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Cheap Eats; Soup, sandwiches show promise at Elm Street Bakery

We love the concept behind the cafe in the Elm Street Bakery, which serves breakfast, lunch and wood oven-baked pizza from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week. The plan is to serve seasonal, locally produced foods in a constantly changing, limited menu that strives for excellence.

With a few tweaks to the way they do things, they could achieve that goal.

Both the outside and the inside of Elm Street Bakery are beautiful, with rough-hewn, natural wood accented with plenty of striking art. The building is long and L-shaped. We entered at the back door (also the wheelchair entrance) and first saw the crowded bakery counter, where I caught the eye of a staffer and asked how to place our order. He pointed toward the cafe counter, around the next corner.

At the counter, the three soups, three sandwiches and three salads, which vary weekly, are described in some detail on a handwritten menu board. Luckily, a staff person handed us a plastic-covered copy of the paper menu so we could scan it, because the line moved fast. At the counter, patrons give their orders and a staffer assembles the parts, then hands it over on a plastic tray.

Like most others in the line, we went for the lunch combo of a half-sandwich and a bowl of soup or a salad ($8.75). The sandwiches were premade and displayed on trays in a glass-fronted fridge, and the soups were ladled out of three large metal crocks.

A small table with bowls holding bits of Elm Street's excellent bread was the next stop for those who had soup. Then it was on to coolers holding an assortment of drinks, ranging from bottled water to juices and Johnnie Ryan soda. We felt rushed here by people stacking up behind us, so we grabbed bottles and proceeded to the cashier in the corner. There didn't seem to be an option to get a glass of tap water, so we went without.

Then it was off to find a table. The seats downstairs were all taken, so we walked back to the door where we had entered and up a flight of stairs to a truly beautiful loft. The center of the room was occupied by a wide wooden farmhouse-style table under a curvy, weather-worn wooden chandelier. Smaller tables along the sides were mostly filled, so we settled into one end of the big table and dug in.

Both soups tasted very good. The golabki soup was rich with ground beef and chunks of cabbage in a tomato broth; the potato, leek and smoked ham soup had a thinnish broth and plenty of tantalizingly melded flavors. Unfortunately, both soups were marginally warm. If this place had servers, we would have flagged one down and asked to have it reheated.

The medium-sized sandwiches were delicious. The roasted turkey salad was made with an assortment of taste-enhancing add-ins -- golden raisins and possibly flax seeds among them -- but because the sandwiches were premade, nothing could be omitted. The temperature of the turkey salad was also a concern -- it was not as cold as I would have liked it to be.

The two sandwiches we had on sliced bread (made in-house) were stale on the top as a result, we guessed, of being exposed to the chilled air in the fridge. The bottom, un-stale side, hinted at how good this bread was when it was fresh-cut, with an excellent, slightly yielding texture and exceptional taste.

The jambon beurre baguette, the French name for a ham sandwich on a segment of fresh buttered baguette, was very tasty, with finely textured, not overly salted, high-quality ham. However, the sandwich was small and contained very little ham.

A salad, made of asparagus, shaved fennel and beet, could be served with or without sprinkles of goat cheese and pistachios. The vegetable ingredients were spectacular, with the deep, earthy flavor of the beets set off wonderfully by the fennel and asparagus.

Luckily, all of the issues can be solved quickly and easily. Put a sign at the back door and at the bakery counter directing first-time visitors to the cafe counter. Make fewer sandwiches more frequently so the bread doesn't get stale while they sit. Crank up the temperature in the soup tureens to get the soups steaming, and in the cooler to get that turkey salad away from scary-warm territory. We'll watch for what we are sure will be some quick improvements!




3 pennies (out of four)    

"Great potential"    

WHERE: 72 Elm St., East Aurora (652-4720,    

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.