If you let yourself be romantic, a morning stroll through an open-air farmers market like the one in Old Town Scottsdale isn't all too different than a walk down the shops at Rue Cler in Paris. You can still tuck a baguette under your arm, walk down narrow(ish) streets where brick walls and cement sidewalks create edges, and soak up the sun while you let banter and footsteps provide you with music.
And the inspiration shouldn't stop there -- not once you've worked up an appetite for breakfast, or a snack to hold you over until a late lunch.
You'll probably be looking for a croissant.
For the French pastry lover, the Scottsdale Old Town Farmers Market offers no finer dilemma. Newcomers Frogs Organic Bakery from Tucson are building a enthusiastic following of croissant lovers - just up the center aisle from the croissants at Essence Bakery, which Valley folks will passionately tell you couldn't possibly get better.
First Up: Frogs Organic Bakery
Traveling from Tucson, the bakers at Two Frogs wake up well before an hour that the sun considers to be decent (perhaps they're still on France time), all to bake (amongst a dozen other kinds of pastries and breads) three types of croissants -- a "pain au chocolat" with two slabs of European chocolate, an almond croissant that contains rum-infused simple syrup and almond cream, and a classic, buttery croissant.
The Good: The classic is what we're here to judge -- again and again if necessary. Frogs' croissant is borderline ethereal. It's crispy only in its outermost layers which, themselves, peel back and become lighter and fluffier as each single bite takes its course.
Despite being on the larger side for most croissants, the light and airy consistency has this pastry feeling like a snack, which (in our opinion) it should be. It's the perfect treat to carry around the market and peel away at, or to sit down with and enjoy, if even for just a moment. The flavor is simple and only a tad naturally sweet, so it's the perfect friend to your coffee when you'd rather the flavors not impede on one another.
The Bad: Is it missing a dimension? Because although we'd be happy to dismiss it as simply a different style, the croissant isn't all that buttery; or at least your mouth won't become lacquered in the process. To some, a croissant where you can taste the freshly churned butter is something of a turn on, a signature quality synonymous with croissant making.
Second Up: Essence Bakery
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You've heard of Essence, haven't you? With the pastry prowess of Eugenia Theodosopoulos, this little Tempe spot has a level of local fame far beyond most others for a few choice items like their colorful macaroons you might've seen in local magazine spreads or on blogs, and for a satisfying breakfast and lunch menu at their storefront just West of the ASU Tempe campus down University Drive.
They've called the Old Town Farmers Market in Scottsdale home for years, rumored for selling out of hundreds of their croissants (the same trio of flavors as Frog's - chocolate, almond, or butter) in a matter of just a few hours.
The Good: This butter croissant is smaller in size than Frog's, but it's significantly more decadent. It's rich and it's denser - with an exterior shell that's less crispy than it is a preview of soft, chewier and more flavorful layers yet to cave in. You can taste the butter, too.
This croissant is a meal in itself, or a dessert, or a breakfast treat. Cliches are to French as this croissant is to the phrase, "peice de resitance."
The Bad: Do you feel guilty yet? You want to go back to Essence for seconds and thirds of these sultry pastries, and if you do then your conscience might not be doing its job. Although, if not, then perhaps you've just bribed it with more pastries.
The Champion: We may be comparing croissants, but these two pastries couldn't be more different, and not by accident. In the end, we choose Frogs as the victor for a croissant that is light rather than rich, a tad sweet instead of more buttery, and for one that dons a slightly flaky, lacquered exterior as opposed to shell that more similarly reflects the consistency of its inner layers.
Any croissant lover need not stick his nose in the air against a different style, but rather be happy that his own croissant, as well as another's, come together at the same market every Saturday.