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Toffee, tarts, bear claws, and baguettes are the kind of foods that can inspire an "amen" moment as they take to our tongues.

Food As Art
By Joe Nolan

Many a mundane muncher has been born again, bearing witness to the miracle that is a slice of fresh zucchini bread or the revelation of a perfect chunk of fudge. In Nashville, a number of artisan bakers are spreading the gospel, and preaching a faith based on handcrafted quality, and local ingredients.

You can't talk about artisanal bread in Nashville without talking about Provence. In fact, you can scarcely enter a grocery, cafe or restaurant in town where the bakery's delicious, handcrafted loaves and desserts aren't featured - and quickly sold out.

Photo: Provence bakery.
"To me, artisan means something made the old-fashioned way... ...Most of our stuff is cut and rolled by hand, especially the items that go into the hearth oven." ~David Mosow Charpier's Bakery

Opened by artisan bread baker Terry CarrHall in 1996, Provence isn't just a bakery. With five retail locations, a brisk catering schedule and a Willy-Wonka's-factory-likekitchen " seemingly populated by magical beings that come and go in the wee hours of the night " Provence is a local legend of sorts. Their desserts are some of the best available in town, and their sandwiches, pastas and salads match fresh ingredients, in unique combinations of hearty goodness. If such praise seems overstated, you've obviously never torn into a fresh loaf of the Tuscan bread. However, when it comes to artisan baking, Provence isn't the only game in town.

If you've stayed at a hotel, gone to a school, or eaten at a restaurant in Nashville, you're probably familiar with Charpier's Bakery, Nashville"s top wholesale supplier of artisan breads. "In the last few years a lot of that has changed (in Nashville)," says owner David Mosow, who established the bakery in 1986, "and you see more and more local food, with local ingredients." Mosow regularly employs local and regional fruit, honey and pecans in the tasty treats being created in his busy kitchen, where there is always an emphasis on small batches of handcrafted goodness.

"To me, artisan means something made the old-fashioned way," David explains. "I've been in bakeries where they speed up the process so much; it's not even bread anymore. Most of our stuff is cut and rolled by hand, especially the items that go into the hearth oven. That's what makes us different."

"To me, the phrase 'artisan foods' means a focus on quality of ingredients and technique," explains the Nashville Toffee Company's Christina Cohn. "It means that the people making the food take a certain pride in their work. It is an 'art' to them."

Although the shop is known for its signature Almond Toffee, the Company offers delicious "Barks" as well, and everything is handmade, according to the recipes Christina learned as a child. Since opening in 2003, Nashville Toffee Company has become a hit with local sweet-seekers and has recently moved to a much bigger facility in southeast Nashville and it's clear that the Cohn's will be leaving their mark on the Nashville food culture for some time to come.

"Nashville's artisan food scene is well-established and growing," enthuses Christina. "I am excited to be a part of it!"

"Small batch baking, done by someone who really cares about ingredients, preferably made locally." That's Julie Simpson's definition of artisan food. It's no surprise that her description sounds a lot like The Wild Muffin.

A dedicated baker since the age of seven, Simpson was munching a mediocre muffin in a local coffee shop four years ago when her bakery was born. The offending treat possessed an inspirational blandness that sent Simpson immediately home to her kitchen to build a better muffin. The next morning she took her new creation in to the owner of the previously mentioned joe joint, only to find herself shaking hands with her first customer - after they finished their muffin.

Simpson lays out her business philosophy like a two-lane street, one that supplies customers with healthy, wholesome, delicious foodstuffs, while " at the same time " supporting local, organic growers, and small family farms as Wild' makes use of Nashville produce whenever possible. "You know you are getting quality, fresh baked food and that you're supporting our local community."

Artisan Food listing
Aurora Bakery & Café
3725 Nolensville Rd. Nashville, TN 37211

Specializing in authentic handmade Mexican and other International breads and pastries, the café also offers sandwiches on house baked rolls.

The Cocoa Tree
121 3rd Ave. North
Franklin, TN 37064

Owner Bethany Thouin brings brilliant flavor combinations to handmade truffles and chocolate specialties to downtown Franklin. Don't skip the Mayan hot chocolate, it's amazing in all kinds of weather.

Provence Breads & Café
1705 21st Ave. South
Nashville, TN 37212

This Nashville institution continues to combine high quality with true artisan passion from owner Terry Carr-Hall for a scrumptious selection of French inspired cookies, breads, cakes and pastries at their 4 locations.

Savarino's Cucina
2121 Belcourt Ave
Nashville, TN 37212
(615) 460-9878

This is real slow food. The Savarino family painstakingly prepares each meal fresh to order. Delicious fresh breads, desserts and cannoli's to die for are house-made as well.

Sweet 16th Bakery
311 North 16th Street
Nashville, TN 37206

This is the bakery everyone wished they had in their neighborhood. Bar cookies, cakes, scones, muffins, coffee cakes, and daily savory specials- all baked fresh daily. Operated by the husband and wife team of Dan and Ellen Einstein, they bring an atmosphere to their small corner shop as flavorful and comforting as their food.

The Wild Muffin
(615) 512-6727

Available at Whole Foods Market, Sam & Zoë's Café and area Bongo Java and Fido Cafés.

Las Paletas
2907 12th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37204
(615) 386-2101

Traditional Mexican popsicles, handmade at the Paz sisters' 12th Avenue South shop and also available at Bongo Java and Fido coffee shops.
Lazzaroli Pasta
1314 5th Ave N
Nashville, TN 37208
(615) 291-9922

Tom Lazzaro creates fresh pastas and raviolis in his quaint Germantown shop every day. Also find unique Italian groceries, sweets, cheeses and ready-to- go Italian meals.

Journey to Bliss Raw Foods
The Intentional foods line of packaged salads and sweets, most made with locally sourced ingredients, are available at Whole Foods Market in Green Hills and Cool Springs and the Produce Place in Sylvan Park.

The Sugar Bar

Sells on select Saturdays at the Nashville Farmers' Market, pastry mavens Rebekka Seale and Michelle Branch bring local to a new level by including not only locally grown fruit, but contributing local eggs, butter and milk to their delectable cupcakes and pies.

Shaggy Paws Bakery
510 Old Hickory Blvd #1205
Nashville TN 37209

Yes, even your puppy can eat artisanal foods. While there is no "traditional" artisan way to make dog treats, Shaggy Paws makes each treat by hand with natural ingredients.

Schrock Bakery
Selling homemade breads and sweets at the Nashville Farmers' Market on Saturdays. Come early and be prepared to fight the crowd to get authentic Amish baked goods.

Heartland Bakery
Breads made with care and attention to detail, available on Saturdays at the Franklin Farmers Market. All of The Heartland Bakery's breads are free of artificial additives and preservatives. Owner Laura starts with whole wheat flour that is freshly ground at the bakery every day and sweetened with raw local honey.

Divine Art Toffee

Divine hand-made toffee and spiritually inspired art combine to create this Franklin based business. Owner Paula Hock brings both of her expressions to the Franklin Farmers Market and online.

Charpier's Bakery
Nashville, TN

Wholesale inquiries only
(615) 356-0872