I first heard of this place on the news. I mentally added it onto my list of Places to Go in Houston, but I never got around to it until sometime around two months ago. My sister and I decided to drop by at around 1 PM on a weekday only to find out that their display case of pastries (what we were going for) was completely empty. Completely sold out. We left empty handed.
What is this place? Common Bond.
My birthday was this past week and one of my friends insisted on meeting up. I suggested this place and – awesomely enough – it was on his list of places to visit as well! So we went. I did a little bit of research and found out that the place was particularly busy for brunch, which is served from 9 through 3 on the weekends. We decided to meet right when they opened to get good parking spots (they supposedly have a small lot) and to finally get to see these pastries of theirs, hoping that first time was a fluke.
No. No, it wasn’t. I pulled in about 12 minutes before 9 AM and there were already 3 cars parked. The good thing was that because I was early, I got a spot right in front of the doors. Not too long after, people started lining up. I was texting my friend who was coming from farther away to see where he was and when I looked up again, the line increased to around 8 people. No. I did not get there that early to be towards the end of this growing line, so I got out and stood in line as well. A lot of people actually starting piling into the parking lot and by 9 AM, it was pretty much full. Interestingly enough, their parking lot is fairly decently sized. The only issue is with the amount of seating available inside (not to mention the line going out the door), it wasn’t enough so many people just end up parking on the side of the streets by the bakery itself.
My original assumption of bad planning on that initial visit was looking less likely. They probably didn’t have a dud batch and didn’t have enough for their customers. They most likely sold out somehow… or perhaps that’s their marketing scheme to begin with – to increase demand. It works. I just don’t quite agree with it, if it is the plan to begin with.
At roughly 9, we filed in and another line formed leading up to the display cases that were wonderfully full. I wish I could have a photo of these gorgeous little beauties, but there was a line (the same one I keep on mentioning) and you would just see, well, a line of hungry humans (the kid behind me was complaining, haha) instead of the pastries in all their glory. It was a slow-going line. There were people taking your orders one by one and two cashiers at the end of the row where the display case ended. If you ordered a drink or something hot, you got a number. It was great and torturous at the same time: waiting for that long, then waiting inside some more, getting a whiff of the wonderful smell of fresh baked goods… seeing them before you and the breads lined against the back wall. I already studied the menu online the night before so I knew what I was going to get: an Almond Croissant for the hubby, a Kouign Amman (pronounced like Queen Ah-mahn) for me, and a Pain Perdu (essentially French Toast). I originally had my eye on the Mocha, but ultimately decided upon a Cappuccino since everything else was sweet. Hubby got his usual Hot Coffee.
At roughly $4 to $5 per pastry and $9 for the Pain Perdu, the total came up to around $24 so it was by no means cheap. However, it had to be good, judging by the amount of people there and the hype around the place, right?
If you were to ask my husband, let’s just say you won’t be impressed. Then again, to him, food is food and it’s great as long as it’s edible. He kept on staring at the people that kept on piling in incredulously, wondering why they would do this to themselves for a couple of croissants. However, I love my food (as long as I could eat them) and I love trying new things.
The Pain Perdu, or a more fancy French Toast, came like I had never seen French Toast. They consisted of three thick triangular slabs of bread that was wonderfully custardy inside. This custardy bread lay upon a shallow pool of a yellowish Vanilla Anglaise with Chantilly Cream (complete with specks of what I presume to be vanilla bean) on the side. It was wonderful. I sometimes have trouble with getting regular slices of bread to soak up enough of the custard liquid to get that custard-like inside and these triangular pieces of bread had no issue with it. Kudos for that! I loved it… my only complaint (if it could even be considered one) was that it was so filling.
The place is known for their croissants, or so I’ve read, so I knew that we had to try one of their croissants. On this day, they offered the Almond Croissant and the Chocolate Croissant (or the Pain au Chocolat, literally: Chocolate Bread… though from what I understand, Pain au Chocolat traditionally has a more bread-like dough, so perhaps it’s not as interchangeable as we think it is now since what they offer most definitely has the flaky dough of a croissant). We like our almonds (and I have a love for marzipan) so we opted for the Almond Croissant.
What can I say? It was beautiful on the outside and decadent as you made your way through it. The layers were amazing (but hard to cut with a fork and knife so we ended up just tearing it apart by hand, like the savage animals we are) and you could definitely see where the pockets of butter were. In addition to the sliced almonds on top and the dusting of sugar, there was also a thin layer of lightly sweetened almond paste inside. Not a lot, mind you, but enough so that you could taste it.
Then there was the Kouign Amman. I originally wanted to get it because I had no idea what it was – nor did I know how to say it… until the guy taking our order said it aloud to me when I tried to order it (“I’d like that, please.” *points at the pastry*). They describe it as a flaky cake (in the form of an upside-down muffin), with dough similar to a croissant but with caramelized sugar all around. I had to try it.
By this time, we had gone through half of the Pain Perdu and the Croissant and was pretty much full, but I needed to have a taste of this caramelized croissant-muffin masterpiece. It is a little more dense than your typical croissant, with a crispy-flaky exterior and a light crunch from that wonderful caramelized sugar. My goodness.
I could just think of how I was actively clogging my arteries at the amount of butter (and sugar!) I was putting into my body. Okay, so note that by this time, my friend had finally found a parking spot around the corner and was standing in a line that never seemed to die down. It was around 40 minutes past 9 by now. He forgave us for starting without him, which makes sense – he technically did tell us to go ahead and eat. Plus, people who were stuck without a table were looking at us because we were eating so slowly. Sorry, guys.
You can’t really tell, but behind the two guys on the left (or, really, in front of them) is where the line is. We got a booth in the very back. At this time, all of the indoor tables were taken up and what was left were the seats at the counter as well as the outdoor seating, but since it was raining on-and-off all morning, unless people wanted to eat soggy croissants and look like they took a shower with their clothes on, they basically lingered indoors until they were lucky enough to snag a table. I have to say I love the interior – open with high ceilings and large windows letting in enough natural light. However, it was also excellent for letting sound carry so the more people came in, the louder it got.
My friend ended up getting the Pain Perdu as well to eat in and bought the Almond Croissant, the Kouign Amman, and the Chocolate Hazelnut Brioche to go.
Quite honestly, if I had a fatter wallet and a larger stomach (coupled with great metabolism), I would totally get one of everything – including the freshly baked bread. Alas… non. I did not. It’s a great place with delicious pastries and unique French Toast. However, it’s not so great in the fact that you constantly feel pressured to leave as soon as you finish (or look like you should be finished) because of all the late comers who are left standing with their goods, constantly searching for prime real estate (or any real estate) so they could park their bottoms and enjoy their purchases. A plus: the people behind the counter seem to know their stuff so if you ask them anything about what they offer, they will have the knowledge. Also, there’s a busboy who is constantly looking around for dishes to clear so you don’t sit in front of an empty plate for longer than 2 minutes. Or maybe he’s to add onto the pressure to leave so other people could sit.
All in all, would I return? Yes, I would. However, it would be more of a once-a-year thing. The lines are ridiculous (I was early and there was still a line), they need to make enough pastries for those who can’t come in early, and it isn’t all that affordable to go regularly (not to mention the lack of parking… with how busy that area can get, I don’t trust other people if I park on the side of the street). However, for that little special occasion or for a nice little treat, why not? Their goodies are pretty tempting, after all. If you haven’t been before, go for the experience and the food, though I can’t say much for their savory selections as I haven’t tried them yet. If you’ve been before… well, then it’s up to you. According to the crowd, I would say a lot of people have become regulars and to keep it fair, a number of them just order to-go and take home a box of the pastries and/or some of the bread.
I do love their napkins, though, which are made of some kind of cotton-like fiber. It’s the little things. We also ended up getting our own to-go boxes for the remaining halves of the Croissant and Kouign Amman, but we did manage to finish the Pain Perdu.
It’s well past lunch time now and I’m still full.