La Farm Bakery & Cafe (Cary, NC)

croissant image courtesy of flickr

La Farm is one of the Triangle’s premier bakeries, and one of only a very few that make good artisanal loaves of bread (Loaf, Rue Cler’s Bakery, Guglhupf, and Chicken Bridge Bakery are a few others that come to mind).  So this is one of the best places to come – and folks throughout the Triangle  do – to get a good baguette, a loaf of crusty ciabatta, or a croissant.  Or, of course, for one of many delightful treats.

Despite the linguistically hybridized name, this is a thoroughly French boulangerie.  And, though it’s set in a typical Cary strip mall (seemingly far from everything), it actually manages to evoke that small Parisian cafe feel.  It’s charming inside, with delicious looking baked goods all around, and a recently expanded cafe section that spills over onto the narrow sidewalk out front.  Even if the bread wasn’t worth the trip, you’d want to come back.

But enough about the bread for now.  The cafe is tempting in its own right, with breakfast and light lunch/dinner fare on offer.  The menu features a number of sandwiches, salads, and egg dishes – nothing unexpected really, but solid choices, and a superb value for most selections.  You can get a large sandwich with a side of chips for just $6.95, and kids meals are just $2.25.  I’ve had several of the sandwiches, and, it must be said, while the bread is great, the sandwiches are merely average.  I recently had one with smoked turkey/homemade creamy slaw/peach-chipotle bbq sauce (one of this summer’s special menu additions) that was rather boring.  There just wasn’t much flavor.  My wife was similarly underwhelmed with her “Mediterraneo” (fresh mozzeralla/roasted tomatoes/basil/balsamic vinaigrette (+added chicken, $1.95) on foccacia).  Sandwiches are served with a side of homemade hearth-baked potato chips, which are crunchy but a bit lifeless; they are greatly improved by dipping in the accompanying buttermilk ranch dressing.

I’ve yet to try the egg-based or breakfast dishes, but many of them sound appealing.  Then again, if I were here for breakfast, I might just choose a buttery croissant or one of their outstanding white chocolate-cinnamon scones (I’m not a fan of the triple berry variety).  Speaking of white chocolate, everyone seems to love La Farm’s white chocolate mini-baguette, and I am no exception.  So even if you’re a little disappointed by your meal, pick up a pastry or loaf to go, and you won’t be let down.

Note that La Farm also sells at the Raleigh farmer’s market on the weekends.

Spize Cafe (Raleigh, NC)

image from Spize Cafe website

Spize Café had been near the top of my list of places to try for quite a long time.  Their eclectic Asian menu appealed to me, and I’d heard lots of good things about their baguette (banh mi) sandwiches.  Having finally tried it, I can’t wait to go back.

It’s not the most exciting place to eat; though the décor is sleekly modern and minimalist, and large plate glass windows line one side of the space, the restaurant’s location on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh marks it as more of a take-out lunch spot for the masses of office workers and state employees.  Indeed, on a recent Friday evening, the place was virtually deserted save for a couple of extremely friendly staffers.

I ordered a lemongrass pork baguette ($7.95) and my wife opted for the shrimp version (also $7.95).  They were cheerfully brought to us after a brief wait.  The sandwiches were gorgeous and overflowing.  Mine was stuffed with thin slabs of grilled meat, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, mayo, jalapenos, and cilantro, and served on a delightfully crunchy, crusty baguette.  It was excellent.  Even with a few jalapeno slices, and despite the restaurant’s name, the sandwich was not particularly spicy.  The one knock I would give Spize Café is a paucity of side items.  The sandwiches aren’t small, but it’s nice to have something to go with them.  Mine came with one sweet-spicy pickle, which was delicious, but it was about the size of my thumb.  I’d much rather have a small bowl of those than resort to a little bag of potato chips.  Regardless, I hope to come back again and again for some of the best sandwiches in Raleigh.