Isn’t it nice when a favorite place also turns out to have nice people running it?
For years, my family and I have been fans of The Hill in St. Louis. Anytime we happen to be going through there, we make it a point to stop for a little pasta, a little Volpi salami and prosciutto, a little Miller ham and supplies at Urzi’s deli, ending it all with a visit to the Missouri Baking Company.
It’s the kind of place where you can just feel better walking in the door, perhaps because of the lovely odors of bread and pastry. The possibilities feel limitless. Do I want the flaky and flavorful pineapple turnover, which is like nothing you’ve ever tasted? How many boxes of biscotti should I get to take back and share (or not)? What is that fruit topping on the streudel, and is that really a peach cake?
After we’ve ooh’ed and ahh’ed for awhile we make our selections—always including a loaf of Italian bread, dozens of all four kinds of biscotti, and a few of the fig cookies.
This time when we stopped it was when I had a video crew with me, because we were shooting elsewhere on The Hill. We talked briefly with the co-owners, Mimi and her brother, Chris, who are part of the original Gambaro family business. The story is that three brothers (one of them Mimi and Chris’s grandfather) founded the company in 1924 and sold primarily to restaurants on The Hill, then branched out to sell to the general public.
Cookies are their most popular item—the biscotti, the sesame seed, but there is also the Panetone bread, which Mimi pronounces with the correct Italian emphasis, as in Pan-e-tone-a.
When she offered us a peek into the back part of the bakery, we took it, walking past the original freezer, old cabinetry still in use, and table after table of baked items. It was one of the cleanest working bakeries I’ve ever seen, and the workers seemed efficient in their handling of the various supplies. No trail of flour across the room here, no mess dishes piled up—you could obviously invite members of the media in without advance notice and still be OK.
This time I added a few more things to my Missouri Baking Company repertoire, things I might not have ventured to try without getting advice from Mimi.
She asked about my tastes: “Do you like less sweet, or more?”
“OK, we have similar tastes,” she declared. “I’m going to fix a box of things I like.”
My box had cookie after cookie – delicate shortbreads, nut-based crunchy squares, and these amazing puffs that look like they would be hard but are light and spongy and fabulous. She introduced me to Cuccidati, with fig and other great ingredients, like raisins, pine nuts, chocolate chips and orange zest (for Food Network fans, it’s the cookie she baked with Mario Battali).
You can have it, too. All it takes is a stop on The Hill at the Missouri Baking Company (closed Sunday and Monday). Maybe I’ll see you there.
Also see our Hot Spots video from the Missouri Baking Company.