By Gloria Dawson
Special to DNAinfo
UPPER WEST SIDE — Amsterdam Avenue's mix of bars, barbershops and beauty supply stores is a far cry from Toulouse, France, but the neighborhood is taking a small step towards Europe following the opening of a quaint new bakery.
La Toulousaine, which could have been plucked straight from the city it is named after, is owned by French pastry chef Jean-Francois Gatorze and his Nicaraguan wife, Nora. The couple met in Harlem, where Gatorze had been working at Patisserie Des Ambassades, married and then settled on the Upper West Side. Opening the bakery, at 946 Amsterdam Ave. between 106th and 107th streets, was their very own version of the American Dream.
“It’s the dream. He had it in his own country. Why not make it here?” said Nora of their bakery, while taking a break from her duties behind the counter.
The couple had scoured locations across Manhattan when plotting to make their dream a reality, but much to their relief they eventually found a spot close to home.
"The rumor is that the landlord was holding out for a bakery," said Linda Barrington, an Upper Westsider, as she waited in line to buy croissants on a recent Saturday afternoon. "He said the neighborhood needs it."
“This is a really diverse neighborhood,” said Peter Arndtsen, the district manager of the Columbus Amsterdam Business Improvement District.
The bright pink and purple walls of La Toulousiane are a nod to Toulouse, “La Ville Rose,” or the Pink City. It was in Toulouse where owner Gatorze had his first bakery, called, appropriately, Gatorze.
The croissants are the best sellers at La Toulousaine. It's no surprise. They are perfectly buttery and flaky with a hint of crunch. If you’re in the mood for something sweeter, there are rows of eclairs, sugar brioches and fruit tartlets in glass cases. Atop the cases sit cake plates filled with fondant au chocolates (tiny cakes that ooze chocolate) and madeleines (cookie-sized sponge cakes).
If the sights don't have your stomach growling, then there's the smell of macaroons baking in the back. Jean-François spends hours on coffee, chocolate, orange, vanilla, raspberry, lemon and Grand Marnier versions of the sweet meringue cookie sandwiches. Soon those sweet smells will be joined by the enticing scent of freshly baked bread.
The bread ovens have arrived however the store is currently just waiting on a final inspection to start baking. Long lines are becoming usual at La Toulousaine and it is not hard to imagine what the crowds will be like when the bread arrives — the couple aims to bake up to 200 loaves per day.
Customers can also spend time in the seating area of this tiny slice of France — where there's free wi-fi available. But one customer recently described a downside — being distracted by the baking. Looking up from her laptop she sighed and said, "It smells amazing. I'm definitely not going to be able to resist."
Arndtsen agreed: “I’ve got to be careful not to go broke on almond croissants.”
For more on Upper West Restaurant Month, click here.