If Disney Corporation was told to design a French bakery, I would guess that St. Honoré would be pretty close to their final result. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is more the movie version American tourists expect from a French bakery, but not like any I have ever seen in France. It just has too much of a ‘big money’ feel. However, it’s still a great environment.
St. Honoré Boulangerie is named for the patron saint of bakers. A figure of him keeps watch over the bakery next to the large gas-fired clay oven. The space is huge with high ceilings, generous windows that open to the street, and big rustic wood beams that give an older ambiance to the building. On any day of the week, you can find it packed with scene sniffing NW Portland residents, drinking the Umbria coffee, and munching on large organic salads. Tables under new retractable awnings offer pleasant outside seating, with plenty of indoor seating at both a large community bench, and scattered café tables inside. It is often so crowded that one has to do a balancing act with coffee and pastries waiting for a place to sit down. The floors are a nice stone which contrast well with the enormous clay oven and the earthy colors on the walls and beams.
As you enter, a long counter snakes through one corner, tempting with tray upon tray of pastries. Breads sit cooling in baskets on the tile walls. The two biggest challenges are deciding what you want and then figuring out how to pronounce the name. Not to worry, the staff is helpful, and used to people pointing at the case saying, “I want one of those”. Behind them a sea of workers scurry back and forth loaded with fat loaves of bread and trays of even more pastries. On all my visits, service has always been friendly.
Don’t think that desserts and bread are all they have to offer. A large selection of tempting salads, sandwiches, and coffee drinks are also on the menu. Everything looks beautiful and the air is filled with the aroma of baking bread and just milled grain. I suppose there is only one thing left. How does it all taste?
We’ll break it down into three categories: pastries, salads, and breads.
The pastries vary wildly in flavor. Some look beautiful, but lack flavor and are a disappointment. One thing that turns me off is the use of ingredients out of season. To me it is a bad sign when you can go in and buy a pastry with fresh strawberries in the middle of the winter. That’s just not Portland.
Plain croissants are the true test of a bakery. Here they are a bit chewy for my taste, but everyone seems to love the almond version, coming in a hailstorm of silvered nuts. I only thought it was fair. The Normandy apple toast looks great, but is flat out boring, same goes for the flan aux abricots. Neither one taste nearly as good as they look. However, I recently tried an apple chiboust: a layer of thin crust, a layer of cooked apples, layer of custard, and a flamed sugar topping. It was toe-curlingly good, though a bit spendy. Another winner is the canalet, a traditional treat from the Bordeaux region of France. Invented in the 16th century by the nuns, it is in the shape of a small striated cylinder. It can be consumed on any occasion, including accompanying liqueur and wine tasting. Traditionally made with milk, eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla bean and rum, they taste like a cross between a cake and a cookie and are quite addictive.
I am frequently drawn to the Éclair café, not one of those huge American versions, but the small French size: pâté a choux filled with espresso custard, glazed with good chocolate fondant. A friend of mine gushes over the opera: layers of almond cake, with espresso butter cream and chocolaty ganache, but again it doesn’t do a lot for me.
Most of the sandwiches are accompanied by a simple salad of lettuce with light Dijon vinaigrette. I like both the croque-monsieur – grilled bread, béchamel, thin slices of cheese and ham – and the tarte au fromage with grilled bread, gruyère, bleu, and chèvre cheeses. Both have just the right amount of cheese and arrive with a light crispy brown crust.
One warm afternoon on a drive up to Forest Park, I stopped in for a cold brie sandwich. It came on a nice baguette, lettuce, Brie, cucumber, and sliced almonds, but was over-buttered to the point where I found myself dissecting it and scraping some off. I know it is very French, but in these health conscious days that amount of butter gets to me. I knew at the time it would probably be a mistake to leave half in my hot car while I hiked, but threw caution to the wind and finished it when I got back. Through no fault of theirs, it was not a good evening.
Organic salads are large and satisfying. The choices are a Niçoise, red beet, Lyonnaise, Chef, and chèvre chaud (with duck) salads. I usually go with the roasted red beet with apples, blue cheese, walnuts, and vinaigrette over mixed greens. The blue cheese is creamy and mild, a good counterpoint to the sweet beets and walnuts. The chaud comes with thin little slices of cured duck and addictive croutons spotted with goat cheese. Their version of the Niçoise salad from Nice is not traditionally French as it adds potatoes and leaves out the French green beans, but is still just fine.
The breads aren’t cheap, and while they are just fine, they fall a little short, like something is missing on the finish. If you don’t get there first thing in the morning, some of them tend to get quite hard. For a special occasion there are other places in town I would pick first. I go here for the pastries, an occasional sandwich, and The Tour De France on the big screen.
- 335 Northwest Thurman Street Portland, OR 97210 Map (503) 445-4342
- 315 1st St Lake Oswego, OR 97034 Map (503) 496-5596
- 3333 SE Division St., Portland OR 97202 Map (503) 279-4433
- 501 SW Broadway St., Portland OR 97205 Map (503) 954-3049
- Website: SaintHonoreBakery
Even though you say you’d go elsewhere, I think you are too generous yet on their bread. (Perhaps Ken Forkish has spoiled us?) The Miche Banal is properly labeled – banal. I don’t understand this. There’s no flavor development. It tastes just like grain. Maybe there’s not supposed to be secondary flavors from fermentation. But Ken’s country brown has all kinds of things going on in it. I’m convinced the Boulangerie is not interested in slow fermentation. But I don’t know enough about bread and bread styles to say – do you? At any rate their bread was a huge disappointment, at least to me.
A local baker told me the croissants at SHB are made from frozen dough.
My experience is that SHB only for those who are within walking distance. Those of us in the burbs don’t ever seem to be able to find a place to park. I’ve tried three times, circling the block several times. Maybe I haven’t missed much since I was going to try the bread.
By the way, where can I get good bread and find a place to park?
Thanks for all the suggestions for finding good bread! I stopped at Grand Central in Multnomah tonight and they seem to have a good loaf or two. I’m definitely going to check out Ken’s after reading his website. I am glad for the tip about parking at Basta’s. Apparently it is available until 11:30am.
I think the food at SHB is ok, but in my mind they have the worst floor management for a restaurant I’ve ever seen. At least they did until 6 months ago, when I resolved to never return because of the pandemonium.
The thing is, they are tremendously popular, but refuse to have a sign-up sheet for next available tables. It is literally a free for all in there, with groups of hungry people sitting like vultures, waiting for the next table to open. I’m sure they think that a sign-up sheet ruins the whole “simple cafe in a small town in France” atmosphere they are trying to create…and it might. But they get nowhere close to that atmosphere with roving packs of diners circling the restaurant, competing with others for the next open table.
Like Yogi Berra said, “Nobody goes there anymore–it’s too popular.”
If you really think that Ken’s has the best bread in town you are crazy, the loaves are ugly, and often burnt, with very little flavor, and more often than not the crumb is wrong.
best bread in town these days would have to be Baker & Spice in Hillsdale, they’ve been going for about six months now (?) and the more yeast he gets in the air, and the hotter those ovens get the better the bread seems to get. I would suggest trying their baguet, and ciabbatta. Beautiful loaves full of flavour. The ciabbatta truly is a slipper.
Sadly, the man who made the breadat wildwod for years, is no longer in the restaurant baking trade, after the folding of the Overton St. Bakery. now there was some truly inspired bread.
That would be Jesse Dodson, and he is definitely one of the best bread bakers in town. Talk about bad luck though. Delphina’s, Overton St, Olive Mtn. He was magic with rye flour.
I hate to slam them because of their bread. Truth is we are spoiled in this town. We learned what great bread really was before the owner of Pearl Bakery lost it in his divorce. Then Ken’s came along which beats everything else in town. Still, I have stood in line at St. Honore many times listening to people rave about their bread. Different tastes I suppose.
I’ve always been able to park within a couple of blocks, but try to avoid the peak times such as mid morning & lunch. Ken’s Bakery can be fairly easy to park in the morning, but forget later on.
You can park in Basta’s parking lot if you’re going to Ken’s during the day.
The Grand Central over on Hawthorne has parking.
Pearl Bakery is close to the streetcar and the Max.
I agree and only go there during the off hours. I have noticed it seems less popular over the past six months, even on busier days.
shuna fish lydon says
This place had some of the worst pastries I have ever tried to eat. One of the puff pastry things left a film on the roof of my mouth– a sure sign that some fat besides butter is there, and the apple chausson was spit out by me and my brother, (Who generally loves anything that has sugar in it, no matter the source.) I will be writing about it on eggbeater curtly.
Reid Beels says
Just a quick note: chèvre chaud is warm goat cheese, not duck.
How funny:) I meant to convey the salad had duck on it but obviously could have worded it better. Thanks for pointing it out.
stan, yac says
Rumor or fact? I was told by a source high in the bread administration that SHB is mostly Japanese money — and mostly frozen dough. Ahh, the power of marketing.
The kitchen is wide open. Go judge for yourself.
Yes, to Japanese investors. In fact, there is another St. Honore in Japan. I forget which city.
Maybe, on the dough, at least the croissant dough. I believe that was historically true. Not sure if it is still.
I will throw this out: there is nothing inherently wrong with using frozen dough. A lot of doughs freeze well. If the concern is that SHB uses purchased frozen dough. . .that’s a different story and that’s what I heard a couple years ago shortly after the bakery opened. Marketing or no marketing, lots of folks don’t seem to care.
People who don’t know pastry, should not write about it. “Spat out” the chausson aux pommes? Geez, give the man a dunkin’ donut
Food Dude says
Um, Anonymous: Just so you know, Shuna Fish is first of all a woman, secondly a long-term pastry chef for Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Bouchon, arguably one of the finest chef’s in America. I’ve never met anyone more knowledgeable about pastry than she is. Her own baking/food blog is currently a finalist for best in the nation.
Actually, Shuna Lydon (the one who “spat”) is a pastry chef who’s worked at Gramercy Tavern (in NY), The French Laundry (in Yountville), and Aziza in San Francisco. She’s been written about in Gourmet, and teaches at Sur La Table. You may disagree with her estimation, but I don’t think you’ll find more solid creds.
Marshall Manning says
Anonymous…no wonder your taste doesn’t agree with Shuna’s. Everything tastes a bit like foot to you, huh?
pastry gladiator says
Well, being that I’m new to this, I made my first trip to St. Honore and must say that I didn’t even buy anything seeming that it was a boulangerie facade amidst people wanting to be seen and the nine mini-coopers parked on the street. I spent better money on a sandwich at the coffee shop down the street, plus wine and cheese in that cool wholesale wine shop. Obnoxious and noisy, the fine pastries looked fake (and truly non-seasonal strawberries-as-big-as-your-nose) and just looking at them they weren’t of high quality ingredients. Touting breads with Shepards’ Grain flour doesn’t necessarily produce great bread; and just to let you all know, I have from a very reliable source in the guise as a sales distributor that the only thing St. Honore “makes” in-house is the bread. Frozen dough for the croissants? Ask about the production schedule and when the laminating dough shifts are. Ask which chocolate do they use (if they’re not using Schokinag, Guittard, or at least the fab Valrhona-they’re a scam!) Their savory pastries looked meek and fimble; lacking in just fresh ingredients from the farmer’s market. Why support a corporate-obviously-owned bakery when you could just be going to Ken’s. I’m not even from Portland, from Eugene, and before you all think I’m a hippie I happen to be a pastry chef with a lot of Bourdain years under her belt.
So, if you want to know the REAL dirt behind the scenes. . .I’ll let you in on the pastry real world. St. Honore is not the place to go.
glad: not much in your post that has not been written about already, if you read back in this thread. I am curious, though, about the obnoxious and noisy fine pastries.
People are more enchanted with just being there than with the food. It is a see-and-be-seen kind of place overrun with the typical West Hills/Lake O housewife with Botox injections. If you’re lucky you’ll see the guy with the florescent green Lamborghini.
All of the croissants are bought frozen- they just proof and bake, but they make everything in the cold cases.
Ghiradelli chocolate, Sapporo Japan. Monarch Rum. From an extremely trusted source (or just ask yourself if you don’t believe).
i’ve been looking for almond croissant and i tried the one at St. Honore. they weren’t quite right. these reviews certainly redeem my opinion. does anyone have a suggestion for where i can buy the occasional almond croissant?
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Pix on N. Williams has very good almond croissants. They are made properly and daily and are very similar to the ones I like to get in Paris.
St. Honore is the Disneyland of french bakeries as far as I am concerned.
the croque monsieur is pretty great, give it a whirl.
unfortunately “all of the above” has spread to lake oswego … and the line is out the door (!)
could someone PLEASE open a decent bakery over here? (i can’t get into pdx everyday)
a couple of things. just because you have backers doesn’t mean that it’s a “corporate” place. who among us has the resources to open a place without some sort of outside backing?
i used to work at le panier back in the day, and the st. honore guy was the first baker there. i notice a lot of similarities in product. the croissants were previously frozen at le panier – made in a big kitchen off-site and shipped to the cafes on a regular basis (like at least weekly). i don’t think that’s a necessarily bad thing, though i agree that the pastries at st. honore are lacking. the bread is also pretty bland and stale-seeming, even early in the morning. it seems like it’s baked overnight and left sitting. not at all like getting to Pearl Bakery at 8 am and getting a fresh baguette still warm from the oven. the salads are overpriced and, when i got one this week, had shrunk to 1/2 the old size, for the same price. that’s simply shameful! the sandwiches are fine, i guess, but overpriced. i’m just hoping that they don’t follow the old le panier practice of re-using meat from unsold sandwiches. that’s right – completely gross and unsafe.
i go to st. honore occasionally because i’m in the neighborhood, but it is a far cry from a real french bakery – even if a french dude owns it.
I read every one of these entries and the common thread seems to be a lot of you like to write about what you do not know. And not only that, but you seem to find all the negative and very little of the positive. I agree that St. Honore is not the best bakery in the world, but give it some credit. The bread is baked fresh daily, not the night before as someone mentioned. The pastries are made by hand by skilled bakers. Many of the laminated doughs are bought frozen because the there is not enough labor to keep up with the demand, but that doesn’t mean the croissants aren’t damned good. And there is more to baking off a good croissant that the making of the dough. The owner is French, works in the bakery everyday of the week, grew up in his father’s bakery and comes from a family of esteemed chefs, bakers and food competitors. This is my first blog comment ever. I couldn’t let this negative gossip go on without a little truth interjection. Next time you feel compelled to share your anonymous wisdom about food, try to think of something nice to say.
Well, I’m not much for puff pastry in general, so tend to stay away from the pastries you all have dissed in this thread. I find them more pretty than tasty in most establishments that offer them. And the bread, as mentioned, doesn’t look inspiring, so I pass on that as well. Nevertheless,Paris is Paris and I can’t set that as my expectation in the Northwest.
I love my regular visits to St. Honore. I sit at the bar and chat with the pastry chefs as they form brioche or roll out pastry crusts. The bakery smells heavenly. I usually have an espresso and either the caneles or orange olive oil cake (which is quite bitter but pleasingly so). Also, no one has mentioned the quiche and it is quite good. Plus the daily soup has always been the real thing when I’ve had it: simple, homey, satisfying.
JG Hitzert says
Is it just me but is the revue complaining that, while authentic, the brie sandwich should be adapted to an American palate and then in the next paragraph is complaining that the salads are inauthentic?
This revue and its resulting comments seems to be an exercise in smugness that stretches the boundaries of logic to come to its conclusions. SHB seems to be a pretty good upscale fast food competitor to Panera Bread Co. Does this really require the chef from French Laundry to tell us of her estimable experience with tarts when she could at least offer something a little constructive like how its nice that we have more choices with our food on the go than a Big Mac or a Whopper. I bet that tart wasn’t as bad as the hot apple pies you get at the Golden Arches, which would probably be a better yardstick that the food at a five star restaurant.
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Yeah, JG Hitzert, it might be just you.
The food at St. Honore is just not always very good, certainly not always made with quality ingredients nor preparation and it’s a facsimile of a quality French cafe/bakery/patisserie.That’s the shame in it. It’s like some upscale suburban Mall chain French bakery, which in fact it is, but sadly not a very good one at that. I also think you are reading the review out of context. Loads of too much butter is not “authentically French”, it’s simply too much butter. However, for a place that is billing itself as authentically French, it does seem odd that the salads are, also, inauthentic (case in point the Nicoise).
That’s all. Not smug, just a case of calling B.S. where I, and I think you’ll note several diverse others as well, see it. But hey, if you like St. Honore, and several customers do, more power to you.
JG Hitzert says
You’re writing a response to your own misgivings and not my post. I was basically saying that it was a mall chain French Bakery and that it is good to have mall chain French bakeries, hell half the bakeries in the City of Lights are like this. I would say that the Croque Monsieur with side salad is better than any of the You Pick Two choices you get at the strip plaza, the nasty sour dough bread or the canned soup they offer. Both SHB and the strip plaza joints are better and don’t cost much more than a Value Meal at a fast food chain either. The decor is better than in the mall too, what is wrong with the bit of Gallic Drag this place has? You seem to be reviewing this place as the worst of the best as opposed to the best of the worst that it is.
As for the contradiction in the review, I’m not the one who wrote the following, “I know it is very French, but in these health conscious days that amount of butter gets to me.” Now this is either a contradiction of the point made about the salads or it is dripping with more smug than that sandwich was with its butter. My guess is the latter is more true than the former, given that the bulk of the responses in this thread are a virtual pile on.
Your right though it is just me. I probably would have been more on your side if it wouldn’t have seemed like the review was more representative of some strawman boite than a good place to buy a decent ham sandwich.
I read a bunch of other reviews on your site. I especially liked the one of Andina, that place is exactly as good as you stated. I haven’t had New Peruvian like that since I was in Huaraz.
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Yeah, I just still think their baked goods are crappy. But like I said, more power to you if you like them.
new in town says
I thought it was good. Expensive but tasty and BUSY! Considering it is still in business (as I see many, many restaurants and small business going under recently) they must be doing something right.
The best Cafe au Lait I’ve had in the PDX area (period).