The water-cooler buzz in the downtown towers last fall centered on a rumored bakery in the Charlotte Plaza Building. In September I featured Marguerite's French Bakery, a marvelous spot which offered downtown folks fresh baked pastries for the first time in decades. A few weeks ago I noted that Bridgette Shaw, the owner of Marguerite's, had moved her business to NoDa, leaving downtown without a bakery once again. But in a fortuitous move, pastry chef Geoff Blount has opened his Sugar Buzz Pastry Shop in the same downtown site. Sugar Buzz is not a French bakery, but Blount's baked goods nonetheless will find the sweet spot in your heart.
Blount's Sugar Buzz bakery opened in Denver, NC, in 2002. A drive through the small town, located up NC 16 about 20 miles north of Charlotte, reveals that Denver has become a blend of bedroom suburbanites, lake diehards and rural Carolinians. Yet this unusual mix of residents has had a bakery, something most cosmopolitan neighborhoods in Charlotte still do not have. Blount once told me he would keep his bakery in Denver, becasue the real estate is much less expensive; if he opened a store in Charlotte, it would be strictly retail. Well, that's exactly what he has done with his Charlotte Plaza location.
Blount is an accomplished pastry chef, having graduated from the culinary program at Central Piedmont Community College and the French Pastry School in Chicago, where he trained under renowned confectioner Ewald Notter. Opening Sugar Buzz is Blount's second venture in the Charlotte food market. During his first go, he opened the kitchens at the original Providence Cafes in the 1990s. He then left Charlotte and worked in various capacities including assistant and executive pastry chef at places including the Ritz Carlton, the Renaissance Nashville and Baltimore's Harborplace Hotel. In 2001, he joined chef Jacques Pepin to open the Left Bank in the Sanderling Resort on the Outer Banks, but Blount soon returned to Charlotte to become the pastry chef at Zebra. Within three years of opening Sugar Buzz, his boutique-styled bakery has done well.
The best way to evaluate a bakery is to take a child and tell him he may have only one item. If the child has a hard time deciding on just one, the bakery has "it," that appeal which causes kids to squeal with delight when you mention the name of the bakeshop.
After relenting to more than one baked good at the Sugar Buzz, the child I took proceeded to fill an entire box with goodies. Even then, the selection proved daunting. The Sugar Buzz's signature bar is its lush oatmeal fudge bar, one of those sugar-overload bars with the camouflage of oatmeal healthiness. Outstanding were the sugarless fruit tarts -- not too sweet to mask the flavor of the fruit yet a perfect contrast with the dough. Another hit was the lime bar made in the traditional lemon bar manner.
Blount seems to have a way with chocolate. His velvety chocolate mousse tart and striking death-by-chocolate pyramid brownie rise way above sensory expectations. The only pastry that seemed bland was the pretty but vacuous lime mousse.
Southerners will appreciate Blount's exceptional take on Southern pecan tarts while those with a European yearning will find traditional European breakfast sweets: croissants, pain du chocolate and scones. The pain du chocolate is twice the size of its European equivalent. Also on hand are trays of muffins, donuts, fruit turnovers and coffee cakes. Morning items sell quickly, though.
Many of Blount's items show his keen sense of artistry. If you drive up to Denver and step into his whimsical, lavender-hued pastry shop -- or visit his smaller downtown retail shop -- prepare to be dazzled by his visual treats and taste his sweet success.
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