Terrific was hungry for more, so we decided to extend our coverage of local makers and doers. It’s our pleasure to introduce the new Food column, where we’ll be talking to local chefs, restauranteurs, and other noteworthy conversationalists. Enjoy!
Shortly before 8 a.m., while slightly spellbound by a trapezoidal case of fresh pastries, Bakeri’s Nina Brondmo rushes past me toward an oven. She wants to talk while she prepares more brioches.
“Brioche is the only bread we make with egg and butter,” Nina informs me. She pulls trays of the precariously balanced viennoiserie from the bakery’s oven. Each one glows as she removes it from its individual, fluted tin.
Bakeri – Norwegian for ‘bakery’ – is the brainchild of Brondmo, who also owns the nearby Williamsburg staple Sweetwater Restaurant with her husband, Pablo. Together they managed Sweetwater for close to five years, until Nina decided to open Bakeri in 2009. Claiming boredom as the main factor to go out on her own, she also notes that the neighborhood had nothing like what the bakery is doing before it opened.
“It’s called day baking, when you bake everything every day – no glazes, no refrigeration – it’s just pastries and bread in small batches.” A native of Norway, Nina’s love of baking comes from her childhood. “There’s a very strong baking culture in Norway. People like to have sweets. I grew up baking – my mother would make bread every day and my brothers would bake.”
Among more traditional fare like scones, muffins, and baguettes, one of the unique items Bakeri serves is skolebrød – a Norwegian bun made with cardamom and vanilla custard and dusted with shaved coconut. However, Nina points out that the focus was not to have a Norwegian bakery.
“Whomever works [at Bakeri] can make what they want – as long as they keep within a certain quality. If we have time to make something new we make it.”
While several of Nina’s employees have held positions at prestigious bakeries and restaurants in New York, including Bouchon Bakery and Per Se, very few of them originally set out to be pastry chefs or bread bakers. Donning blue, full-body jumpsuits and rolled bandanas in their hair, the women cutting dough and pulling espresso shots are supremely focused. “They take pride and ownership of Bakeri. Everyone who works here is amazing,” Nina states, beaming from her post by the oven.
As a baker at Bakeri since September 2010, Aileen Semenetz began experimenting at home after receiving a degree in Finance.
“During college, I had the opportunity to spend a semester in France. With a farmers market, boulangerie, and cheese shop practically across the street, my interest in food increased; by my junior year, I knew I wanted to work with food in some way.”
Initially taking courses in both the baking and pastry program at The Institute of Culinary Education in New York, Aileen discovered that her particular interest lay in bread. “I gained more insight about [bread] and realized that producing it is very involved. It posed a challenge for me. I knew this was something that would keep me on my toes daily.”
After working in the industry for several years, Aileen came to Bakeri on the suggestion of a friend and when she began working there found the culture of the bakery was what made it so unique. “I am able to be a bit creative and try new products. I have really grown as a baker for that reason. Nina has created an atmosphere that is really special – she is involved with every aspect of the bakery, which you don’t see a lot with owners.”
Attention to detail at the bakery is evident, and touches of whimsy mingle delicately with nostalgia. Single stems of hyacinth float in glass bottles while stacks of baking books cover countertops; classical music and the oven door opening provide background noise as customers are served savory bread pudding, coffee cake, and lavender shortbread on plates that would not be out of place at my grandmother’s house.
Regulars sit at the bakery’s eight-seat communal table, drinking North Carolina-based Counter Culture coffee and lending recommendations for the best pastry.
One longtime patron is Frank Pizzurro, owner of the nearby Brooklyn Denim Co. The first customer at Bakeri every morning, Pizzurro – who’s a three-year resident of Williamsburg – noshes on a parsley feta roll as he tells me about his favorite treats from the bakery. He likes to sample three to four things each day but “really loves the bread pudding and daily tart.”
“If Frank isn’t here at 8am, everyone’s like ‘What’s wrong?’” Nina says, flashing me a half-smile while wiping her hands on her jumpsuit.
While much of Williamsburg’s restaurant industry is always in flux, Bakeri is quietly becoming an institution in the neighborhood. Nina’s dedication to the bakery, staff, and customers is apparent from the moment you step inside – something this lasting establishment will be able to rely on for years to come.
To try one of Bakeri’s hand-rolled baguettes, stop by the bakery at 150 Wythe Avenue in Brooklyn. You can also visit Bakeri online.