Bakeries worth the wait
Would you drive an hour for a perfect blueberry scone, or stand in line for a fresh loaf of sourdough? If so, this story is for you. Our region is home to some amazing bakeries, each with their own vibe and sought-after specialties. What they have in common: Owners that are as passionate about their craft as their devoted fans are about their goodies.
Food Truck Turned Storefront
Black Market Bakers, Annapolis
If you’ve ever driven past Chevy’s on Route 2 in Annapolis on a Saturday morning and wondered what would cause people to get up early and stand in line out in the elements, here’s the answer: Cinnamon buns. Sourdough bread. Oatmeal cream pies. Or pretty much whatever else Black Market Bakers has on the menu for the week. Starting a bakery from a food truck isn’t easy, but Black Market Bakers makes it look like, well, a piece of cake.
Head baker/co-owner Sarah Carr has had a passion for baking her entire life. “I personally struggle with anxiety so baking gave me a sense of control, and it’s just my happy place,” she says. She’d been baking professionally for more than a decade when she met her business partners, Steve and Tom O’Leary.
You may have seen the father-and-son team on this season of “Baking It” on Peacock. And their meeting in 2018 comes straight out of the Hallmark Channel. “I was at my husband’s grandmother’s funeral and they were catering the gathering afterwards,” says Carr. “My mother-in-law was like, ‘Why don’t you go talk to the O’Learys? They’re food people, you’re a food person….’”
They hit it off and made plans to open a bakery. When Covid hit, they pivoted to a food truck, open on Saturdays. An outdoor business was ideal for social distancing, and the ever-changing menu gave folks something new to look forward to on their visits. Buzz grew quickly via word of mouth and social media, and they had a hit.
The vibe, she says, is “approachable French pastry with a nostalgic spin. We love feeding people’s inner child with fun throwback menus. We did a back-to-school menu and we did our own take on Little Debbie treats, putting a childhood spin on that.”
In February 2022, they are expanding back to their original plan, by opening a stand-alone bakery in Edgewater, Md. Along with breads, muffins, sandwiches, and creative specials, they’ll also have coffee and espresso, in partnership with Rise Up Coffee.
“Our biggest thing was making it approachable, in how its laid out,” says Carr. “Have you ever been anywhere and felt almost stupid about how to order? That was at the forefront of our minds. We just want everybody to feel comfortable coming in there.”
It’s the same ethos they use in their menu. “When we started this whole business, we wanted it to be an approachable take on fresh pastry, an approachable taste on interesting flavors. We wanted to stay true to the foodie sides of ourselves but also be empathetic to our customer base, and to who we are as people. We wanted to create an atmosphere that we’re proud of and want to be immersed in.”
Another great thing about a storefront is more room to bake. “The food truck model is based around selling out,” says Carr. “As a bakery, we’re planning on baking all day so there’s always fresh product, even if you come in at the end of the day. The food truck is such a fun environment but I’m definitely looking forward to the stability of a storefront.”
They plan to keep the truck open on Saturdays. “It’s like a second store,” she says. And if there’s something you like or want to see, let them know. “We love customer feedback, and we love bringing back things that people request.”
Baker’s Choice: “I love bread; I could eat sourdough bread for every meal of the day. In terms of pastries, our filled croissants are my favorite thing right now. We make pretty big croissants, and we fill these things with different flavors. We’ve done one inspired by snickerdoodle cookies, so it has a brown butter cinnamon pastry cream with chunks of edible sugar cookie dough.”
What to try: Breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal cream pies, muffins (aka “cupcakes that you eat for breakfast”), cruffins, fruit scones, weekly specials.
A Couple’s Dream Come True
Out of the Oven, White Stone, VA.
Drive through tiny White Stone, Va., and keep your eyes open for a charming, two-story wooden house. That’s the site of Out of the Oven, the homestyle bakery owned by Marie and Cedrick Sanders since 2017.
“My background has always been baking,” says Marie. “I did vo-tech school in high school for baking and pastry, and then I went to Johnson and Wales University and studied pastry arts.” Her professional career has included stints at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Rittenhouse Hotel in Philly, and The Tides in Irvington. But as she moved up in her career, she got farther away from her initial passion.
Her most recent corporate job was in Williamsburg. “Living in the Northern Neck and driving to Williamsburg was an hour and a half in each direction. I wasn’t a pastry chef any more; I was food-services managing. In the last year or two or working for that company I’d say to my husband, ‘All I want to do is open up a bakery; all I want to do is make cookies and pies.’ And every day I’d drive around the area and look for a good spot.”
She finally found it in White Stone. “When I saw the ‘For Rent’ sign, I called and said, ‘I can meet you right now!’ ” And thus their dream business was born.
Husband Cedric has a culinary background as a savory cook. “He grew up in the south, in Arkansas, and we met in Pennsylvania,” she says. “So he has that southern hospitality.” They jumped in with both feet to make Out of the Oven a family affair for them and their two children.
“I love the creativity of [baking], really seeing what you can do and how people react, good or bad,” she says. “People come into the bakery and say, ‘This reminds me of when I was a little kid.’ My apple pie may be the one you love, or it may be somebody else’s and that’s ok. There’s a million ways to do it, and that’s why we do what we do.”
Focusing on what they do well, and not trying to be everything to everyone, is key to the business. “People come in asking us for soups and sandwiches, I say I don’t do that.” The same goes for coffee. They have urns as a convenience, but if you want a mocha cappuccino, she’ll happily direct you to a nearby spot.
They take pride and care in being a small-town bakery, by design. “It’s really hard to find a bakery that’s a traditional bakery,” she says. “But that’s what we are: a traditional bakery. We make our cookies and our pies, we make our own danishes, I make cakes and icings—we do all that. We sell a really good New York-style cheesecake, and only use Philadelphia cream cheese. I’m from the suburbs of Philadelphia, so maybe that’s part of it—a cheesecake has to be made with Philadelphia cream cheese.”
It’s a full-circle ending for Marie. “As a 7th and 8th grader, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I remember saying ‘I want to go to Johnson and Wales University and be a pastry chef,’” she says. “I actually ended up pursuing what I wanted to do.”
Bakers Choice: “I am not an overly sweet person, which dictates that our desserts are not overly sweet and sugary. If I’ve got a cookie in front of me by choice, it’s an oatmeal raisin. If I’ve got a cake in front of me, it’s a carrot cake. Those are my go-tos.”
What to try: Danishes, lemon bars, pies.
New Girl In Town
The Bakist, North Beach, Md.
“I’ve been baking since I can remember,” says Deserae “Dez” Virago. She was running a thriving bakery-restaurant in Spokane, Washington, when the opportunity came to move east with her family. Researching schools for her four kids led her to Calvert County, where she “fell in love with North Beach” and moved in January 2019.
That’s where found Sweet Sue’s Bake Shop, a neighborhood bakery run by various owners over the last decade. And though she enjoyed time away from running a business, and working on her blog Dezthebakist.com, she missed working with other people. “So I went ahead and applied to be a baker at Sweet Sue’s and started working on the weekends,” she says. “Megan the owner and I got along really well, and I kept thinking, “maybe I want to do this again? I miss baking, I miss baking for people.” Along with baking at Sweet Sue’s, she ran a home baking business under Maryland Cottage Food Industry laws, selling at events under the name The Bakist. But it wasn’t the same as having a bakery.
In summer of 2020, she started working full-time at Sweet Sue’s, doing baking, helping with social media, and making small changes, like bringing in some of her own recipes and improving the coffee service by bringing in Rise Up Coffee and adding lattes and espresso. She knew the business was for sale. “Through the months I joked with Megan and said, ‘We can work out a deal and I can buy this from you.’ She’d be like, ‘We’ll see.’”
When the opportunity arose in December 2020, Virago jumped. “It took two weeks to get a contract together and do all the details, and then as of Jan 1, 2021 I was the owner.”
She moved cautiously at first. “I didn’t want to change too fast because I didn’t want to lose any customer base. But I found that as I made changes, I got more customers. I think that everybody was ready for a change.”
She started with the basics: recipes. “The biggest thing was changing the breads and making the cinnamon rolls in house. We had a little controversy in the beginning because I make a cream-cheese frosting. I did a poll on Facebook over cream cheese or regular icing, and it was an even split. I’ve always made it with cream cheese, so I decided I’m just going to do it that way.”
Then she freshened the décor, swapping out the TV blaring news channels for gifts and sundries, and colorful flags supporting diversity and inclusivity. The result is personal, welcoming, and modern. Her previous businesses were family affairs, but this is all hers, and she loves it. “I was really excited to just be free with this one and do what I felt was good. It’s been amazing.”
As for the baking, “I love making breads, because I feel there is so much you can do with it and so many ways you can change it. You can make a million different things with one recipe; it’s just super fun.”
“I love making scones. It’s one of my original recipes and its very therapeutic to make them. With scones, you’re forming them with your hands, and that’s one thing I like. With cookies, it’s a mixer and scooping, but I like to hand shape things.”
Expansion plans are in the works for the coming year, to a nearby space with more room for baking and onsite dining. “The business keeps surprising me,” she says. “I’ll be preparing for low numbers and then we’ll be super busy and have to call people in because we’re too busy.” It’s a problem she’s very happy to have.
Baker’s Choice: “I usually try a chocolate chip cookie everywhere I can, just because there are so many different variations of chocolate chip cookies. I don’t think you can ever say one place has the best. They’re all going to be good.”
What to try: Gooey cookies, made with cream cheese from her grandmother’s recipe; cinnamon
buns, bagels, scones, breakfast quiche.
Biologist Turned Bread Baker
Ovenbird Bakery, Baltimore
When ornithologist Keiller Kyle first started watching The Great British Baking Show in 2016, he had no idea it would change his life. He and his wife had been baking at home, but the show inspired him to experiment. “I started baking a few different items off the show—swiss rolls and lemon poppy-seed tea cakes—and then I started getting really interested in the bread portion of the show. I never really did bread, it was very intimidating to me. But I got really excited about the result and the process. The science-minded person in me saw a lot of structures, and the live yeast aspect really spoke to me—especially interacting with other living entities to create something unique and fun.”
He shared his results with family and friends, who raved about it and in turn shared it with their friends. He started selling bread from home, at a nominal fee to cover flour costs but with no intention to make it professional. But his friends—including those in the Little Italy restaurant community—encouraged him to think bigger. In 2019, he made the leap and found a space in Little Italy. The March 2020 opening was delayed due to the shutdown, and Ovenbird Bakery opened in June 2020.
The corner retail storefront is at the heart of the business, but they also sell bread to local restaurants (including Little Italy mainstay La Scala) and pastries to a number of coffee shops. Aveley Farms provides the single-roast beans for their coffee, and their imported Italian-roasted espresso beans come from Di Pasquales.
As for the menu, as much as he loves bread, “we are a scone and croissant bakery first and foremost. Our biggest sellers are blueberry-lemon scones, which we have not been able to take off menu since day one. Savory scones are a quick second. Then we move into croissants, which are all hand done in house with our sourdough starter.” The starter is also used in their airy, oversized English muffins, which are a revelation to those of us who grew up on Thomas’s. The semi-sweet Turkish mosaic cake harkens back to his wife’s childhood.
The secret to everything is the amount of time they take to let the yeast ferment: 24 hours for the baguettes, 32 hours for sourdough. “It really does speak to level of flavor complexity that you can draw out of same base flour,” he says. “Depending on how much you let that starter or levain work on the dough, it will change the flavor profile completely.”
He’s also inspired by the bakery as its own microcosm. “I love the idea of structure and logistics, in terms of how things function. This effort that starts at 10 p.m. the day before, runs through the night and … gets passed on to the morning crew that starts at 5 a.m.; these things flow together and it culminates in opening with a full case of pastry and a full rack of breads. It’s almost like a dance, especially in such a small space. There’s a lot of pirouetting in space to allow other people to flow around you with hot trays. When that dance is flowing, it’s really amazing.”
They have expansion plans in the works, with a second, larger bakery due to open in Highlandtown in 2022, as well as a stall in the renovated Lexington Market. But no matter how much they grow, he’ll always keep his hands-on approach.
“I really feel grounded when I’m back with what this whole thing started with, bread” he says. “The dough is alive, it’s completely reactive in your hands, it’s got massive strength so you can stretch it and do all sorts of things with it. It relives a lot of tension from things that may be going on in other parts of the bakery.”
As with the bakery’s name, he sees a connection between his previous work and what he’s doing now. “I’m very drawn to those types of careers where the effort produces something, an entity—something you can see, something you can touch, something you can interact with. My conservation biology career was very much about that. My effort was derived into birds being protected that you could see flying, see nesting, see interacting with their environment. That’s why I’m drawn to bread. You touch the stove, you work with this product that gets baked, and then all of the sudden you have something that is very identifiable on a basic level, to almost all of humanity; I just made bread!”
Baker’s Choice: “I love things that I can put my hands around, like a meat pie or an empanada—I usually go to the heavier, savory stuff. If I want sweet, I go towards pies like key lime pie and cheesecakes; I will try a cheesecake anywhere with anybody. On my bagel, I’m an everything guy but if I’m here I almost never eat an everything bagel because I’m always eating the spicy fennel bagel that we have in house. It’s very simple, with fennel seeds and hot pepper flakes, but mixed in with our sourdough bagel, it’s heaven.”
What to try: English muffins, Baltimore sourdough, sweet and savory scones, croissants, focaccia with rosemary and sea salt.
Five More Sweet Spots
Here are a few more places we always stop by when we’re roaming around the Bay.
Corner Bakery, Onancock, Va. This no-frills, family-owned spot has been a staple on ESVA for more than 40 years. Folks drive an hour or more to stock up on donuts and creampuffs, but take a tip from us and don’t miss out on their sweet potato biscuits, if they have them.
The Bakery on Mason, Cape Charles, Va. At this seasonal downtown spot, everything is baked daily from scratch, using locally sourced ingredients as much as possible, from the fruit in pastries to the cheeses in sandwiches. Try the cinnamon twirls, decadently large cookies, and tasty breads, including a sourdough that does justice to the owner’s San Francisco roots.
Evergrain Bread Company, Chestertown, Md. This bakery is also one of Chestertown’s favorite meeting spots. The artisanal bread menu follows a weekly schedule (Thursday for cinnamon raisin, Friday for kalamata olive loaf), and every day you’ll find baguettes, croissants, muffins and buzz bars. Grab some to go or enjoy it with a latte in their airy cafe or at a sidewalk bistro table.
Bay Country Bakery & Cafe, Cambridge, Md. The giant donut mural outside is a tip to what’s inside: cake donuts, yeast donuts, iced donuts, filled donuts. They have 25 different varies on the menu, and even do oversized “mega-nuts”—basically a cake-sized donut, iced and filled however you please.
Café Dear Leon, Baltimore At this narrow storefront, owned by three culinary school friends, items are released throughout the morning. Come at 6 a.m. for the almond croissants, 7:30 am for cinnamon crullers, and 11 am for the tamago sando, an addictive Japanese-style egg sandwich.