Like the Roman cornetto, New York bagel or San Francisco sourdough, the croissant is a baked good linked inseparably with a city. That magical place, of course, is Paris, the City of Lights and walking off calories, and that's strange because croissants are in fact Viennese. They can also be called viennoisseries, and their arrival in France dates within the last 200 years. You can bake them at home, except you won't because, although they require just half a dozen ingredients and water, you're obliged to start making them two days in advance.
I'm no professional baker. I admit that up front. But I fell profoundly in amour with croissants in Paris, so much so that I breakfasted on impeccable crescents from the brasserie La Renaissance on Rue Ordener in the 18th for a week straight. Since I got back, I've been on the hunt for the perfect croissant, or at least as close as I can get to it in Olympia. Let me also state for the record that, as with pizza, sex or Paul Thomas Anderson movies, an imperfect croissant is still pretty freakin' amazing.
I started at Wagner's European Bakery and Café, because although owner Rudy Wagner was born and trained in Bavaria, his restaurant smells so fantastic it lured me like a siren. Wagner's croissants are crispy and fluffy, with a taste balance shifted more toward the salty than the buttery. The interior is cool, unlike the slightly-warm versions preferred in Paris, with a flavor of chewy white bread. Bonus points for the Charlie Brown Christmas special music and inviting holiday directions, serious European points deducted for the server who thought I'd ordered something called a "café ¡ole!" No, server. No.
>>> Rhone Geha enjoys his croissant at The Bread Peddler in downtown Olympia, Dec. 19. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson
Then it was off to The Bread Peddler, which offers not only standard butter croissants but also varieties including vanilla bean sugar croissants - very tempting, but I stayed on target - and what Americans might call croissandwiches. The standard croissants here are small, about half the size of other specimens, and their crusts have a sugar-crystal crackle. That said, the pastries are delicious, with fluffy room-temperature interiors and welcome buttery aftertaste. The product's egg wash also leaves a noticeable flavor of yolk. Just remember to order two.
>>> Bonnie Elsey offers a bowl of fresh baked croissants at Mom's Baked Goods in Olympia, Dec. 19. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson
I'd heard promising reports about the croissants at Mom's Baked Goods, a carryout establishment with cinnamon rolls the size of grand pianos. Their croissant is also a monster, more loaf than roll. That heft means its crust has little crispiness, so the product is more of a sweet, buttery bread with an aftertaste of sugar. It's the least similar to a Parisian croissant of the pastries I sampled, but it does have the makings of an absolutely unbeatable ham and Swiss croissandwich. Also, the bill came in at just two dollars flat for a tasty 500 calories of food. I guess Mom expresses caring through baking.
My quest met its satisfying end at San Francisco Street Bakery, whose croissant had exactly the right crispiness and size. Its interior was so airy you could almost fly a drone through it. To my palate, the pastry had the most balanced flavor of the four, especially its just-slightly-salty aftertaste. I do wish the product were nuked a few seconds, but again, I'm expressing minor quibbles. You won't go too far south with any of these products. Some sell out early, though, so arrive as close to opening as you can. It'll also improve the interior temperature of the pastry.
All in all, San Francisco Street's croissant was the most comparable to those I had in Paris. It was also served with a disdain bordering on disgust, a quality many Americans say reminds them of France. Bon appétit, mes amis!
WAGNER'S EUROPEAN BAKERY AND CAFE, open 7 a.m. weekdays, 7:30 a.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. Sunday, 1013 Capitol Way S, Olympia, 360.357.7268
THE BREAD PEDDLER, open 7 a.m., 222 N Capitol Way, Olympia, 360.352.1175
MOM'S BAKED GOODS, open 7 a.m. Monday - Saturday, 916 4th Ave. E, Olympia, 360.943.0993
SAN FRANCISCO STREET BAKERY, open 6:30 a.m., 1320 San Francisco Ave. NE, Olympia, 360.753.8553