and you should be drinking more Champagne! It will make you look (or at least feel) dreamy scarfing down a delicious plate of meatloaf.”

4) Ham Biscuits and Chenin Blanc from Foods of All Nations. “You’ll need a full case of wine, and Tom and Frankie can help. The Wine Store to explore! Make sure to start looking at the back label and becoming fluent with the importer. I am certain you will find kinship with a handful, as many are doing excellent work. It’s never been better to be a consumer of wine! While there, I suggest buying a MarieBette olive baguette, ham biscuits, and some fried chicken, for friends, or just you, the dog, and the case of wine. For ham biscuits and fried chicken I would suggest Chenin Blanc from Domaine aux Moines, Savennieres Sec 2015.”

5) Tuna Nicoise and Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc at MarieBette Café and Bakery. “Five Finds has found and celebrated many wonderful things about MarieBette, but did you know that they have an affordable bistro wine selection to complement the long list of lovable superlatives? Jason, Patrick, and Will are the best, made all the more adorable with a glass of Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc. My pairing for either is the Tuna Niçoise.”