At Acme Bakery & Coffee and Lee & Marie's Cakery, Nothing Is Selling Like Hotcakes

It's a Thursday afternoon in early November, and a cold front has triggered swells off South Pointe Drive. Two tanned teenagers, wearing black wetsuits and carrying bulky surfboards, saunter across the tony street, past the bustling F1RST Surf Shop, and to the breezy shore. The air smells like sunblock and the ocean.

This is the scene outside Lee & Marie's Cakery Company. Inside are mismatched wooden chairs, dainty armoires with ceramic plates, and bountiful bins of oatmeal cookies and blueberry muffins. Displays showcase petite key lime tarts and decadent devil's food cakes. The 700-square-foot setting bespeaks comfort, warmth, rusticity, and charm.

Miami has never been a bakery city. Though Cuban bread and pastelitos abound here, good sourdoughs and croissants are few and far between.

Acme's pumpkin cheesecake: Fresh, moist, and tender.
Acme's pumpkin cheesecake: Fresh, moist, and tender.

Location Info

Map

Acme Bakery & Coffee

3451 NE 1st Ave.
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Lee & Marie's Cakery Company

40 S. Pointe Dr
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: South Beach

Details

Acme Bakery & Coffee

786-507-5799
myacmebakery.com

Tuesday through Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Acme Mornin' $8
Cinnamon toast $7
Split pea and ham soup $4
Tomato-bread salad $10
Hot & Melty $7
Pumpkin cheesecake $4
Brownie Acme $2

Lee & Marie's Cakery Company

305-672-5167
leeandmaries.com

Daily 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

BLT&A $11.50
Alton steak panini $9.75
Fresh From the Farm salad $8.75
Key lime pie $6

So it was encouraging this past September when the area saw the simultaneous launch of two like-minded, independently owned bakeries. In addition to South Pointe's Lee & Marie's, Acme Bakery & Coffee opened in the burgeoning midtown district. Both offer a menu of American-style baked goods, sandwiches, and salads. Foods feature farm-fresh ingredients, and items are sold at similar prices.

But what first seemed like a surge in Miami's bakery scene turned out to be something quite different. After operating for three months, both spots lack a steady clientele, particularly during weekdays, and both struggle with a haphazard inventory of baked goods. There are no long lines waiting for fresh loaves of bread, crowds stopping by for coffee, or aromas that captivate with notes of warm butter and sugar. In other words, the places are often empty.

On a recent Friday afternoon at Acme Bakery & Coffee, about six of 35 seats are occupied. The décor has a vintage feel: Bottles of soda line refrigerators, black-and-white '50s-style posters adorn the walls, and loaves of bread fill the bakery's many wooden bins.

Its "all-American" brand was developed by the Pious Pig Restaurant Group, the three-person team of Alejandro Ortiz, Aniece Meinhold, and Cesar Zapata. They also operate and own the Federal Food, Drink & Provisions on Biscayne Boulevard and sponsored the pop-up Phuc Yeah! (which closed last year but will reopen for Art Basel at midtown's Scope Art Fair).

But the trio's impressive success with those other ventures does not ensure a flawless meal at Acme. For one thing, if you grab a table at the bakery's outdoor seating area, you will likely wait ten minutes for service. On one occasion when I visited, a waitress wearing horn-rimmed glasses stopped by to take our order. "Sorry for the wait. We were doing counter service until the afternoon shift came in," she explained. The bakery seems to randomly alternate between ordering methods, which can make for a very slow and confusing meal.

Still, the greatest problem at Acme is freshness. Pastries are prepared under Ortiz's supervision, while the baking of bread is led by Daniel Liu, previously of MJ Bread in Phoenix, Arizona.

Liu, who functions like a fourth partner at the bakery, begins preparing baguettes (which Acme calls "flutes"), sourdough loaves, and sandwich bread as early as 4 a.m. There is only one oven, and because bread-baking requires temperatures of about 500 degrees, pastries must be baked at a separate time of day. Liu finishes his breads around 8 a.m. It's only then that the pastry-baking begins.

This schedule has a predictably disappointing conclusion. Morning customers are rewarded with crusty, fresh baguettes. But by 5 p.m., when most patrons are leaving work, those loaves have become chewy and tough or limp.

There are also plastic bags, scattered across the bakery, loaded with croutons for sale. It's a clever way of repurposing leftover bread. It also suggests that Acme is coping with an abundance of unsold product.

Pastries likewise underwhelm when it comes to freshness. Exceptions are pumpkin cheesecake, topped with nutmeg-spiced whipped cream, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Both of those fall treats ($2 to $4) are fresh, moist, and tender.

Despite all the flops, the bakery has its share of successes. Breakfast is one of them. Eggs are trucked from Lake Meadow Naturals in Ocoee three times a week. A menu option includes two eggs any style with home fries and slices of red pepper and caramelized onions for $8. Cinnamon French toast is battered and browned, infused with flavors of the aromatic spice, and topped with scattered blackberries for $7.

Lunch can be overwhelming, particularly with excessively greasy options such as a buttered-up grilled cheese on brioche (known as a Hot & Melty) and a dense meatloaf sandwich. A refreshing tomato and bread salad, prepared with heirloom tomatoes from local farm Teena's Pride, was a triumph — especially when paired with the bakery's daily soups. I sampled lentil and split pea and ham. Both were fresh and delicious.

Lee & Marie's Cakery Company is situated in a lovely setting, but it lacks an obvious essential: a large-scale oven. The locale relies on an off-site production facility in Wynwood that sends foods to South Beach twice a day.

But a sampling of pastries on two occasions revealed a lack of freshness: Baked doughnuts were dry, crumbles atop blueberry muffins were soggy, and the crust of a New York-style cheesecake was so tough it nearly broke a plastic fork.

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1 comments
alejandro_ortiz
alejandro_ortiz

Every restaurateur that I know, at least those worth knowing, start with one aim in mind: to make and serve the very best they can. Often these goals when reconciled with actual business needs (those pesky things guests aren’t bothered with like rents, payroll, and inventory) serve to check a chef’s or restaurateur’s ego and ambition. The craftiest, the most business savvy, make it anyway and are able to assail both of these mistresses; those of business and that of product (the boys of Pubelly fame do a phenomenal job at this…). For us these little ‘labors of love’, no matter how humble or how flashy, culminate our life’s work thus far; they are often realizations (however complicated) of dreams and aspirations—shortfalls and all. It is ironic then that so much weight is put on reviews conducted by those without any consideration to the realities of business (a business has only but one $65,000 oven…) and or any actual practical experience in the field. I for one understands appreciate that balance of power- after all, a journalists job is to look after, in this case, the consumer (Robert Parker doesn't make wine after all).

Miami is not a Bakery city- yet needs some good ones desperately. At Acme we aim to be that answer, to pave the way, to break the mold and to change the conversation about great ingredients and real handcrafted bread. From the get-go we knew that a large part of our mission was “education”; i.e. communicating to our guests the value of unbleached flours, wild yeast starters, proper stone-oven cooking and the absence of any additives and preservatives. Pastries, absent plastic wrapping or preservatives- the way most of us may know it- will naturally stale. It’s a fact of life. No one likes this—and at Acme we go a long way to ensure everything we sell is as fresh as possible. But freshness often gets bought by the case in a powder form: in my youth I worked in various bakeries (both “French” and “Latin”) where powdered sodium benzoate was used liberally to ensure “freshness” and various additives and emulsifiers ensured that cakes obtained a fine crumb and retain moisture longer. Without these additions, pastries, via nature, will do what they do. There is no doubt in my mind that my dear friend and colleague (not to mention a ferociously talented pastry chef) Yannis Janssens does all he can to ensure his handcrafted items are as fresh as possible—he is a consummate professional and Lee & Marie’s a model bakery.

Some may see fault a bakery for having a toaster oven to perhaps “re-freshen” things (at Acme we don’t and are constantly requested to heat up all kinds of pastries); or for not throwing away all goods at the end of the night (which for cakes is unnecessary since the fat-and-sugar layer we call frosting was exclusively invented to keep the cake moist and fresh—not to mention a blanket practice such as this is not cost-effective); and maybe for selling croutons (from Sarabeth’s in New York to Flour in Boston most bakeries sell croutons the way bagel shops sell bagel chips); to not employing a second baker to bake-off baguettes in the late afternoon (a bread meant to be eaten the day of, traditionally in the morning when it’s at its freshest—even in Paris; never mind that made-from-scratch baguettes can take 4-6 hours or more to prepare; hence the glut of frozen boxed baguettes that’s ubiquitous in Miami). The truth is that there’s more to the story.

I can tell you that at Acme we will be revaluating the way we handle and store our pastries in order to ensure that a guest never receives a “not fresh” pastry, cookie or bread; and plan to make these changes immediately. With the addition of Jessica Moreno as the head of our Savory Kitchen we have been able to lighten up the dishes and re-introduce some nuances into our food. We will continue to serve the very best that we can; and if that means discarding (actually we give them away) a handful of pastries at the end of the day because they are not fresh so be it (we do it daily)—however discarding an entire day’s production would not even cross Thomas Keller’s, mind let alone when on factors in the realities of using premium ingredients: eggs, those of Ocoee Florida, and butter that cost two to three times as much as standard eggs and butter and unbleached flours which are more expensive by the pound that the white denatured stuff. Yes, craft comes at a price —yet we keep our prices competitive and will continue to do so.

I think reviews do us all in the industry a favor—it allows restaurateurs to respond to feedback by making the proper adjustments and modifications necessary for a successful business. But it is a business and we hope that in conjunction with fellow bakeris such as Lee & Marie’s that we make a positive impact on the market even when fates have been called three months in. Ask our friends Joel and Leticia; Panther Coffee wasn’t swamped three months in… it’s not the nature of an artisan business. At Acme we are busier than ever and continue to address opportunities and making improvements at every turn. We will continue to offer amazing hand-crafted breads to Miami and make our Magic City proud. We hope to get busier still and as we do (knowing that comes with long lines and anxious waits as the aromas of warm butter and sugar waft in the air), we can afford all those great things like a second baker for late afternoon flutes that are hot and crusty (however counterintuitive), another oven, an absence of croutons (maybe not…) and more staff to more effectively serve our most valued asset: our guests.

Thank you New Times—we will continue our journey together and every day, better and better. Miami Acme’s open for business and we welcome your feedback. Your Neighborhood Bakery: Real Ingredients, real good.

 
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