The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: La Farm Bakery and Cafe, Cary, North Carolina

A Delicious Lesson in Humility

When you think about culinary hot spots in North Carolina, what comes to mind? People in the know will immediately think of Asheville, one of the rapidly rising stars in the food firmament. Others may choose urban centers like Charlotte or Greensboro. I can't think of anybody who would give even a second thought to the town of Cary. And yet......

Located near the Research Triangle comprised of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, Cary is quite the up and coming place. It's actually the second most populous unincorporated town in the United States and was cited as the fifth fastest growing municipality in the country between September 1, 2006 and September 1, 2007. (I love census data.) It's also home to a phenomenal bakery and cafe called La Farm.

La Farm bills itself as a modern day boulangerie and cafe. Just how modern day it is is evidenced by the fact that it is wedged into a strip mall out in what passes for the suburbs in an unincorporated town. But don't let that fool you. Everything else about the place is as Old World as owner/Master Baker Lionel Vatinet can make it. A member of France’s prestigious artisans’ guild, Les Compagnons du Devoir since age 16, Lionel (and that's pronounced “lee-oh-NEL,” by the way) apprenticed with European bakers and traveled the world honing his craft before opening La Farm in 1999.

I discovered La Farm as the result of running across “Flavor NC,” a program produced by North Carolina Public Television. The show highlights locally produced foods and spotlights local restaurants that utilize them. The host is....... an......enthusiastic woman. Just don't listen to her try to pronounce foreign words in her thick Southern accent. Or some English words either. Anyway, the episode I found online was about Carter Farms Wheat in Pinehurst, NC and it featured La Farm Bakery and Cafe. You can view it for yourself here:

So we were heading for a little vacation time on the North Carolina coast and I remembered La Farm. I discovered that Cary was pretty much on our way and we decided to make a detour, stopping in for breakfast and for some bread to accompany us on our trip. (You know, hotels use awful cheap white bread for their “continental breakfast” offerings.) The GPS guided us smoothly from I-40 to the front door at La Farm.

Wow. That's it. My review can be summed up in that word. “Wow.” But let me add a few others; overwhelming, astounding, incredible, amazing, delicious. Hyperbolic as it sounds, I might go so far as to say “profound” in that La Farm will challenge your perception of a bakery and forever make the “bakery” at the local supermarket or discount center look woefully pale by comparison. It's that good. I remember real bakeries from back in the '50s and '60s and this one hearkens back to those days with a decided Old World French twist.

I consider myself a decent bread baker. I haven't bought gummy white store bread in years and I've even sold my breads and baked goods at local markets with favorable results. But after sampling the wares at La Farm and leaving with an amazing rustic Italian loaf and a splendid focaccia, I told my wife that the experience had been an exercise in humility. In addition to the awe-inspiring breads, we also came away with marvelously light and luscious chocolate macarons – the first authentic ones my wife had ever had – and the kind of decadent chocolate chip cookies that common Toll House cookies can only dream of being when they grow up.

And let's not forget the cafe. We were there for breakfast, so I had the deluxe breakfast sandwich. Usually served on a signature hard roll, it is also offered on a fresh baked croissant, the option I chose. Topped with locally-sourced applewood-smoked bacon and ham, farm fresh eggs and cheddar cheese, it was worlds away from the pretenders that fast-food outlets peddle. And my wife's croque madame, made with local ham, gruyere, and mozzarella on toasted La Farm fresh bread and topped with mornay sauce and two perfectly fried eggs left her absolutely speechless. Actually, that's not true; she couldn't stop talking about it for days. The lunch menu features a mouth-watering array of soups, salads, and sandwiches, all crafted fresh from premium quality ingredients, many of them locally produced. Although not cheap by any means, the prices are certainly reasonable for the quality of the products in both the bakery and the cafe.

La Farm Bakery branches out to the community at large through a bread truck – a rolling bakery that travels the Triangle area on a daily basis serving delicious, fresh-baked artisan breads, pastries, and sandwiches to those lucky enough to encounter it.

Everything else you need to know about La Farm can be found here: The bakery and restaurant itself can be found at 4248 NW Cary Parkway in the Preston Corners Shopping Center in Cary, NC. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., you can call them at 919-657-0657. And, yes, they cater.

Lionel Vatinet sums it up thus: “When you make bread, it becomes a reflection of who you are. If you have a passion for it, it will come through." If you're anywhere within....oh, say.....a hundred miles of Cary, stop in and let the master baker's passion come through for you. I'll probably see you there.

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