Observing in the Heights: Bread and Comfort

Sunday mornings at On the Rise Bakery, most people know what they want. They have it down, they operate in here like some sticky-bun-seeking-device.

“I’ll take a baguette, a brownie and a chocolate chip.”

“I’ll take two scones and a cinnamon swirl loaf.”

You see a lot of this ‘now and later’ phenomenon. The croissant is for now, the organic multigrain, later.

Others less familiar inhale and gaze when they come in, dazed and intoxicated by what they see and smell. It is, after all, to enter an alternate universe, the luscious and magical way these bakers have of combining butter, sugar, flour, leavening and whatever else that fills the air with a seductive aroma.

As I watch people come in, finishing my own sticky bun, I am amazed at how quickly we can be taken down to our primal selves. The nutrition pyramid evaporates into thin air. The strictures of the no-carb-no-sugar diet suddenly vanish. (Health police: Lighten up here, sometimes there are other things in life.)

There’s coffee, too, at this Fairmount Boulevard storefront, and a long table to relax at for the moment. On a weekday, a mother sits with her two children. She seems to know the others, soaking up a smidgen of comfort that she herself must provide to her brood the rest of the day. Two construction workers order up sticky buns. “Make that three,” says one, as they pull crumpled bills from their pockets.

I puzzle over the preponderance of men. On Sundays mornings, are women sending their men out for this gathering expedition? On weekdays, is it a quick stop on the way to work to fortify against the stress ahead, or to counter the strict South Beach regimen at home?

The front of the bakery is a large glass window. Sunny days add another layer of warmth to the place. On a rainy day the dripping condensation on the window makes for a cozy nest. Three young women, hair tied back and remarkably lean for their occupational hazard, work briskly behind the counter.

On any day, it seems, a steady stream of people make their way to this oasis. On the Rise is not alone. With Zoss, Stone Oven and others, the Cleveland Heights pantry runneth over. Each has its own special aroma and flavor. Each sets us up, regularly or on occasion, to be comforted and restored, to share and to go to forth.

Eleanor Mallet is a longtime explorer of the nooks and crannies in the Heights.

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Volume 3, Issue 1, Posted 3:12 PM, 12.15.2009