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Seems there are folks who want to have dinner in a pastry shop and still tell themselves they’re eating healthy. To indulge them, master pastry chef Matt Knio, co-owner of Cannella Patisserie & Crêperie, uses whole-wheat flour in his crêpes, though he prefers the more traditional white flour.

That’s about as far as he’ll go — and really, what is a pastry shop besides an opportunity to indulge the senses? Abandon self-denial, all ye who enter here, and tell yourselves you’ll make up for it tomorrow.

Knio grew up on a cacao plantation in the Ivory Coast and got his degree in pastry-making from the Academie de Versailles in France because he wanted to keep working with chocolate. His own favorite pastry, crouquant chocolat, combines a macaroon base with a purée of almonds and hazelnuts and dark chocolate mousse. His biggest seller, he says, is prince noire (“black prince”), made with very strong dark chocolate and a whole toasted hazelnut.

The shop, which opened April 9, combines breads and an array of fancy pastries sold at the counter with a short menu of crêpes, sandwiches and salads served at glass-topped tables. It opens for breakfast and stays open until midnight on weekends for the post-movie crowd coming from across the street at the Uptown Palladium 12.

Knio creates some intriguing combinations for his crêpes. In the Normandie, raspberries are cooked — combined with apple slices and brie and folded inside the crêpe — and scattered fresh on top. The ham-and-cheese crêpe is simpler but more luscious, with tangy melted gruyere. The seafood Quiberon is a bit chewy — that’s the squid — but the St. Raphael has warm smoked salmon topped with dill-cream sauce, to great effect. Both the seafood crêpes are liberally sprinkled with grated lemon peel, which adds a fresh accent.

Cannella’s sandwiches are somewhat less successful. Since the croissants and brioches are soft and a bit sweet, you should gauge whether the filling you order — chicken salad, turkey-cheese, tuna, and various omelets, hot and cold — will work with them, or ask for a baguette instead. I experienced a lot of squishing out at the sides. A hearty chicken-mushroom filling is best, winning points for originality, taste and neatness.

Note: Knio says that if his breads aren’t just like those you tried in Paris, the weather is partly to blame. Although he works in a humidity-controlled room, just moving the unbaked loaves from there to the oven causes problems. I visited during June’s heat wave, and found some items — not all — a bit limper than might be hoped. Drier weather will fix that problem.

Unaffected, really, are items like a brioche rolled in layers with sugar. For those whose sugar jones starts at breakfast, it’s a civilized alternative to a cinnamon bun slathered with icing.

My favorite bread was served with dinner, along with excellent unsalted butter. Knio calls this creation “gombette.” He uses 60-percent high-gluten white flour and two different whole-wheat flours, producing a baguette in the “old-fashioned, village” style. Crisp outside and soft inside, it’s more flavorful and nutty than most.

Knio’s heart, though, is with the fancy pastries. “I love my work,” he says simply — and he’d better, with a 1 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift each day. His creations feature layers of textures, glazes, fresh fruit and nuts — it’s eye-candy, all right, designed to entice foot traffic in the door.

Knio makes good use of two flavors that are traditionally combined with chocolate: raspberry and almond. One cake puts raspberry purée on the bottom and a shiny glaze studded with almonds on top. He scorns his eight-layer coffee-chocolate confection with crunchy coffee beans because, he says, “you can get that anywhere, even Starbucks.” But he’ll make it, dubbed the “Oprah,” on request, and I was lucky enough to pick up an extra piece.

A blackberry tart is classic, with a fluted cup, sweet custardy filling and enormous purple berries. Simpler than most pastries is a flourless chocolate-and-almond-paste cake, a moist little heavenly oval. Perhaps it’s a tiny nod to the carbophobes.

Cannella uses sturdy No. 6 boxes that are bad for the environment but good at protecting the pastries, so carry-out delicacies are secure.

It would make ordering easier, and more educational, if Knio labeled his wares. But the servers are very knowledgeable about the ingredients of anything you point to, and Knio says he changes his offerings too often, with continual new creations to keep himself interested, for labels to be practical. You may find none of the dainties I’ve described, but you will find enough butter, sugar and flour in classic French shapes to banish tristesse.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

About The Author

Jane Slaughter

When she's not reviewing restaurants, Jane Slaughter also writes about labor affairs, having co-founding the labor magazine Labor Notes. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
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