Thursday, December 28, 2023

Lost Larson


     Fate has a way of upbraiding you.
     For instance, a few weeks ago I celebrated a bakery, Delightful Pastries, on Lawrence Avenue. The baked goods were excellent, and — luckily — I didn't present the place as the best bakery in the city, or some such claim that would roil the groundlings. It was just a very good bakery run by an interesting baker.
     But I had reason to reflect, a tad uneasily, on that column when my youngest and his beloved stopped by for brunch last Saturday, bringing two white cardboard boxes containing eight baked goods from Lost Larson in Andersonville.
     My wife and I knew of Lost Larson — we had been wandering Andersonville a year or two back and bought a superlative sugared bun that I can still see in my mind's eye.
     On Saturday, we sat in the dining room, cut the pastries in quarters and shared them around — I should have taken notes. There was much discussion of the exact cheese in the ham and cheese croissant. I thought emmental. The tebirke — the poppyseed covered pastry at left — was luscious, the almond nothing like the fake high octane marzipan sometimes found in such goodies, but finely ground almonds. The afternoon tea bun — the roughly Q shaped pastry, rolled in Earl Grey and citrus sugar. I regretted the slice of my wife's spinach bake I'd served myself, not that it wasn't excellent, in its own elementary fashion, but because it was taking up room that might have otherwise gone to more Lost Larson. The fruit salad too, and I like fruit salad.
     I also felt — perhaps giddy from the sugar — that I had now formally, officially and irrevocably succeeded as a parent, in raising a child who would collect pastries at Lost Larson and deliver them to their aged mum and dad. They paid and everything, which is no small consideration since these delectibles cost about five bucks a pop.
     A crazy amount of care and effort is reflected in these baked goods. The croissants alone ... I started to feel a sort of duty — if I've gone to Delightful Pastries, twice, with a promise to return at Easter, then what is my obligation toward Lost Larson? Or do they exist at such an empyrean that any attention from a hack newshound would be seen as unwelcome, as beneath them? I looked at their lovely website. The owner, Bobby Schaffer, ran the pastry program at Blue Hill in New York City — we've eaten there, thanks to the spot-on instincts of my older son. So we have that in common. How would Schaffer react to my suggesting I slide by and, oh I don't know, roll out croissants? Perhaps not as welcoming as Dobra Belinksy had been. He certainly doesn't need the ballyhoo. Excellence is his calling card. I placed a call anyway — out of town. Perhaps just as well...
     Anyway, I've made my point about Lost Larson — the name is explained on their website this way: "Lost Larson takes its name from owner Bobby Schaffer’s ‘Lost’ last name – Larson."
    Not a very satisfying explanation, is it? Lost how? Enough of a thread to keep pulling in the New Year. That, and the pastries. Especially the pastries.

23 comments:

  1. Not the best column, from one of the good writers in the business, but still I feel a need for some baked goods. And while I am a 3 hour flight and 45 minute drive from Lost Larson, It's only 15 minutes to Heavenly Biscuit on Ft Myers Beach, where the cinnamon rolls and egg sandwiches are breakfast treat. Thanks , Neil.

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  2. In the early 1970s I lived in Irving Park (think Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor and the Irving Theater). On Sundays I would get up early and head to Lawrence Avenue a few blocks east of Pulaski where there was a bakery called Schmitts. In my mind's eye I can see the sign over the entry and, oh, I can smell the aroma of baked goods. Almond rolls, bear claws, rolls filled with Boston creme. But I went there mainly for the onion croissants. Not just onion on top but in little tunnels through the dough. Real onion. What a perfect way to start the day. I don't know when they closed. I moved to Hermosa, Uptown, Logan Square, then to a south suburb. Never went back to that area, but I remember, all these years later, the wonderful bakery that was Schmitts.

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  3. I am not much of a sweet eater so I am not a judge of the bakery but I live just a couple of blocks from L.L. The lines to get in are amazingly long. Occasionally I meet a friend for lunch. We meet on the corner nearby. Without fail she's not hungry. Why? Tho she knows we are going to lunch, something (anything) from L.L. is better than wherever we are going. I eat alone, again! AliceLC

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  4. Until you move somewhere else, you don't realize how spoiled you were by all the great bakeries in Chicagoland.

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  5. I appreciate the photos. Look at those works of art. It’s not a “box of donuts” but an artistic menagerie of pastries. I feared this article was one so common about another small business shutting down - whether retirement, economy or other small business plagues over the years. Support these places and build find memories for soon they will be gone.

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  6. You know, we have just finished several holiday gatherings and family get togethers with New Years yet to go. And my middle daughter cannot let a stoplight change diwn the street without baking all kinds(and large quantities) of delicious food. Cookies, homemade candy and of course fudge. Now after being terrified to even consider taking my blood sugar levels along cones this columnist continually writing about baked pastries. There is only one bakery of sorts still in our little town and I have so far resisted going since it changed hands several years ago. My resolve is weakening. Stop it. Stop it now. Tempting the old and weak is a sin. At least I think it is. It should be if it isn’t. I don’t know how much longer I can resist the temptation. ARRRGGGHHH!!M

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  7. I’m wondering if the “Lost “name has something to do with the TV show? Never saw it, but maybe?

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  8. There was a place near Montrose and Pulaski, Biel’s Bakery. Absolutely the best orange chiffon cake I’ve ever had. Verskey’s in Berwyn on Cermak was awesome, and my favorite in Northwest Indiana is Munster Donuts. I used to love Glen Park Bakery years ago, on Broadway in Gary. I don’t visit very often, which is why I’m still under 300 lbs. 😂

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  9. May I put in a plug for a couple of very good suburban bakeries? In Lake Forest, the Lake Forest Bakery-fab croissants and amazing fruit tarts and cakes; in Barrington a bakery called Ambrosia-amazing stuff-and my fav the ham and cheese croissants-also chocolate. And finally, in Palatine, a wonderful local bakery with the best donuts-Spunky Dunkers.

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  10. A plug for the pastries at the Caputo stores.

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  11. Mariano's has a nice bakery too.

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  12. I lived across the alley from Meier's Bakery, which was on Main St. in South Evanston. I helped the owner dig and push his car out of the parking lot after the Blizzard of '79, and got some free snarfies for all my toil and trouble. It was quite an ordeal.

    Maybe the best bakery in Evanston was Bennison's, at Maple and Davis. Going there was a mouthful of joy...at least until the unemployment office next door canceled that out. Spent way too much time there, and not enough time at the bakery. But I still miss Evanston. Even after 31 years in North Missitucky...also known as Ahia.(SG)

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    1. I pop into Bennison's all the time, because it's between my favorite Evanston bookstore and favorite Evanston taco place. But I usually pop out again without anything because ... and this is hard to say ... they just don't seem to offer anything that's worth the effort of eating.

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    2. Glad to hear they are still around. Haven't been there for quite a few years. Sorry to hear they aren't what they used to be. Always had lines of customers. I liked their stuff. When I see baked goods, I say: "Sweeeeeet!" And snarf 'em up. And when I see sea food, I eat it and eat it.

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    3. Grizz,

      I'm not suggesting Bennison's is comparable to Lost Larson (I've never been to LL and, from the sounds of it, it's not playing in the same league as the bakery around the corner), but they've been in business since 1938 and have 586 reviews on Yelp, maintaining a 4-star average.

      I'm not sure they "aren't what they used to be." Plenty of folks like their stuff, plus they do good business at least a couple farmer's markets in the city during the summer.

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    4. Do they still have the lines almost out the door? Then they are most likely just as good...perhaps even better...than they were when I still lived in Evanston (1975-1992), and I stand corrected. At least their 1938 Art Deco façade hasn't changed.

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  13. Have to acknowledge Jarosch Bakery in Elk Grove. On Arlington Heights Rd. Yum.

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  14. For birthday and wedding cakes, one of the best was Gladstone’s on the far northwest side, close to my childhood home in Wildwood. I honed my love of strawberry shortcake there.

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    1. Their cake decoration was amazing!

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    2. We got our wedding cake from House of Fine Chocolates, on Broadway — dark chocolate with a raspberry filling. I can taste it yet. We also would go into the city to get birthday cakes for the boys until, alas, HOFC went out of business.

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  15. The Bakester is a little gem in Arlington Heights. Charming and delicious.

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  16. For what it's worth, the owner of Bennisons was on a team that won the gold medal at the Bakery Olympics a few years ago.
    Glen Park bakery, Biels, Gladstone Park, Vesecky, Dinkels, Leonards, House of Fine Chocolates....all closed. Go to real bakeries while you can. You'll notice the difference.

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    1. I don't doubt SOMEONE likes their stuff. Just not me. Leonards! Broke my heart when it closed.

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