The Saratoga Region of northeastern New York is blessed with some fantastic produce, excellent variety and quality of meats, amazing cheeses and fine artisanal food producers and restaurants, but is there a greater local treasure when it comes to things culinary than the London Family, owners and operators of Mrs. Londons Bakery and Cafe and the adjacent Max London's Restaurant & Bar?
In Issue No. 100 of Saveur magazine, Darra Goldstein called Michael London "America's Greatest Baker." While it is impossible to prove or disprove that assertion, it is clear that he and his wife, Wendy, are right there at the pantheon of classic pattiserie as well as bread baking. From croissants to chocolate babka to apple crostate to cannelé to Brittanys (kouign-aman) to chocolate mousse cake and many more, the quality of the pastries is second to none in the United States and on a par with the best in France. Few traditional patissiers anywhere can beat the Londons.The difference is that in France, one can find great cannelé at one baker, great croissants at another and great kouign-aman at yet another, but rarely if at all can one find all three and other things in one place. Their breads are so good, Jeffrey Steingarten, the legendary food writer, made a pilgrimage to Greenwich to learn the secrets of bread making from Michael, described in the opening essay of his seminal book, The Man Who Ate Everything. In addition, Michael London taught Ari Weinzweig and the bakers at the famous Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan how to bake bread. In short, when it comes to baked goods, the Londons provide amazing quality and variety to the Saratoga community and beyond that would be the envy of anywhere.
Then there is Max London's Restaurant and Bar, which may be the best overall and most consistent restaurant in the North Country. Max London, the restaurant's chef is the son of Michael and Wendy. He provides a great mix of well-prepared comfort foods from the Mediterranean tradition including small plates from Spain, wood-fired pizzas and pastas from Italy and hearty dishes from France along with an eclectic and fairly priced wine list, traditional and creative cocktails and desserts by Wendy London. Additionally, one finds competent but relaxed service and a modern, comfortable interior. Better yet, they do a great job of supporting the local agricultural community by utilizing much of the best the area has to offer.
I ate at Max's last night with my two youngest sons while my wife went to pick up our eldest. The food and conviviality were as wonderful as always. My nine year old wolfed down his order of mussels as well as a loaf of bread to sop up the delicious sauce. We also shared garlic shrimp, crispy-on-the outside-but-oozy-in-the-middle sausage and pumpkin croquetas, a crudo, squid and cous cous salad, pizza Margarita and a couple of orders of pheasant in a cazuela with white beans, spinach and duck confit. The pheasant was incredibly rich, moist, deep and delicious – perfect for a cold late autumn evening. Wendy's desserts were just as soul warming as the rest of the dinner.
Since this is a special time of the year for reflection and being thankful for all the good around us, I am thankful that there are people like the Londons who take pride in what they do and who add so much to the community they live in.