Geraniums nodded in wrought iron window boxes. High heels tapped on cobblestones. Chocolate shavings curled atop decadent desserts. A gold-painted mime struck a pose and froze for ten, twenty, thirty, seventy-five and counting seconds. Eau de Nutella crepes wafted along on a summer breeze. A man sporting a mullet hawked a loogie and spat beside the park bench. And just like that, I was home in Pittsburgh from my brief trip to Paris. Yinz know, Pittsburgh ain’t Paris. Yet for a few minutes, the decadent pastries from La Gourmandine Bakery in Lawrenceville transported me quicker than a non-stop Pittsburgh to Paris Delta flight ever could.
La Gourmandine Bakery, with an impeccable attention to culinary detail, is an inspired addition to the Pittsburgh food scene. Through its quality and authenticity, the bakery elevates Pittsburgh’s LoLa (Lower Lawrenceville) neighborhood to Parisian status when it comes to croissants, baguettes, quiches, and tarts. Some of my best travel memories in France come not through what my eyes saw but what my tongue tasted. (May you rest in peace, oh perfect tarte aux framboises from Île St. Louis, doomed to an early death on the cobblestoned streets behind Notre Dame. I still mourn your loss.) After tasting authentic French boulangerie and patisserie fare, it’s impossible to settle for imposters (yes, I mean you, shameful and wretched Sam’s Club croissants). Until now, I’d rather endure long croissant-famines between trips to France than imbibe sub-par French cuisine. Thank you, La Gourmandine, for breaking my fast and giving me a bite of Paris in Pittsburgh.
This is what I told Little Friend as she sucked her thumb patiently in the car seat en route to La Gourmandine: “We’re going to Paris-Pittsburgh for a treat!” She gave me a wary eye. I had to admit—I was indeed taking a chance that the newly-opened La Gourmandine would be everything I’d hoped. With calm, coffee colored walls and an impressive selection of made-today delicacies, La Gourmandine didn’t disappoint. The friendly and knowledgeable girl behind the counter told me that the bakery has been open for two weeks. In the first week, the cases were emptied by three o’clock in the afternoon. In the second week, the flood of customers had diminished slightly to more manageable numbers. With every pastry, croissant, baguette, and quiche made from scratch by baker and owner Fabien Moreau, it’s easy to see (and taste) why success has come early to the little bakery who has yet to have time to place a permanent sign above their door.
La Gourmandine’s specialities can be divided into three sections: breads (croissants, pain au chocolate, baguettes, and a few others), lunches (such as Parisian sandwiches of ham, swiss cheese, and butter on baguettes or generous slices of thick quiche), and pastries (éclairs, tartes, and galettes). For my first trip (and there will be many more trips in the future, let me assure you), I concentrated my efforts on pastries and, of course, a croissant. A perfect size for Little Friend, the charming chouquette (a tiny pneumatic sugar-crusted dome of cream puff dough) also went into our bag. As we left, regretfully leaving behind 9/10 of the beautifully constructed menu items, Lisanne Moreau, the owner’s wife, came to the front wiping her hands on an apron to wish us a lilting, “Au revoir!” As “au revoir” literally translates as “to the seeing again”, I was confident in voicing an “au revoir” in return.
While permits for outdoor seating at La Gourmandine are in the works, al fresco dining (au-dehors, en français) is not to be had just yet on Lawrenceville’s sidewalks. I didn’t mind, however, driving toward downtown Pittsburgh to stop by Old St. Patrick’s Church gardens for a mid-morning picnic. Truly, I couldn’t have waited much longer to tear into our box of pastries. La Gourmandine stole my heart with my first bite of tarte au citron. The perfect Parisian balance of tang and custard, the lemon tart looked as beautiful as it tasted with powdered sugar freckles sprinkled across its cheeks. While I was distracted by lemon tart ecstasy, Little Friend availed herself of the opportunity to steal every last raspberry off of our tarte aux framboises. Even deprived of juicy bursts of berry, the raspberry tart was a delight. The almond paste filling slightly soaked into the crust, creating a moist shortbread effect. Which was our favorite dessert? If a toddler can be a trusted gourmand, I’d have to say Little Friend was divided. One second she’d point to the raspberry. The next second, she’d change her mind and point to the lemon. Add a croissant that flaked perfectly on the outside and hugged elastic webs of dough on the inside, and we were transported. On the sun-dappled grass in a July breeze with lemon and raspberry custard slathered on our faces, it was hard to imagine we weren’t picnicking in Parc Monceau in Paris. At least until that mulleted park-bench neighbor brought us back to reality.
La Gourmandine will quickly become one of my favorite stops for food that’s meant to be loved at first sight all the way down until it makes a warm, sugary glob in the stomach. Now instead of spending hundreds of dollars to dine in Paris, I’ll simply drive to Lawrenceville and spend less than $5 for authentic, Parisian perfection. Yinz with me?
La Gourmandine is located near the intersection of Butler and 46th streets in Lawrenceville, next door to the whimsical Jay Designs Soap store, a treasure trove of local, hand-made soaps. La Gourmandine is open Tuesday to Friday: 7:30am – 4:30pm; Saturday: 9:30am – 4:30pm. Stop by and see if you can make it home with just one croissant, one baguette, and one tart. I’m willing to bet you can’t stop there. Read more: French bakery La Gourmandine opens in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood – Pittsburgh Business Times