When T.J. and Vera Tong Obias, the husband-and-wife team behind Park Slope's new bakery Du Jour, took over the ground floor at 365 Fifth Avenue in February, they were surprised at what they didn't find: a working kitchen. The space, which previously housed bar/restaurant Perch Café, was outfitted with hot plates, microwaves and a "toaster oven on crack" in the basement—but that's it.
Yet the lack of a kitchen actually worked in the Obiases' favor, providing them a huge degree of freedom in tailoring their space to their exact needs. The couple, with the help of their business partner Tae Kyung, immediately set to work designing their ideal kitchen. Their goal? Use the minimum amount of space but still produce absolutely everything on site. As Vera says, "We know how to make all of this stuff, so why would we buy anything?"
T.J. and Vera make the best use of what they have— for example, since they don't have the space for the right kind of oven to produce crackly-crusted breads such as baguettes, they stick instead to soft doughs like brioche, challah and foccacia.
The Obiases worked on the renovation for nearly seven months. T.J., whose starry résumé includes time spent at Morimoto, Gordon Ramsay at the London, and Café Grey in New York, dedicated himself to the project full time. Vera, whose equally impressive pastry experience includes stints at the Dovetail and the second iteration of the Russian Tea Room, remained at her corporate pastry chef position at Buddakan until a month before Du Jour's opening, consulting with T.J. on the phone multiple times a day.
While they worked on the building, the couple learned about its history, finding out from a local milk purveyor who grew up in Park Slope in the 1950s that the space once housed an ice cream shop. Its name? Vera's. It was as if the pairing of the Obiases and 365 Fifth Avenue was fated. "There's a history here, and we're trying to bring a little bit of that history back," Vera said. The couple feels strongly about Park Slope's many independent businesses, and want to do their part to keep those local shops thriving.
As for the bakery's current name, Du Jour, T.J. explained that it came to him one day leading up to the store's opening when he was conducting research by visiting bakeries around the city. He ended up at one that labeled many of its items as "du jour," or made fresh that day. The name was perfect—and it wasn't taken. "Du jour" perfectly expresses the vision behind the bakery: everything is made fresh daily, and some items are actually baked twice daily, to ensure that each product is at its finest when it ends up on a customer's plate. "We're open from 7 am to 7 pm every day," Vera said. "12 hours is a long time for pastry. So we'd much rather do a second bake then let things get stale." One item that's baked multiple times a day is the chocolate chip cookie. "Those should never be more than one or two hours old, max," T.J. said.
The chefs describe their style as a mix between classical French pastry technique and American-style comfort food. "We know our viennoiserie—but we also know our apple turnovers," T.J. explained. The question is, how to make a simple apple turnover stand out? "We make our own puff pastry. That's how we set ourselves apart—with our technique," Vera said.
Already a full-service bakery, the Obiases have plans to expand Du Jour's offerings. T.J. is cooking up an improvised, ever-changing weekend brunch with items such as French toast, biscuits and gravy, and chicken and waffles. He also makes lunch daily, serving a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches. "I cook what I feel like," he explained. And the Obiases are happy to take requests from their customers. Vera plans to ramp up production of her specialty cakes, which aren't yet advertised, but which she often makes to order. "Let me know and I'll get it done," she said. Another exciting development is their recent liquor license. Stay tuned for a brunch time Bloody Mary as well as craft beers, such as pumpkin ale and chocolate stout, on tap.
Click through the slideshow to see Du Jour's sweet and savory pastries, cookies, and more.
Du Jour Bakery
About the author: Lauren Rothman is a Serious Eats intern, a freelance catering chef, and an obsessive chronicler of all things culinary. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.