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Boston breakfasters have it good. We've already noted how Joanne Chang's Flour Bakery churns out killer baked goods, like the incomparably gooey Sticky Sticky Buns. And across town is Clear Flour Bread, a tiny Brookline bakery famous for classic Italian breads and French pastries--and the mouthwatering oven fumes wafting down the block.

Two Boston bakeries, two similar names: They invite comparison! Each one has a loyal following, and the long weekend lines to prove it. It's hard to appoint either of these the best bakery in town. But each one has specialties that can't be beat.

Flour Bakery: Oh, So Gooey

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We've shown you Flour Bakery's Sticky Sticky Buns, doused in chef Joanne Chang's trademark brown sugar-caramel "Goo," but it's hard to resist another look. Bobby Flay couldn't beat them. Latecomers won't find them--the buns fly off shelves so quickly that regulars show up right when the shop opens, or even call ahead to reserve theirs in the back. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a sweeter, stickier, Goo-ier pastry anywhere.

20080912poptart.jpgThis is where Flour Bakery excels: anything creative and sugary, treats that would bring a smile to the face of any kid (or any incurable sweet tooth). Upgraded jam-filled "Pop Tarts," berry bread pudding, an apple-stuffed coffee cake--all of these rival the Sticky Stickies for sheer sugar-rush bliss.

Flour's baguettes and croissants, it should be noted, are skillfully made and undeniably tasty. But they're not the best things on the menu--nor the best of their kind in town.

Flour Bakery

1595 Washington Street, Boston MA 02118 (map)
617-267-4300

Clear Flour Bread: Tried and True

20081118case.jpgTucked on a residential side street away from Commonwealth Avenue traffic is Clear Flour Bread, a petit boulangerie that could be easily overlooked were it not for the lines (and delicious smells!) spilling from the door. This is no neighborhood café. Inside, there's nowhere to sit, and hardly any standing room--every square foot is devoted to ovens, kneading counters, and bread displays. Don't expect a cappuccino.

But if you're looking for fresh baked breads and pastries, you've found the right place. Clear Flour's French, Italian, and German loaves turn up in top Boston restaurants like Oleana, as well as local Whole Foods stores. And the owner-bakers, husband and wife Abe Faber and Christy Timon, are proud members of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, joining the likes of La Brea Bakery and Amy's Bread.

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Of more interest to the breakfast-eaters, however, might be the rack on the left: a well-stocked tower of croissants and brioche, morning buns and muffins. The pain au chocolat are small and oven-bronzed, with a crispy outer shell that curves into dozens of flaky layers while the pastry inside stays flaky and light. Their morning buns marry the same perfect croissant dough with just enough cinnamon and sugar, which crusts into caramel on the bottom. The brioche dough in their finger-shaped brioche aux gouttes de chocolat is tender and pleasantly yeasty, delicious even without its bands of chocolate. And their rustic fruit tarts--while not strictly breakfast--might tempt you into a morning treat: The crust is flaky, not crumbly, forming a nest for a tangy cranberry-raspberry or a sweet apple filling.

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Clear Flour doesn't match the sugar-fueled whimsy of Flour Bakery, and there's no espresso machine or lunch menu in sight. But the classic brioche and croissants would make any pâtissier proud.

Clear Flour Bread

178 Thorndike Street, Brookline MA 02446 (map)
617-739-0060

So we have our two starring flour-centric shops: Flour Bakery's gooey baked goods and Clear Flour Bread's standout breads and French pastries. Either one makes for a memorable breakfast. Bostonians, what did we miss? Where do you get your pastries?

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