If you’re unfamiliar, let me tell you a quick story — at least as I understand it:
A man meets a woman in San Francisco. They both go to baking school. They fall in love and move to Seattle to follow their joint-love of coffee. Then, tired of being in the hustle and bustle of the nation’s largest coffee scene, they decide to pack it up and carve out a simpler life for themselves where they could be a greater part of the community back in the girl’s hometown, Edwardsville.
Things start out small. Roasting in a small custom built roaster at their home they begin selling coffee under the name Goshen through local businesses and the local Farmers’ Market. Then they build a wood burning oven and the baked goods quickly gather a following at the market until finally, to the joy of those in the know, they open a storefront in July of 2005.
That shop is 222 Artisan Bakery and in it you can taste perfection.
So, to Matt Heren and Debbie Sultan, I’m sorry I dropped the ball and didn’t post this sooner. And for the rest of you, as words can not fully explain my affection for what Matt, Deb, and their staff do, you’ll have to continue this one after the jump, as there’s lots of pictures.
|Top to bottom you can see my old favorite the cinnamon roll, my new favorite, a blueberry
dream roll, and a chocolate croissant
Often a lot of restaurants in St. Louis, while good, leave me uttering the all too familiar quote: “good for St. Louis.” 222, however, isn’t just good for St. Louis. It’s great, for any city. I’m not sure how I discovered it initially, but what I do remember is that my coworker at the time, Chris, who lived in Edwardsville, vouched that it was in fact, “very good.”
Closing at 3 on weekdays, 222′s limited hours made it impossible for Ellie and me to ever go. So with that, I begain my continuous pleading to Chris to swing by on his way to work. Apparently I am a poor pleader as this proved to be a failure and was generally met with the sort of stare that can really only mean: “Are you crazy?” Yes, I am crazy about food.
Fortunatly, while the hours are even slimmer, 222 is also open on Saturday until noon and although it took us a couple months to get it together, finally, sometime in early 2006, we at last made the journey from Florissant to Edwardsville. We had no idea what we were in for.
When I first walked in 222 Artisan Bakery I was struck by the fact that while it’s the kind of place you’d expect to see in Matt and Deb’s previous locales like San Francisco or Seattle, it’s not what you’d expect to find in Edwardsville, IL of all places. Saturday mornings the bakery is filled with the sounds of happy customers and their families along with the bluegrass always playing on the stereo. For me there’s nothing more relaxing than listening to bluegrass while just hanging out, and I couldn’t think of a more perfect backdrop to the bakery’s warm welcoming colors and use of wood. Not many places give off a cohesive vibe in my opinion as they try to hard to create a specific atmosphere, but this is one that definitely does.
Along with the laid back atmosphere, 222 obviously has a few baked goods for sale, and for me, it’s the pastries that really set them apart from anything else in the area. On that first visit I had a cinnamon roll, If you’re a butter-phobe you’d best stay away because there’s no shortage at 222. As its buttery layers of almost croissant like dough gave way to the gooey center, I found myself in a sort of cinnamon roll nirvana and like so many things Matt and Deb do, it really was the best I’d ever had.
I think Ellie had a chocolate croissant that day. People often speak about how you can’t get good croissants outside of France. Typically, they reference the lack of an almost shattering flakiness rarely seen in the US. 222′s definitely shatter, and although my personal preferences keep them from edging out the cinnamon rolls, they really are fantastic with their firm dark chocolate center.
But it’s not just pastry 222 does so well. They went to baking school after all, so there’s fresh bread baked daily. Most are sourdough based and although we’ve had most they offer at this point, it’s the cranberry walnut bread of our first visit that keeps us going back for more. I can remember pulling it out to admire on the way home and saying it was almost too beautiful to eat. Its dark almost nutty crust, and the classic ring marks left behind after sourdough proofs in a banneton, gave it a wonderfully rustic look that was truly artisanal. You knew instantly the person that had made it was someone with a genuine passion for what they were doing, and filled with just the right amount of cranberries and walnuts, its flavor was superb.
And that cappuccino quest I’m on — I limit it to the Missouri side of the river because once you factor in Illinois, for me, I’ve already found perfection. Easily the best espresso in the entire metropolitan area Goshen’s is absolutely spot on. Espresso tastes do differ amongst coffee drinkers but, for me, Matt’s taste is aligned perfectly with mine resulting in shots that are beautifully smooth with such a wonderfully rich crema that it almost seems wasteful to have them taint it with the addition of milk.
To say I enjoy what they do would truly be an understatement. With our friends and family, Ellie and I have gotten a reputation for being a bit nutty for our willingness to drive to Illinois for nothing more than a pastry and a cappuccino, and October turned out to be a pretty bang up month for pastry eating and caffeine addiction as I only missed one weekend.
First, on the 6th, with Ellie sound asleep, it occurred to me that not much could be nicer than my heading over and grabbing some pastries to wake her with. Off I went as I had many times before only this time, arriving at 8 o’clock, I was early. It was a whole new experience to see them so busy as the line of customers, all eager to buy something from the well stocked display, ran clean out the door. There was also a large selection of things I’d never had the opportunity to try before because they were always gone before we arrived.
Also gone that morning was Deb, which Matt informed me was because she was leaving that day for a two week pastry school in France. As excited as I’m sure she was it’s the customers of 222 Artisan Bakery that will be reaping the most reward as we eagerly await whatever new additions will be available.
And speaking of new things, 222 uses as much seasonal produce as they can get their hands on and so selections sometimes vary based upon what they were able to purchase. On that trip I tried my first blueberry dream roll. Basically a cinnamon roll that had been smeared with blueberries before rolling and baking, it caused the cinnamon roll to be less tightly spiraled, but also added a delicious gooey flavor that was an amazing addition and certainly one I’d never thought of. I also had my first ham and cheese croissant, but as I was famished, it was too hard to resist eating and I devoured it before it’s photo-opp while waiting in line.
Speaking of pictures, as I took the picture of the cappuccino that day, a husband and wife struck up a conversation with me. Initially embarrassed by having to answer precisely why I was taking the picture, I learned they, like myself, seem too moonlight as 222 Artisan Bakery advocates. Luckier than Ellie and me, they live in Edwardsville just a few blocks away making the commute a short walk rather than a thirty minute drive. We had a long conversation about the bakery, the Edwardsville Farmers’ market, Kansas City, and Biver Farms, but most importantly was the new piece of information she shared with me: 222 makes pizzas on Friday afternoons. I had no idea. I love pizza.
After our conversation, I bought the beautiful thyme and kalamata olive loaf above which you way recall from it’s reappearance as the bread crumbs in my manchego budino . It’s really wonderful, and I especially enjoy the scent of thyme as so many olive breads are of the rosemary and olive variety.
On our second visit of the month, after giving Mike and Irene a taste of a cinnamon roll I’d returned with the week before, we finally had ourselves some additional takers for the journey. Meeting them there they seemed to love it almost as much as we do, and really, I can’t imagine anyone making the drive would feel any differently.
It was on this trip, that I also noticed for the first time that they had scones. I honestly don’t recall which one I tried (other then it had berries) as I only had one bite after which Ellie quickly devoured it and proclaimed it “the best scone ever.”
On the third and final visit for the month, having decided to take Friday off after the Bell’s Beer Dinner, we decided it was the perfect day to try those pizzas. Subliminally, that’s probably why we took the day off in the first place, and we couldn’t have been more glad we did. Having been told they generally run out by noon, and having started the day later than expected (my fault), we were concerned about our one o’clock arrival. Luck, however, was on our side, and the drizzly fall weather kept people away making it possible for us to have the last two pizzas of the day. They had a selection of three, and my understanding is that this was the standard: three pizzas based upon whatever items were in season with at least one being vegetarian.
Of the two we had, the first was red sauce, sliced tomatoes, kalamata olives, thyme, and mozzarella. The second was basil pesto, chorizo, pine nuts, and a four cheese blend. This one had initially caught our eye first, and while it was great, it was the first that I enjoyed most. I wish I’d taken a picture of the bottom so you could see how dark and crusty they’d both become from baking in the deck ovens. The crust was my favorite part, and its texture combined with the obvious freshness of the ingredients — I hate to say it again, but it made it one my favorite pizzas ever. With no single ingredient overpowering another, it was perfect because it was simple.
|Orange Dream Roll and Apple Danish|
We returned after our pizza gorging with two things we’d never had before as well. One was the orange dream roll. Similar to the blueberry dream roll, this one had a sort of orange cream cheese filling, and as the name implies it had a sort of orange dreamcicle flavor. Ellie loves the orange-cream combo, and she really loved it. I had the apple cheese Danish, and while the blueberry dream roll had briefly trumped the cinnamon roll, its victory was short lived, as the apple cheese Danish is the best pastry I have ever had. I can’t entirely put my finger on it, but the combination of their pastry skills, the fresh apples, and the delicious cream cheese are virtually impossible to beat in my mind.
Hopefully all these pictures made you stick around, and if you’re still with me, I leave you with this:
While our willingness to drive so far for bread, coffee, and pastries apparently makes us a bit eccentric in most people’s eyes, food like this is worth the journey. Over time, we’ve gotten to know Matt and Deb somewhat. I suppose when they realized we were driving from Florissant that probably put some sort of mental asterisk next to us. As we don’t generally arrive before about eleven o’clock do to the drive and our other Saturday morning commitments, one time Matt suggested we call ahead to have them hold our favorites before they run out. One time we actually did – a chocolate croissant for Ellie and a cinnamon roll for me. But the thing about 222 is, if you have your favorites held, you won’t be forced to try something new, and if you never try anything new, there’s a strong possibility you’re missing out on something that will become your new favorite.
I promise you, if you make the journey to 222 Artisan Bakery, your only regret will be that you can’t go more often.
Note: Please keep in mind that while I believe my opinion to be correct, there are some establishments that I am close enough to that my opinion is personally biased. This is one.