Before I go and get all opinionated - maybe snobby - about bakeries and the breads they sell, it is important to define what a bakery actually is - and is not.
A bakery is not a place that only sells rolls and chunks of bread to accompany salads, soups and sandwiches. That is a luncheonette, an eatery, maybe a casual restaurant, but it is not a bakery. A bakery also is not a place that sells only baked sweets, such as muffins, cookies and the like, or french pastries. A bakery can sell muffins, croissants, cakes, cookies, cupcakes and any number of other items, but bread is an essential item.
A bakery sells breads, whole loaves, unsliced or sliced, and not pre-packaged, although I am not as set on that, particularly if there are whole breads out for sale. A bakery sells loaves made in house and not at some centralized location or more than a few hours old.
A bakery is a neighborhood place that bakes its own bread. If it is part of a chain, it is a chain that remembers how a unique storefront should look, act, and feel. The person behind the counter at a bakery should be friendly, should remember you, and should give every child under 10 a free cookie and a big smile. I have high standards because I've been blessed to have lived in a few places with real bakeries.
I won't hold it against you
A bakery can have seats and tables, but it does not have to. Just because the Avenue Z bakery of my childhood and the other bakeries I've loved in Brooklyn did not, does not mean I have not matured and grown, though nothing will replace the glorious buttery smell of the old Norwegian bakery on Third Avenue, closed and turned into a CVS. (I know, take a deep breath, and cry if you need to.) Fortunately, every city seems to be sprouting bakeries anew and I mean to visit them, well, some of them.
And just so it's
out there, my idea of a neighborhood, of friendliness, and of the feel
of a neighborhood place, is totally out of my exiled native New Yorker's conception of the world, specifically the "real" Brooklyn, none of that Williamsburg hipster stuff. Maybe that's why when I visited Italy and enjoyed some neighborhood bakeries, I felt so at home. (That and Italy being a country filled with Catholic churches, Brooklyn being the borough of churches.)
Not everyone has the same benchmarks I have and I will not claim to be uniform in my assessments of the bakeries I visit. I just thought that before I put forth my opinions that I establish what my Platonic version of a bakery is.
* My own neighborhood is awaiting a bakery opening and I admit to staring between the cracks of the brown paper covering the windows to gauge just how close we are to fresh baked goods. Since I make my own bread, but I occasionally get lazy, I have high standards, but I would also like to be a customer.
A good bagel or knish is a wonderful thing
** Not bakeries, but in terms of baked goods, I will also keep an eye out for real bagels and quality knishes. My ideal in that category is Mrs. Stahl's, may the store rest in peace, which gave me an entire childhood and education in the perfection of the kasha knish. There are books, articles and websites that pay homage to Mrs. Stahl's. How lucky I was to grow up blocks away. No trip to the beach or winter shopping trip along Brighton Beach Avenue was complete without a Mrs. Stahl's knish. Plus, they gave a small ball of free dough to kids to play with. See, that's what I'm talking about. (Just google Mrs. Stahls and find a universe of appreciation and recipes.)