Columbus, Ohio USA
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Pistachio: Short North's behind-the-scene treasure
by Karen Edwards
Spencer Budros and Anne Fletcher
Spencer Budros was in Scottsdale, Arizona, working on his American Culinary Federation apprenticeship at the Fairmont Princess Hotel, when he came to the pastry station.
“I told them not to rotate me out,” says Budros. “I’d found what I wanted to do with my life.”Fortunately for Columbus, Budros decided to move back to his hometown and spend at least this portion of his life as co-owner and pastry chef of Pistachio, the desserts-only bakery at 680 North Pearl St., at the corner of Bickel and Pearl.
The fact that Pistachio sits off High Street, the Short North’s main drag, somehow makes the bakery more special – a destination you seek out, like the treasure hidden beneath the shell of Pistachio’s namesake.
When Budros returned to Columbus with the intention of opening a retail sweets shop with his sister and co-partner Anne Fletcher, a brainstorming session shook out the name Pistachio.
“We wanted a word that would capture the nature of what we were trying to build,” says Budros.
Pistachio, he explains, is an emotional ingredient, one that implies something special and yet accessible.
And that’s the nature of Pistachio. You feel it the moment you step inside the ultra-clean brick and cement interior, and glance at the array of desserts that line its case and its counters.
“I’m pastry-trained, and I’m super-focused on doing what I do best,” says Budros.
What has emerged, ever since its opening in August 2004, is a niche dessert business unlike anything Columbus has seen before. The desserts are made using classic European techniques and using the finest ingredients available. But while taste is an important part of any food equation, it’s appearance that “sells” a dessert – that convinces the calorie-conscious to throw caution to the winds – and here, Pistachio excels.
Each dessert sits on its own colorful, translucent plate, like a fashion model posed before a backdrop. And like any fashion model, these desserts have style.
Budros credits his entire team for the imaginative way each dessert is accessorized and presented. His team, incidentally, is top-flight. John Begalla, Pistachio’s executive chef, and his wife Katie, who serves as master chef of pastry design, left successful careers in Scottsdale to join Budros in his business. Robyn Matthews-Danforth and Tricia Williams are sous chefs. Matthews-Danforth also serves as Pistachio’s wholesale representative (Pistachio makes Rigsby’s desserts, and does the occasional event for Lindy’s), and it’s worth noting that Williams had no baking experience prior to her stint here (she graduated with honors in chemistry), but pastry is her passion, and Budros says he was happy to hire her.
In the front of the house, Laura Steinmaus serves as special occasion and event coordinator; Anne Fletcher, Pistachio co-partner, manages the financial side of the business, and Kelly Sloan serves as retail manager.
Together, this team helps to create desserts that sell themselves before you even taste them.
And you really can credit that to the way they’re presented. Tortes, tarts, terrines and other desserts are sold in their entirety. They won’t be sliced by anyone except the customer who buys them. That keeps the case looking tidy.
Carmelized Pineapple Vanilla Bean Eclair
But if you’re only looking for a bit of dessert, and not an entire cheesecake, don’t worry. Pistachio offers a range of desserts, individually sized and plated. In other words, you won’t find rows of its Belgian Chocolate Brownie or its Caramelized Pineapple Vanilla Bean Éclair grouped together in the case. Instead, you’ll find each dessert presented as its own creation.
Then, the second sales point is made. These desserts are dressed. If you think whipped cream and a maraschino cherry “makes” a sundae, you’ll swoon over the imaginative ways Pistachio decorates its desserts. There are flecks of gold leaf here and a lacy sugar wafer there. The Caramelized Pineapple Éclair, for example, sits on a plate with a tiny pineapple and a caramelized banana at a rakish angle.
On the counter, the cookies, biscotti, truffles and French macaroons – Pistachio is one of the few bakeries in the country that even attempt to make this delicate cookie – are presented in baskets and trays and even under glass.
Attention to detail
The impression is that you’ve stumbled onto a place that cares deeply about its product and leaves no detail – however small – unattended.
That impression is more lasting for those who choose to dine in. There isn’t a lot of room in Pistachio for diners. On Gallery Hop nights, Budros has even taken to seating people in his immaculate kitchen, but if you can corral one of the three or four tables (or the kitchen in a pinch), you’ll find the dine-in experience worth it. That’s because the dessert will arrive at your table on a plate that’s as embellished as the dessert. It may be random dribbles of caramelized sugar; a long, thin chocolate twig lying alongside the dessert; a dusting of cocoa powder, or a macadamia nut sitting amid a few flakes of toasted coconut, but whatever it is you’ll find it adds subtly to the dessert’s appeal.
Chambord Manjari Seuilletine
Of course, if it didn’t taste as good as it looked, Pistachio wouldn’t be around long – but no problem here. Each dessert lives up to its image.
Budros says most of the core ingredients for his desserts are imported from European distributors, but some of the products are purchased locally, including from the North Market.
Flavors here are intense and rich. Bursts of citrus, almonds, figs, ginger, espresso – the list of tastes is endless and seasonal. Incredibly, Pistachio uses eight grades of chocolate in its chocolate desserts.
“We offer 160 different items, and we never replicate design or flavor,” Budros says.
That means if rosewater is used to flavor one dessert, it won’t be used in any other. And it means that the Chai Milk Chocolate Truffle will be made with a different kind of chocolate than the one that goes into the Grand Marnier Tanzanie Cocoa Pod.
“You can eat the items side by side and be able to taste the difference,” says Budros. “Even though they’re both chocolate, they’re completely different desserts.”
Roasted Berry Cheesecake with Blue Corn Crust
Budros and his team create an ever-changing menu, which adds to the Pistachio allure. Because you’re never sure what you’ll find when you walk through its doors, it becomes a place to frequent – for the sheer joy of discovery, as much as to indulge in what awaits. Pistachio changes with the season – and on whim."
“Sometimes John or I will come in and decide to make something we’ve dreamt up the night before,” says Budros.
That sort of spontaneity keeps selections from becoming stagnant, but it also reflects the sheer joy that’s brought to the baking process. If there is one thing that enhances the enjoyment of a Pistachio dessert, it’s knowing that the kitchen had as much fun making it as you did eating it.
With spring approaching, Budros says customers can expect to find more root vegetable-based desserts on the menu – like their Parsnip Torte with Orange Blossom Cream Cheese. Anyone can make a carrot cake. It takes basic food knowledge, however, to recognize that parsnips closely resemble carrots, then to use the imagination and skill to turn them into a dessert of their own. Rhubarb will make an appearance this spring, as will the delicate spring herbs, including lavender. With summer comes fruit, of course, and with fall the traditional tastes of apple and pumpkin.
Don’t expect Pistachio to produce any special holiday dessert, though. “We look at the seasons themselves, not the holidays,” says Budros.
To the dessert shop’s credit, no customer ever walks away, disappointed that their favorite dessert is no longer being made.
“People have come to trust us,” says Budros – in terms of quality and flavor combinations. “And they enjoy the variety,” he adds.
Maybe that’s what the Short North gives back to Pistachio – an eager willingness to experiment, an appreciation of diversity, a respect for the aesthetic.
Budros says he looked at other Columbus locations, but from the beginning, he had his heart set on the Short North.
“I’ve always loved the area, and the people who are in business here,” he says.
Like many of the area’s gallery owners, Budros is something of an artist himself. He dabbles in pastels, producing abstract graphic art, some of it food related.
His proudest art possession, however, may be the bronze sculpture of a pistachio that sits in the shop’s front window. “Tom Hawk helped me procure that,” he says. “It’s one of four, and this one comes from the artist’s personal collection.”
A limited edition
In a sense, Pistachio is also a limited edition. Budros calls his shop unique, an experience you can’t find anywhere else, not even in New York. And there won’t be another Pistachio in Columbus. The Short North community complements his business, Budros says, and he hopes his business complements the Short North. It’s a symbiotic relationship that would be difficult to duplicate elsewhere.
But that doesn’t mean Budros doesn’t dream of expansion. His Pearl Avenue shop may not grow any more space, but he is quietly investigating the prospect of taking his desserts-only concept to the next step.
“We need a dining room,” he says simply – an after-dinner place where customers can sit and enjoy their desserts without competing for chairs. Here, also, would be an opportunity for customers to learn how to pair desserts with a fine dessert wine.
Pistachio sells such wines now – champagnes and sparkling wines, along with an impressive selection of ice wines. Also for sale are premium teas, imported water, and even the dessert plates which serve as exhibit space for the shop’s creations.
“People asked us where we got our plates,” says Budros, so the shop began selling them.
Call it selling a lifestyle, or, at least, a home entertaining style. Pistachio is about quality, style, and taste, but it’s also about having fun.
“I want people to come to Pistachio for the complete experience,” says Budros. “It’s more than the food or the service. It’s the intangibles as well.”
Intangibles, by definition, are hard to describe, but you understand Budros’s intent the moment you step inside Pistachio’s doors. You can’t help but feel a sense of integrity, a sense of creative adventure and culinary joy, a sense that you’ve discovered one of those treasures of which the Short North and Columbus can be justifiably proud.
But more than anything else, you discover a place you want to be – again and again and again. And it doesn’t get any sweeter than that.
Pistachio, 680 N. Pearl St., is open Tuesday - Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 9am-5pm. Call 614-220-9070 or visit www.pistachiosweets.com
©2006 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.