Quiche with grape tomatoes, spinach and dashi custard and sausage-jalapeno pig in a blanket from Norimoto Bakery on Stevens Avenue in Portland. Photo by Tim Cebula

Norimoto Bakery’s storefront in Deering Center is as unassuming as its gifted owner and head baker, Atsuko Fujimoto.

The bakery has no large signage on its facade to announce itself. You could easily miss it, just pass on by without noticing, if it weren’t for two things: its display window full of picture-perfect pastries, and the eager line of masked customers waiting to order at the takeout window.

Norimoto doesn’t offer inside dining, and asks that customers don masks to place their orders. These minor inconveniences don’t matter at all to Norimoto’s loyal and loving fanbase that extends throughout the city, since before moving her bakery last year to Stevens Avenue, Fujimoto also sold her goods wholesale to restaurants including Woodford F&B and Boda. The Deering Center zoning doesn’t allow her to conduct wholesale business anymore, so her bakery has become a mecca of sorts for pastry pilgrims.

Fujimoto is a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker award, competing against four other star bakers from around the country. The winner will be named in June, so it seemed like time to explore some of Fujimoto’s offerings.

Norimoto had 11 items on the menu one recent weekday morning, with a sample of each displayed in the front window. I was looking to put together a savory and sweet pastry brunch meal of sorts. The display included golden croissants, a half loaf of shokupan (soft, white Japanese milk bread) and kouign amann, a French laminated dough pastry that Norimoto flavors with toasted pecans and honey caramel.

My eye lingered on a slice of gluten-free carrot cake with fluffy cream cheese mousse. Then I caught myself gazing at a glistening meyer lemon-pistachio danish, grateful that my mask hid my open, salivating mouth. Then I was just plain staring at a gluten-free French crumb cake, Vistadine, flavored with almond, brown butter and dark chocolate chips. Hadn’t even looked at the savory items yet. If you arrive at Norimoto with a growling stomach, narrowing down your order may be a challenge.

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What separates Fujimoto from the pack is her ability to meld classic European pastries and baked goods with Asian flavorings in a seamless package greater than the sum of its parts. The single-serving mini quiche with grape tomato, spinach and dashi custard ($7.50) is a prime example. Dashi is a foundational Japanese broth, often vegan and made with mushrooms or kombu seaweed. In the Norimoto quiche, the dashi lends the velvety custard subtle umami depth to balance the sweet-tang of the tomatoes and light, sweet green flavor of the fresh spinach.

The crust is the star of the show, though. Flared to about 5 inches in diameter, the gorgeously browned crust was tender yet flaky, buttery and airy, and its superb quality made the entire egg pie feel like a special occasion dish.

I also tried the sausage jalapeno roll ($4.25), billed in the display window as a pig in a blanket. The “pig” here is a slender and mildy spiced sausage that snuggles up to a slim, whole jalapeno inside the “blanket,” a strip of croissant dough coated with sesame and poppy seeds that winds around the meat and roasted chile. The seeds add textural interest to the spicy roll, while the crisp-chewy dough and succulent sausage left me wanting more.

Norimoto Bakery’s strawberry-rhubarb ricotta cornmeal cake spotlights baker Atsuko Fujimoto’s exceptional talent for flavor balance. Photo by Tim Cebula

But together, the mini quiche and the roll made for quite a satisfying meal. I was nearly full and hadn’t even started on dessert. I’d ordered a gooey butter cinnamon roll ($4.25) and a strawberry-rhubarb ricotta cornmeal cake ($6), though, so I had to make some room.

The cinnamon roll was gooey, as advertised, but not topped with the usual white cream cheese frosting you find on many cinnamon rolls. The goo here is restrained, yet wonderfully effective. Cinnamon flavor was fully and evenly distributed through the rolled, pillowy dough, and the top was moist and goo-shiny. This is a cinnamon roll for grownups, with delightful sweetness that doesn’t feel too sugary or make you worry about the dentist afterward.

Fujimoto is said to use the fruit she grows at home in her baking, though she said it’s still too early in the season to provide strawberries and rhubarb for the ricotta cornmeal cake. Regardless, her genuine talent for flavor balance is evident in the cake’s generous fruit mix, which strikes the perfect blend of sweet berries and tangy rhubarb. The light corn flavor of the moist cake itself complements the spring produce without dampening any of the vibrant fruit taste.

My total order would have made a fun, light brunch or lunch for two, served al desko or enjoyed picnic-style outdoors, nothing more needed than beverages and napkins. The takeout window line at Norimoto Bakery moves briskly, and service is fast and friendly. If Fujimoto wins the Outstanding Baker award next month, the line is likely to grow quite a bit; now is a great time to treat yourself to her exquisite work.


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