New Park Avenue in West Hartford has seen some tough times in recent years. A lot of the old businesses have folded or moved to new digs, and it's hard not to notice the many vacant and/or run-down buildings that line the road as you travel from Flatbush Ave to New Britain Ave. Happily, however, there is some redevelopment going on in the area and new shops and storefronts are appearing.
One such new store is the Hartford Baking Company at 625 New Britain Ave., an awesome new bakery and coffee bar recently opened by Scott Kluger and his mother Virginia. I had gotten a "press release"-style email announcing the opening of the bakery from Scott early last week, and Maryanne, Lynnafred, and I had been looking forward to trying them out all week.
When we walked in on Sunday morning, we were immediately charmed by the bright and airy interior of the bakery; sunshine was pouring in through the front windows and the shop smelled mouthwateringly of baking bread and proofing yeast. A wire rack behind the counter held crusty baguettes and rustic round loaves, and the display case beckoned with miniature baguettes, pumpkin muffins, ginger scones, sticky buns, and banana nut muffins. We each wanted one of everything, but we settled for each getting a different item so we could "taste around" without making pigs of ourselves. (Believe me - making pigs of ourselves would have been pretty easy here.)
Maryanne and I ordered coffees to go with our treats, and Lynnafred asked for a chai latte. While we waited for the barista to prepare the drinks, I chatted with Scott.
"We've actually been open about three weeks," he said, "but we opened really soft, without any announcements or advertising. We wanted to get everything just right before officially opening."
When our coffee and chai were ready, we carried everything over to a table in a corner of the seating area. In dire need of immediate caffeine, Maryanne and I tried out our coffee before hitting the baked goods. It was fair-trade Ethiopia Mordecofe, hearty and full-bodied without being burnt or bitter tasting. It was so smooth, in fact, that we used somewhat less half-and-half than usual in the cup. Meanwhile, Lynnafred sipped her chai latte and said, "That is the best chai I've ever had. And you can make that a direct quote in the blog."
Awesome baked goods we sampled this time:
Banana Nut Muffin - delicately tender, bursting with banana flavor; as perfect a banana nut muffin as there ever could be.
Pumpkin Raisin Muffin - Rich pumpkin flavor, sweet and spicy, loaded with plump raisins. It was perfect for a fall morning - like taking a bite of a harvest festival.
Ginger Scone - Delicious, tender and buttery and studded with chunks of candied ginger. It was a great way to start off a Sunday morning.
As wonderful as all the breads looked, we had to pass on them, since we'd just picked up a couple of loaves at a bakery closer to home. But you can be assured that we'll be stopping by again soon to sample them. As we were leaving, Lynnafred said to me, "I can't wait until the next time I get together with my friends. This place is on my Destination List."