Rusticity rules when it comes to Henderson County’s widening batch of bakeries. Flat Rock Village Bakery on Little Rainbow Row, with its chalk menu and its proud loaves, its benchmark wood-fired oven haloed in brick, set a certain standard at the start of the millennium.
Now the concept of consciously crusty baked goods is a given, not a novelty. Underground Baking Co. on 7th Avenue, opened in 2009, uses all organic N.C.-milled grain and styles itself Hendersonville’s “first artisan bakery.” Meanwhile, the dessert haven of McFarlan Bake Shop uses heirloom recipes that are more than 80 years old.
House pride is exhibited in thickly frosted cookies (including moon-sized Black & Whites that use the correct pudding-cake base), fruit pies, turnovers, pastries, and magnificent nostalgia cakes — the classic European eight-layer chocolate pound cake, for instance.
But diversifying is the bread of business life, and many area bakeries, including brand-new players like The Baker’s Box on Kanuga Road, must also serve lunch to increase the draw. Here’s how the sandwiches stack up.
The Baker’s Box
Mara Nicholas was running the whole show on Bold Life’s recent visit, fixing sandwiches and boxing cupcakes at her first storefront on Kanuga Road. The accomplished pastry chef formerly specialized only in occasion cakes, and while that’s still her big thing, she also has an ambitiously hearty list of sandwiches, soups, and big salads on her new menu. The just-opened shop is still finding its way, but the goals are in place, and the corned beef on Mara’s eponymous house sandwich is dressed with artisan mustard and piled high.
Flat Rock Village Bakery
It’s hard not to find a long, eager line here, even on a February morning. Rocking perhaps the best gourmet grilled cheese in town — a mix of havarti and cheddar on sourdough or 9-grain bread — it’s a bonafide village hub, evidenced by its being open daily even in winter. The dozens of breads and creative artisan pizzas, baked in a wood-fired brick oven, are the legacy here and in the bakery’s offshoot in Hendersonville, the bistro West First. But it’s wrong to ignore the other menu perks, including perhaps the most notable list of hot sandwiches in two counties: besides the grilled cheese, FRVB offers a turkey, cranberry, and brie combo on a ciabatta roll all year long — it’s not a holiday thing — and three fancy melts: tuna, roast-beef-and-cheddar, and veggie, the latter graced with pesto goat cheese.
Fletcher Village Bakery
This little sister to Flat Rock Village Bakery and West First is a one-stop storefront where one can get fully loaded bagel sandwiches, homemade soup, and other brunch-y specialties originating in the host location’s wood-fired brick oven. The toasted bagel with cream cheese, lox, and capers is huge, a two-handed affair, and quite reasonable compared to what anything decorated with brined salmon will cost you on the brunch menu of some local bistros. Pastries lean toward the empire’s more aristocratic delights, including mint-ganache brownies.
McFarlan Bake Shop
They don’t dare show their relatively plain faces in the display case among the lavish effulgence of doughnuts, cakes, cookies, and meringue pies at this classic-style pastry shop on Main Street; however, the sandwiches available at McFarlan’s are offered at a lovely price and are simple, generous, and satisfying. You have to either know they’re available or look hard: the menu is short, a footnote of sorts posted behind the counter. Fillings are available on bagels, bread, or croissants (the latter is recommended for its buttery richness — no less would be expected here) and include veggies, chicken salad, ham, or turkey. A request for honey-mustard dressing on the chicken salad was met cheerfully, and even with a drink, apple turnover, and giant Cream Horn added into the white baker’s bag, the total clocked in at less than $10. Sweet!
Underground Baking Co.
Its location on character-filled 7th Avenue is perfect, because Underground Baking Co. isn’t a slick, anonymous sort of operation. It’s grainy, it’s real, and it doesn’t compromise. The premise is hyperlocal, but the vibe is slow and earthy. It’s serious business: you go to Underground first thing in the morning to get your Sesame Seven Grain, your Pain Au Levain, and your Sprouted Wheat & Oat. But there’s fun to be had, too: the bakery’s more filling offerings include Focaccia pizza and hearty “breadzels” — Bavarian-style soft pretzels topped with ingredients like spinach, artichokes, various kinds of cheese, and other life enhancers.
The Baker’s Box, 430 Kanuga Road, 828-595-9983; thebakersbox.net
Flat Rock Village Bakery, 2710 Greenville Hwy., 828-693-1313; flatrockwoodfired.com
Fletcher Village Bakery, 235 St. John Road #70, 828-687-7999; flatrockwoodfired.com
McFarlan Bakery, 309 North Main St., 828-693-4256; mcfarlanbakery.com
Underground Baking Co., 352 7th Avenue E., 828-674-7494; undergroundbaking.com