I lived in Paris for four months, and I like to think I adopted some quintessential Parisian ways. I memorized entire metro lines, I sat at cafés for hours sipping a single cappuccino, and I established a favorite boulangerie for my daily baguette. The baguette is an icon of the French lifestyle, one that is leisurely, indulgent, and social. A baguette can sit sliced in the middle of a dinner-party table, re-warmed in the oven to be served simply alongside a delicious meal. It can be the bread for a homemade artisan sandwich with fine fresh meats and cheeses you pick up from a specialty shop. Whether around a thon crudites sandwich or beneath a sliver of room temperature camembert, the baguette became so routine for me I began to fear withdrawal upon my return to the United States.
During my last few days in Paris, my Parisian friend Mili bet that I would indeed miss life in Paris, especially the baguettes. And she was right. Desperate for a fix, I began searching for the perfect baguette in Charleston.
Over the past few years, the bread scene here has come into its own and while many baguettes can't compete with the warm loaves I grew accustomed to in Paris, a few bakers were able to satisfy my cravings.
It shouldn't come as a shock that after tasting almost every loaf in town, my favorite two were crafted by Frenchmen, one being Christophe Paume of Christophe Chocolatier-Patissier. He makes baguettes that are perfectly chewy on the outside and soft on the inside. He and his wife Carly's small chocolate shop is situated just off King Street on Society. Predominantly known for artisan chocolates, the store's inventory has expanded to include pastries, tartes, and most importantly baguettes. "A lot of people still associate us with just chocolate," Carly says, "but as we've expanded, we've wanted to add more."
The kitchen for Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier is located elsewhere, which makes the production of goods difficult due to the unpredictable demand. "We try to produce based on past history," says Carly, so don't be surprised if you walk out of the bakery empty-handed. Currently, Christophe sells about 10-15 baguettes on the days they are available at the retail store, but they have plans to enhance their offerings in the future. "We're looking for growth. That's where we're headed," says Carly.
Another Frenchman-run operation is out on James Island at the aptly named Baguette Magic. When you walk in the door, you can practically taste the freshly baked bread. Baguette Magic owner Mathieu Richard moved to Charleston in 2002 and attended the College of Charleston to finish up his studies in biochemistry. Missing good French bread, he decided to learn to bake and taught himself how to produce a moist, golden brown baguette with a crunch that has an intangible air of je ne sais quoi. Possibly the tastiest aspect of Baguette Magic is the front-porch home delivery — they'll deliver their breads and pastries to homes in James Island, Folly Beach, downtown, and parts of West Ashley.
Another good option for baguettes is Brown's Court Bakery on St. Philip Street. The bakery/coffee house has a friendly, welcoming vibe, and the baguettes do not disappoint. Although the loaves are smaller than one you may need or expect, picking up a second will be worth the extra couple bucks. This baguette is for crust-lovers who want a chewy inside. The devoted owner and baker, Dave Schnell, arrives at the bakery around 3 a.m. to produce the bread daily in their specialty deck oven which is essential for providing the proper humidity that gives a "toothy crust." Schnell's pedigree is pretty impressive. He studied at Thomas Keller's Bouchon and worked in Atlanta at Holeman & Finch Bread Co. before moving to Charleston, where he recognized a need for good quality bread. "Charleston seemed pretty ripe with opportunity," he says. Brown's Court Bakery is the closest thing to a boulangerie that I found. It offers bread, pastries, and coffee with a porch and upstairs seating area. The baguettes Schnell produces are beautiful, with even-scoring on a crispy light brown crust and a straight edge on the outside, and a chewy, air-bubble filled inside — a proper baguette.
I also stopped into some other spots and found several worthwhile options. EVO (Extra Virgin Oven) in North Charleston bakes their bread on-site. They're best known for the excellent all-natural sourdough, but they also offer a decent baguette. This loaf is for those of us who like our crust with a crunch and some crumbs. It's moist and chewy inside and perfect for sopping up soup or sauce, which would help soften the dark, crispy crust. Also offering self-serve baguettes in Charleston is Saffron Bakery on East Bay Street. This baguette would be good for making a sandwich, as the soft crust and super white inside taste similar to that of plain white bread.
If you're not already a regular at one of these bakeries, I strongly encourage you to get out there and perform the taste test for yourself.
Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier
• $3.75, available upon opening
• Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
• 90 Society St.
• (843) 297-8674
• $3, available by 9 a.m.
• Wed.-Fri. 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
• 792 Folly Road
• James Island
• (843) 471-5941
Brown's Court Bakery
• $2.50, available around 9 a.m.
• Mon.-Sun. 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
• 199 St. Philip St.
• (843) 724-0833
• $2.25, available by 8 a.m.
• Mon.-Sat. 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
• 1075 East Montague Ave.
• North Charleston
• (843) 225-1810
• $1.75, available upon opening
• Mon.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
• 333 East Bay St.
• (843) 722-5588