While covering Thomas and Mariah Pisha-Duffly’s Family Feast for Knack Factory last night, I ran into the great baker Briana Holt, who had made a delicious strawberry buckle for the event. Holt will be overseeing the pastry program at Tandem Coffee Roasters’ forthcoming West End cafe and bakery expansion (Portland Food Map recently gave this update on construction). We talked about the bakery, pies, sandwiches, and why there seems to be a baking revival as of late.
When you’re done reading my interview, be sure to follow it up by reading this conversation that Adam Callaghan of Eater Maine had with Holt back in May.
WARNING: There is a swear in this conversation. It’s an eff-word, but it comes from a lady and so it is lady-like.
What can folks expect from the new West End shop?
It is going to be the awesome. There will be Tandem Coffee, of course, which they already serve at the East Bayside location. What we kind of want is a neighborhood joint that is focused on yummy, comforting-but-cool, American-style baking. There are people in Portland and outside of Portland who do French style baking where there are a lot of croissants and stuff like that. Something we feel we want to bring to town is a laid back American style pastry place that has sticky buns and cool sandwiches that change every day, good cookies and definitely pie. I am really excited to bring really good pies. I love it and I want to have an ever-changing rotation of seasonal pies that people can come and get a slice of—or a whole one—to enjoy with their coffee.
Yes! The last time you and I talked, we talked about pies.
I love pie.
What are you most excited to be able to focus on at the bakery?
I am definitely excited to make sandwiches. I love sandwiches so fucking much it’s crazy. They are the most perfect food. The idea is that hopefully this bakery is going to be a ubiquitous stop for people throughout their week. Great coffee, great cookies, great slices of pie and—if it is the right time of day and your tummy is in the right mood—a great sandwich. I have a love for textual discrepancies and sweet and tart and savory and spicy so I think sandwiches are the perfect foil for that. That is why I am excited to have a daily sandwich or two that changes all of the time and has local ingredients, hard cheeses, cured meats from friends who are really good at that, homemade pickles, and all that stuff.
I don’t mean to trivialize bakers and pastry chefs by saying what I am about to say, but the revival of pastries and baking reminds me of what seems to have happened with librarians a handful of years back.
So you’re saying bakers and pastry chefs are sexy? [Laughs]
Well, baking is sexy… But a friend of mine and I used to go out to eat all the time about 5 or 6 years ago. He hasn’t been out in a while and he said to me recently, “You know, there aren’t many places where you can go to get a nice dessert or something sweet in Portland.” I was able to identify, by name, four different bakers and pastry chefs. I mentioned you, Kim Rodgers of Hugo’s and Eventide, Brant Dadaleares of Fore Street, and Ilma Lopez of Piccolo.
Yeah. That’s amazing!
It wasn’t until I named everyone that I realized we haven’t had that luxury here for very long. Is there a revival for some reason?
What I have noticed in my experience is that there have been amazing pastry chefs, people who have studied and are learned and who have worked really hard. Their techniques are honed and astounding, but people don’t really know them by name because they typically work under chefs at classy restaurants. Then there are bakers, which I differentiate from pastry chefs a little bit in my mind. Bakers can be a little more laid back in design and plating. They make cookies instead of a plated dessert. I think that yes, there has been a bit of a resurgence in the bakery chef and baker. It is someone with a lot of skill, a lot of talent and a lot of love for flavor. It is a person who wants to make something slightly in the flavor vernacular and likes make things people remember eating from their childhood or classic pies or layer cakes. I think there has been a lot of stuff in New York that I noticed when I was living there where people were bringing their level of skill to something a little more homey. I think that has a hand in why there are more known bakers and pastry chefs these days. It is just a matter of bringing the craft to a level that a lot more people are noticing.
PHOTO CREDIT: Zack Bowen / Knack Factory