by Aimee Levitt
To be fair, Forster didn't promise Smack Dab itself would change my life, just the gluten-free brown butter teff-almond tea cake, also known as a financier. It was one of the five daily pastries on offer one day when I stopped by, and the words "gluten free" were enough to make me reject it out of long-standing habit. Forster urged me to reconsider. She explained that financiers are normally made with ground almonds anyway, so the baker, her business partner Axel Erkenswick, had added only a minute bit of gluten-free flour.
That was when she said, "It will change your life!" And my life is not so perfect that it can't stand a few changes, so I took her up on it.
Smack Dab is too small for tables and chairs or anything, really, besides a counter, a little pastry case, and two urns of brewed coffee (HalfWit). I suppose I could have eaten my tea cake standing in a corner so I could complain to Forster right away, but instead I saved it for the comparative dignity of the el.
It tasted like a real pastry! True, it was dry, but in a sophisticated, crumbly way, not a depressing Passover pastry sort of way. The taste of the almonds mingled nicely with the browned butter—and brown butter is, I think, one of the nicest flavorings for baked goods ever devised. My life was indeed changed. I will no longer dismiss gluten-free baked goods out of hand, but only if they come from Smack Dab.
This is not the only way Smack Dab has changed my life. Until it opened, there was no quick breakfast-snack option in the immediate vicinity of the Morse el stop, which also happens to be the el stop closest to where I live. No bagel place, no Dunkin' Donuts, not even a lousy, overpriced convenience store. And now, in a lovely twist of fate, we have a real bakery, with good coffee! It's fortunate (for me) that I work in an office that provides free cereal, otherwise I would be giving my life savings over to Smack Dab in daily $3 increments.
Smack Dab serves a rotating array of sweet and savory pastries every day: toasts and tarts and biscuits and cupcake-sized banana breads and the glorious, buttery Gateau Breton, a kind of shortbread filled with house-made orange marmalade. There are also dog treats on Sundays for canines who have been dragged along to the Glenwood farmers' market and feel teased by the abundance of food that they're not allowed to eat. (My dog has not tried them yet, so I cannot report whether they match the quality of the treats for humans.)
The coffee is a basic drip, nothing fancy, but it tastes good and it gets the job done. It's possible that it has magical properties if you drink more than one cup. At least, I assume so, based on my interactions with Forster. No one who has to report to work before 6 AM should be so cheerful and energetic—though in a way that does not inspire homicidal thoughts in non-morning people like me. Maybe I should start drinking more of that coffee.
Smack Dab, 6954 N. Glenwood, smackdabchicago.tumblr.com.