'Twas the weekend before Christmas, and many guests had come for din-din. To replenish shelves with sugarplums, the whole town went to Tin Tin.
This delightful new, family-owned and operated bakery is nestled into the ground floor of an apartment building at the corner of Main and School in Westerly. Open the outer door, and an old-fashioned, sweet, yeasty perfume meets you in the vestibule. Inside, arrayed on shelves and tucked in sparkling glass-front cases, you'll discover an encyclopedia of baked goods, some savory, others sweet, some familiar, others brand new.
This snug little place is as clean as a whistle, its young staff in bright white chef coats and hats, moving about in the kitchen behind the cases, readily tossing questions and answers in Chinese back and forth with the person manning the counter.
"Have you been here before?" is the inevitable greeting. Depending on the response, the counter person either lets the customer alone to browse, or explains the differences between Asian and American sweets and hands out sample after sample, until the customer is ready to decide and buy.
The biggest difference between these offerings and those we have come to expect from a bakery is the level of sweetness. The cakes here are light and moist and barely sweetened. The cookies are delicately sugary. The buns - even the savory ones - are made from a rich, sweet dough, a delightful foil for the large selection of fillings and toppings, from barbecued pork to red bean paste to coconut custard.
Of Tin Tin's savory offerings, my favorite is this trinity: Three Brothers Bun ($1.50), the Scallion and Ham Bun ($2), and the Pork Sung Roll ($1.50).
The Pork Sung Roll is a large, oval-shaped sweet bun topped with a generous layer of finely ground Chinese bacon, held in place by a thin coating of mayonnaise. The bacon is not as salty, fatty or smoky as American, instead providing a drier, more delicate bacon flavor. The overall impression is that of a bacon-topped doughnut, albeit a not too sweet one.
The Scallion and Ham Bun has a generous amount thinly sliced, Chinese ham and buttery sautéed scallions kneaded and twisted throughout the dough. The fresh, robust scallion flavor combines with the ham and the sweet bread to make a wonderful meal in a bun.
The Three Brothers Bun is a combination of the other two, basically a three-lobed Scallion and Ham Bun stuffed with Chinese bacon. Seriously delicious.
Other savory offerings include the roast pork and curry beef puff breads, the BBQ Pork Bun, and the Hot Dog Bun, which is as it sounds, a hot dog baked right into its bun.
Among the sweet offerings, my favorite is the Red Bean Paste Bun ($1.50), with the Taro Bun ($1.25) a close second. Swirls of sweet red bean paste stripe the first, creating a delicious and undeniably beany taste sensation. A sweet portion of mashed purple taro, tasting very much like sweetened, earthy mashed potato, fills the dome of the Taro Bun, with a surprisingly delicious result.
The cookies come in square, clear plastic containers, which hold at least a dozen in most instances. My favorites include: Sesame Brittle ($3.50), thin, chip-like, honey-sweet and redolent with white sesame seeds; French Palamir ($3.50), also known as elephant ears, flaky, crispy and sugary; and Korean Angel Kiss ($3.50), delicate, flaky rectangles with brown, shiny, sweet tops.
Also available are butter cookies in a variety of shapes, large chocolate chip and Hershey Kiss cookies ($1 each) and peanut cookies ($5), basically a butter cookie encrusted in unsalted peanuts for a delicately nutty flavor.
But it is Tin Tin's cakes that really are the show-stoppers. Beautifully decorated, most feature a delicately sweet sponge cake in a variety of flavors - from chocolate and lemon to green tea - with fillings and toppings of fresh or dried fruits, nuts, whipped cream and/or cream cheese. Some are available by the slice each day, while special occasion cakes are custom-made when ordered in advance.
There are pies and tarts and cheesecakes to be enjoyed by the slice, and whole ones to bring home and share. There are two tables in the small shop and a modest offering of beverages, both hot and cold, including coffee, teas, some soda and several flavors of Bubble Tea (two sizes, $3 and $3.50), a cold, ice tea made with sweetened milk and flavorings, featuring large, black and sweetened pearls of tapioca that sink to the bottom of the cup, waiting to be sucked up through the accompanying, extra-wide straw.
I'm waiting until summer to try the Bubble Tea, but in the meantime I'm working my way through everything else there is to discover at Tin Tin Bakery, a delightful addition to the local food scene.