By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Had the multi-faceted Blackmarket Bakery in North Park succumbed to the trend of naming itself with two buzzy words separated by an ampersand, a variety of possibilities might identify the business model more clearly: Sugar & Sandies; Cakes & Caffeine; Flour & Hipsters; or Kids & Canines.
The name of the bakery, however, was established several years ago in Orange County by pastry chef and founder Rachel Klemek, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who in October opened an outpost on 30th Street just south of Adams Avenue with San Diego-based managing partner Alison Horn.
Blackmarket greets guests with playful and nostalgic visuals, beginning with an old bicycle parked out front that’s equipped with storage bins and a faux oven, as if loaded with deliverable, warm pastries.
Inside, the aromas of fresh croissants and brewed coffee drinks (by Dark Horse Coffee) hang over a central retail section of candies, jarred pickles and greeting cards. Perched along the surrounding shelves are boxed games for the playing, including jacks.
Further in, past custom-made tables, chairs and benches, is a subway-tiled area showcasing picture-perfect mousse cakes, tarts, cookies, croissants and “churrsants,” which are hybrids of churros and croissants. Everything’s baked daily in the wee hours of the night, including assorted breads.
In addition, a side doorway leads to an outdoor patio resembling the backyard of somebody’s house. Replete with a generous patch of artificial lawn, children and dogs are welcome.
The bakery operates also as a sandwich shop using house-made breads such as lemon-rosemary, Dutch crumb, seeded sour dough and others. The former excels on a vegetarian construct called the “handsome Italian,” which captured between the buttered, grilled bread slices alternate layers of minced artichokes, Roma tomatoes, pesto and Provolone — a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich by all accounts.
Ditto for “the gobbler” oozing with melty brie and stacked with turkey, bacon, cranberries and sliced apples. Here, the ingredients were tucked into two fat slices of Dutch crumb, the locally hard-to-find bread distinguished by a crispy veneer of rice flour, yeast and sugar. The sandwich’s savory and sweet components were exquisitely balanced.
My companion vouched for yet another grilled sandie, “the wild thing,” based on its inclusion of roasted garlic. Constructed with airy brioche, it also featured bacon, shallots, mushrooms, Provolone and brie. On paper, it sounded like a flavor bomb. But the two cheeses in their generous measures left us struggling to taste the other ingredients.
We returned to the order counter afterwards to buy treats to go.
A giant snickerdoodle cookie dusted in cinnamon sugar sported the coveted, pliable texture we banked on. An almond-rich “Basque berry” mini cake fell short on the raspberries, but offered a bright lemon curd sitting at the bottom.
Our favorite was the baked flourless “chocolate haystack,” a postured plop of juicy, shredded coconut and condensed milk enrobed in semi-sweet chocolate and crowned with toasted coconut.
All three confections were of the sugary, American-style class — noticeably sweeter than European desserts though not as aggressively cloying as those you’ll find in supermarket bakeries.
Blackmarket joins an array of other trendy hotspots in this gentrified section of North Park, such as Polite Provisions, Soda & Swine, Beerfish and Tajima Ramen. Although as a welcome addition of icing on the cake, it offers free parking in a designated side lot.