Quick...know anything about Basque baked goods?
Didn't think so. But that's OK. You'll do a lot of learning when you go into West Palm Beach's Napoleon Bakery. That is, assuming you can get in. The building is French countryside charming, with outside painted a cafe au lait brown, the windows adorned with red shutters, the staircases and back patio potted with plants and covered in vines. The parking, on the other hand, is a challenge. There is a tiny lot on the north side of the building (hint: you can park on Lytle Street to the south, or on Dixie Highway).
Inside, it's smaller than your average two-car garage. And it's busy. Customers come in by the pair, the group and the family. And while the bakery case dominates, Napoleon is a specialty grocery, with a meat and cheese counter, canned and packaged goods, wines, earthenware goods and paella pans from Spain and a lunch buffet. Oh, and somehow, they've managed to fit four tables with seating in here. It looks like someone carved out a few square feet of a sunwashed Mediterranean village and planted it in the middle of a very American city block.
- The big seller here is the full-size birthday cakes. In a half-hour, a half-dozen plain, frosted cakes came out of the cooler to be hand-decorated to order as customers waited for them. Your average grocery store probably isn't even doing that kind of turnover. And that's going on in addition to:
- The lunch service from the twenty items on the tightly-packed counter: potato and egg tortilla, cod croquettes, rice, chicken, shrimp, salads, vegetables and bite-sized sandwiches.
- The bakery sales of flan, meringue cookies, fruit tarts, breads, tropical fruit-filled cookies and pastries, truffles and small cakes, including Gateau Basque (almond cake with pastry cream filling).
- The deli sales, including made-to-order sandwiches and the house-made chorizo.
- The specialty grocery sales, which includes wine, olives, turrón (Spanish almond nougat), canned codfish, bonita and bake ware.
When Napoleon is crowded, it looks like mayhem in a matchbox, but it's organized, tidy and service is quick and friendly. The staff speak Spanish and English, and can explain anything you don't recognize. Coming to Napoleon is a trip to France, Spain and Basque Country (as the autonomous region north of Spain is known) without ever leaving the county.
Napoleon Bakery, 6619 South Dixie Highway (north of Forest Hill Boulevard), West Palm Beach, Florida. Phone (561) 588-6295(561) 588-6295. Open Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.