A Connecticut Bakery and Cafe with a Brooklyn Pedigree
by Dan Shaw
When Audrey and Sam Leary left Brooklyn last summer to take over the bakery — now the Blackberry River Baking Company — across from the Stop & Shop on Route 44 in Canaan, CT, they stumbled into a plot worthy of a sitcom about artisanal urban foodies who discover the business they’ve bought isn’t the bakery they thought it was. “We like and respect the previous owners but they did not approach baking as we do,” explains Audrey, 27, who has the daft charm of New Girl star Zooey Daschenel and blogs about her life at homerunballerina.com. “We bought a fully stocked kitchen and all their inventory, and the first day we discovered there was not a stick of butter! They used a lot of mixes and frozen items that just had to be defrosted.”
The Learys would have to start from scratch.
Being cost-conscious as well as sensitive to the tastes of the bakery’s existing clinetele, the Learys decided to phase in a new menu made with high-quality ingredients like Vermont’s Cabot butter and King Arthur Flour. Although Audrey, who trained at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, had several years of hipster Brooklyn baking experience—including stints at Baked in Red Hook and The Annex in Fort Greene—she and Sam, 30, were new to running their own business. “We decided we would take things slow and develop our point of view,” she recalls.
By last winter, the locals and residents of nearby Falls Village, Norfolk, Salisbury and Sheffield were buzzing about the new baked goods at the cafe/bakery They were ordering birthday cakes made with real butter-cream frosting. They were marveling at the Parisian-style macaroons, the dense tea cakes, the croissants, and the crusty loaves or rye and peasant breads. The buzz became a roar when they started revamping the menu, adding dishes like chunky corned beef hash ($7.50) and “green eggs with ham,” in which eggs are scrambled with house-made spinach pesto and specials like Italian Eggs Benedict (below) with prosciutto and pesto Hollandaise ($9.50) “We use a lot of egg whites for icing so we had leftover yolks that were perfect for Hollandaise,” Audrey explains. All the dishes are served with yeasty toast and addictive home fries. “We cook the potatoes in bacon fat,” explains Sam, who gave up vegetarianism when he fell in love with Audrey four years ago. “We don’t like to waste anything, and we always have leftover fat after cooking bacon.” But vegetarians can find happiness at Blackberry River too, and Audrey allows that she borrowed the idea for the “red flannel hash” ($7.50)—beets, potatoes and goat cheese served with eggs—from a cafe in Brooklyn. “When I like something at another restaurant, I come home and try to deconstruct it so I can recreate it myself.”
The couple is slowly redecorating the cafe, adding a graphic blackboard menu wall and a buttercream-colored wall hung with a collection of bundt-cake molds (several of which are gifts from grateful customers). “People have really responded to the new menu,” says Audrey, whose repertoire ranges from pumpkin pancakes and cinnamon apple French toast to quiche and croque madame served with a fresh side salad of baby arugula. (To appease old-timers, they’re still serving a side of conventional potato chips with the more prosaic sandwiches.) The quality of the baked goods and entrees is important to them for personal as well as business reasons. “We eat at least two meals a day here,” says Sam. “We had to make sure the food was super fresh and delicious.”
Blackberry River Baking Co.
18 East Main Street (Route 44), Canaan CT
Tuesday - Friday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Sunday 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.