A Passion for Pastry

The old-fashioned American bake shop gives way to a more diverse sweet universe

Pastries from Buckley’s Bakery & Café in Merrimack

New bake shops have left doughnuts and white sandwich bread in the flour bin. Sweet dreams of French pastries and artisanal baguettes have drawn new culinary students into the international world of petit gâteau, macarons and croissants. With a broader knowledge of all things beautiful and French, they are offering the public an enticing pastry case and a side of savory selections too. The bakery café is new place to “do lunch.”

The new artisanal bakery café can be a full-scale operation or run by a small staff, but high-quality and passion-driven products are the goal. Popovers on the Square in Portsmouth in 2006 and later in Epping set the trend in New Hampshire by offering beautiful pastries and fresh, seasonal, savory fare under the direction of Master Baker Steve James. This café is more than breakfast and lunch; they also serve dinner. The accomplished baker is the backbone of the bakery café trend.

Corinne Cline of Andover knew she wanted to be a baker when she visited France as a senior at Proctor Academy. She was dazzled by the beautiful jewels of pastries in the pâtisserie windows. A few years later Cline attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and was exposed again to the fine cuisines of France. “We ate our way across the country for two exciting weeks,” she says of traveling with fellow students and instructor Delphin Gomes. As a French master pastry chef, he knew where to go and who to meet for the best food experiences. Cline was especially inspired by Pierre Hermé, a noted French pastry chef famous for his creative pastry design and inventive macaron recipes. His macaron collection includes chocolate with foie gras, and his shops are truly like jewelry boutiques.

Cline settled back in Andover with visions of sugar cookies and croissants dancing in her head. She started to acquire equipment and customers. In her first year and a half, she expanded into custom orders and farmers market appearances. Along the way, she won best chocolate cake for her two-layer cake with 24-carat edible gold adornments at ChocolateFest 2014 in the Sunapee region. (There was no competition in 2015.)

Now ready for prime time, Cline is opening her Andover workspace as Tarte Café & Bakery sometime in mid-January, and will continue with custom and wholesale orders, including for Tucker’s in both New London and Hooksett. She will be making croissants with her sheeting machine, exploring macarons and diversifying her chocolate confections that were too difficult to refrigerate for outdoor markets. There will be soups and sandwiches at her café, but without proper bread-baking ovens she prefers to use another local bakery’s bread.

Chef Michael Buckley behind the counter at his new bakery café. Hungry for lunch? Try the slab pizza that's pictured in the case.

In Merrimack, Executive Chef Michael Buckley recently jumped into the bakery-café world with his new eponymous Buckley’s Bakery & Café in Merrimack in the former Swan Chocolates building right next to Buckley’s Steakhouse. It was a logical decision to purchase the empty property. In the evening, overflow traffic can use the bakery parking spaces and Buckley has now consolidated all bread and dessert preparation at the café for Surf Seafood, Buckley’s Steakhouse and MT’s Local Kitchen & Wine Bar.

With Buckley’s Bakery & Café open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Buckley’s dining empire now includes breakfast and lunch offerings on a regular basis. Besides a gorgeous selection of European pastries created by employee Michael Ciola, former owner/baker of the Dutch Epicure in Milford, the cases are filled with American bake shop favorites like apple pies and cookies. On the savory side, find freshly made sandwiches, ready-to-heat panini, and even slab pizzas designed for breakfast.

Buckley says his daughter, living in Maine, introduced him to the concept of slab pizza, which she discovered at Micucci Grocery in Portland. It’s baked in a rectangular sheet pan and has a simple sauce with a thin layer of toppings. These slab pizzas are not like the grilled pizzas found at MT’s, but are thicker versions baked in a deck oven. The breakfast version has a slightly thinner crust and is topped with scrambled eggs and several cheeses. At noon, out comes the  tomato-based slab pizza with pepperoni or just cheeses. Buckley says, “I tried many different kinds of canned tomatoes to find one that was naturally sweet after simmering for eight hours.” As an aside, Stephen Lanzalotta, the original creator of Micucci’s slab pizza, opened a Portland space called Slab in the old Portland Public Market building last year.

The food offerings are not ordinary here. Even the salads in the grab-and-go section are nicely conceived and made fresh every morning — handy for people stopping for coffee (Mill City Roasting Company) and looking to pick up lunch at the same time. An ice chest cradles bottles of freshly pressed juices, while hot pots warm a daily choice of two of Buckley’s legendary soups. A warm entrée like Hungarian goulash or lasagne is available for a more substantial meal.  

Corinne Cline rolling out the butter for croissants for her Andover
Tarte Café & Bakery.

Upstairs, the sunny lounge area has been maintained for customers who want to sit and sip coffee with their croissant or whoopie pie. “We originally thought to rent this space out for showers or birthday parties, but we decided to keep it simple and let the customers enjoy it,” says Buckley. To simplify operations, Buckley’s Bakery & Café does not take special orders.

Working hard to get it just right is Buckley’s M.O. Long-time employee John Dunn says, “I am his project manager. Mike will say, ‘I have a project for you.’” Sometimes he admits it’s just tasting endless variations of a muffaletta sandwich for eight hours. Even Buckley admits it took 40 recipes to get the chocolate chip cookies just right — crispy on the edges and soft in the center. And not too sweet. Yes, he nailed it.

The concept of the American bakery-café was started by Panera Bread in the early 1980s, but local versions are just so much better. You can taste the love, the passion that drew the chef to the fire of the hot ovens and the dark of early hours. Whether it’s fancy French pastries with unpronounceable names lovingly constructed by a young woman or the well-conceived and well-executed notions of a top chef entering the breakfast arena full-time, it’s time to enjoy the café like they do in Paris. Have a good morning with good coffee and a fresh, delicate pastry. If you must, grab and go. Choice is so American.

NH's Bakery Cafés

Sweet spots for breakfast and lunch and maybe even dinner


Miller’s Café & Bakery
16 Mill St., Littleton
Flip bread sandwiches, soup, quiche

Backcountry Bakery & Café
18 Black Mountain Rd., Jackson
Pastries, soup and sandwiches

Polish Princess Bakery
73 Main St., Lancaster
European breads, quiche, pizza and soup

Tarte Café & Bakery
46 Main St., Andover
European pastries, soup and sandwiches

Umpleby’s Bakery & Café
3 South St., Hanover
Savory pies, soups and sandwiches on their own bread

Hilltop Café
195 Isaac Frye Highway, Wilton
Omelets, crepes and creative egg dishes

Enchanted Bakery & Café
22 Glebe Rd., Spofford
Retail closed until spring

Peggy Sue’s Bakery & Café
31 Central St., Troy

Kristin’s Bistro & Bakery
28 Washington St., Keene
Soups, quiche

Nonie’s Restaurant & Bakery
28 Grove St., Peterborough
Breakfast and lunch offerings

C’est la Vie
10 School St., Peterborough
Soups, salads and sandwiches


The Black Forest Café and Bakery
Rte. 101, Amherst
Pastries, plus full menu for lunch and dinner

In A Pinch Café & Bakery
146 Pleasant St., Concord
Soup, salad and sandwiches

Baked Café & Bakery
1015 Elm St., Manchester
Soups, salads and sandwiches

Finesse Pastries
968 Elm St., Manchester
European pastries, soup and sandwiches

Buckley’s Bakery & Café
436 Daniel Webster Hwy. Merrimack
Sandwiches, soup and breakfast pizza, plus a daily hot entrée item

Benson’s Bakery & Café
203 Central St., Hudson
Soups, salads and crepes

Great Harvest Bread
4 Sunapee St., Nashua


La Maison Navarre
121 Congress St., Portsmouth
Croque, quiche and sandwiches

Popovers on the Square
8 Congress St., Portsmouth
Full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Popovers at Brickyard Square
11 Brickyard Square, Unit 23
(603) 734-4724
Full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Me & Ollie’s
Four locations: Portsmouth, Exeter, Newington and Greenland

Soups, salads and sandwiches
Sweet Dreams Bakery
100 Portsmouth Ave. Stratham
Sandwiches, salads, pizza

Categories: Features