July 5, 2012 | 2:19 am
Posted by Louis Keene
I used to beg my mom to take us to Eilat Bakery on Friday afternoons, back when it was still nestled in the shadow of Pat’s on Glenville Drive. In those days it was a humble shop with minimal décor whose baked goods beckoned from a glass display case. My favorites were their truly delectable chocolate éclairs that oozed custard of impeccable viscosity. We would buy several, devour two and throw the rest in our fridge to microwave later.
That hole-in-the-wall iteration of Eilat was the classic Jewish bakery in my mind. Function over form; a category killer. I regret to say that my mom, a talented and willing dessert chef who usually didn’t need to buy challah or cookies, took me less often than I would have liked. Eventually we stopped going altogether, only sometimes gazing wistfully as we dipped out of the parking lot for Stan’s Produce.
The next thing I knew, Eilat Bakery had moved a few blocks eastward onto the corner of Pico and Canfield. The cavernous new location (at which they set up shop in late 2010) boasts high ceilings and a short patio; the glass cases are bigger than ever and display an ungodly assortment of pastries. And unlike the at-times cramped old store, the new one is not standing room only. In fact, the new Eilat bears a strong resemblance to Schwartz’s Bakery, another long-standing breakfast/bakery fusion located on Pico Blvd. about three quarters of a mile east.
The expansion of Eilat in the new location means it now features a restaurant kitchen that serves breakfast all day along with several dairy and fish salad, sandwich, and entrée selections. Still, it is arguably a kosher bakery’s most important duty to stay open as close as possible to candle-lighting, so it made sense that my first trip to the new Eilat Bakery would occur on a Friday afternoon after almost everything else had closed. (Indeed, a few harried customers shuffled in to grab their last-minute lechem mishneh as we awaited our food.) The order: Eggplant Parmesan on French baguette ($11.95).
However, the food was served fresh and yummy. The baguette was appropriately crispy if unspectacular; the eggplant was cooked perfectly, the melted cheese not too stringy, and the marinara piping hot and on point. The sandwich left me full, but not stuffed.
Though the bakery has perhaps set its sights on Schwartz’s target market with the venue change and restaurant menu, it has not quite committed to a reimagined identity. It’s unclear, for example, whether bakery and restaurant customers should stand in the same line. And despite attempts to practically and aesthetically justify use of its entire space, plenty of empty real estate remains—even in the glass cases.
I departed with the impression that Eilat Bakery had adopted this new business model against its better judgment. The old building had an understated, almost absentee style operating outside the reach of boisterous glatt marts and kosher takeout. It was clear what you were stepping into. Its new-and-improved version doesn’t really know what it’s trying to be, other than new and improved, since much of their efforts to rebrand seem only halfway finished.
I’m sure it continues to churn out quality sweets and famous challah, but what’s missing from Eilat 2.0 is the spirit of that cozy old place I once knew on Glenville. No one needs TVs – or even chandeliers for that matter – in a bakery. The disorganization and borderline cheeky prices are unfriendly, too. But most of all, I miss the traffic.
The palpable stress of Erev Shabbos was unique to Eilat Bakery before it moved. It could be stuffy and discombobulated in there, but rubbing elbows with other Yiddim trying to beat candle lighting made for some tremendous bustle! We only ever went to snatch a challah at the last minute, so that swarm became the Jewish bakery atmosphere I grew to cherish. Even in a rush, the éclairs augured the sweetness awaiting us when the sun ducked below the horizon.
They also left an indelible imprint on my memory, recalled when I buy one éclair to go on my way out. It’s delicious, yet it doesn’t taste the same even though I know it’s identical to the ones I used to love. But maybe the kids in line behind me will see this Eilat as Jewish bakery incarnate. If so, I hope it doesn’t require another relocation for them to appreciate it.
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