Scenic Route Bakery1/21/2015
Des Moines is in the midst of a bakery boom. La Mie expanded twice recently, and Strudl Haus opened to great acclaim. The most ambitious new player is Scenic Route Bakery, which opened at the end of last year in a handsome new, mixed-use building in East Village. The place is huge, with 90 seats indoors and a 30-seat patio. Two alcoves offer stuffed leather couches and chairs. A library faces one of them. The rest of the décor features farm-related antiques, particularly kitchen utensils, a wall of which looked like long-lost friends to older customers such as myself. Tables were set with fresh flowers. Ceiling-high windows face south, contributing considerable radiant heat on cold sunny days. They did not, however, warm bathrooms, which were uncomfortably cold.
The operation is self-serve. One enters by a bakery case that allows for eyeballing muffins, monkey bread, croissants, cookies, hand pies and desserts such as crème brulee and bread pudding. These are sold until they run out. Before 3 p.m. one can also order sandwiches, salads and soups. The soups ($3-$4.75) I have tried are exceptional. French onion had marvelously rich stock and caramelized onions. Curried squash, carrot and tomato soups all ranked with the best in town. Salads ($6.75-$7.85) were generously sized. Caesar was by the book with Romaine hearts, Parmesan and the classic dressing. Spinach salad came with apples, pecans, cranberries and blue cheese in a balsamic dressing. Kale was plated with chevre, roasted peppers, garbanzos and sunflower seeds in a wine vinaigrette.
Sandwiches ($7.50-$8.25) were surprising. Breads, fresh baked and sliced each morning, are denser than what one finds at La Mie, South Union or Strudl Haus. Density usually means that low gluten flours are used as gluten gives bread its airiness and soft flake. Even croissants were surprisingly made with the minimum number of turns to the lamination process, if they were laminated at all. Lamination (folding flour over layers of butter, rolling and repeating several times) gives puff pastry and croissants their airiness and layered appearance. Croissants here have none of that; they are more like doughs in croissant shape stuffed with almond paste, chocolate or fruits. The outside of the croissants also lacked the crackly textures that good butter should yield.
Dense breads are much better toasted and pressed with butter or oils. Hot sandwich options are thus easier to recommend than cold ones. A “blue goat” mixed blueberry compote with mild flavored chevre and even milder flavored balsamic. It had been pressed expertly, Panini-style. “French onion” included lovely caramelized onions, roast beef and Swiss cheese. I have been told that low gluten breads are best for French toast. On social media, Scenic Route advertised a gorgeous version with baked apples, crème Anglais and caramel sauce. It was not available on my visits, though. Sandwiches were served on small baking sheets, pastries on mismatched plates and saucers. Plates were not garnished. Condiments (even butter, mayo and mustard) were not available on tables or even at self-serve stations.
After 3 p.m. it becomes a coffee house, probably the most comfortable such place in town. Espressos had perfect crema but could have been hotter. Cuban (with brown sugar and steamed milk), Mila (with condensed milk, steamed milk and froth) and honeybee (with local honey and milk steamed with cinnamon) are signature drinks. Beer and wine are not currently available. Very good cookies and fruits hand pies, with flakey crusts make superb coffee mates.
Owner and chef Sean Wilson, a native of North Carolina, plans to revolutionize Proof by spring. The name and the menu will be replaced by a southern heritage café, with a few modern twists. Lunch service will return, at least in warm weather months. “I want to cook what I love,” Wilson explained… Food safety cops now recommend pink cutting boards, spoons and knives for all gluten-free cooking. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.