Athena Uslander used to be a structural engineer, but today she's a baker. If you asked Athena what the two professions have in common, she'd likely say attention to detail. If you asked her customers at Athena’s Silverland Desserts, however, they'd be too busy chewing a mouthful of cookie, rice treat, or brownie to answer. Since 1983, Athena has helmed the ovens at her bakery in Elmwood Park. Her signature brownie recipe has garnered her some national attention, including an appearance on Oprah and The Today Show. Now, customers nationwide call in or hire a banner plane to put in their orders for the confections that Athena and her staff make from all-natural ingredients—free of trans fats, additives, and preservatives.
Bakery treats make the perfect pacifiers for crying babies, nagging mail carriers, and anti-establishment co-workers who stick it to the man by scream-singing from an adjacent cubicle. Bleeding Heart Bakery's Groupon assortment includes a classic red velvet cupcake, a caramel-filled Veruca Salt cupcake (enhanced with fleur de se), six cake balls in flavors such as almond and chocolate mocha, one mallowy s'mores brownie, a banana fudge brownie, two nut- and fruit-laden scones, and one lonely but remarkably well-adjusted lemon bar.
Red Hen painstakingly selects the freshest and finest ingredients for its loaves, then bakes them with delicate, hand-tailored production techniques. Because all the yeasty entities are created daily in an enormous oven shaped like George Lopez's head, prices and availability vary. Past baked delights include prosciutto and asiago croissants ($3.50), velvet ciabatta ($4.80), olive rosemary bread ($6), the sweet-tooth satiating chocolate bomb cookie ($2.60), and an armada of other bagels, buns, rolls, and bollos. Tackle heartier hungers with soups du jour and sandwiches ($5.95–$7.95) including the cranberry chicken salad, dotted with walnuts and celery. Before the inevitable post-bread nap halts your afternoon ice-sculpting plans, perk up with beverages made with Caffe Umbria coffee and high-quality espresso.
Specializing in custom cakes artfully decorated by talented cake designers, Il Giardino Del Dolce also satiates sweet teeth of all ages with a mouthwatering selection of authentic Italian pastries, cookies, and more. Fill your jowl jar with butter cookies ($6.99–$10.99/lb.) topped with sprinkles, chocolate, or green cherries, or opt for authentic Italian eats with biscotti ($12.99/lb.), pignoli, or buccellate ($14.99/lb.).
In 1988, Auntie Anne's founders Anne and Jonas Beiler purchased a Pennsylvania farmers'-market stand, where they experimented with dough until they created a pretzel that seemed to strike the perfect chord with their customers. Today, at their more than 1,350 locations worldwide, the pretzel makers still hand roll the original recipe but have added to the menu with inventive options such as the eight signature dipping sauces. The team constantly explores new uses for the pretzel dough, such as wrapping it around hot dogs and slicing it into bite-size nuggets. To transform the snack into a meal, they accompany it with specialty drinks, including frozen-lemonade desserts.
When not twisting dough, Auntie Anne's team partners with the national charitable organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises funds to fight childhood cancer. Auntie Anne's also reaches out to the community through fundraising opportunities.
Spearheaded by a master baker trained in Belgium, Miara’s Bakery crafts a cornucopia of baked goods each morning from scratch. Configured from only the freshest ingredients including nonartificial sweeteners and nonartificial apples, the handcrafted delicacies tickle taste buds with their European style and witty wordplay. Sweet treats such as a raspberry soufflé cheesecake ($11.99) or 7" brandy-apricot torte ($24.99) make for an easily sliceable delight; Belgian-style chocolate truffles ($11.99) allow dessert devotees to forgo the fork. Moist coffee cakes ($5.99+) make a sweet start to any morning or barista birthday party. Or sample from the savory end of the spectrum with Miara's fresh-baked breads, including loaves of authentic German–style sourdough rye ($3.45).