Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French bakery in Millvale, PA, is just a stone’s throw across the river from Pittsburgh’s other well-known French boulengeries: La Gourmandine in Lawrenceville, Gaby et Jules in Squirrel Hill.
However, in contrast to La Gourmandine’s rustic coziness and Gaby et Jules’ glittering elegance, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s bakery better gives the impression of being a small-town cake shop of 20 years ago: a turquoise-colored awning, neon OPEN sign, florescent indoor lighting. There’s no “bonjour” when you enter; there are no frilled aprons or chef’s hats; there are just pastries — and good ones at that.
My purchase of the Paris-Brest — made of hazelnut or praline cream between two rings of choux pastry — was supposed to be the last time I was going to try this traditional pastry (which was inspired by a bicycle race between the cities of Paris and Brest in 1891). All too often, I’ve been let down, finding the choux pastry unable to live up to the flavor of the filling, due to the pastry having been too old or too refrigerated for too long.
Jean-Marc’s Paris-Brest proved me absolutely wrong. The light, firm pastry was the vehicle for the rich, powdered-sugar-dusted cream. Too big for my hands, I ate my Paris-Brest with a spoon. It was like eating a cloud occasionally studded with toasted almonds.
This pastry was not just good enough to revive my hope in pastries in general, but also to reignite my belief in humanity. Who would have guessed that such a jewel of a pastry could sit in the case next to humble American favorites like key lime pie, and be served so cheerfully in the corner of this town?
Did I really not realize that French pastries can sell not just because they are French — but because they are good?
I will be back to Jean-Marc Chatellier’s — and be back and be back.
Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery
213 North Avenue