Walking through a bakery to enter a restaurant is a sensuous experience. The scent of freshly baked breads, rolls and bagels makes my taste buds burst into blossom.
Granted, this doesn’t happen often. The bakery/bistro combination is not a common one. But I had the experience several years ago in Montreal and again this past week when I was invited to a dinner at Pain D’Avignon in Hyannis, Mass.
The Montreal restaurant was run by famed baked James MacGuire, who is as amazing a chef as a bread baker. Sadly, that restaurant is now closed.
Pain D’Avignon, on the other hand, is open and thriving. By day, it’s a lively, bustling bakery and café. Since it’s located next to the airport in Hyannis, lots of people stop there on their way to Nantucket to stock up on breads and pastries for their vacations. Locals pick up breads and bagels in the morning and go back for sandwiches and pizza for lunch.
In the evening, the ambience changes completely. The tablecloths come out. The lights dim and candles are lit. The café/bakery becomes a French bistro, but one with the fresh and fragrant scent of bread in the air.
This is not your typical Cape Cod clams and chowder joint.
On the night I ate there, I started with a Champagne and blood orange cocktail and
wonderful crusty bread served with French butter and sea salt. If there’s a better way to begin a meal, I don’t know it.
Next I had an amazing beef tartare with a spicy cognac aioli. Ordinarily I don’t order beef tartare because it’s just too much plain raw meat for me. But this was a small portion, perfectly flavored with the aioli. I’m still thinking about it days later.
The menu changes to suit the market and the season, but if the gnocchi are offered when you go, order them. They are so light they’d float off the plate if it weren’t for a bit of sauce to hold them down.
I also had a flavorful beef stroganoff with mushrooms and house-made noodles. Each course was paired with a superb French wine including a great minerally chablis and an excellent Burgundy. As I’m writing this, it sounds like way too much food and drink, but the correct portion size and the complex flavors combined to make this a memorable meal rather than an overly huge and hearty one.
Dessert was a delicate frangipane and blackberry tart topped with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream. Heaven.
At the end of the meal, diners are given a loaf of bread to take home. It’s a wonderful touch, one that lets the pleasure of the evening spill over into the next morning’s breakfast.
Who is responsible for this impressive restaurant? Co-owners Vojin Vujosevic and Toma Stamenkovic came to this country from the former Yugoslavia and started out as a bread bakers. They built a reputation for their hand-crafted European breads and are celebrating their 20th anniversary in business this year. Everyone else here has an equally impressive and cosmopolitan backstory from executive chef Rebecca Arnold to executive pastry chef Else Rhodes, from Cleberson Lemos, the master baker to general manager Mario Mariani.
Together they’ve brought European artisan breads and - now - a sophisticated French bistro to Cape Cod.
To see Else Rhodes make her awesome blackberry frangipane tarts, go to