I live next door to Danielle Pruett, a pastry chef. When Aaron and I first met Danielle she simply mentioned that she was a baker at a place downtown. “Just a little place, you’ve probably never heard of it”, she explained. I didn’t inquire any further and privately continued to make my way through a long list of restaurants, food carts, and regional ingredients that I wanted to try. I’m no where close to the end of my list. But towards the top of the list there is a restaurant that I have visited more times than any other restaurant in Portland and this past summer I finally learned that Danielle is the pastry chef at that very restaurant.
Clyde Common is not really a “little place”, nor is it very unknown. I’ve taken three different friends visiting from out-of-state to their Happy Hour and on a few occasions I’ve stayed for dinner. The unsolicited Yelp chorus gives Clyde four stars and they’ve received some impressive national press. However, this post is not really about Clyde; it’s about my good friend and neighbor Danielle Pruett – pastry chef extraordinaire.
This is a picture of a huge rolling-pin on Danielle’s oven. She actually uses that rolling-pin. The top of her fridge contains a professional mixer and a cake stand. Her kitchen is incredibly clean and she has an amazing collection of cookbooks, many of the books are family heirlooms from Milan, Tennessee where Danielle’s ancestors were the town bakers. It’s not so surprising that her and I get along so well. My ancestors were just on the other side of the Smoky Mountains in Burnsville, NC.
After college in Eugene, OR Danielle went to culinary school and over a glass of wine she told me a story about finding an old list she made that included her goals in life. One goal read, “become a great pastry chef at a top restaurant in Portland.” Even by her own high standards, Danielle has arrived and thrived at her own goals. I love it when that happens to people. I love it even more when success looks like this. . .
One of the inspiring aspects of Danielle’s desserts is that they have a voice. You will not find the standard panna cotta or pound cake on her menu. You will only find inspired items that are seasonal in their approach and convincing in their flavor. They have a whimsy about them without being overly dainty or cute. I suspect this is what Portland Monthly means when they describe her offerings as unprecious – in a good way. Danielle’s creations go very well with the concept and “voice” of Clyde Common. The similarities are not accidental. Danielle’s approach seems to use desserts as a closing parentheses to a great meal, not a period. For example, after I consumed this. . .
I tried this. . .
These dishes were an extension of the other, working in tandem to create a mood, the apprehension of the Fall season, a voice. When you order a dessert at Clyde, which you simply must do. You may be stuffed, you may be late for your next engagement, but you will want to linger at your table for a moment – not grab your check and dash.
When the desserts come out of the Clyde kitchen, customers around the restaurant crane their necks and ask the name of the dish. It’s so fun. You know what’s more fun? Dining at Clyde Common with Danielle and watching her smile as her desserts are delivered to tables around the restaurant. A goal on a list made years ago, accomplished.