8500 Sheridan Dr., Clarence, NY 14221
Web: Ohlson's Home Bakery
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Bakeries Candies Clarence Desserts Ice Cream Williamsville
"This isn't a corporate or an amateur-class bakery, but rather a traditional yet professional place that takes pride in doing regional favorites well. It's a fun bakery to visit."
Old-fashioned charm is in short supply at restaurants these days, too often replaced by crisp service in high-end establishments and either polite or impolite indifference at low-end ones. Ohlson's Home Bakery in Clarence is old-fashioned. It's also charming, once you get past the numerous religious symbols - crucifixes, placards, a mission statement, and more - that start before you've even walked in the door, and continue throughout the quaint ordering and dining areas, which have a warm golden glow. Friendly older ladies stand behind the counters, patiently awaiting orders and filling them quickly once taken.
Their patience was required due to the place's many desserts, which filled enough display cases and tables to make our heads spin - we did two laps, with pauses, just to figure out what to order. Chocolate Decadence? Sure. An Almond Horn? Wow, of course. Pastry Hearts? We had to give one of those a try. They're all inexpensive, a third or half the prices of desserts at fancy restaurants, and that just tempted us to buy more. All told, the list of things we wanted ranged from cupcakes to full cakes to brownies to Kringles, the latter massive, ring-shaped flaky pastries from Wisconsin that Ohlson's makes in a variety of different flavors, each with brown sugar inside. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, but we knew right away that we weren't going to be able to make our way even modestly through one of those.
Everything looked so good - note: good, not beautiful a la Muscoreil's - that we became suspicious: would this be another Delish? We sat down at one of Ohlson's tables with our items and quietly hoped to be satisfied; thankfully, we were. Because it was so rich and sweet, we shaved off thin bites of the Chocolate Decadence, a square with chips on the outside, icing below it, and a mix of mousse and ganache inside - a white chocolate square sat on top. A regal-class delicacy, it mightn't have been, but it was entirely tasty and fun to share.
The item we liked the most was the Almond Horn, a tube of flour, butter, eggs and almonds bent in the shape of a horseshoe, then rolled in sliced almonds and dipped in chocolate at the ends. Intensely almond-flavored through and through, the Horn was finished with a sweet, bright yellow glaze and a maraschino cherry - the only part of the treat that we didn't think was excellent. This was a bigger and arguably better Almond Horn than the ones we've enjoyed for years at places such as Ithaca's Collegetown Bakery; it mightn't be a rare item, but it's a very good one.
A final item we sampled, along with a cup of good coffee, was a classic pastry heart: not quite as perfectly heart-shaped as many we've seen, Ohlson's version was very large for its sub-$2 price, and though the icing was on the dry side rather than gooey like we prefer - some like it this way - the flaky pastry underneath was crisp and fresh, coming apart just as it should have, each piece yielding a lightly buttery taste. Again, it was very good.
For the time being, we're not rating Ohlson's because we've sampled far too little of its menu - there are actually meals to be had here, not just desserts - but we were genuinely pleased by what we discovered there: our sense is that this is neither a corporate-styled bakery nor some amateurish place doing the best it can with little skill, but rather a traditional yet professional place that takes pride in doing regional favorites well. It's a fun bakery to visit, and one that we intend to explore more deeply in the future.
While Ohlson's is tucked away in Clarence, Sweet Jenny's (5732 Main St., 716.631.2424) has been a Village of Williamsville institution for years: up until a highly publicized rent dispute, a business with the same name operated as a candy store on Main Street, while its owner's ice cream shop Jenny's Ice Cream was located next to the Williamsville Water Mill on East Spring Street. The dispute led the landlord to lease the Main Street space to Coffee Culture, and both Jenny's businesses relocated further down Main Street, at the corner of North Ellicott, into the same storefront.
Today, Sweet Jenny's occupies less space than its two stores did before, and though its ice cream area is one of the first things you'll see when you walk in the doors, the selection isn't quite as broad. There were ten or twelve flavors of ice cream to choose from for Jenny's famous Smoosh-Ins - local predecessors to the Cold Stone Creation - and roughly as many potential toppings to mix in. Unlike Cold Stone, which for a while was over the top with songs and catch phrases as it folded your choice of candies, cookies, and fruits into ice cream, Jenny's makes its Smoosh-Ins with a minimum of fuss and excitement.
We were served ours - double chocolate ice cream with Oreos and two types of candy bars - in a plain plastic bowl without being offered the option of a waffle bowl, which we would have taken and possibly regretted. Though the ice cream was a little softer than we've become accustomed to at Cold Stone, the dessert was enjoyable regardless, especially since it was garnished with even more of the toppings once the mixing and spooning into the bowl had been finished. By comparison, an orange chocolate ice cream cone we ordered as one scoop tasted exactly as we'd expected from the name, but was decidedly generous in quantity. Amazing, no, but both of the items we picked were satisfying.
Though the move from two separate venues to one smaller location was reportedly not the owner's preference, it ultimately felt to us like everything worked out for the best. The prior Jenny's Ice Cream location was looking well-worn by the time it was shuttered, and though Sweet Jenny's had an old-fashioned charm, it too had the look of a place that needed a contemporary refresh of some sort. Today, Sweet Jenny's retains the best parts of its prior venues, including tons of packaged candy - old and new alike - plus cases full of chocolate bon-bons and ice cream, all in a nice little storefront. With a little more polish, this place could become as well-regarded as its predecessors were when they first opened.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our Suburban Sugar series, coming tomorrow.