By Pam McLoughlin New Haven Register, Conn.
A tiny local bakery that is not even visible from the street or its own parking lot, has captured a sweet national title in FlipKey's Top 50 state series: Best bakery in Connecticut worth traveling for.
Scratch Baking, which opened five years ago at 58 River St. -- with a brisk following from Milford and surrounding towns as far out as Trumbull -- has in effect, been put on the travel and bakery maps.
As the name suggests, everything in the bakery is made from scratch -- you won't find a can of fruit filling anywhere -- and the fresh fruits and dairy products that go into the baked goods are often bought locally or farm fresh.
"I was always the kid who stared at the (dessert) showcase," said owner Lesli Flick, who lives in Milford with her husband, a geologist and two young children. "Our showcase is like jewelry -- it's something beautiful to me."
Flick, who has always loved to bake and said she ate her share of chocolate croissants as a child, grew up right outside Manhattan and was heavily influenced by the bakeries in the Big Apple, she said.
Flick said she believes her Scratch Baking has a New York City charm and that all their goodies are made from scratch and in small batches that get a little bigger during the holidays.
Customer Kristin DeRosia-Banick, of New Haven, said she gets all her desserts for the holidays at Scratch Baking because her family "has come to expect deliciousness" after being introduced to their from-scratch desserts.
DeRosia-Banick said for many years she wasn't a baked-goods eater, but then Scratch opened when she was pregnant and it turns out just about all she could stand to eat were their cinnamon sugar scones, which kept her going.
Another customer, Milford artist Day Moore, said "They have the best croissant this side of Paris," -- and Moore has been to Paris many times. "They pay attention to every detail. It's amazing what they can do."
Flick says it's more than freshness that makes their sweet and savory foods special-- -- it's also the chemistry and personal investment of the three others who have worked there from the start: trained, creative bakers Kate Donato and Crystal Bransfield, as well as general manager Alex Malaspinas, who serves customers, does the ordering, marketing and more.
Malaspinas is also known as the bakery's "character," Flick said.
"It's like a little family," Flick said. "Everyone has been here from the beginning and that's what makes it special. They're just as much of the business as I am."
Donato, who originally went to college for psychology and worked office jobs, followed her heart to culinary school at age 35, and specializes in pies, scones and savory products. She also created the popular weekend breakfast pizza.
"I like making things from scratch, I'd never want to use a mix," Donato said. "It's a lot of work, but it's fun."
Bransfield, who focused on culinary arts at a technical high school, is the key bread and croissant maker. She supplies the bakery's "loaf of the week" special in which customers sign up for a loaf of bread weekly -- the type, a surprise -- and receive a spread and recipe that would be complimented by the bread.
"I just love it," Bransfield said of her job. "I love seeing people's reactions," to the food.
Malaspinas said the bakery is his "heart."
"I feel like we really built this city together," said, referring to the bakery. "The community has really embraced it."
The kitchen is open, so customers can see it all in operation and chat with staff as well. From the customer and showcase area to the end of the kitchen, the space is only 980-square-feet.
The bakery is not even entirely visible from its parking lot, as it is a few steps down on the side of 58 River St. nearest the train station.
Malaspinas said FlipKey, a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, contacted him about the distinction, which was decided through online research, traveler's websites and interviews with people who had remarked on websites.
Only one bakery from each state was chosen.
"It is was really a big honor," Flick said of the distinction.
Flick said her parents wanted her to go to college and so she did, receiving a degree in Spanish. Afterwards, she followed her heart and went to pastry school. She chuckles at how she always wanted an Easy Bake oven -- and still does in a sense so she can see what it's like to bake with a light bulb -- but mom wouldn't get her one because they had a real oven for baking. She does have a celebrity Easy Bake cookbook.
The bakery runs popular daily specials, such as the popular breakfast pizza with whole wheat crust and seasonal, savory ingredients, Friday through Sunday. On Thursday's, it's Bransfield's popular egg and cheddar cheese on special bread. Another day, they make "stadium pretzels," bulky enough to be a sandwich roll.
"We try to have something fun, savory, every day of the week," Flick said.