Like a mirage in a pastry desert, Angel Food Bakery & Coffee Bar opened softly on April 30, beckoning to workaday downtowners desperate for a morning doughnut or midday guilty pleasure just steps from Nicollet Mall and their office doors. Co-owner Cynthia Gerdes calls Angel Food Bakery a natural extension of Hell’s Kitchen, the 10-year-old downtown breakfast mainstay and music venue she owns with her husband Mitch Omer.
According to Gerdes, Hell’s Kitchen has always turned out its own scratch baked goods, led by pastry chef Katherine Gerdes. And “little by little,” she says, “word-of-mouth spread about her desserts, which was great, but we then ran out of space in the tiny baking corner of the kitchen.” Until Angel Food was born and installed just above Hell’s basement lair.
When speaking of bakeries, downtown Minneapolis is parched. Unlike South Minneapolis with its Patisserie 46 and Sun Street Breads, there’s little in the way of accessible specialty baked goods for pedestrians and people stuck in meetings or bound by half-hour lunch breaks. Angel Food seems like an excellent solution, filling the retail gaps left by Cocoa & Fig and Wuollet, and offering delicious Peace Coffee as a substitute for the nearest Starbucks.
There are other cool things about the bakery. For one thing, it echoes that smirking and flashy Hell’s Kitchen aesthetic, but in a lighter, fluffier way. White and tinsel frame the bakery’s open kitchen, where you can sit at the bar and watch the bakers knead dough or torch meringue. The bakery also offers bread (created by Craig Nelson, a New French Bakery alum), catering, delivery, wedding cakes, and basically any special service you can imagine.
The bakery’s most important aspect — its execution of pastry classics — is poor, and on the whole, the product does not reflect the kind of years-deep experience and pastry finesse the Hell’s Kitchen team claims to have.
Let’s start with something iconic: the golden, coveted croissant ($2). Though beautiful, the one at Angel Food is salty and supple, without the delicate outer crunch and stretchy, swelling inner layers of an expert croissant, and its buttery flavor is more schmaltzy than sweet and authentic. Take a look at our story on the many examples of a righteous croissant in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Angel Food’s doesn’t hold a dripping candle to them.
The raised glazed doughnut ($1.50) was a bit of a disaster. On one occasion it had a moist, underfried inside, and on another day it was chewy and dense instead of bouncy and light. This fluffy-looking yeasted treat is as deceptive as a rosy, grinning baby with indigestion. A blueberry lemon scone ($2.50) was similarly disappointing. There were none of the flaky layers essential to scones. It was soft, moist, cakey. Calling it a muffin would have made more sense.
A carrot cake cupcake ($3), on the other hand, was a standard specimen made delightful by the best cream cheese frosting I’ve ever had. It was light and just barely cheesy without being gooey, dense, or wearisome. The cupcakes in general cater to decadence and greed, with whimsical colors and plentiful frosting. The Anti-depressant Cupcake ($3) was a decent combination of chocolate cake and delicate chocolate whipped cream, but the dollop of caramelized chocolate on top would have done more exciting things as a filling.
Angel Food also makes muffins, tarts, cookies, and brownies the size of a saucer. Like the cupcakes, the brownies call to the id with words like “turtle,” “rocky road,” and “Butterfinger.” But again, they fall short. Though large and heavy, the chocolatey bases of both the Rocky Road and Butterfinger ($3.50) were bland, with a scant supply of their namesake flavors and just a tiny well of ganache in the center. Decadence they are not.
There are also baguettes and several sorts of large, golden loaves of bread for sale at Angel Food, and their sourdough’s ($4.25) thick crust hides a tight, slightly sweet crumb that makes for a sturdy slice of toast. In fact, the bread basket may be where Angel Food’s biggest asset lies. Being able to grab a loaf of decent, homemade bread before heading home from work, and in the same breath find a great cup of coffee, second-rate sweets, and an option for catered office meetings is an anomaly in downtown Minneapolis. And that’s just it — Angel Food Bakery is a great idea. But the food could be a lot greater.
Full-service bakery in downtown Minneapolis
86 S 9th Street (above Hell’s Kitchen)
Minneapolis, MN 55402
OWNER / CHEF: Cynthia Gerdes and Mitch Omer / Katherine Gerdes and Craig Nelson
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: None
GLUTEN FREE / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: Under $6
Flatbread, dulce de leche brownies (plus bonus pronunciation guide for “dulce de leche”), chocolate whisky cake, Harvey Wallbanger cake, Irish chicken, green power juice, Irish coffee, corned beef and scalloped cabbage, Irish soda bread, demented caramel cake, and peanut noodles with tofu and chicken.