Alex Grunert is covered in sugar when he answers his phone, as he is for most of the first 23 days of December each year. “I’m making stollen,” he says, speaking of the German fruit bread that’s traditionally made around Christmas time, and for which demand can be relentless. As a teenager in Vienna, Grunert formerly pulled 24-hour shifts, baking 16,000 stollen in a holiday season to keep up with his customers. In Prospect Heights, where the neighborhood’s Austrian population is considerably smaller, he’s scaled things back.
“I’m planning on doing more than 1,500 loaves,” he says. No small feat, considering he’s also the pastry chef at the popular Olmsted restaurant nearby.
This week, Grunert will open the doors at Evi’s Bäckerei, a shrine to stollen — at least from the day after Thanksgiving until December 23, when he makes the bread each year — and classic European pastry. The corner bakery at 635 Bergen Street, at Vanderbilt Avenue, is backed by Greg Baxtrom, the owner of Olmsted and Maison Yaki, who plans to open a third restaurant in the same space next year.
Evi’s, named after the chef’s mother Evelyn, opens on December 18 with a shortened menu, which Grunert will slowly expand to around two dozen items. In the mornings, yeast doughnuts in two varieties — “old and new world,” as the chef calls them — are served alongside coffee from local roaster Parlor. The former preparation, a German krapfen, is piped with milk jam, while the latter is gluten-free. The flavors of both will rotate regularly.
Baguette and sourdough will be available in the mornings to start, but the bakery will eventually do most of its bread baking in the afternoon, timed with the end of the work day for many New Yorkers. It’s a win-win, according to Grunert: His nine-to-five customers get a fresher loaf of bread, and he doesn’t “have to wake up at three o’clock in the morning.” Loaves are arranged on shelves that span one wall of the bakery, also stocked with chile crisps, jams, and other condiments.
Several dishes draw on flavors from the chef’s native Austria. The recipe for his gugelhupf, a German sibling of the bundt cake, is made with thick, boozy eggnog as his grandmother prepares it, while his Austrian sacher-torte cake is done-up with cocoa nibs and gold leaves. Apple strudel, which the chef served in various forms at Olmsted, is prepared here as a whole pie encased in puff pastry.
Good gugelhupf — and krapfen and sacher-torte — can be hard to find in the five boroughs, according to Grunert, and he hopes to give these baked goods a more consistent home than at Olmsted or Maison Yaki, where they rounded out brunch menus or appeared as seasonal specials.
Evi’s occupies one-third of a corner space that will eventually house a full-service restaurant, built by Baxtrom’s father and named after his mother, Patti Ann. The restaurant, his third along Vanderbilt Avenue, is going for something more casual and less expensive than Olmsted and Maison Yaki, he says. It’s meant to be a place for “families and strollers” and could open as early as next month.
Grunert and Baxtrom met in the kitchen of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, while working as the Michelin-starred restaurant’s pastry and executive chefs, respectively. Baxtrom left the restaurant to open Olmsted, as the story goes, and asked Grunert to show him how to make milk jam doughnuts for the restaurant’s brunch menu — and then apple strudel sticky buns, and so on — until the pastry chef was working at the Brooklyn restaurant full-time.
During the pandemic, the pair transformed Olmsted’s private dining room into a general store anchored by Grunert’s baked goods. The shop attracted lines in the neighborhood for its baguettes, which sold faster than Grunert could keep up with, and inventive loaves of sourdough made with red sauerkraut and other ingredients. Some of those items will make their return at the new bakery, though for the next two weeks, of course, they’ll be fighting for shelf space with stollen.
Evi’s is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.