Special Edition Restaurant Visits: Marcel Bakery & Vanillamore

Beard Award-nominated pastry chef Marie Jackson goes taste testing.

Montclair has taken a turn for the sweet this fall.

Montclair’s favorite guide to Mediterranean edibles, Meny Vaknin of the uber-popular Mishmish, expanded what one can only hope will someday be a statewide empire with the opening early fall of Marcel Bakery & Kitchen at 631½ Valley Road in Upper Montclair.

Meanwhile, pastry chef Risa Magid Boyer unveiled her long-awaited dream called Vanillamore at 349 Bloomfield Avenue in downtown Montclair, which is equal parts pastry lab, art gallery and thoroughly modern, meet-and-eat venue with a decidedly high-tech vibe.

Both new spots stand ready to fulfill your cravings for something sweet. Both also serve savory dishes. Whereas Marcel opens very early and concentrates on breakfast, lunch and those seeking dinner takeout or early supper eats, Vanillamore opens late morning and stays open for the post-movie/theater crowd in search of confectionery nightcaps.

Is Montclair onto something? Are cafes catering to the public’s affinity for sweets a trend? Possibly. So I sought the services of the widely acknowledged doyenne of desserts in New Jersey, the multiple James Beard Award nominee as Outstanding Pastry Chef Marie Jackson.

Chef Marie was the founding owner and chef of The Flaky Tart in Atlantic Highlands, which became, under her stewardship, nationally renown for its updates on classic confections, original inventions in pastry and the place where artistry matched sheer deliciousness in everything pastry.

Chef Marie was eager to check out both Marcel and Vanillamore and try to figure out why Montclair suddenly was in contention for Pastry Capital of the Garden State. Frankly, once the sampling started, thoughts of “why” took a backseat to assessing flavors. We’ll have to pick that up another day.

But today, you have these mini-reviews of two new entries in the sweets sweepstakes.

Marcel Bakery & Kitchen

* Local mushroom-ricotta-egg tartine. “Excellent! I couldn’t stop eating it. Bread was light and chewy with mysterious seasonings. Za’atar? Mushrooms were well-coated and seasoned, poached eggs perfectly cooked—runny but not raw.”

Mushroom-ricotta-egg tartine

* Spinach and feta bourekas: “So-so. Pastry was a little gummy and I didn’t love the flavor. Not my favorite.”

Bourekas

* Croissant: “Fine. Nothing special but technically perfect. I wonder if they bring in the dough?”

Croissant

Pastries and mint

* Almond tea cake: “Excellent. Moist and creamy inside, like a financier. Great almond flavor—strong, but not overpowering or chemical extract-y. Nice size and color, nice crust. Sweet, but not overly so.”

* Chocolate almond tea cake: “Very good. A little more dense (than the almond tea cake). But fudgy, chocolatey delicious.”

* Setting/scene: “Gorgeous, great music. Beautiful people.”

Vanillamore

* Roasted tomatillo toast: “Bread was very light; was hoping for more substance to the sourdough. Good heat and crunch. Nice light snack.”

Roasted tomatillo toast

* House-made ricotta: “Delicious! Served with homemade toast—the lightness (of the bread) worked perfectly here. The lemon, honey, hazelnuts and salt were perfectly balanced (accents); the ricotta was so rich and creamy.”

House-made ricotta

* Vanilla “charcuterie”: “Very F-U-N. ‘Salami’ (was) fun and delicious. White chocolate was very sweet but not impossible to eat—like some. Vanilla and brown-butter shortbreads were good; the chai (shortbread) tasted a bit off. Pears were perfectly poached and nicely spiced. Candied nuts were crunchy, salty-sweet—maybe egg whites/sugar?—and really good.”

* Seasonal dessert kebabs: “Pumpkin—excellent cake and icing. Graham cracker too hard; and the sage unnecessary. Doughnut—good; oat (crumbles) more interesting than they looked. Spicy chocolate cake—nice, marshmallow fine (but) didn’t taste the espresso caramel.”

Kebabs

* Tropical dessert flight: “Vanilla pudding too runny. Coconut cake fine; the pineapple-with-caramel good. Blackberry tart with lime was really good, but the crust only OK.”

Tropical flight

Marcel Bakery & Kitchen is open daily. 973-842-4088; marcelbakeryandkitchen.com.

Vanillamore is open daily, except Mondays. 973-707-5373; vanillamore.com.

Editor’s note: A few years ago, Marie Jackson sold The Flaky Tart to longtime pastry chefs at the bakery. She is on the board of trustees of the Garden State Culinary Arts Foundation.

Click here to leave a comment

Get dining articles like this delivered straight to your inbox

Read more Eat & Drink, Table Hopping articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.