The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Patrick Evans

Introducing the Prezzant

present

MarieBette Cafe & Bakery is at it again. The same bakery that created the international “bronut” sensation in 2015 has just unveiled a new hybrid pastry. And this time, they may not need the boost of an online media craze. From good old fashioned word of mouth alone, the pastries are already selling out faster than the bakery can make them.

Not much of a gift recipient, I used to tell my loved ones during the holidays that I would prefer their presence to their presents. But, if prezzants had been around back then, I might have reconsidered. Half pretzel, half croissant, MarieBette’s prezzants are outstanding. Like most good bakers, MarieBette’s Patrick Evans is a perfectionist, and, after experimenting by dipping croissant dough in lye, he took his time before deciding his latest creation was ready for release.

It shows. The lucky few who have tried a prezzant have raved. “Love the smokiness and buttery crunch,” one said. “OMG. It’s absolutely amazing,” said another. “What dreams are made of,” another swooned. And, “Had a bite and not gonna lie: I died.” Even top chefs are impressed. “I went at 10 this morning to buy all they had left. There were only five left,” said Tucker Yoder of Back 40 Restaurant. “Buttery, crunchy, flaky. All the good things of a croissant with added pretzel awesomeness.”

Now, if we only get our hands on some more.

prezzant

MarieBette’s Patrick Evans: 

“The prezzants were born out of doing a bunch of tests for traditional pretzels that we are offering now for our wholesale clients. My friend Sharlene McNeish (who runs Levain Baking Studio here in town and is a very passionate baker herself) was helping us develop a recipe and for about two weeks we were doing different recipes everyday.

We had really jumped in and were going crazy with the recipe testing. During that time we had this lye solution on hand. The solution has a very high PH and when it you dip the unbaked pretzels in it and bake them, they lye reacts chemically with the heat and gives the pretzels the classic color and crust and adds that unique rich flavor that is so quintessential to pretzels.

We make croissants daily so while in my testing mode, I curiously dipped some scraps of croissant dough in the solution, sprinkled some with a bit of pretzel salt, and some with our own ‘everything’ mix,  and baked them to see how they’d come out. The results were amazing. Everyone who tasted them went crazy over those first few morsels. We made a few more tests, then a few more, learning, experimenting with shapes, and refining the process each time . . .

When I lived in NYC I used to get pretzel croissants at one of my favorite bakeries, but they didn’t have the lye bath and the dark crust and unique taste that comes from it. And it seems a few places do a ‘cretzel’ with a croissant dough shaped like a pretzel, but seemingly no lye. In Europe, some German bakeries sell ‘laugencroissants’ (meaning lye croissants) but I’ve heard those aren’t the same either. In any case, it’s an amazingly unique flavor that you have to taste to really understand, and we are thrilled to offer that in Charlottesville!”

Inventing the Bronut

bronut

One year 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, but not until after the bronut craze began, 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 called it the best thing he ate all year.

Pumpkin

 

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: Patrick Evans

Evans

On Fridays, we feature five food finds from local chefs and personalities.  Today’s picks come from Patrick Evans, baker and co-owner of MarieBette, and creator of the bakery’s many delicious pastries, like, our favorite, the canele, as well as the brioche feuilletée, which has become a bit of a sensation since being dubbed a bronut, leading some even to call for a “national movement of bronuts.” Evans’ picks:

1)  Pizza with Pepperoni and Red Onions from Mona Lisa.  “This is a custom order pie usually, but sometimes they have it by the slice.”

2)  A dinner of Rosé from Blenheim Vineyards, a Sesame Baguette from MarieBette, and an entire wedge of Delice de Bourgogne from Trader Joe’s.  “Sometimes I’ll share some of the cheese with my daughter Betty, who we lovingly call ‘the cheese monster!'”

3)  Weekend Sandwich Special from JM Stock Provisions.  “Whatever it is, it’s gonna be good, and it’s usually on MarieBette Virginia Sourdough!”

4)  Burger Cooked “Red” with Fries and a Pickle at Citizen Burger Bar.  “They don’t do the traditional rare, medium rare, medium, well done here . . . but I realized that RED is the closest to medium rare, and it hits the spot.”

5)  Crispy Tofu Bento Box from Cafe 88.  “I once called to order this on the phone and Lee, the owner, responded by saying ‘OK Patrick, it’ll be ready soon!’ I didn’t know she knew my name, but this kind of small town familiarity is one of the great things about Charlottesville.”