In Praise of the Dive Bakery

Man oh man, do I love a good dive bakery.

Yup, there's shortening in that buttercream.

Yup, there's shortening in that buttercream.

Wait. Pray tell: what is a dive bakery? 

"Dive bakery" is a term which to the best of my knowledge I've made up (haven't googled it so I am not sure if this is true or not; often when I have a great idea like this I purposefully avoid googling it so that my idea isn't changed or altered by what has come before). 

Basically, it's the dive bar equivalent of a bakery. 

Put it this way. If you go to a dive bar, you're not going to be ordering a Cosmopolitan. You're being served by a bartender, not a mixologist. There is going to be pretty much zero talk about house-made bitters or liqueurs, and please, for the love of god, don't utter the word "shrub" unless you're talking about plants that live outside. 

At a dive bar, you're most likely going to be ordering beer (and none of those fancy ones) and you're probably going to feel like you need a shower after using the bathroom. 

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A dive bakery is definitely a different experience overall, but it's similar in its no-fuss, no-frills simplicity. 

When you walk into a dive bakery, it's not because it's a hip new spot you saw on Instagram. A dive bakery has probably been in the same spot seemingly forever, whether that in fact is since 1981 or since 1934. It's got that "lived-in" sort of feel. Often, the employees seem ageless too. 

In a dive bakery, you're probably not going to see the words "locally sourced" listed in any product descriptions, even if they are. In fact, product descriptions have been made using a label maker, or even printed on little cards, possibly in comic sans. Dive bakeries might seem in some ways hipster-ironic, but they are not. 

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Price-wise, you're not going to spend $40 at a dive bakery unless you really try, or are buying a wedding cake or something. There are no $4.95 cookies or brownies at a dive bakery. You may --not even kidding--even see some goodies for under a dollar. 

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At a dive bakery, the buttercreme is probably made with at least part shortening. But they're not apologizing for or hiding this fact. 

The coffee pretty reliably sucks at dive bakeries. And no, they do not have soy or almond milk. 

The lighting in a dive bakery always kind of feels like you're walking onto the set of a David Lynch movie. And where on earth did they get those retro bakery cases? 

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Dive bakeries are generally a place where you can be free of talk about glycemic index and paleo diets and (shudder) Stevia. 

Dive bakeries can be good, or they can be not very good. But there is something satisfying and honest about them. 

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Dive bakeries are nostalgic. After-school treats, innocence. The simple desire for a sweet treat without food being fraught with meaning. 

For me, a dive bakery is kind of my happy place. Even if the pastries and cookies and cakes aren't technically very good, there's something on a soul level that is so nourishing about the experience of them. 

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One of my favorite dive bakeries in the world, Freedman's Bakery in Belmar, NJ, closed a few years ago. I cried when they closed. They hadn't actually been good for years, but I freaking loved this place. I had been going there since childhood, and even the diminishing quality of their sweets when ownership changed didn't make me turn away. There was something that I loved so deeply about the place. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm also all about those $4.95 locally sourced cupcakes and the single-origin chocolate and all that. But sometimes, a good dive bakery is all that you need in the world. 

Is there a dive bakery in your life that you can tell me about? 

8 Tasty Moments From My New England Road Trip with Mom

Want to come on a nerdy road trip with me and my mom?

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In case you're not familiar with my mom, guess what? She too is an illustrator. That's her work above. She's illustrated a number of children's books; check out her work on Amazon by searching for "Margie Moore"!

Like me, she's also a total nerd and loves history. So...last week, me and the moms got in my little car and drove up to New England with the purpose of seeing some Salem Witch Trial haunts. Along the way, we had plenty of great adventures and tasty food. Wanna see what we ate? Here are some highlights from our short but totally sweet trip.

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1. Pumpkin-style coffee, Rook Coffee, Various Locations, NJ.

Where do you stand on the great PSL debate? Some people love pumpkin spice coffee drinks, some despise it. Personally, as much as I gravitate toward sweet foods, I really don't like sweet drinks as a general rule. However, at Rook Coffee (one of my favorite mini-chains in New Jersey) they do it a little different. They have a pumpkin spice infused coffee which they serve as a pour-over, and you can opt to add sweetener or not. A non-sweetened pumpkin spice coffee, as it turns out, is EXACTLY what I have been wishing for! 

More info: Rook Coffee.

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2. Mystic Pizza, Mystic, CT.

I'm not saying this in a critical way, just factual for my own preferences: it's not necessarily the pizza that makes me stop at Mystic Pizza every time I am going through Connecticut. It's the back-story. The mystique behind this pizza place more than fills in the gap that makes visiting this place a great experience (because food is about more than just the flavor, let's face it). Mystic Pizza was the setting and subject of an eponymous 1988 movie which starred a bunch of people before they were famous: Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, Vincent D'onofrio, etc. If you've never seen it, watch it RIGHT NOW PLEASE. And then visit Mystic Pizza next time you're passing through Connecticut. 

More info: Mystic Pizza

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3. Sift Bake Shop, Mystic, CT. 

After enjoying some slices at Mystic Pizza, I was craving something sweet, so the moms and I took a stroll down the main drag. The chocolate place was filled with tourists wanting a taste of fudge before buying so I quickly got bored of waiting in line. Luckily, by abandoning that project we accidentally ran across Sift Bakeshop. What a beautiful bakery! It smelled like HEAVEN. We ogled the French pastries, but ultimately just picked up a couple of pumpkin spice macarons, because first, well, tis the season, and second, just a small snack was in order post-pizza! 

More info: Sift Bake Shop

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As a diversion, we stopped in to see Lizzie Borden's home in Fall River, MA. Hopefully you won't mind my creative photoshopping here. 

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4. Pie in the Sky, Woods Hole, MA

We stayed at my aunt's house in Falmouth, MA and made sure to hit up Pie in the Sky in the morning. I have a long history with this bakery and it was great to visit again. We scored brekkie sandwiches (mom got hers on a popover, which kind of blew my mind) and some pastries. This is a really special place--a kind of eat local hippie place that's been at it since before it was a trend. You must visit if you're in the area! 

More info: Pie in the Sky

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5. Maison Villatte, Falmouth, MA

Pricey but pretty and very good. That would be my mini-review of this authentic Frenchie spot, which had a gorgeous and bountiful display filled with choux, croissants, cookies, tartes, and so much more. We got a ton of stuff here: My faves were the Paris-Brest and the pistachio eclair (!!). 

More info: Maison Vallatte.

Oh, can I tell you something funny, too? My mom being from NJ (born and bred), she has never ever had to pump gas in her life (it's all full service there and you're not allowed to pump your own). I've never seen her as impressed with me as when I fearlessly fueled the car all by myself! Yup, she took photos. 

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Moving on...

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6. Ye Olde Pepper Candy Co.

Hi from Salem, MA! We came to do some witch hunting, and found ourselves hungry for a sweet treat, so we hit up Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, which is billed as America's oldest candy company, was conveniently across the street from the House of the Seven Gables (of Nathaniel Hawthorne fame). I got a butter rum chocolate which tasted better due to sprinkles. A nice little old fashioned chocolate shop. 

More info: Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie

7. Lord Hobo Brewing 

I've been into craft beer lately, so on our way from Salem to Concord, we stopped to check out Lord Hobo Brewing, purely based on the name. They had some pretty interesting beers that they were making--I'm all about double IPAs, the more assertive the better, and they had a cool one called "Consolation Prize". Best of all, dogs were allowed inside, so the pugs got to come and enjoy (if not imbibe). A good stop if you're in the area and into beer. 

More info: Lord Hobo Brewing 

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We also stopped for a little more nerdiness in Concord, dropping by Louisa May Alcott's house and Walden Pond. Sorry I don't have a better picture for you! 

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8. DeLuise Bakery, Cranston, RI

On our way back to New Jersey and Philadelphia respectively, me'n'mom stopped at DeLuise Bakery in Cranston, RI. This is exactly my favorite type of bakery: it's been there for ages and it has a certain degree of "saltiness" if you know what I mean. Mom got a marble cookie, which was perfect; I got this incredibleness featuring a brownie base, cookie dough layer, peanut butter icing, and reese's pieces on top. JEEBUS. Happiness town = ME.

More info: DeLuise Bakery