It was May 1992. I had come home from my first year at Arkansas Tech to spend one more summer in Little Rock, running the carousel at University Mall to put cash in my pocket and spending time with my sometimes best friend, sometimes boyfriend Jerry. His summer job was at Andre's on Rodney Parham, working in the kitchen.
Jerry would sometimes bring by some of the benefits of working with Andre... usually the corners of round cakes cut from rectangular or square pans. The exotic things that came from that kitchen... like a cheddar and apple cake, dark chocolate ganache gateau... and chocolate croissants.
That croissant was like nothing in my experience. I didn't understand the terms so much then, but I do now - how translucent, cottony sheets of slightly salty, slightly sweet dough could come together around a dark, deceptively lightweight and crumbly barely sweet center of the most delicate chocolate I had ever encountered. By this point in my life I'd taken three years of French and dreamed of going to France for something like this some day. The golden crescent, a closed spiral of butter-soft wool around that almost pasty center, represented something I had dreamed about but never been able to travel and encounter.
I would go back to Arkansas Tech that August, and make Russellville my home for the next few years. Before I graduated, Andre would be gone, the victim of a ridiculous, unwarranted shooting at his Hillcrest bistro. I would be on my way to a future in broadcast - in television, not radio like I had suspected - and I was firmly entrenched in the world of cheap eats.
Today, if I want a chocolate croissant, I have many choices. I can venture up to Mylo Coffee Company, or at Cafe Brunelle. I can find a pretty dang good one at any of the Fayetteville-area Arsaga joints. I've had them at the Paris Casino in Las Vegas and the Leonid Chocolate Cafe in Chicago. I am drawn to them thanks to that one encounter, so many years ago.
However, it has taken almost 23 years to have that memory fully stirred again. And why it took this long, I'm not quite certain.
I was confused.
But there was more beyond that, more rooms, more tables, a bar... a bar? and a perfect little vignette that on a day where I wasn't walking comatose I'd have sat for hours and watched the rain fall on Kavanaugh...
I was at least conscious enough to take my photos. These days, that's almost automatic.
I stopped, did my best to snap myself out of it, and had a drink. That was a good call -- okay, real whipped cream, real foam, crushed ice, espresso, no sugar. I could deal with the Anti-Frappuccino (no, really, that's what it's called) and that made me happy. Now, onto this... chocolate croissant?
It didn't look like the average chocolate
And then I bit into it, and I was once again sitting on that sofa, eating a rolled croissant from a little Styrofoam tray and watching Carson sitting on a stool.
I thought maybe I'd fallen back asleep for a moment. Another slug of frou frou coffee beverage fixed that.
No... it couldn't be.
But yeah, it was. The light, translucent layers. The dark, barely sweet chocolate filling. It may not have been the same shape, but it was the closest thing I had ever had to that first time. And you always remember that first time, right?
And I regretted all the work I had to accomplish the rest of the day, and the fact I wouldn't be able to savor for much longer the essence of that moment. Because for a while there, I've been trying to reconcile a new, changed food landscape in this town I grew up in, a landscape being molded before my eyes and faster than I can hope to document it, while I'm busy trying to recapture and document the history of how it all came to be.
Where was I going with this? Ah yes, chocolate croissants. Get one at Boulevard, whatever it's called these days. And be thankful, food lovers, for this place and Andre's place and all the ones that came before it, that have delivered our city from being overrun with chains and franchises, that have defined what it tastes like to come from here.
Boulevard Bread Company/Boulevard Bistro and Bar
1920 North Grant Street
Little Rock, AR 72207