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.
Every morning, the dough masters at Aracely's Bakery rise before dawn to craft house-made cupcakes, pastries, and sandwiches to bejewel their display cases. Confectionary artists transform dreams into fondant-covered reality by crafting custom cakes for birthdays, baby showers, and Eat a Portrait of Your Boss day. Meanwhile, traditional Mexican recipes lend sweetness to cakes and spice to 11 kinds of sandwiches, whose ingredients include avocado, chihuahua cheese, and secret sauce, and pack flavor into handheld meals.
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.
Palermo Bakery's Sicilian-born pastry professionals quell sweet teeth with authentic confectionery masterpieces, including about 70 varieties of fresh cookies baked daily. Bite into a horseshoe-shaped pistachio sandwich, pumped with nutty cream and blanketed in chocolate ($8.59/lb.), or feast on an Old World fig cookie fashioned from pasta frolla dough and stuffed with figs, raisins, citron, orange zest, almonds, chocolate chips, and family secrets, including where the family jewels are stashed and why they consider cans of tomato soup to be jewels ($8.59/lb.). Flakey fried cannoli shells depart from nosh norms, festooning sweet, fresh ricotta with glazed fruit or nuts ($1.99 each), while other pastries, such as the Genovese, keep confections delicate and sweet ($1.99–$2.49). Savory seekers can sink their fangs into focaccia bread slathered with tomato or artichoke ($2.90), a hunk of olive or pepperoni bread ($2.89, available on Sundays) or a semi-circle of cheese pizza ($8.50). Stock up on jitter juice at the classic espresso bar, contained within a cube of sunny walls and tan tiles, like the prize inside a two-colored Rubik's cube