This is “You Gotta Try This,” The Bee’s series featuring one particular must-have dish at a local restaurant. Each featured dish is nominated by a reader and chronicled at sacbee.com. Got a menu item you want to shine some light on? Email reporter Benjy Egel at email@example.com.
That’s what would-be customers tell pastry chef Georgina Valadez, anyway. Were they to brave the Arden Arcade bakery’s gaping windows and white floors, walls, tables and chairs, they’d find one of the Sacramento area’s best breakfast sandwiches in a classically French pastry shop with a hint of farm-to-fork influence.
“We’re warm, we’re welcoming. But it’s very French,” Valadez said. “We’re trying to be (an) upscale dessert (shop), so it’s hard to have that warm feel of sitting on a couch at Starbucks. Here, we want to have that feel, but we still want to keep the aesthetic of having fine desserts and fine pastries and that they look as good as they taste.”
Prep for Estelle’s $6.25 sandwich starts around 5 p.m. the night before it’s served, when bakers arrive to make brioche buns from mixed milk, flour, butter, yeast salt and sugar. A rounding machine forms the brioche dough into 2- and 4-ounce spheres before bakers let it rest, do their own rounding and let it rest again, allowing the dough to fluff up.
The brioche dough is proofed and egg-washed, then baked at 340 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes. Upon order, an Estelle employee slices the bun in half, spreads each inside with Challenge butter and slaps them on the grill next to two slices of madrange ham imported from France by Pacific Gourmet, Swiss cheese from Challenge and an egg from Fair Oaks-based Palm Acres.
“The egg is, like, the best part of a breakfast sandwich, I would say. If there’s a breakfast sandwich that doesn’t have an egg, it’s not a breakfast sandwich,” Valadez said. “But my head chef (Shelby Hallmark) would disagree with me, so whenever we split a sandwich I have to put egg on my half and avocado on her half.”
Each is removed after about a minute-and-a-half, at which point the brioche gets a healthy slathering of housemade aioli made with orange juice. The sandwich is popular to the point of sometimes selling out — about 10-18 a day, Valadez said — at which point cooks substitute a brioche roll or baguette for the more compact bun. Additions such as cream cheese, mustard, tomato or arugula are all fair game upon request.
Esther Son started Estelle in 2011 at 901 K St. and closed that store to open the flagship 5,000-square foot bakery in Arden Arcade as well as a smaller location in Downtown Commons. Son and her husband Carl Shin collected $75,000 from downtown developer Moe Mohanna last November after a Sacramento County Superior Court jury ruled Mohanna had intentionally misstated the K Street building’s size and overcharged the couple on rent for years.
The downtown Estelle serves more hot food to customers on the go; Arden Arcade’s is full of families and elderly people enjoying pastries at a slower pace, Valadez said.
Hired away from Arden Arcade competitor Ettore’s Bakery & Cafe last year, Valadez graduated from Cal State East Bay with a bachelor’s degree in biology when she had a change of heart and enrolled in Sacramento’s Le Cordon Bleu.
“I was actually planning on being a dentist. So I decided that instead of fixing teeth, I’d rot them out and be a pastry chef,” she said, laughing.
Estelle Bakery & Pâtisserie
2530 Arden Way and 615 David J. Stern Walk #100, (916) 551-1500
Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday (Arden), 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday (DoCo)
Pro Tip: For a sweeter version of the sandwich’s bun and a sweet end to the work week, order the Friday-only brioche doughnut. Flavors rotate by the month; October is pumpkin, November will be apple.