In both the Iranian and Italian cultures I grew up in, bakeries play an important role in neighborhoods. Cakes, sweets, and seasonal pastries are purchased either for one’s own enjoyment or as a gift when visiting someone else’s home. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that I became acquainted with grocery store purchased desserts, which, although convenient, are not my favorite. I love the idea of standing in front of a bakery’s display and having options to choose from instead of being locked into purchasing, say, a box of cookies or brownies. For this reason, I appreciate having long-standing bakeries in town where I can pick and choose what I like to buy.
Joseph’s Bakery (1027 S. Meyler St.) is a family-owned and -operated business in the middle of a residential block. There are a few important things to know when visiting: Stop by early in the morning for the best options (they open at 5 a.m.), the friendly folks behind the counter are the owners, and they are a cash-only business. The pastry display is full of a variety of sweet breads and cookies, as well as lemon bars and brownies. The almond and lemon cookies are understandably popular because they taste really good. Their brownies are my definition of perfection: crackly on top while rich and chewy on the inside.
It took me a while to appreciate their version of a croissant because it is not the traditional buttery and flaky pastry; instead, these crescent-shaped breads are made with a sweet dough. Other shapes include a thin log with sugar sprinkled on top or a rectangular form with either white or chocolate glaze. I have found that their “croissants” are a perfect companion to a hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning when they are fresh and still delightfully soft.
I mainly stop by Joseph’s for their rectangular-shaped slices of cheese pizza which are easily recognizable to those who have an affinity for it. The ingredients are simple: a tasty dough, reliably tangy red sauce with a hint of oregano, and plenty of cheese. Regulars know that the early bird gets the worm here. Some may call this elusive pizza because, due to its popularity, it’s not always guaranteed that there might be any available. The truth is locals don’t visit Joseph’s for lunch; we buy their pizza for breakfast early in the morning.
Polly Ann Bakery (1440 W. 8th St.) is exactly what you would expect from a neighborhood bakery, a one-stop shop. Their displays are full of a variety of cookies, cupcakes, Danishes, croissants, brownies, mini pound cakes, fruit bars, eclairs, donuts, and frosted cakes. There is usually a tray of sliced cheese pizza as well, in case a customer wants something savory.
Polly Ann Bakery has long been a favorite for locals and for wedding cake customers celebrating at one of the venues in town. In fact, they are often recommended for custom-made cakes. Additionally, they make personalized cookies for customers who want a particular design hand drawn or a logo imprinted on their order.
This bakery is a neighborhood gem because they bake items that celebrate every holiday. As we head into Halloween and Thanksgiving, expect to see a selection of decorated cookies and cupcakes, as well as pumpkin-flavored pies and other treats. Additionally, last year I noticed that they offered cookie decorating take-home kits for Halloween and Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, they usually have a selection of holiday-themed desserts, as well as Stollen bread, a German bread made with dried fruit, nuts, and candied citrus.
In addition to sweets, they also bake different types of sandwich loaves which can be purchased whole or cut into slices upon purchase. The loaves are baked fresh and are incredibly soft. I particularly like using their bread for homemade sandwiches or for making pressed panini with my electric grill. spt