Gracious Bakery + Café
1000 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy.
New Orleans, 504-301-3709
Three Stars (Out of Four) _________________________________________________________________________
We’ve seen a growth spurt in the number of bakeries in New Orleans, raising the bar for quality bread all around town. Some of them combine the baking operation with cafés and sandwich shops and one of the best examples out there is Gracious Bakery + Café.
Gracious has staked out some new turf for restaurants, and that tends to make it one of those hiding-in-plain-sight finds. I’m sure many people drive right past it on their way between Uptown and Mid-City without knowing it’s there. The café is in the ground floor of a new office building just across from Xavier University, and even when you know it’s there it’s easy to miss. Inside, you’ll find an open, modern design, plus a few tables outside in the front.
This is a counter service operation, efficient enough, quick with recommendations from the dessert case and upbeat. Place order, take your seat and your sandwich or salad comes out reasonably fast.
Pastries are the main point here, and we’ll get to some savory examples in a moment. But this bakery also produces bread and that bread makes for some excellent sandwiches. My current favorite is the Asian-spiced pork, which is like barbecue-style pulled pork dressed with a Sriracha hot sauce slaw on a fresh, knotty kaiser roll. Another standout has smoked ham stacked up on a crusty mini baguette with pepper jelly, apple slices and something like a pimento cheese spread with walnuts. The meatloaf sandwich comes close to being the house burger, made on a ciabatta loaf to soak up all that juice, and an herb-strewn chicken salad with pickled red onions is good too. The sandwiches are plated with a substantial side salad, making for a square meal. That’s why I’ve never gotten into the entrée salads here. Order a sandwich and you get your greens and that bread. In the pastry case, you’ll find a changeable array of quiche with excellent, flaky crust, scones flecked with cheddar and green onions and other small savory snacks.
Besides the quiches and such, the pastry case is the domain of the desserts and it cannot be ignored. The proprietor here is a highly skilled pastry chef and this shows with a wide-ranging and always-changing array of sweets that are as beautiful as they are delicious. The most tempting for me have been the opera cake, all layered with chocolate and peanut butter cream, and these small, darkly glistening domes of Black Forest cake, three-bite wonders with intense chocolate flavor. Caramel tartlets, cheesecake, mini pies – the list goes on. There are house specialty creations to try, like the pretzel croissants (just as good as it sounds) and the “cruffin,” a creative re-use for leftover bits of croissant dough spiced and sugared like a muffin.
Gracious serves only soft drinks, but “soft” doesn’t really do justice to their coffee. Both hot and iced varieties are fresh, strong and worth a stop on their own.
Sandwich and salad prices are reasonable, topping out at $9, and the desserts are easy indulgences for a few dollars a try.
Great sandwiches, great coffee, cool design, a bread basket for a baguette to take home and all the temptation anyone can handle in the pastry case – this is the kind of place most everyone wishes would open in their neighborhood. That makes its crossroads location in the center of town all the more valuable.