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Alternative bakery promises innovative flavors

North Bakery’s simple facade, surprising flavor twists make it an unexpected favorite

Federal Hill is best known for its traditional Italian-American cuisine — the red sauces and garlic-heavy pastas — served on linen-clothed tables by formal waiters. So with a quirky decor and avant-garde menu, the recently opened North Bakery may seem a bit out of place. But its inventive flavor combinations prove refreshing, not disruptive, and the bakery is a much-appreciated addition to Providence.

Situated in the trendy West Broadway neighborhood on the corner of Battey and Fountain streets, it is easy to miss, with only a singular neon sign in the window to mark its territory.

The decor is plain and simple. There aren’t even chairs to sit on — just a narrow strip of wood functioning as a bar that patrons can stand at. With an entirely exposed kitchen, customers freely mingle with the bakers.

The selection of goodies ranges from sweet to savory and from classic to innovative. In the savory category, North offers a selection of hand pies, including the Dan Dan hand pie that mimics the renowned Dan Dan noodles of North Restaurant, a Providence eatery that has shared ownership with the new bakery, and another with potato gratin.

Diners looking for the menu’s most innovative combination should turn to the pork meatball hand pie with strawberry jam and sauerkraut, an option that integrates comforting and familiar flavors into something new and exciting. The strawberry jam, which also includes some tomatoes, isn’t too sweet. And the acid from the sauerkraut cuts through the savory spices in the meat.

The pastry crust, which envelops all the hand pies, was excellent. It is flaky, buttery and savory but sturdy. It doesn’t crumble after one bite, which makes the hand pies a practical lunch or midday snack.

But among so many options, the Dan Dan hand pie is a standout. The filling includes a masterful mix of spices combined with ground lamb and spinach. A single bite stimulates memories of gyros with a spicy twist.

When it comes to sweet treats, North Bakery has a lot to offer as well. The strawberry goat cheesecake is a more refined dessert, both in flavor and presentation. The small tart, which could easily feed two people at $6, comes sandwiched between a soft, moist graham cracker crust and a thin layer of strawberry jam garnished with black pepper.

Though the crust is expertly executed, the cheesecake itself is a bit too dense. A lighter texture would make the dessert a better option for lone customers since the cheesecake’s current iteration is much too rich for a single person to eat. But the strawberry jam with cracked black pepper adds a nice layer of complexity. The surprising kick of spice at the end makes diners crave another bite.

The unexpected combinations don’t stop there, as the lemon bar comes with a rosemary crust. Though the lemon filling is creamy and smooth, the distribution of rosemary is uneven. In one bite, the rosemary is imperceptible, and in the next, it is overwhelming. North’s creative flare shows promise here, but the lemon bars have a way to go.

The cookies are the one thing North Bakery does flawlessly. The meringue, rarely a crowd-pleaser, is swirled with dark chocolate. It is moist and chewy, not dry and crumbly as many meringues are. The peanut butter cookie is soft and salty, with just a little crisp on the edges.

But the celebrity cookie is the classic chocolate chip. It is golden brown and chewy with big hunks of bittersweet chocolate spread throughout. It maintains the ideal thickness for a cookie that is satisfyingly gooey. To finish it off, flakes of salt adorn the cracks and ridges of the top of the cookie, and as customers approach the center, the saltiness intensifies to match the softness and sweetness.

Everything about North Bakery is unexpected: the outside appearance, the flavor combinations. Fortunately, it’s a pleasant surprise, making for an enjoyable excursion into West Broadway.

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