Just in time for this year’s Easter celebration, this week’s review highlights one of the trendier places for “Yeasters” — those for whom the mere scent of baked goods fresh from the oven gets hearts racing and mouths watering.
Yes, dear readers, yeast has risen in Highland Park with the advent of Mr. Holmes Bakehouse’s first LA location.
The original Mr. Holmes Bakehouse opened to rave reviews and long lines in late 2014 in San Francisco. Since then, its owners have been building new bakehouses at record speed.
In early 2015, they opened a branch in Seoul, South Korea. Then it was our Pasadena-proximate Highland Park store in fall, and then another branch in Tustin in February. A fifth is set to soon open in Larchmont. And, so far, they show no signs of slowing down.
The interiors of the stores are similar: industrial and minimalist, with white tile and brick interior walls, wood ceilings and limited seating for folks ordering coffee or tea and eat-in sweets. There’s a long combo display case/counter where one can view the day’s selection, which, thank goodness, are labeled for quicker choices, and huge stacks of white boxes with gold lettering.
The sterility is offset by tongue-in-cheek neon signs. In the original store, one sign reads “I got baked in San Francisco.” In Highland Park, there’s a similar one with the location changed to Los Angeles. In Tustin, one reads “Kale Sucks” and another “Dunkin’ Donuts is Cheaper.” Other quips are embedded in the floor tile: in San Francisco “Holmes Sweet Holmes” and on the entryway to the Highland Park store a cheeky “Eat Me L.A.” The corporate logo is a left hand making a victory sign.
The bakery’s name has a Victorian feel due to a possible reference in formal terms to the world’s greatest consulting detective as proprietor and the archaic descriptive “bakehouse” (first used in the 13th century and now largely relegated to history). Like Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop – another supposed 19th century establishment, the Bakehouse turns out some unusual items. But, unlike Mrs. Lovett’s, a disclosure of Mr. Holmes’ ingredients won’t spoil the pleasure of consuming its innovative pastries unless you’re counting calories — a definite no-no for dedicated Yeasters.
The star creation is something called a cruffin — a cross between a croissant and a muffin with the bonus of a rich pastry cream filling in which the flavor changes from day to day. You can find the week’s listing — the same for all branches — on the company’s Facebook page along with the week’s donut fillings. On our Tuesday visit, the cruffin ($5) was filled with lychee rose raspberry cream and the donut du jour ($3.50) was stuffed with brown butter peach. A second unadvertised donut had a filling of chocolate peanut butter cream.
Cruffins are baked each morning and make their appearance in all stores at precisely 9 a.m. Before their arrival, dedicated lanes for cruffin cravers are sometimes set up with purchases limited to two per customer. Several photos taken at the San Francisco store provide evidence of long lines of hopeful buyers, a few showing a posted sign apologetically stating that all the day’s cruffins had been sold. Now, don’t get me wrong; cruffins are delightful. But you’d think these guys were lining up for cut-rate tickets for “Hamilton” instead of $5 pastries, for cryin’ out loud.
Another Mr. Holmes innovation is the California croissant ($5.50) which on its exterior boasts nothing more atypical than a smattering of white and black sesame seeds. But take a bite and you’ll find yourself with a mouthful of salmon (cooked) seasoned with a hint of wasabi and a bit of pickled ginger, swaddled in seaweed. It comes with a packet of soy sauce like the kind you get with take-out sushi. (At this time of year, a reference to the miracle of loaves and fishes might be appropriate, but perhaps not.) At any rate I loved mine, but my husband says he prefers chocolate croissants of which Mr. Holmes Bakehouse also does a knockout version.
If you find these inventions somewhat bizarre, you haven’t been keeping up. Frankenpastries of all kinds have been the rage for the past few years. Check out the great online article by Alexa O’Connell, “13 Bakeries that Invented the World’s Trendiest Pastries,” on spoonuniversity.com. In the July 2015 article, O’Connell outlines some of the more successful hybrids from the famous cronut to the less familiar duffin, bruffin, donnoli, cragel, brookie, crozel, mallomac and doughscuit.
In comparison, Mr. Holmes’ delicious apple pie monkey bread ($4) and churro croissants (filled with dulce de leche cream and coated with cinnamon and sugar — $4) seem pretty tame. Ditto for the chocolate chunk and cornflake cookies (each $3), both with too much modish salt sprinkled atop for my noshing pleasure, although hubby gladly relieved me of my uneaten portions. And we enjoyed the savory Danish ($4.50) with caramelized onion, bacon and a sprinkling of microchives.
A little disappointing was the absence of pastries featured on the Mr. Holmes website (mrholmebakehouse.com) or mentioned by yelpers, including savory and sweet bread puddings, cruffin puddings and bear claws (especially ones with strawberry jalapeño cream or cookie dough mousse). In honor of Easter, I would love to have seen hot croissant buns on offer although my favorite paschal bread is unleavened matzoh with butter.
Speaking of bread, Mr. Holmes bakes nary a single loaf, with or without yeast. Maybe that’s asking too much of a specialty bakery working primarily with croissant and doughnut doughs. But it’s a major reason why I must consign a visit to the Bakehouse to the same category as a trip to Bulgarini Gelato or Mignon’s Chocolate — an occasional indulgence rather than a regular haunt.
That doesn’t mean I’ll be ignoring Mr. Holmes’ weekly Facebook postings and heading over to Avenue 59 and Figueroa Street periodically to sample cruffin and donut fillings like lemon hibiscus, coconut basil lime, elderflower orange champagne or matcha mallow. But bread, after all, is the staff of life and Marie Antoinette’s supposed (but likely fictional) advice to peasants who had no bread to eat cake instead did not go well. So unless and until Mr. Holmes begins to craft fine artisan breads as well as fine artisan pastries, Europane will remain my all-purpose bakery of choice.
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
111 S. Avenue 59, Highland Park | (323) 739-0473 | mrholmesbakehouse.com
Major Cards/No Alcohol