Food Critics: The Best Bakeries In Kansas City

Apr 29, 2016

Chocolate Cup Cookies from McLain's Bakery.
Credit www.facebook.com

From bagels to doughnuts to cookies, there’s a lot going on in KC’s baked-goods scene.

“A lot of people tend to forget that bakeries, in the olden days, were a once-a-week, once-a-day stop,” Food Critic Jenny Vergara told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

And with locally-baked goods, she said, some people are puzzled as to why things don’t last on the countertop at home.

“These items don’t have any preservatives. Typically, if they’re done right, they have just real butter and sugar, and so they’re not meant to last,” she said. Her advice: Most baked goods freeze beautifully; stick things like bagels and bread in the freezer after 24 hours.

Vergara, along with Food Critics Charles Ferruzza and Jill Silva, searched out the best bakeries in and around Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Jill Silva, The Kansas City Star:

  • Ibis Bakery is my go-to bakery, both for proximity and quality. We have a weekly standing order for my daughter’s favorite rosemary cheese bread. They specialize in au Levain-style loaves from natural yeast; it’s just a really beautiful, slightly tangy kind of bread that’s very rustic. The bakery has actually grown so fast from its debut at Black Dog Coffeehouse, with thick slabs of artisan toast (deep, rich peasant kind of breads with lots of grains and nice toppings like marmalade, jam, sea salt, nut butters), that they literally busted through the coffee shop’s walls to create its own space in a former martial arts studio. They also have wonderful pastries and croissants and bittersweet chocolate-dipped macaroons.
  • Tous Les Jours. This is a Korean bakery chain that started in the U.S. in 2004 and has some really wonderful French/Asian-inspired pastries, including a warm and savory kimchi croquette, sweet corn cream twists, sesame, sweet rice and red bean doughnuts, plus a section on savory mini pizzas with cut-up hot dogs. There’s even a salad-stuffed croquette. Cakes, macarons and breads are also available. Customers self-select from a huge case with tongs and put their treats on a tray to take to the register. The labels are in English and Korean.
  • Clock Tower Bakery is a lovely stop on a weekend at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market. They offer standard baked goods like delicious scones, but also Cornish pasties (a savory turnover), and slices of tiramisu.
  • Emily Kate’s Bakery is a gluten-free bakery; it’s wholesale-only and its products are available at Dolce Bakery and other coffeehouses around town. It was started by Robin Knight, whose daughters Emily and Kate are both gluten intolerant. She’s currently awaiting certification from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization. She’s also currently negotiating with a large supermarket bakery, while supplying Urban Table, Pour Coffeehouse and One More Cup.
  • Dolce Bakery is a wonderful place. They also have a really cool cobbler night that’s starting soon; it’s always fun to go. Dolce serves the kind of baked goods you remember from your childhood.
  • Love Meshuggah Bagels! I had the opportunity to watch Pete and Janna Linde boil and bake them at their baking facility in Pleasant Valley for our recent special Food Issue. The city was desperately in need of a kosher bagel bakery. They’re really some of the most fabulous bagels I’ve had and they’re definitely filling a hole in Kansas City.

Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:

  • McLain’s Bakery. My jam is their famous Chocolate Cup Cookies; it’s like a Pecan Sandie with a beautiful chocolate swirl of frosting on top. It’s super, super old-school. There’s a little bit of salt in the Sandie, so there’s this salty-sweet combination. McLain’s is a 70-year tradition; they’re still serving over eight to 10 different fruit Danishes and they also have really excellent breads and coffee cakes as well. McLain’s also offers breakfast and lunch, and owners Jeff Hirleman and his sister are planning to open another location at 119th and Roe that will be more restaurant than bakery.
  • Heirloom Bakery & Hearth. Located in a former gas station, the bakery is as funky cool as the pastries. It serves delicious breads, cookies, biscuits, crackers and pies. Their breakfast biscuit sandwich cannot be missed with a nice cup of coffee. One thing they do really, really well — it’s one of their hallmarks — is a riff on old-school favorites, like a handmade Pop-Tarts with real fruit filling; it’s nice and flaky. They also do a riff on Cheez-It crackers; those are really good.
  • Meshuggah’s Bagels. Pete and Jana Linde opened the first locally-owned, kosher, New York-style bagel shop a few months ago to lines around the corner. With only a small dining room and a mostly carry-out business, they are selling plain, salt, onion, garlic, poppy seed, sesame or everything bagel, and you can get it with a schmear of plain, garlic and herb or salmon cream cheese. They also have whitefish salad, which is my new favorite thing in this world, and lox.
  • Hearth Bread Company. Chef Dylan Low built his own bread-baking oven in his quaint bakery. He bakes 4-6 different bread loaves from Wednesday to Saturday. I love the ones that are seasonal with herbs or cranberry walnut. He uses locally-milled grain in his breads, which gives them a nice density for toast or sandwiches. On Saturday mornings, he makes fried blueberry and apple fritters that are the reason to get up early on a weekend morning! Delicious, warm, never greasy. Occasionally, on Saturdays, he’ll make beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar. It’s definitely worth making the trip.
  • Dolce Bakery. Whether I am stopping for a sweet treat or dropping in for cobbler night with Foo’s Fabulous Custard in the summer, I enjoy all of the desserts at Dolce. This is my go-to place to order delicious birthday cakes, too. Chef Erin Brown’s chocolate Guinness cake (in the winter months) or lemon or coconut cake (in the warmer months) are also some of my favorites. Such a pretty and convenient bakery, as well.

Charles Ferruzza, The Pitch:

  • Sasha’s Baking Co. has so many tempting things to eat that just making a decision is painful. Pastry chef Carter Holton isn’t just a masterful creator of beautiful desserts, he sings like an angel; sometimes he sings and bakes at the same time. The pastries are so beautiful.
  • Heirloom Bakery & Hearth is a seriously good neighborhood bakery. But I don’t care how many people rave about their “artisan” version of Pop-Tarts. I won’t eat one; too many bad childhood memories of the dry, crumbly packaged Kellogg’s product of the 1960s. They do have a lot of really good breads and they have good sweet things too. They have the best cinnamon roll I think I’ve had in a long time (which I really shouldn’t be eating, but they’re too good to pass up). I like the savory things there too; I do like the crackers and the breads. What I really love about the place is that it hearkens back to a day when every neighborhood had its own bakery.
  • Hearth Bread Company. Great bread. During the week, it’s mostly a bread bakery but they also have around eight pastry options. On Saturdays, they have the best apple fritters in Kansas City. And because it is a bread bakery, they do wonderful French toast (available occasionally on Saturdays).
  • Ibis has some of the best savory breads; they’re almost like a pizza-style bread or a flatbread. They also have the most wonderful macaroons I have ever, ever tasted in Kansas City. I mean, really wonderful. It’s not that easy to find real macaroons anymore in Kansas City.

Listener recommendations:

  • I think Kansas City has a gem in Farm to Market bread. I always have a loaf of sourdough and a loaf Grains Galore in my freezer; I pull it out slice by slice and warm it up. I just think it’s one of the best whole grain products that’s available, and you can get it at the grocery store, which makes it so convenient.
  • Hearth Bread Company. The baker does a boule that’s unbelievable. I also like his sourdough and ciabatta. I was overwhelmed by his crust. The bread and pastries are really, really just something.
  • I’d like to add the baked goods of Scratch Bakery to your list to check out.
  • At LeMonde Bakery, I like to buy two things: a large French bread is my favorite and a palmier (puff pastry in the shape of a butterfly with sugar on it; it’s awesome). (And, according to Jenny Vergara, owner Jef Dover will be expanding into the space next door, and he’ll be adding bagels and bialys — and eventually, Montreal-style bagels, which are bagels cooked in a wood-fired oven — to his menu).
  • If you want to get the best pita bread in town, go to Pak Halal. Next door is Trade Routes Bakery, which is by the same owners, and that’s where they bake pita every day. You can freeze them in the package; when you want to eat one, just take it out and put it in the toaster. If you toast it enough, it really opens up the pocket (you don’t have to struggle to open it to where it breaks) and you can make sandwiches. And it tastes awesome.
  • The Danishes at Boulevard Bakery must get a shout-out.
  • I like everything at Ibis. They have very nice croissants.
  • Fervere. I think they make the best breads. Their orchard bread is wonderful; it has a lot of dried fruit and nuts in them, so they’re really great for sweet or savory sandwiches (or even just as toast). The cheese slipper is a singular experience. I think it’s a sourdough bread base with three different cheeses; there’s almost as much cheese as bread. Fresh out of the oven on a Saturday with eggs and tomatoes and whatever else from the farmer’s market — it’s incredible.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.