Say what you will about the French, they know how to savor the good things in life. After a grueling five-hour work day, during which they enjoy two naps, a bottle of wine and some nice brie in between protesting the inhuman five-hour work day, they love nothing more than to dip into a café or boulangerie for a quick little escape – a steaming cup of coffee, a lovely pastry, perhaps some duck fat injected directly into an artery. Now with the refurbished ground floor of the Biltmore Garage coming online, downtown has a bit of that Parisian good life to call its own at Ellie’s Bakery (61 Washington St.).
Ellie’s is the latest project from the folks behind Gracie’s. Proprietor Ellen Gracyalny kept the project in the family, so to speak, entrusting the kitchen to Melissa Denmark and Danielle Lowe, the pastry chef and assistant pastry chef respectively at Gracie’s. In all, about half the bakery’s staff was drawn from the restaurant; Gracyalny even used the same interior designer and painter. Fans of Gracie’s will find the attention to detail and consistency of vision at Ellie’s familiar. Just as the restaurant’s star motif is repeated everywhere from the menu to the glasses to the staff uniforms, Ellie’s signature red rooster pops up over and over again. But it’s not just in the aesthetic that the two businesses share a philosophy – it extends to the food too. In both cases, the menu is driven by seasonality, local sources and a commitment to letting quality ingredients shine through.
The idea for the bakery began before there was even a location. Gracyalny, Denmark and Lowe took a trip to Paris and found inspiration for the project in its famed cafes and bakeries. “The concept is to take a pause from the day, to revive and rejuvenate yourself,” says Director of Marketing and Events Brendan Roane, another holdover from the Gracie’s team. “It’s a place where you can find time to reflect.” The idea is to be able to pop in throughout the day for a coffee and a treat, or stop in on the way from work to grab a baguette. The bakery will be open six days a week (closed Sunday).
The menu will change frequently, but includes pastry, quiches, breads, sandwiches, teas and locally roasted New Harvest coffee. The first-week offerings included everything from a sweet potato muffin with ginger peach streusel to chocolate-olive oil Madeleines to a sweet potato and bacon quiche. Heartier fare is available in the form of sandwiches like lamb mortadella with marinated eggplant and olive ricotta on olive sourdough or house made jam and peanut butter on honey beer bread. “We focus on high quality products and sourcing locally,” says Denmark. “The food is better that way and the staff has so much pride in what we do.”
Ellie’s is a promising start for the new block of businesses at the Biltmore Garage. It’s soon to be joined by Figidini Wood Fire Eatery, providing a nice influx of food and life in what was previously just a parking garage. And it’s a sweet retreat from the bustle of downtown. A quote on the bakery’s wall advises, “Find peace in the morning rush and you’ll have a good day.” I’m sure the French would agree.