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Over the Moon 

Luna at Cedar-Fairmount is as sweet as they come

Unless the topic is puppies, I'm not a big fan of cute. But try walking into the freshly minted Luna Bakery and Café without uttering that saccharine descriptor. The petite space, formerly known as Gwynby Antiques in the Cedar-Fairmount District, is as crisp and cosmopolitan as a bespoke suit. Whitewashed brick walls set off gleaming stainless-steel appliances, angular tables, and aged floors.

But the real action is in the brightly illuminated display coolers. A dieter's nightmare, the cases are filled with confections and pastries of every conceivable size, color, and squishiness. What's more, there is always a plate of free samples: small morsels of broken scones or cookies, to get you hooked on the hard stuff.

If Luna looks and feels like a sweet version of Stone Oven, that's no accident. Tatyana Rehn and John Emerman, owners of that brilliant bakery, had been in the market for another shop that would complement rather than compete with their golden-crusted empire. They found the perfect partner in Bridget Thibeault, a pastry chef who had been running her high-end custom cakes biz, Flour Girl, from her home.

While similarities exist, the focus here is squarely on the sweet stuff. Instead of wicker bins erupting with crisp baguettes, Luna tempts tasters with scones, sugar cookies, cakes, brownies, croissants, and pastel-hued macaroons. Everything is baked fresh in the adjoining space, which also serves as the production kitchen for Flour Girl.

Of course, try as one might, man can't live on cake alone. Though Thibeault says Luna is "more bakery than café," there still are enough savory options to promote Luna from dessert destination to main-course meet-up. Offerings are largely limited to panini and crêpes, both sweet and savory. In the morning, they are supplemented with simple egg-based sandwiches.

We stopped in for breakfast on a Saturday morning, eager to sample an authentic French crêpe — the only one available in the area. What we encountered was an experience that was somewhat cramped, chaotic, and sluggish. Orders are taken and paid for at the counter and then delivered, when ready, to the table. Quick-serve treats like pastries are served immediately — a lifesaver given the time it takes to fashion crêpes the right way. Two round griddles, positioned just inside the front door, seem to be in non-stop use. Seating is limited to a handful of tables, four stools at a small counter, and at a series of tables on the welcoming, partially shaded front patio.

We lost ourselves in the buttery clouds of a near-perfect croissant while waiting for our brunch — a delay made longer by a false start that landed one crêpe in the dustbin.

After making quick work of the croissant, we started in on a sugar-crusted fruit scone. Truth is, we nearly polished that off too by the time our crêpe and panini arrived. Built of nutty buckwheat batter and filled with Black Forest ham, Swiss, and mustard, the crêpe offered the ideal balance of meat and cheese. And we loved the vinegary kick from the grainy mustard.

Same goes for our panini: a toasty, melty mix of smoked turkey, mild cheddar, fresh spinach, and avocado mayo. As at Stone Oven, diners can select from various breads, and sandwiches are served with a choice of chips or quinoa salad.

During a weeknight dinner, the crowds were absent but the delays still lingered. This is not fast food, we learned, so patience — and a few quick-serve items to tide you over — are vital. We did our best to reserve the pots de crème au chocolate, served in an espresso cup, until after our meal, but the ridiculously silky chocolate custard defeated our will power. Crowned with a dollop of fresh cream, the dessert vanished around the time our salami, mortadella, coppa, provolone, and banana pepper panini arrived. Filling the role of dessert, then, was a classic sweet crêpe: a dreamy marriage of Nutella, sliced bananas, and powdered sugar.

It may not be speedy. But because Luna brings to the neighborhood something that it actually needs — a high-quality café that's versatile and affordable enough for near-daily visits — it should and will succeed.

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September 23, 2020

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