Bakeries have had a tough go of it in Platt Park. The Boulangerie closed just last week; before that, its location at 1595 South Pearl Street had been home to the Pajama Baking Company. And Buffalo Doughboy couldn't make it work at 1298 South Broadway, an address that has proven successful for newer tenant Maria Empanada.
The lesson in this neighborhood could be that specialization is required if you want to jump into the baking game. For example, Argentinian empanadas have definitely caught on (Maria Empanada is now working on opening its fourth metro spot), and Duffeyroll Cafe has been luring customers with its sweet and flaky cinnamon rolls since 2005.
So, weighing the evidence, the notion that a Japanese bakery — a niche market in Denver if there ever was one — could find success in an upscale residential neighborhood doesn't seem so crazy, or at least that's what Tokyo Premium Bakery, which just opened this month, is banking on.
The new bakery is the project of Manri Nakayama, who moved to Denver from Japan with the specific goal of opening a bakery. He found the space he was looking for when the Kizaki brothers, who own Sushi Den, Izakaya Den and Ototo, built a parking garage at 1530 South Pearl and included several retail slots on the ground floor of the structure. Tokyo Premium Bakery now takes up a long, narrow space at the south end of the building at 1540 South Pearl, with a bank of windows looking out onto the street, which give passersby a view of both the team of Japanese bakers at work and their customers in comfortable chairs, enjoying hot beverages and pastries.
But is this neighborhood really ready to embrace the unfamiliar? Sushi Den certainly paved the way by introducing sushi and other hallmarks of Japanese cuisine more than thirty years ago, but breads and pastries from the island nation are virtually unknown in Denver. Fortunately, much of Tokyo Premium's output is grounded in European tradition, so baguettes and croissants are easy signposts for navigation, and more unusual creations at least have recognizable forms — golden buns, fruit-topped tarts, petite sandwiches built on long, thin bread rolls — even if a list of some of the fillings and toppings inspire head scratches and shoulder shrugs.
It might be best to start with a cappuccino or other espresso drink before you grab tongs and tray to load up from the serve-yourself bakery shelves. You'll also find matcha green tea lattes beautifully served with leaf-like patterns topping the drink. The latte itself has a deep, almost soupy flavor from a generous dose of matcha tea powder (something the superfood set will already find familiar), offset by just a touch of sweetness.
The bakers here out-French the French, with buttery pastries delicately layered and sporting impossibly fine and crisp outer shells. Japanese culture prefers acquiring skill and knowledge through years and even decades of practice, perfecting technique through repetition. Not only has Tokyo Premium Bakery mastered a difficult art, but the bakers have quickly adapted their products to Denver's altitude and climate. Concave pastry shells filled with custard and fruit resemble tidy bird's nests, while sugar-dusted doughnuts hide the promise of sweet bean paste or crème filling within. There are options for lovers of both sweet and savory pastry, including a sausage roll that looks almost like a bagel dog, only with a lighter bread wrapper.
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In fact, the variety is almost overwhelming, especially if you plan to grab a table and eat at the cafe. Round-topped buns spill scrambled eggs mixed with bacon or sweet corn; open-topped baguette slices glow with a slathering of orange fish roe; pre-made sandwiches bulge with smoked salmon, tuna salad, shrimp and avocado, or the same toppings you'd find on a margherita pizza. As shelves empty, racks of cooling products are wheeled out, offering a whole new selection, some completely unfamiliar to most Western palates. Perhaps the strangest is the koppepan, which resembles a fresh-baked hot-dog bun filled with alternating dollops of creamy fillings in buttery yellow and bold green (again, from matcha green tea).
Breakfast and lunchtime customers will surely find their favorites and return again and again, while those seeking variety will fill to-go bags with an assortment of pastries. Tokyo Premium Bakery also makes square loaves of white bread called shoku-pan, which can be ordered 24 hours in advance on the bakery's website. The loaves are only $4 each and would make excellent picnic sandwiches or French toast.
Tokyo Premium Bakery fires up the ovens early, opening at 6 a.m. every day but Monday; that makes this an excellent place for pre-dawn pastries and coffee before a day in the office. But if you're a late sleeper, you can drop by as late as 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, or 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Enjoy your croissant in peace inside the sunny cafe before taking a box home for the family. Call 720-531-3784 for more information.