This article has been coming for some time, months in fact; or possibly a whole year. On the day after the pups and I moved from Honolulu to Marin last November, my friend Valerie thought we should go out for breakfast to a place she was sure I would love. It was a Saturday morning when we miraculously found a parking spot and pranced to Rustic Bakery at Marin Country Mart in Larkspur. I say pranced, because my dogs are super cute and they know it, so they prance along followed by a lot of “Aww, how cute!” and “What kind of dogs are those?” because there are not that many Tibetan Spaniels around.
Saturday mornings are the busiest at the bakery and in general at Marin Country Mart because there is a small but popular farmers’ market from 9:00 a to 2:00 pm, year round, rain or shine. I have since given up going to this Rustic Bakery location on Saturday mornings because parking is a nightmare. Luckily, there are two other locations to choose from: one in another part of Larkspur, along Magnolia Street, and the other one in the town of Novato, just fifteen minutes further north along the 101.
Sidebar: most of the images in this article were taken on a very early and rather foggy morning before opening time at the Larkspur Landing location. This is why there are no customers yet and the pastry counter is not completely full. It was not the best time light wise, especially for indoor images, but it was truly the only way to do this, as there never is a moment when this bakery is not filled with appreciative and hungry customers. I had made several attempts at showing up with my camera, hoping for a lull in the flow, but I had always had to yield to the crowds. So I contacted the bakery and asked if I could take pics before they opened in the morning, and they graciously said yes.
I quietly moved around with my gear snapping my pics, while the rhythm both in the back and the front of the bakery picked up by the minute. I found out that the bakers start at 3:00 am, while the people working the front of the store start at 6:00 am. Did I mention how everyone is always super friendly, no matter how busy things get?
On that first Saturday morning visit, I was quite the newbie and, just like all first timers at Rustic, I was wide eyed, drooling and a tad overwhelmed by the amazing choice of deliciousness behind the display glass, to the almost exclusion of everything else. It took a moment for one of the attendants to get my attention and for me to shake myself out of my contemplation and realize it was my turn to order. The amazing breads in the cubicles and the menu boards above my head were discoveries I would make on subsequent visits.
As we enjoyed our glorious lattes and munched on even more glorious pastries (yes, the pups got a few bites, too) I remembered I had been there once before, a couple of years earlier, when the space was only half the size and I had stopped in to purchase a loaf of bread for our dinner one late afternoon. I was thrilled to see that the bakery had expanded, and so scrumptiously, too.
Image above: the pastry counter being filled up a bit at a time before opening. The pastries you see are less than half of what is usually available by the time the bakery opens.
Images below: close ups of a few of the offerings on display. The chocolate-almond croissant is Valerie’s absolute favorite, so much so that she starts thinking about getting one the night before. They are indeed irresistible. My number one favorite is the Kouign Amann, a heavenly experience of tenderness and lightness combined with a crunchy caramel bottom. I had never had anything like it before, and Rustic is where I first discovered this traditional Breton cake/pastry that I will now be sure to look for everywhere. Eventually, I will make my way to Brittany and experience the original. At Rustic, Kouign Amann (pronounced queen ah-mahn, something which took me months of fumbling to figure out) are available only from Thursday to Sunday, and they go fast.
I photographed these pastries under indoor lights and through the protective glass as they became ready. I am sure they were still warm as they were being arranged on trays and platters.
And yes, at Rustic the pastries are as large as they look in the photos, though a few are also offered in smaller sizes, like the Kouign Amann and the butter croissants. The sweet pastries have the larger selection, but there are also several savory offerings, among which the best ham and cheese croissant I have ever had. Ever!
The pastries run between $3.25 and $5.25 depending on size and type. The selection varies lightly with the seasons, and just to help you drool a bit, here are some of the offerings that I can remember: butter croissant, pain au chocolat, apple croissant, Meyer lemon croissant, almond croissant, chocolate-almond croissant, Florentine croissant (with spinach and cheese), ham and cheese croissant (so full of ham and cheese you won’t believe it), Kouign Amann in two sizes, various types of muffins (including low calorie ones), sweet and savory scones that are moist and flavorful and change with the seasons, gigantic bear claws, cinnamon swirls, cookies, biscuits, brownies and sometimes a coffee cake of some kind (recently a divine lemon & rosemary cake topped with fresh berries). And I am sure I am forgetting something.
Then there are the breads, which vary daily and can include: baguettes, country loaf, honey whole wheat, multi grain, Kalamata olive, brioche, sourdough polenta, cornbread, buttermilk biscuits, focaccia rolls, slider buns and dinner rolls. And here let me tell you: I am not a fan of sourdough. I used to be, until all I could find was sourdough and variations there of at the Honolulu Whole Foods. I got sourdoughed-out, even if auto-correct is underlining the word in red.
When I bought the sourdough polenta bread from Rustic, not only did I love it, I understood the difference between seriously good sourdough bread (that isn’t too sour at all) and ordinary sourdough. Now I like it again, but only from Rustic.
One more thing about these breads: last week I was doing a food photo shoot for the winter issue of Edible Hawaiian Islands which required bread as a prop. So I bought two loaves from Rustic, a whole wheat and a round challah, which I bought because it looked so beautiful – hey, even bread needs to be photogenic!
When I buy bread which I am not going to eat on the same day, I usually put it in the refrigerator in the original bag + a plastic one around that, knowing that I will be eating it toasted after that. This time I could not do that because I needed the loaves to look perky and un-toasted for the shoot, and once you refrigerate bread it changes its appearance, losing that freshness glow. So I left both loaves out on the counter, nicely tied in their original bags.
As it so happens, I had a delay in my schedule and did not do the shoot until three days later. Both loaves still looked perfect and, when I sliced them, they were moist and tender just like fresh. That is what using wholesome, high quality and organic ingredients, and doing things right will yield.
Image above: whole wheat loaf, puff pastry cookies, soppressata & provolone baguette, and ham and cheese croissant.
Image below: dinner rolls, which I think are perfect for making amazing burgers.
Image above: basketful of chocolate and lemon breads.
Image below: mid morning pastry display at the Magnolia Street bakery in Larkspur. I make a point of saying mid-morning because everything sells fast, and the was not as full as it would be earlier. It was the only image I managed to capture in that location because the line was out the door, and I could not capture another one from the other side. I will keep trying though!
Time to talk about the scrumptious breakfast and lunch menu board! You can see it below, in an image I captured before the pastries started piling up.
All the menu items are available all day, though they may run out of some of the breakfast offerings, depending on the order flow. Besides the pastries, the breakfast menu includes Ham and Cheese Breakfast Strata ($4.50), Sweet Bread Pudding of the day ($3.75), Breakfast Panini (my favorite) ($7.95), Organic Hot Cereal ($6.50) to which you can add fresh fruit and berries ($8.00), House-made Vanilla Pecan Granola parfait with Straus Creamery vanilla yogurt and seasonal fresh fruit ($6.95), and Bowl of Granola and Fresh Fruit with St. Benoit milk ($6.95). Also available are freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices ($3.50) – which you hardly get anywhere else.
The lunch menu features soups and salads which vary with the seasons, and a nice variety of cold and grilled sandwiches. In these past couple of weeks, I have noticed that the salads have been updated and also given an autumnal flair, and I am looking forward to trying the new ones. Salads – Asian Chicken, Rustic Chop, Updated Ceasar, Roasted Chicken Ceasar, Spinach and Spring – are between $9.75 and $11.50 depending on which one, and a Little Green Salad is available for $6.50. Soups are $5.95 for a cup, and $7.95 for a bowl. Soup and salad, and soup and half sandwich combinations are also available.
The sandwiches are: Chicken Salad, Egg Salad, Albacore Tuna, Ham & Cheese, Salumi, Roast Turkey, Roast Beef and Vegetarian Chickpea, and they are between $8.95 and $10.50. The grilled sandwiches are The Marin Melt – a grilled cheese that includes that divine brie-like cheese called Mt. Tam by Cowgirl Creamery – my favorite ($12.95), a Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($8.95), and a Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich ($10.50).
And then there are the weekly specials, which vary with the seasons, items like the B.L.A.T. (Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado and Tomato $9.95), the Heirloom Tomato Sandwich, the Rustic Club Sandwich ($10.95), the Mediterranean Salad ($10.95) and others.
For the little ones under the age of twelve, there is also a children’s menu.
Not featured on the menu boards, but available every day are also a selection of mini baguettes with various fillings like soppressata and provolone, smoked salmon, brie and figs and others; as well as some delicious open faced sandwiches on rye bread that feature delicacies like heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella, or prosciutto and burrata. I have enjoyed these a couple of times, but have had no chance to photograph them yet.
The menu does indeed sound like your classic American breakfast and lunch menu, but let me tell you: there is nothing ordinary about this food. You take a bite and “Oh-my-God this is so good, can I have seconds!?” will mumble out of your food-filled mouth.
To add to the delights, Thursday through Saturday, the Marin Country Mart location offers what the part of me that will always be in Hawai’i calls drinks and pupus (no, dear autocorrect, not pups, pupus!), which are drinks with small bites or appetizers. On these days, the opening hours are extended till 8:00 pm.
The delectable offerings at Rustic do not end at the pastries and menus either. Each store features a goodie shelf where you will find in-house made crackers and butter cookies that you can purchase and take home: handmade sourdough flatbreads ($7.95 a box) and cheese coins ($6.95 a box) in various flavors, and (melt-in-your-mouth) cookies ($6.95 a box) that come in flavors such as lime, vanilla, orange, chocolate cacao nibs, pecan, lemon, almond cacao nib, espresso chocolate chip and more.
These are beautifully displayed alongside carefully selected and locally produced specialties like chocolate, organic teas, olive oils etc.
These boxed crackers and cookies are also available in most of the local grocery stores like Whole Foods, Woodlands Market and Paradise Markets in Marin; at least they are in all those I have been to. They are also available for purchase on-line through the Rustic Bakery website, and shipping is free for orders from $50 up.
Carol LeValley and Josh Harris, the owners and creators of Rustic Bakery, started this business out of true passion for baking and food. On top of that, they like to select the best quality, locally sourced and organic produce and products for their bakery. The results are self evident: this is the best bakery in the whole of Marin, and it is so popular that it might even have a fan club.
Personally, I am now so spoiled with the quality at Rustic that I very rarely stop anywhere else for my breakfast, and it is also a favorite place for lunch. I am really curious to see what they will create next.
You can read more about how Carol and Josh started Rustic bakery in an article I found in the Winter 2013 issue of the local Edible Marin & Wine Country magazine.
Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, if you are in Marin, Rustic Bakery is a must.
Rustic Bakery Marin – Marin Country Mart by Larkspur Landing – 2257 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur, Ca 94939 l map l ph: 415-461.9900 l open 7:00 am – 6:00 pm daily l ample free parking around the shopping center
Rustic Bakery Larkspur – 1139 Magnolia Avenue, Larkspur, Ca 94939 l map l ph. 415-925.1556 l open 7:00 am – 6:00 pm daily l free parking nearby and along the street
Rustic Bakery Novato – 1407 Grant Avenue, Novato, Ca 94945 l map l ph. 415-878.4952 l open 7:00 am – 6:00 pm daily l free parking along the street
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