Uptown's Ba Le bakery expands next door

November 10, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Ba Le Bakery and Cafe moved about 10 feet from its original location at Broadway and Argyle. But that short distance means a larger space- and room to expand its menu.

If a sandwich is to be taken seriously, the quality - and freshness - of the bread is paramount. At Ba Le Bakery and Cafe in Uptown, which recently moved to a larger space next door to their original location, the signature French bread is baked by the thousands every day.

"Originally, when the French occupied Vietnam, we ate their bread just plain. Eventually we started bringing our culture into it by sandwiching it with some of the flavors that we're used to and familiar with," said Julia Pham, co-owner of Ba Le. "Like the different types of meats and vegetables, like the pickled daikon and carrots.. cilantro. And we like spiciness, so we added the jalapeno," she said.

The sandwiches are called banh mi, and they come in a variety of combinations. Barbequed pork marinated with lemongrass is popular, as is the Ba Le Special that contains pate and mayo-painted bread, slices of ham, headcheese and pork roll (essentially a Vietnamese bologna). The pickled daikon radish and carrot add necessary crunch; other options include fresh cilantro and sliced jalapenos. A shot of soy sauce and fish sauce add a jolt of salty balance.

Another popular snack is a traditional Vietnamese spring roll, made fresh daily.

"They're called goi cuon. It's a spring roll, which is basically a salad with vermicelli rice noodles. And its got mint, cilantro, basil, and we wrap it up in rice paper. Typically it has shrimp and pork in it, and you dip it in a peanut sauce," Pham said.

Since they moved to this larger space, they've also added a number of desserts and baked goods to the menu. A vast array of sweet gelatin and custard options await in an enormous refrigerated case while homemade fruit tarts and bite-sized financiers change frequently.

"We decided to experiment with some of the pastries so that you can get variety. You can get a rice pudding, you can get sweet, sticky rice - and you can also get a tart," said Pham.

Because they do so much volume in the tiny store, the prices at Ba Le are more than reasonable. Most sandwiches cost between $3 and $5.

Ba Le Bakery and Cafe
5016 N. Broadway St.

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