Cupcakes. Macarons. Doughnuts. Over the past few years, the Washington area has seen a succession of bakeries that specialize in one trendy treat or another. When Meredith Tomason decided to open her own shop, she took inspiration from the kind of all-purpose bakery that she grew up with.
"That's something we've really gotten away from," Tomason, 35, says. "I like the idea of having a variety."
At her new RareSweets in CityCenter, the wide-ranging menu includes biscuits, doughnuts, cakes (mini and by the slice), cookies, bars, ice cream and sorbet. With her opening, as well as such recent additions to the scene as Mark Furstenberg's Bread Furst in Van Ness and Tiffany MacIsaac's Buttercream Bakeshop pop-up, Tomason thinks a return to the more traditional bakery model is under way.
"The goal here was to kind of say what's old is new again," says Tomason, who searches for recipe inspiration in her vast collection of old American cookbooks. The shapes etched into the shop's wood trim echoes a pattern in one of her books. Cake stands converted into lights add another vintage touch to the space, accented with pops of yellow in the decor.
The open design also lets customers watch Tomason and her staff at work. The idea was "to have everything happen in front of you." On opening day Monday, bakers were busy chopping beets for the red velvet cake, shaping cookies and pouring cake batter into pans.
Tomason comes to CityCenter after a tenancy at Union Kitchen, the commercial kitchen and culinary incubator in Northeast.
"Being there was really lovely," she says, crediting her residency with helping her open her own place faster. RareSweets is highlighting the work of some of her former co-tenants at Union Kitchen, including Thunder Beast Root Beer and Runningbyrd Tea.
Lovely as it was, she won't deny that she's thrilled to have moved on. The bigger space will also allow RareSweets to expand its wholesale business.
As to its drop-in business, we stopped by a few hours after opening to conduct some, ahem, "research." Our taste test indicated no first-day jitters. We swooned over the pristine mini red velvet cake. In truth, it was more brown than red, thanks to the cake's natural coloring from beets, which imparted an earthy flavor that nicely offset the sweet and tangy frosting.
We had no complaints either about the large, buttery sugar cookie and brown butter blondie that boasted the right balance of toffee and salty notes. Even a leftover cheddar biscuit from breakfast service satisfied our tasters, who complimented its fluffy texture and visible layers.
"It's more juggling," Tomason admits of the large roster of baked goods. But she thinks it will teach her staff a lot. Plus, "I think it makes it more fun."
RareSweets, 963 Palmer Alley, entrance along 10th Street between H and I streets NW. 202-499-0077. www.raresweets.com. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.