How sweet it is at Sift in Mystic
Some assignments are tougher than others. This was not one of them.
Really, I hesitate to call this latest review a “work” assignment, because when you have to sample the goods at an excellent bakery like Sift Bake Shop in Mystic, the only work required is not eating the entire bag of goodies on the way home.
Oh, and did I mention Sift’s owner, operator, and pastry chef Adam Young just won Food Network’s “Best Baker in America” competition? Young’s big win, announced on Monday’s episode, underlines what many people already know: delicious things are happening in the kitchen at Sift.
Fans of Sift know that the line can wander out the door at high-traffic times and days, so I met a friend there on a weekday morning and had a good long chat over many wonderful treats.
In a display of Responsible Adulthood, I opted to start with what my mother would call a “normal” breakfast, and that was Sift’s Chive Omelet ($7.75), which comes served on one of Sift’s fantastic croissants. Take the few minutes to get it speed-heated by your counterperson, because the flavors within and without really pop with some heat. The croissant blossoms into a buttery, flaky, yet still sturdy base in which light fluffy eggs-with-chives, Vermont bacon, avocado, tomato, greens, and marmalade merge into a hearty, delicious sandwich with a medley of flavor. Two people honestly could split this sandwich and feel fairly sated — particularly if you pair it with, say, one of Sift’s giant cookies. Which we did, choosing a classic chocolate chip ($2.25) to wash down with our cappuccinos ($4.25 for a large). Be aware, this is no ordinary chocolate chip cookie, because the brilliant baker knows we’re in it for the chocolate, and if you peer at a cross-section of the cookie, you will see strata of chocolate and cookie — large sections of each that complement one another in grand fashion.
Now, the mister isn’t nearly as sweet-toothed as I am, but he is a frequent bread baker, and neither of us can resist a beautiful loaf. He introduced me to pan d’epi (translation: a loaf of bread shaped like a stalk of wheat) long, long ago, and so when I saw it available at Sift, I grabbed one ($3.95) to bring home for dinner. His (more expert than mine) report: very flavorful, doughier than expected for this type of loaf but not a problem for him at all. As for me, the soft, slightly sticky but doughy interior paired very well with sharp cheddar, and the crust, while fairly toothy, wasn’t so thick that you have to gnaw the thing apart like a dingo.
If there’s one sweet treat I can tempt the mister with, it’s a chocolate croissant ($3.25). The non-chocolate parts tend to balance the sweetness of the chocolate for him. Well, Sift just changed the equation, because theirs is a big, beautiful bun that houses generous layers of dark chocolate throughout and striped with more on the exterior. What’s interesting is that the excellent buttery notes from the pastry blend very well with the dark chocolate. It’s a rich and wonderful result that goes nicely with coffee. Note: If you’re looking for something sweet but less so than a chocolate croissant, try the almond croissant ($3.50), and not only because it’s filled with almond-flavored cream and decked with almond slivers. It’s also a good choice because the almond flavor tastes like: almonds! It could very well be an extract (although I doubt it; Young isn’t messing around), but it’s a very good one nonetheless that offers just the right dash of sweetness to the nutty notes below. Suggestion: Knife-and-fork this one.
I did not observe the go-at-an-off-time policy on my second visit to Sift. The line wasn’t out the door, but it was a good five people deep. Despite the rush, I was served in short, friendly order and in the process discovered my future go-to “normal” item at Sift (not that there’s anything wrong with the omelet; this one’s just more portable). It may seem odd to go for a savory option at a bakery, but just go with it in the case of the Sausage, Potato, and Cheese Croissant (an amazing $3.50). First, the size of the thing was impressive — larger than my hand and big enough for two. Next, the amazing sausage tucked within was crumbly and tasty thanks to black pepper, salt, and, let’s face it, a bit of grease. The potato layer — some mashed, some still cubed — held all that goodness together with an assist from a subtle cheese. When all those things meet with crispy, buttery layers of croissant, the result is outstanding and absolutely delicious.
Here’s the thing about the line at Sift: there are plenty of beautiful things on display to gaze upon while you wait. You can’t help but stare at the colorful “Entremets” (layered, mousse-based cakes) beneath the equally vibrant macaron assortment. My eye went straight to the deep-hued, double-layered Blueberry Violet Cheesecake ($5.95 each). It was nearly too beautiful to eat, but luckily the trip home put a slight dent in one section of mousse, so we tucked in shamelessly and destroyed it. Crassness of the tasters aside, be assured this dessert is a delight, from its soft and crumbly base to the lovely, fresh violet-esque flower on top. The top layer of blueberry mousse tasted of real berries and lent a bright, tangy berry flavor to the creamy cheesecake beneath it. A dash of lemon within makes this dish a light and lively dessert that’s perfect for summer, and small enough to assuage any guilt, especially if shared.
Of course, no French bakery would be complete without a selection of macarons, and Sift tends to offer at least six flavors daily ($1.95 each; 6 for $11.50). We enjoyed all three flavors of macaron we selected — Vanilla Bean, Chocolate Salted Caramel, and Peanut Butter and Jelly — but the standout winner was the PB&J simply because it tasted just like the titular comfort food. We have no idea what magic enables a pastry chef to imbue such a small confection with clear notes of both peanut butter and jelly, but we’re big believers in it now — and that’s despite the interesting lavender hue of the pastry. All three varieties of macaron presented great meringue-pastry-to-cream construction, with lovely almond notes in the Vanilla Bean. We could’ve used more caramel flavor in the Salted Caramel, but the predominant chocolate flavor was deep and smooth.
We tasted quite a bit of Sift’s wonderful menu and, believe it or not, there are still many items available left not yet sampled. We’ll just have to dig deep and prepare for another tough mission to Sift as soon as possible.
5 Water St., Mystic
Cuisine: French bakery offering breads, sweets, croissants, and more; “signature cakes” from 6 inches to 10 inches in a handful of flavors available
Atmosphere: Bright, cheery, and country-chic; not particularly large, Sift offers some indoor, more outdoor seating available
Service: Very friendly, welcoming, and efficient
Prices: Reasonable, considering the quality and craftsmanship; prices run from $1.95 for one macaron to $9.95 for a savory sandwich; breakfast pastries average around $3.25
Hours: In the summer, daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Credit cards: Accepted
Handicapped access: No stairs to enter, but the interior isn’t all that big; if there’s a line, passage could be tight; in lighter foot traffic, ample space to navigate.