Barb's Bakery
Diana Martinez

It would be easy enough to celebrate about Barb's Bakery just for the beautiful wedding cakes, done up in the same kind of elegant designs that Martha Stewart would approve of, in flavors from devil's food to pink champagne. After all, hearing your guests rave about how good the thing looks and tastes is a definite victory for even the most raging Bridezilla. But Barb's does more than just the Big Day. Barb's does holidays, with cute themed cupcakes for Christmas, Easter, and more. Birthdays, naturally, are a breeze for Barb's Bakery, whether your birthday boy or girl craves carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, or classic yellow cake slathered with chocolate buttercream. And thanks to signature frosted cookies in whimsical shapes and colors, even ordinary days become a special occasion.

Karsh's Bakery

These days, you can find bagels and challah and maybe even a decent rye bread at plenty of neighborhood grocery stores, but Karsh's Bakery still makes the best, using all kosher ingredients, the way they've been doing since the '60s. This bakery's almost like a time capsule, an old school, no-bells-and-whistles storefront where the display cases are packed with mouthwatering breads, rolls, and pastries, including rugalach and black-and-white cookies that bring customers from miles around. Looking for a special occasion cake? Karsh's does those too, from traditional wedding and birthday cakes to specialty designs shaped like animals, toys, and even Louis Vuitton handbags.

Simply Bread

It would be easy enough to say that Simply Bread is the best in town because it's featured at some of Phoenix's finest eateries. After all, top local chefs are proud to feature it on their menus, and if it's good enough for them, well, it's good enough for us. The endorsements are nice, to be sure, but have you tasted this bread? It's so mouthwatering, it sells itself. From his soft, scrumptious focaccias to his crisp, golden baguettes, award-winning head baker Jeffrey Yankellow makes top-notch artisan bread using the same techniques that have made French bakeries the envy of the world. The crumb is fragrant and moist, and the crust is always the perfect texture. And lucky us, we don't have to cross the pond to eat as much of it as we want.

Tammie Coe Cakes

Tammie Coe's the frontwoman with the famous zebra-striped wonderland cakes, but her hubby Michael, of MJ Bread, is the guy in the back, making bread. And his bread is fantastic — we've long loved his crispy loaves. Recently, we discovered MJ's pretzel — a pretzel made the way God (or, at least, the Germans) intended it to be: over-sized and doughy, with a crisp exterior and a salty finish. We fully intend to return for pretzels and cake and, to appease our guilt, Coe's newly expanded salad/sandwich options at lunch at the Roosevelt location.

A really good bagel is no mere alternative to toast — it's a meal unto itself. We're especially fond of NY Bagels 'N Bialys' hefty bad boys, whose thick crust and moist, dense crumb are just as satisfying (and filling!) as what you'd find in the best Big Apple bagel joints. That's because they make the dough from scratch, daily, and adhere to the old-fashioned boil-and-bake method that gives them their unique, crave­able texture. From Asiago to everything, there are more than two dozen flavors to choose from here, and if you're lucky, you'll stop by when a fresh batch comes out of the oven. The aroma alone is enough to make you drool, and the taste is one of life's simplest pleasures. Give us ours toasted, with a schmear, and we'll forget we ever missed Manhattan.

Bread Basket Bakery

Spelt doesn't sound tasty. Not at all. Doesn't even sound like food, let alone an ancient substance that lost out to wheat and barley in history's great grain race. Say you've got a kid who's allergic to wheat (there are worse things). Make your PB&J on two slices of good old-fashioned spelt, and he'll never know the difference. For the record, it's high in fiber, low in fat, and surprisingly tasty. Bread Basket Bakery is not a fancy joint. What you see — right in front of you — is what you get. Many of the baked goods are cooling on racks in the open kitchen. Point, pay, and eat. And if the very idea of spelt turns you off, the chocolate-covered macaroons are sure to bring you back.

Chatham's Fine Chocolates

Proprietors Chatham and Jennie Kitz truly have taken chocolate connoisseurship to the next level with their cacao-centric boutique, which celebrates world-class chocolatiers like Chocolat Moderne, Ghyslain, and Lillie Belle Farms. Beside a wall full of chocolate bars from around the world, there are hundreds of exotic truffles available here, each one with its own tiny display shelf. Intrigued by the strawberry-balsamic truffles, the milk chocolate hazelnut pralines, or the lavender-infused caramel with fleur de sel? Try them all — it's easy to assemble your own custom box. Each truffle also comes with its own ID card, complete with color photo and description, so you know what you're about to bite into. That's never been a concern for us, though. After spending so much time drooling over the offerings at Chatham's, we usually eat our purchases right on the spot.

Essence Bakery Cafe
Courtesy of Essence Bakery

One Friday morning, after a few hellacious days of office drama, a dear co-worker showed up bearing tiny cardboard boxes adorned with Essence Bakery stickers. Passing one to us, she said, "I thought we all needed to end the work week on a sweet note."

We peeked inside and could barely contain our glee at the sight of five freshly baked miniature treats — and we promise you, it wasn't just because we'd just been staring at the computer and listening to the steady rumble of our empty stomach. But still, those desserts were quite a sight, and we couldn't resist nibbling on them immediately.

What was inside?

A Mexican wedding cookie, coated with confectioner's sugar; a chocolate cookie; a chewy white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie; a creamy little square of chocolate cake; and a Lilliputian pound cake sprinkled with sugar. Before we knew it, we'd gobbled them all up — and we couldn't think of any better way to usher in the weekend.

Sweet Republic
Courtesy of Sweet Republic

If Phoenix in the summertime is hell, then Sweet Republic is pure heaven. So don't be surprised to find us at this cool, tangerine-colored ice cream shop, blissfully Web surfing (hey, we can't pass up the free Wi-Fi!) and nibbling at fresh, made-from-scratch artisanal ice creams. Owners Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung opened their doors this summer — not a day too soon, we say — and quickly made a name for themselves with unusual flavors and premium ingredients, such as rBST-free milk.

We're keen on the salted butter caramel ice cream, lime-basil sorbet (so refreshing), and the addicting blue cheese ice cream. No, it's not as weird as it sounds; think sweet and seductive, like really good cheesecake.

Why is there often a line out the door of this pint-size gelato shop? Well, if you have to ask the question, you probably haven't stopped by yet. That's okay, though — it usually only takes a bite of this creamy, heavenly stuff to join the initiated. Owners Moreno and Marina Spangaro are natives of Trieste, Italy, and their homemade gelato is an authentic taste of the Old Country. Most places hawking gelato these days can whip up any flavor imaginable (bubblegum, anyone?) with the help of canned flavor pastes, but at Arlecchino, everything is made from scratch. That means melon and blood orange come and go with the seasons because they're made with organic, locally grown fruit. The dense, heady chocolate gelato is made from a secret blend of top-shelf cocoa, and the intense pistachio is flavored with pure Sicilian pistachios. Are you hungry yet? We thought so. Go ahead; get in line.

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