best-bakeries-lead

Photo courtesy of Vanille Patisserie. All photos courtesy of each bakery.

Chicagoans are carb loaders, and damn proud of it. Weather got you down? Eat some pie. Celebrating a win? Have a cupcake. Having drinks with the gal pals? Grab some macarons. You get the picture, right? So if there’s a public service to be performed here, it’s to narrow down the crowded field. But every bakery has a niche, so it’s important to differentiate. Of course, many of these multi-tasking bakeries could score in a number of categories, but let’s stay focused, shall we? Time to commence the task at hand: eating your own sweet way across Chicagoland (with heartfelt apologies to my diabetic and/or gluten-free friends and relatives).

Best Paczkis

The window of opportunity is short—they are available today through Feb. 17, Fat Tuesday—so hop on board. Right. Now.

Bennison’s Bakery

The highly prized calorie bombs are a specialty here, where nine flavors will tease and delight you. The play here: Fresh Banana Cream. 1000 Davis St., Evanston, 847-328-9434

Delightful Pastries

Lent is not for sissies. The memory of this paczki will keep you warm until Easter. The play here: Jameson Whiskey Chocolate. 1710 N. Wells St., Chicago, 312-255-0724; 131 N. Clinton, Chicago, 312-234-9644; 5927 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, 773-545-7215

Best Bread

Man might not live by bread alone, but if he did, this is where he would stock up.

Baker Miller 

The first artisan-flour company in Chicago works magic on your daily bread. The play here: Seeded Sunflower Rye. 4610 N. Western Ave., Chicago, 312-208-5639

Hewn Bakery 

Hand-forged artisan bread (and the crustiest, best almond croissants I’ve ever had) baked fresh daily. The play here: Heirloom Potato, Rosemary & Garlic. 810 Dempster St., Evanston, 847-869-HEWN

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Little Goat Bakery

The public couldn’t get enough of the bread at Girl & the Goat, and you’ve got to give the people what they want. The play here: Sourdough. 820 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-888-3455 

Best Cupcakes

This is a crowded category, to be sure. Is the cupcake craze past its peak? Maybe. But tell that to the hordes waiting outside Sprinkles’ Cupcake ATM.

Couture Cupcake Café

Designer cupcakes for North Shore fashionistas. The play here: The Jimmy Choo. 1157 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette, 847-728-0509

Jolly Good Fellows 

Adorable candy store/soft serve/cupcake bakery hybrid in Lake Forest. The play here: Peanut Butter Cup. 270 Market Square, Lake Forest, 847-861-2000

Magnolia Bakery

This NYC import started the cupcake craze. The play here: Banana-Caramel. 108 N. State St., Chicago, 312-346-7777

best-bakeries-banana-cake-Magnolia

Molly’s Cupcakes 

Winner of the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars,” and known for their fabulous filled cupcakes. The play here: Flourless Molten Chocolate. 2536 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-883-7220

More

Chicago’s only “art museum-meets cupcake boutique” embraces excess. The play here: Coconut Mango. 1 E. Delaware Place, Chicago, 312-951-0001

Sprinkles 

Did I mention the lines and the life-changing Cupcake ATM? The play here: Triple Cinnamon. 50 E. Walton St., Chicago, 312-573-1600

Best Macarons

These gorgeous almond-meringue confections are all the rage. Purchase them singly or by the sleeve, but eat them quickly as they are most delicate and tender the first few days.

Bon Macaron 

So coveted, they are by appointment only. The play here: Milk Chocolate Passion Fruit. 1407 Grand Ave., Chicago, 312-228-4325

Sugar Fixé 

Their Oak Park store was such a hit, they’ve opened in Lincoln Park. The play here: Nutella. 958 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, 773-799-8399

Vanille Patisserie

Everything is gorgeous here, but the macarons are the jewels in the crown. The play here: Green Tea. 2108 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-868-4574; 131 N. Clinton St., 773-868-4574

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Best Pie

Pies aren’t just for Thanksgiving, people. And with Pi Day (3/14) right around the corner, it’s important to know what’s what.

Bang Bang Pie 

The piecrust is made with leaf lard, so you know they’re legit (and definitely not kosher). The play here: Malted Milk Chocolate. 2051 N. California Ave., Chicago, 773-276-8888

First Slice Pie Café

Known for their community outreach programs as much as their great pie. The play here: Key Lime. 5357 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago, 773-275-4297

Hoosier Mama Pie

Pie is ALWAYS a good idea, especially in this sun-filled room. The play here: Ginger Custard. 749 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-868-8863

Best Patisseries

When it comes to pastries, the French know exactly what they are doing. A visit to one of these stores is the next best thing to Paris. Vive la France!

Ambrosia Euro-American Patisserie 

The croissants! The pastries! The cakes! Magnifique! The play here: Chocolate Croissant. 710 W. Northwest Highway, Barrington, 847-304-8278

Floriole Café & Bakery 

The Sophie’s Choice of bakery selections. How do you choose a favorite? The play here: Fruit Galettes. 1220 W. Webster Ave., Chicago, 773-883-1313

Patisserie Coralie 

This corner café is charming and very French, much like its owner, Pascal Berthoumieux. The play here: Coconut-Mango-Passion Fruit “Egg.” 600 Davis St., Evanston, 847-905-0491 

Toni Patisserie & Café  

The perfect stop after visting the Seurat at The Art Institute. The play here: Éclair. 65 E. Washington St., Chicago, 312-726-2020 

Best Home-Style Baked Goods

Rule #1: Frosting is omnipresent. Rule #2: Brownies and cookies are on point. Rule#3: Crazy good selection makes choice impossible. Solution: Screw the diet. Buy out the joint.

Baker Boys 

It’s all good…with the added extra bonus of homemade frozen custard. The play here: Cheesecake. 733 St. Johns Ave., Highland Park, 847-433-0430

Bent Fork 

So adorably cute, especially the little vintage kitchen store attached. The play here: Banana Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake. 333 Waukegan Ave., Highwood, 847-926-4438

Sweet Mandy B’s 

Comfort dessert mecca is here. The play here: Red Velvet Cake. 1208 W. Webster Ave., Chicago, 773-244-1174

Deco Cakes

Whether wedding or birthday, congrats or goodbyes, every occasion is made sweeter with a special dessert—and these bakeries “take the cake” to new heights.

Alliance Bakery 

Take a gander at the onsite gallery to get a feel for what they can do with fondant. Unbelievable stuff. The play here: 3-D Custom Cake. 1736 W. Division St., Chicago, 773-278-0366

Three Tarts Bakery 

This fabulous all-butter bakery can do it all, but the deco cakes are the pinnacle. The play here: Wedding Cake. 301 S. Happ Road, Northfield, 847-446-5444

best-bakeries-Three-Tarts

Tipsycakes 

Another master of fondant and dimensional design. They can build anything. The play here: 3-D Custom Cake. 1944 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, 773-384-4418

Best European Bakeries

So cosmopolitan, so refined. These bakeries will class up your act.

Café Selmarie 

A beautiful spot in Lincoln Square. You’ll swear you’re in Vienna. The play here: Sacher Torte. 4729 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-989-5595

Gerhard’s 

The individual desserts here are three-star restaurant gorgeous. The play here: Chocolate Marjolaine. 720 N. Western Ave., Lake Forest, 847-234-0023

Il Giardino del Dolce

The biscotti. The cannoli. Espresso, per favore! The play here: Sfogliatelle Napoletane. 2859 N. Harlem Ave., Chicago, 773-889-2388

Best Old School Bakeries

If you need a donut, a birthday cake, a box of cookies or a selection of Danish, head in this direction.

Deerfields Bakery 

Baking since 1886 and still going strong. The play here: Apple Almondine Kuchen. 201 N. Buffalo Grove Road, Buffalo Grove, 847-520-0068; 813 Waukegan Road, Deerfield, 847-945-0068; 25 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg, 847-534-0068

Swedish Bakery 

Swedish, sure, but so much more…they also make a great cannoli. The play here: Toska Torte. 5348 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-561-8919

Tag’s Bakery 

A must-stop destination on charming Central Street. The play here: Florentine Cookies. 2010 Central St., Evanston, 847-328-1200