Photo by Megann Galehouse
You might think that in a neighborhood as bakery-blessed as Cleveland Heights, there would be little fanfare over a newcomer. From On the Rise and Stone Oven to Luna and Nubeigel, residents of this near-east-side community enjoy an embarrassment of riches when it comes to fresh-baked goodness.
Yet, from the start Sophie la Gourmande made a bold first impression. All it took was one quick glance at the display cases to see that this beautiful stranger was aiming at a different target. Colorful, intricate and flawlessly executed French pastries sit shoulder-to-shoulder with burnished Basque cheesecakes, pistachio-dusted croissants and an ever-shifting selection of savory Danishes that keep customers coming back for more.
But those sweet and savory confections are just the tip of the iceberg here. The designation as a “patisserie café” is an apt one because Sophie somehow manages to combine the unflagging meticulousness of a Parisian bakery with the casual practicality of a neighborhood coffee shop. Stroll in a Saturday morning and the bright, cheery space is an absolute beehive of activity, with small groups enjoying coffee and pastries in the airy dining room. Come midday, midweek and the mood is more serene, with neighbors catching up over a quiet lunch of quiche, sandwiches and salads.
Veteran chef, caterer and culinary instructor Bob Sferra has spent years working to bring his vision to reality. In 2019, he acquired the 1930s-era building on Lee Road that would become Sophie. After transforming the space, he set about amassing some of the most talented, dedicated and passionate chefs, pastry chefs and bakers in the business, who make everything from scratch in the spotless open kitchen.
Following a few preview weekends in April, the bakeshop officially opened its doors in late May. Since then, I’ve barely managed to scratch the surface in terms of offerings, despite multiple visits. The efficient setup has customers working their way past displays of chilled patisserie items and countertop Vienna-style baked goods. Sophie’s savory everything Danish ($4.75) is a delicious work of art. The flaky square pastry is coated with everything bagel spice, dolloped with labneh cream cheese and garnished with fresh herbs. Melt-in-your-mouth croissants come in the classic butter style ($3.50), rolled around fine dark chocolate ($4) or filled with seasonal fruits.
Regular items like financiers, lemon-poppy coffee cakes, and sweet corn pound cakes capped with whipped butter are joined by limited-run specials like the elote corn Danish ($5.25). Threading the sweet-savory needle, the slipper-shaped croissant base is filled with an enriched cornbread mixture, topped with a slender corn rib and showered with cilantro and salty Mexican cheese.
Sophie’s Jerusalem bagels ($4.25), a ropy, non-boiled variety, are tender, chewy and nutty from sesame seeds. Each comes with labneh cream cheese for dipping or spreading. Pair one with a Duck Rabbit cappuccino and you’re good to go.
When hunting for that perfect dessert to cap off your dinner party, you can do no better than Sophie’s ethereal Basque cheesecakes ($10). The crustless cakes are characteristically dark on top, dense and creamy within, and finished with fresh fruits. While you’re at it, grab a few squares of some the lightest, most flavorful tiramisu ($7.50) you can imagine, which star house-made ladyfingers and mascarpone mousse. Creamy panna cottas ($6.75) are sold in adorable glass pint jars so you can see every blessed layer. And for those times when you forget to place an order for that special occasion, Sophie always stocks large “celebration cakes” that require zero advance planning. When you do desire something custom, the attached By Cenza cake studio has you covered.
Just as it does in the morning, Sophie embraces a grab-and-go (or not) mentality at lunch. Guests can select from a short roster of ready-to-eat items like quiche, sandwiches and salads, which are on display in another cooler. The European-style pressed sandwiches are neat as a pin, built on fresh-baked ciabatta and swaddled in wax paper. The pan bagnat ($11.50) is layered with Spanish tuna, tapenade, green beans, egg and harissa. Sliced pear adds a hint of autumnal sweetness to a ham and gruyere ($9). Wedges of quiche ($7.50) – either Lorraine or vegetarian – come with a simple green salad, but don’t overlook veggie-based sides ($4.50) like shaved Brussels sprouts with apricots and pecans, charred green beans with chili, lime and peanut za’tar, and roasted cauliflower with carrot, currants and feta.
In the front of the café is a small retail marketplace stocked with even more grab-and-go goodies, such as biscotti, Florentines, and seasonal shortbread cookies. Like everything else sold in the shop, they are smartly packaged, adorned with the Sophie brand, and sure to brighten one’s day.
Sophie la Gourmande
2275/2277 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts.