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Pembroke Bakery
** 1/2
Out of a possible five

Bakery’s breads pure art

It is not really surprising that the bread was the best part about Pembroke Bakery & Café, the little sandwich shop in the Auer Center for Arts & Culture on Main Street.

Owners Angie Quinn and Steve Nagy have been selling bread for a while at the local farmers markets and know what they are doing.

The menu is simple with homemade soups, salads and hot bean and rice dishes, and basic sandwiches on the homemade breads, which range from standard wheat to sourdough to an interesting cornmeal-molasses called Anadama.

Given Quinn is vegan, all of Pembroke’s baked goods are as well. Pembroke also offers gluten-free breads and desserts and vegan rice and bean dishes. Nearly all of the soups are vegan, although a chicken-based one shows up occasionally.

Quinn promises that there will always be gluten-free chocolate chip cookies available and usually at least one other dessert option, such as a brownie or cupcake.

The best bread I had was the apple bread – a crusty loaf with a moist, chewy heart dotted with cranberries, cherries or raisins, depending on what is on hand. It had just a hint of sweetness and was so good I have returned twice to buy loaves of it. It worked fabulously with Pembroke’s chicken-apple salad, which also contained walnuts, celery and onions.

But that apple bread was at its best lightly toasted with a smear of butter.

The vegan chili was thick and rich with not too many beans and a ground beef substitute that nicely emulated the real stuff. Pembroke also had several hot sauce options for me to add to my liking.

The curried vegetable soup also won favor with carrot, green pepper, celery and lentils. There was not a strong curry flavor and I needed a little hot sauce for it, too.

The black bean soup was also flavorful and, again, needed some kick from hot sauce, but the biggest issue was that the beans were red and not black. But that kind of made sense given red beans and rice was also on the menu board. It was a minor flaw because I loved the soup even more after mixing some of the pea and black-pepper dotted rice in with it.

The market salad was just OK, but its delicious Asian black tea vinaigrette, which reminded me of Chinese restaurant dipping sauces, really lifted it.

All of the desserts were winners, too. The gluten-free options were most surprising as I liked the gluten-free chocolate chip cookies better than the regular.

The only things about Pembroke that weren’t so nice were the sandwiches and, to a much lesser extent, the service.

As is often the case with places that cater to folks with special diets, those of us who don’t have special diets suffer a bit.

The sandwiches were OK, but too much like what you can make at home – sans the bread.

The California sounded enticing with chicken, avocado, onion, tomato and house-made southwestern Thousand Island dressing, but the chicken was mediocre sliced deli-style meat and there wasn’t much of it.

The Protein Bomb sandwich allows you to choose your favorite meats, cheeses and toppings, but I found the pickings slim. Turkey and ham were the only meats, and Swiss or Colby were the only cheeses.

A greater variety of meats and cheeses needs to be on hand at all times.

The atmosphere is nice with a coffee shop-meets-small town deli feel. Coffee drinks and iced and hot teas are offered with bottles of soft drinks from a cooler.

The folks there made me feel welcome and were patient, but they had a hard time keeping up.

There is only one panini press and it can only handle one sandwich, which makes it impossible for a party’s sandwiches to be served together if more than one person orders one toasted.

Although the sandwiches really weren’t worth the wait, the bread was. And I will wait again to get that apple for sure.

Quinn said availability varies but there is almost always apple, wheat and sourdough.

Customers can call in to order loaves ahead, and special requests can be made. For example, the Anadama bread was a special request that found its way to the daily lineup.

Restaurant: Pembroke Bakery & Café

Address: 300 E. Main St.

Phone: 247-7220

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Soup ($2.25 cup, $4.50 bowl), California sandwich ($6.50), Protein Bomb ($6.50), rice and beans ($4.50), cookies ($.75), cupcakes ($1.50), loaves ($6 large, $4 small for regular; $8 and $4 for gluten-free)

Rating breakdown: Food: 1 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter (@DiningOutDuVall) and he can be heard every Thursday from 3 to 4 p.m. on 92.3 FM, The Fort.