If you've been around Charlotte long enough, you know this place: It's that white cinderblock building at 901 Pecan Ave., right on the cusp between Plaza-Midwood and Elizabeth, next to Belle Cheveux Salon.
Owners Paul and Amanda Villani had Villani's Bakery in Concord for three years before deciding to move into the big city. They're planning several more locations.
Hard to believe with such a small building, but they're doing all the baking in-house, and they're turning out some eye-popping goods, from a big case of a dozen flavors of macarons (he makes a hundred kinds) to the refrigerated case of cakes.
Paul Villani is from New Jersey and he and Amanda both came from baking families. The company name, Gert's Bakery LLC, comes from Amanda Villani's grandmother, Grandma Gert.
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They made bread when they were in Concord, and Villani plans to add it again once they've got everyone trained and they're up to full staff.
For the moment, though, he's making something that's even better. One of his obsessions is bialys, sort of like bagels without a hole. They have four flavors — cheddar, cheddar jalapeno, sea salt and everything — and you can get them toasted with a schmear.
"Bagels are like saltines," Villani says dismissively. "Bialys are a lost jewel. It's a great bread."
With so many treats and so few calories to spare, here's where I started:
▪ Chocolate chip cookie. It's not one of those thin/crisp cookies. It's better: A boulder of cookie, an underbaked inside (in a good way), crisp on the outside, craggy and loaded with chocolate chips. It's $4 for a large cookie, but very shareable.
▪ Everything bialy, topped with a little pile of caramelized onions. Even untoasted, it's a tender piece of bread. It's $1.50 plain, and with a cup of coffee, it's a driveable breakfast.
▪ Sfingi: Like an Italian cream puff, filled with a generous squirt of whipped cream filling. $3.50, and theoretically sharable.
▪ Apple cheddar scone: Cold scones can be tough, but there's nothing tough here. At $2.50, it's a bargain.
▪ Chocolate-covered rainbow cookies: An Italian bakery classic, with three layers. $1 each.
There you go: That's enough to get you started. Seriously, don't miss that chocolate chip cookie.