Dough, butter, dough, butter: The meticulous technique known as lamination folds together even layers of chilled butter and dough to achieve perfectly flaky croissants and breakfast pastries.
At McKinley Park bakery Butterdough, these disciplined efforts result in pastries that are as delicious as they are visually stunning. The symmetrical spiral of pain au chocolat crackles beneath your teeth to reveal a dark chocolate core. A crown-shaped kouign-amann sports burnished, sugar-coated edges that hide a tender, buttery center.
What’s lovelier still is Butterdough’s traditional European- and Mexican-inspired baked delights result from the labor of self-taught brothers and co-owners Lalo and Uva Leon. They debuted their bakery and coffee shop this summer after spending more than two years honing their craft and selling wholesale and at farmers’ markets.
The inconspicuous storefront sits just north of 35th Street, on a boulevardy stretch of Western Avenue, where trucks whiz by in a shudder of exhaust and wind. Inside, the gray-washed space with squat, lacquered-wood stools features colorful acrylic paintings by South Side artist Erick Alvarez. But my eyes almost instantly trained on the display case heaped with the day’s baked bounty.
Butterdough’s savory offerings comprise several breakfast and lunch sandwiches, sautéed dishes and a salad. In the breakfast sandwich, hard-scrambled eggs, thick-cut bacon and melty cheddar osmose into springy, mildly tangy multigrain bread. I dabbed the edges in G-Sauce, a roasted jalapeño-tomato salsa that imparts equal parts sweetness and fiery char. Squishy ciabatta anchors a satisfying lunch sammie composed of limey, peppered chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and another hefty smear of G-Sauce.
I admittedly stopped myself halfway through my sandwich to leave ample room for dessert. An achingly moist oatmeal-craisin cookie tinged with warm spices could’ve passed for healthy—maybe. But I’ll happily splurge every time on the almendra cuerno (almond croissant), a diamond-shaped hulk of crisp pastry that’s stuffed with almond cream and showered in powdered sugar and crunchy nut slivers.
Fluffy albeit dry conchas (traditional Mexican sweet bread topped with sugar) beg for a dunk in café con leche or an americano, an easy ask since Butterdough is half coffee shop, with espresso drinks featuring locally roasted beans from Sputnik Coffee Company. A vegan horchata, which was thin yet heady with cinnamon and notes of vanilla, was only improved with an optional espresso shot.
I stood up, brushing crumbs and powdered sugar from my jacket as I headed for the door.
“We appreciate you!” Lalo called from behind the counter. I felt a pang of jealousy that this wasn’t my neighborhood bakery, and immediately resolved to routinely make the 12-mile round trip from my own, leaving a trail of shattered pastry crumbs in my wake.
Atmosphere: At this small McKinley Park storefront—awash in gray, bright blue and lacquered wood—the focal point is the open kitchen, where bakers turn out pastries, cookies and breads from scratch daily.
What to eat: Choose from filled and plain croissants, seasonal danish, tender cookies, doughnuts, scones and satisfying sandwiches on housemade bread. Don’t miss the indulgent almond croissant, which—pro tip—tends to sell out by noon.
What to drink: A focused lineup of hot and cold espresso drinks—like the rich café con leche or higher-octane cortado—and dairy-free horchata pair nicely with sweet or savory baked goods.
Where to sit: Seating’s limited to a handful of low stools and counter seats along the perimeter, but Butterdough also offers pickup and delivery on Doordash and Grubhub.
Maggie Hennessy is the restaurant and bar critic for Time Out Chicago. She likes (real) dive bars and bread with every meal. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @edible_words.