In some ways, Joanne Chang, founder of Flour Bakery, is similar to me and a lot of other people with whom I grew up: we are second generation Asian Americans whose parents worked crazy hard as immigrants to give us the best life possible in America.
They told us to study hard, get really good grades, learn piano, join the orchestra, and learn advanced math over the summer (ha ha, at least Bryan had to). And of course, we had to do amazingly well on our SATs so that we could go to the best college possible. They sacrificed so much so that we could achieve as much as we could in this country full of opportunities.
Imagine the excitement when your child actually gets into Harvard, ("Ha-fo") the pinnacle of schools as far as Asians are concerned. And then imagine what it must be like when your Harvard-educated daughter (who graduated with honors in applied mathematics and economics) decides to leave her management consulting job to become a line cook.
That is exactly what Joanne Chang did. She followed her passions in food and jumped off the path that most of us Asian Americans are expected to take. Her parents were, in fact, incredibly supportive of her decision.
Joanne quickly became a master of her art, and rapidly rose the ranks as she worked at places such as Rialto, Payard Patisserie & Bistro in New York City, and Mistral in Boston. She opened her first bakery in Boston in 2000.
I had always wanted to visit Flour Bakery in the South End. I had heard about her famous sticky buns. Her sticky buns are crazy famous because she beat Bobby Flay in a Throwdown back in 2007. Apparently they usually sell out before lunchtime, so you have to be quick!
In all these years I never made it out to Flour in the South End. Which is why I was beyond excited when I found out she was opening a third location in Central Square (yay, Cambridge!) not too far from my work. Finally! A Flour Bakery within walking distance of me!
I am pleased to report that the pastries are delicious and the sandwiches are really good as well. The place gets pretty crowded and the lines are sometimes a little out of control. Overall though, it's a fantastic addition to the neighborhood and I'm thrilled to have more excellent sandwich shops in the area. (Other good ones include Mariposa Cafe, Pacific Cafe, and Cafe Luna).
Most sandwiches are $7.95, although you can get a half sandwich for $4.50. I love that option, and I find that a half sandwich is perfect for me.
Better yet, it gives me room to eat one of these mini-tartlettes, which are sold for $1.25 each.
So far, everything I've tried has been really really good. Of course the bakery items are fantastic, but the sandwiches themselves are really good too. They are stuffed with high quality ingredients and have interesting and enjoyable combinations of flavors.
Roast beef, horseradish crispy onion tomato (whole sandwich - $7.95)
Curried tuna salad, carrots, apples, golden raisins (pictured: half sandwich =$4.50)
When asked "what are the top 5 must try items at Flour?", Joanne recommends the Banana Bread, the Chocolate Chip Cookie, the Pain aux Raisin, the Lemon Raspberry Cake, and the Multi Grain Rolls.
I haven't even tried any of those, but I can assure you that the rest of the items in the bakery are plenty tasty already. I can't wait to try all of the sandwiches, and maybe sometime, if I can manage to get out there early enough, I'll even try one of their sticky buns.
Thanks Joanne for having the courage to jump off the traditional career track. You've given the city of Boston so much more.
Flour Bakery and Cafe
190 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
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