Bread and pastry, long-established in the food traditions of so many cultures and nations, have recently become less desirable for some diners. Whether it’s paleo this, keto that, or gluten-free everything, it sometimes seems like cauliflower and chickpeas rule the day. As wonderful as vegetables and legumes are, they’re not the same as grains, making it a refreshing change to find an unabashedly traditional French pastry shop in the Uptown neighborhood of Phoenix. JL Patisserie is a second location building upon the success of an original store in Scottsdale.
The “JL” in the shop’s name stands for Jenna Leurquin, whose roots are actually next door to France in Belgium. After some training in France itself, the baker settled here and built her business. The central Phoenix shop, situated in a vintage shopping center on Central Avenue, is halfway between the light rail stations at Camelback and Campbell. Bike racks are found throughout the plaza, with one just a few doors down from JL’s entrance. A few tables outside provide a view of passing trains on Central, although they offer little shade much of the year.
The interior is open and airy with abundant light from windows facing Central. Tables are scattered throughout the dining room, and customers often linger over croissants and coffee, filling the space with conversation. Guests order meals or baked goods to take home at the counter, and the nearby display cases are full of fresh pastry, most of it with a French influence. Classic croissants are buttery, rich, and flaky in all the right proportions. There are the expected variants in terms of croissants stuffed with chocolate, almond paste, or ham and cheese.
A less common but highly successful match of flavors is found in JL’s chocolate pistachio croissants. The dark chocolate and green pistachio paste found within might seem an unlikely pairing, but they work surprisingly well in creating a sweet, nutty pastry. The combination recurs in a flourless chocolate cake with layers of dark chocolate mousse and pistachio custard. The use of nuts as more than just an accent is also evident in the shop’s version of carrot cake, which relies on a pecan flour, and its pear pie, which is filled with almond cream and fruit.
Beyond the classic croissant shape, JL uses its dough in a number of other creations suitable for a continental breakfast, snack, or dessert. A kouign amann (pronounced like “queen amann”) is built upon dough folded with sugar. The end result is a sort of roughly circular pastry with a caramelized top. JL’s morning buns are shaped like muffins with a dusting of cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla to add a bit of spice. Cinnamon rolls at JL are fragrant and indulgent and are sold not only for on-site consumption, but also in packages designed to be baked at home.
For a Champs-Élysées cafe experience adapted for Central Avenue, any of these pastry treats can be enjoyed with a coffee or tea beverage. JL’s Uptown location offers the usual assortment of espresso drinks along with tea-based beverages such as a matcha latte and a London fog tea latte. Also found at this location are whole baguettes and loaves of sourdough bread, cookies, cakes, pies, and macarons in multiple flavors. All of these items can be packaged to go home, but JL also has salads, quiches, and sandwiches best enjoyed on site for a light meal.
These items can vary in their availability depending on the restaurant’s staffing on any given day, so it’s best to approach the shop with a bit of flexibility or to call ahead. Several soups, including tangy tomato, rich butternut squash, and earthy mushroom varieties, have all recently been discontinued. While the loss of these items is unfortunate, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff if the result is a bit more predictability in terms of the rest of the menu being offered on a consistent basis. Even with the soups off the table for now, the remaining choices offer ample possibilities.
A simple grilled cheese sandwich is thoroughly satisfying whether constructed on baguette or bread made with spelt, a relative of wheat with a nuttier taste. With sliced ham, that sandwich becomes a classic jambon fromage, the French version of ham and cheese. A caprese sandwich is a flavorful meatless item with pesto, greens, balsamic vinegar, and sliced tomato layered with fresh mozzarella. Avocado and lox toasts function essentially as open-faced sandwiches with two slices of bread, toppings, and copious spring mix on the plate.
The mesclun greens on those plates also function as the basis for two entree salads: a JL Caesar and an apple feta salad. As for the toast, the simplest preparation possible is just plain slices of gently browned bread with a bit of jam on the side, and JL offers that option too. Another item that seems well-suited to a role as a light breakfast choice is a parfait of granola, yogurt, and assorted berries. For a non-pastry dessert, the Belgian tiramisu, sized for one in a moderate serving, offers nuanced layers of chocolate, coffee, and cream flavors.
JL does not have a liquor license but supplements its menu of coffee beverages with iced tea and lemonade. There’s also a rich hot chocolate for anyone seeking something warming but not caffeinated. To be sure, there are some people with good reasons to avoid or minimize the presence of wheat in their diet, and JL has a listing of items that are naturally gluten-free on its website. Nevertheless, the shop celebrates bread and pastry. With the addition of sandwiches and salads, it’s a place to stop for baked goods and a lunch that leaves room to enjoy them.
4700 N. Central Ave. #121, Phoenix AZ 85012