Thursday, December 23, 2010
On an island once reserved for gas pumps, newspaper stands sit beneath an historic overhang’s classic Airstream curves. Above, a ’50s-style sign with a Mrs. Cleaver look-alike declares “Now Baking Daily.”
Stepping into The Bakery Station, which recently opened in a converted Depression-era gas station in Oldtown Salinas, can feel a little like going back in time, though in my case, I wish it could have been a few more hours: On both occasions that I visited (including a 8:30am trip), bread baskets had emptied, and many of the pastries had already been traded for tender, leaving only scattered crumbs in the display case.
“People call at six in the morning for us to set aside two or three scones,” says baker and co-founder Ana Melissa Garcia, who runs The Bakery Station with her best friend and fellow Salinas High alum Erika Olivarez.
It’s a popularity that feels easy to understand. The youthful pair have revitalized an historic space and turned it into something fresh: a from-scratch bakery with a classic car aesthetic that prioritizes local, organic ingredients.
The rush was evidently over when I visited – both visits I was the only customer – so I had plenty of time to scan the offerings and savor the aroma of baking breads. What remained was more than enough to set my mouth watering. I felt compelled to bring back as much as I could to the office.
Attracted to its mellow, white-golden color, I started with a buttermilk scone ($3.25). The texture was refreshingly light, and the thin layer of glaze gave each bite a subtle complement of sweetness that made it difficult to stop eating, despite its hulking XXL size.
Second up was an almond-cranberry scone (also $3.25), which proved less delightful, given a deal-breaking bitterness that comes with too much baking powder, not enough mixing.
With sticky buns ($3) sold out, I had a couple of enticing muffins ($3) to choose from next: The chocolate looked moist, dark and delicious, yet too decadent to be part of my breakfast (though I’m sure others would disagree), and so, feeling seasonally inclined, I opted for the pumpkin-cream cheese. The flavor was just what I was hoping for, with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, but the texture was a little too dense and dry. And while the dollop of cream cheese frosting on top offered a nice balance, it was only enough coverage for one out of four bites.
For the last of my morning choices I wanted something savory, and figured the quiche ($4.50) would be a crowd-pleaser back at the office. I had it re-heated, which might have been a mistake: The slice, when I received it, had surpassed caramelized to slightly burnt, and with every bite, I was left imagining what it might have tasted like without a carbon flavor. Even given its atypical thinness – it’s much more eggy pizza than it is thick and fluffy quiche – it was clear that the flaky crust was once a divine creation, and that the filling of ham, egg and cheese was delicious.
The signature sandwiches, all with classic auto-inspired names, made choosing challenging: Should I go with the sleek Bel-Air (which I discovered later to be the most popular), with its fresh sourdough, house-turkey breast, bacon, gouda and chipotle aioli ($8.95)? Or would it be the Supercharger, a meat-packer’s dream of roast beef, bacon, turkey, ham, salami, pepperoncini, tomatoes, onions, also with gouda and chiptole aioli ($8.95)? Have I ever even eaten five meats in the same sandwich?
A sucker for veggies and sauce, I ultimately decided on the VW, a crisp blend of carrots, jalapeño, apple, sprouts, white cheddar, tomatoes, red onions and cilantro aioli ($6.75), as well as the Road Hog, which lured me with the intoxicating combo of pulled pork slow-braised in whiskey house sauce, mayo and carrot and cabbage slaw ($7.50).
The VW was a revelation. I wouldn’t think to include apple slices in a sandwich, much less with jalapeño, but the results were a surprise party in my mouth. The sweet crunch of the apple, mixed with the insistent jalapeño heat, played beautifully off the mellow and savory base of white cheddar, while the soft, hearty slices of whole wheat, with the hint of cilantro aioli, accented the combination nicely. The result was one of the most inspired and satisfying vegetarian sandwiches I can remember.
The Road Hog was more sobering: Packed in a ciabatta roll that brought a little too much bread into each bite, the juicy pork and slaw were not enough to match it. This beast needs a dipping bowl of the whiskey sauce by its side to help balance the bread.
As the Station is but three months young, a few bumps in the road are to be expected. “We’re learning as we go,” says Olivarez, who runs the business side of things (Garcia does the baking). “This is a new game for me.”
With customers already putting in orders before dawn, it is a game that Garcia and Olivarez seem to be winning.