Known for BBQ and gooey butter cakes, St. Louis has some great eateries tucked away in the most unexpected places. Off a busy roadway in a nondescript strip mall is where you’ll find Nathaniel Reid Bakery. It is no secret among locals; when I arrive at 10am on a Saturday, the place is packed. Walking in, I get a whiff of something heavenly. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I am not complaining. The options are displayed before me and my decision of what to order gets harder as I consider everything from macaroons to savory croissant sandwiches to fancy, delicate French tartes.
I dream about Nathaniel Reid’s flaky, powdered-sugar coated almond croissant. It is all too easy to get a mediocre croissant at any Starbucks or coffee shop, but a croissant like this is a rarity. Its flaky outside hides a fluffy, silky interior with layers of subtle almond flavor. I make a mess as I tear apart the pastry, but a messy croissant is a good one. The chocolate croissant is every bit as delightful as the almond, with its sweeter, creamy chocolate filling.
I move on to vanilla bean and chocolate ganache macaroons. I’m not going to lie: I watch a lot of cooking shows. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen it’s that when you make macaroons they have to have a good foot. For those of you unfamiliar with the baking show scene, the foot of a macaroon is the edge of the cookie that seems ruffled or turned inside out. Nathaniel Reid’s have a perfect foot and just enough ganache or cream filling to pair with the almond cookie sandwich. I went to Paris years ago and these macaroons bring me back to the streets of Le Marais.
Moving on, I go for one of the lesser known pastries: a Provencal cinnamon puff called a Gibassier. I order this one on a whim, deciding that anything covered in cinnamon sugar couldn’t be too bad. The sweet bread tastes of olive oil and sugar and is a cloud of fluff. I would compare it to a chewier, thicker French toast covered in cinnamon sugar. In all honesty, you can’t go wrong with pastry dough covered in cinnamon sugar.
The final treat is a little one called a canelé. The woman behind the counter describes it as crepe batter soaked in rum and filled with a vanilla custard. My palate may not be sophisticated enough for the rum taste, because it is not my favorite. It has an interesting texture: a bit spongy with a crispy outside layer and a soft center. I can be a picky eater when it comes to texture and foods, and the canelé must be an acquired taste.
In a city of excellent bakeries, Nathaniel Reid is one of the best. The croissants and macaroons are as close to Paris as you can get in the midwestern United States; and there are so many other options to try in future visits. One thing to keep in mind is that the bakery is closed on Sundays and closes at 5pm on Saturdays. Also, because the pastries are baked fresh in house each day, there is a chance that some items will be sold out before the end of the day. For the best selection, go early and fight the crowds so you can grab one of those amazing almond croissants. I hope to see you there!
(Nathaniel Reid Bakery is currently open for contact-free roadside pickup.)