The South's Best Bakeries 2018

Muddy's Bake Shop in Memphis, TN
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

Our favorite spots for fresh-baked treats and old-fashioned surprises.

01 of 18

Back in the Day Bakery

Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, GA
Peter Frank Edwards/Redux

Savannah, GA

It's the flaky layers—in biscuits and piecrusts—that play a starring role at this Lowcountry landmark. But then so does the chocolate cake, which is made with a recipe that came from owner Cheryl Day's grandmother. If Day's husband, Griffith, has pickled some peas that morning, they might make an appearance on the lunch menu, and they're pretty special too. In 2002, these self-taught bakers and home cooks opened their farmhouse-chic spot inside the former Starland Dairy general store in Savannah's Starland District. "We kept as much of the original feeling as we could," she says. Since then, they've written two cookbooks, with another in the works, and received a 2015 James Beard Award semifinalist designation. Serving breakfast all day long, the restaurant offers egg sandwiches on buttermilk buns and those flaky biscuits. For dessert, choose from the incredible Chocolate Espresso Chess Pie, Lemon Shaker Pie, cookies, and more. "It's like a constant bake sale here," Day says. "It's all-American fare."

02 of 18

Baked & Wired

Baked & Wired Bakery in Washington, DC
Baked & Wired/Sarah Culver

Georgetown, Washington DC

Duck inside this innovative shop when you're in need of a powerful sugar-and-caffeine fix. Baked & Wired is helping Georgetown get beyond Starbucks, with lines stretching out the door on evenings and weekends. "We've developed a reputation for making homemade baked goods and artisanal coffee," says the business' co-owner and head baker, Teresa Velazquez, noting the dearth of independent coffee shops when Baked & Wired first opened. Today, it's a successful family-run operation. Her architect husband is CEO; her adult daughter manages social media and is also head of operations; and her adult son runs the coffee program, purchasing beans from the highest-quality roasters and training baristas—a process that lasts from three to four months. Served with the java are family recipes for "Cakecups" and specialty pies, which took some time to catch on. "In this area, practically no one cooks, so it was quite a while before everyone really got it," says Velazquez. "They thought that a pie was something you picked up from the grocery store. It took years for people to understand what real pie is supposed to taste like." Patrons can also choose from zucchini bread, banana bread, pound cakes, quiche, biscotti, bars, and brownies. "We probably have over 100 individual items at any given time," says Velazquez. "There are no shortcuts in anything that we make."

03 of 18

Bing's Bakery

Bing's Bakery in Newark, DE

Newark, DE

Originating in 1871 as Fader's Bakery, this award-winning spot has a heritage as rich as the filling in its cannoli. Under new ownership, it became Bing's in 1946 and now belongs to head baker Tom Guzzi and his wife, Carla. The Guzzis turned to Buddy Valastro, TLC's "Cake Boss," for advice on how to bring the 147-year-old land-mark into the 21st century. Featured on Valastro's show Buddy's Bakery Rescue, Bing's has a new focus on e-commerce and product expansion into area grocery stores. But locals still show up to the shop in person to see the rows of cannoli, the decadent cream pies, and the cookies and pastries.

04 of 18

Blue Bird Bake Shop

Blue Bird Bake Shop in Orlando, FL

Orlando, FL

Located in the Audubon Park Garden District, this Orlando bakery has become known for small-batch sweets, like the Chocolate Chunk Cookie with Black Sea Salt, as well as its Top Hat Coffee, which is made with beans from Nicaragua. Co-owner Jeff Lambert named the bakery for his grandmother, who often baked and told him she would return as a bluebird to watch over him. Cupcakes tend to be the biggest sellers, but patrons have also come to love all the savory items, such as the homemade pastries with crimped edges and tasty fillings of pimiento cheese with jalapeño or sautéed mushrooms, kale, and Swiss cheese. "Not everyone has a sweet tooth," Lambert says. There's a creative lineup of scones, along with whoopie pies in flavors that range from pumpkin to chocolate mint. Blue Bird prides itself on incorporating seasonal ingredients. "Customers understand and appreciate that we bake everything from scratch on a daily basis," he says. "When we run out of something, we're out for the day."

05 of 18

Charlie's Donut Truck

Charlie's Donut Truck in Alys Beach, Florida
Robbie Caponetto

Alys Beach, FL

When Charlie's Donut Truck pulls up alongside The Amphitheatre at Alys Beach, a mob awaits. Standing in line by the converted Sunbeam bread truck has become a tradition for many 30A pilgrims, who don't mind waiting to get their fill of these doughnuts—sprinkled, chocolate-glazed, and even bacon-covered confections that look and taste old-school. "Our doughnuts are much larger than those at most other shops, yet they're still light, airy, and tasty," says owner Charlie Mingus. Charlie's serves handmade, German-style doughnuts that are created with equipment from the first half of the 20th century. The truck delivers from its bakery in Bonifay, Florida, and the inventory sells out almost every day. Mingus teamed with fellow veteran John Smith to launch the business 12 years ago. "All of our products are handmade—they're cut, proofed, glazed, filled, and packaged by bakers, not through automation," Mingus says. "We still make our doughnuts the old-fashioned way."

06 of 18

Collin Street Bakery

Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, TX

Corsicana, TX

A historic town meets old-world, European baking traditions at Collin Street Bakery. Its DeLuxe Fruitcake and pecan cakes originated with founder Gus Weidmann when he emigrated from Germany in 1896. His traditional recipes, along with a robust mail-order business that ships internationally, made Collin Street Bakery legendary in the state of Texas and beyond. At its location in downtown Corsicana, south of Dallas, the shop still sells the round fruitcakes, flecked with green and red fruits and topped with local pecans, as well as an assortment of pecan cakes in flavors ranging from apricot to strawberry. If fruitcake isn't your thing, then try the Texas Blonde Pecan Cake or sample the Deep Dish Fudge Pecan Pie, one of many cheesecakes, or other tasty sweets and treats. A spacious outpost near Waco and several more roadside locations extend the bakery's presence in the state. Vacationers stop in to buy cookies, coffee, and sweets but often leave with a fruitcake or two to take along with them. Shipping is available.

07 of 18

Community Bakery

Community Bakery in Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock, AR

Established in 1947, this Main Street gathering place has changed hands several times but maintains many of its original recipes and its reputation as the best cakemaker in town. The current staff learned from head cake decorator Agnes Bargiel, who worked here until she was 81 years old. But the business has also evolved. "We're really three things: a cafe restaurant, a retail bakery, and a dessert shop/coffeehouse," says owner Joe Fox. The bakery upgraded with an espresso bar and European pastries in the 1990s. "Many longtime residents of Little Rock have come to think of Community Bakery as a local institution," Fox says. "I didn't pick out the name, but this spot really has become a community bakery. It always warms my heart to see such a variety of people here—anybody and everybody feels like they're welcome."

08 of 18

Joe Gambino's Bakery

Joe Gambino's Bakery in Metairie, LA

Metairie, LA

This Louisiana institution, now based in Metairie with two satellite locations in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, has earned the nickname "King of King Cakes" and will ship the Mardi Gras specialty (as well as other signature treats) anywhere in the country. In 1946, Joe Gambino purchased the original recipes and New Orleans retail shop from legendary baker Beulah Ledner. He reopened the business under its current name in 1949. (The bakery moved to Metairie after Hurricane Katrina.) The shop still makes several varieties of Ledner's famous original layer cake called doberge (pronounced "DOH-bash" by the locals). It's a type of Hungarian torte featuring six layers of classic buttermilk cake (with a custard filling between each) finished off with two kinds of icing—buttercream and fondant. "It's unique to New Orleans," says owner Jackie Sue Scelfo, who works as vice president of marketing, Metairie store manager, and wedding-cake consultant. Her husband, Sam, is now the owner, and he's running the operation after working under Gambino for years. Besides its retail outlets, the company has a food-service arm that sells muffuletta and po'boy breads across the Gulf Coast, along with its jarred olive salad and other goods, making Gambino's a household name.

09 of 18

Mary's Cakes and Pastries

Mary's Cakes and Pastries in Northport, AL
Robbie Caponetto

Northport, AL

At this bastion of small-batch goods, you can taste old-time favorites such as snickerdoodles, gingerbread cookies, and yummy lemon squares—all made fresh each day. "Most of the things we bake are treats I grew up with as a kid," says owner Mary Cesar. Since opening in 2006, it's become a go-to spot for sweets and custom desserts created by cake decorator Sarah Hardin, whom Cesar considers the best in Alabama. Officially licensed as a vendor by The University of Alabama, this bakery caters to the spirited Tuscaloosa crowd with such confections as classic iced shortbread cookies bearing the university's well-known scripted "A" along with cakes depicting campus icons. Also find a variety of gluten-free and Paleo options here.

10 of 18

Mi Tierra Café y Panadería

Mi Tierra Café y Panadería in San Antonio, TX
Wynn Myers

San Antonio, TX

At this landmark Tex-Mex restaurant and bakery, the "I Love Pan Dulce" T-shirt is the top item in a gift shop filled with specialty foods and Mexican toys. Loaves of pan dulce—a type of sweet bread—line the display cases, along with artfully made Mexican candies and pastries. Women dressed in traditional regalia fill your bakery box while you wait for a table on the restaurant side. Mi Tierra serves breakfast tacos and enchiladas while mariachi bands play, but the bakery has its own devotees. They ogle the creations of master baker Don José, who has over 50 years of experience and leads a team that turns out the breads and sweets daily, baking by memory (without recipes). Patrons strain to look over each other's shoulders to get a glimpse of the offerings, choosing from classics like the pecan pralines, orange peel candies, and coconut bars (with red, white, and green stripes to match Mexico's flag). The line is sometimes three rows deep under a ceiling hung with colorful streamers, light strands, and foil balloons. "It's almost like being in a Mexican market," says Deborah Cortez, whose grandfather established the restaurant in 1941 and added the bakery (or panadería) in 1955. She likes to compare the display case here to a huge jewelry box: "You open it up and find the treasures." Shipping is available for a limited selection of the Mexican candies.

11 of 18

Muddy's Bake Shop

Muddy's Bake Shop in Memphis, TN
Robbie Caponetto

Memphis, TN

Bakery owner Kat Gordon says that her famous chocolate cake is the top seller—and it also illustrates this Memphis shop's philosophy. "There's no gimmick or super-secret ingredient," she says. "Every ingredient is the best we can get, and every technique is the best we can do." Ten years ago, Gordon was showing houses by day and baking by night. "I was the worst real estate agent ever," she says with a laugh. Then she took a leap of faith to open Muddy's. Now, she has national recognition, a loyal customer base, and two locations. She tweaked family recipes, and customers loved what she was doing so much that they entrusted her with their own heirloom recipe cards. The daily lineup includes treats such as the Cocoa Chanel chocolate chess pie and Frankly Scarlett red velvet cupcakes. "Walk into our shop, and you'll see a cross section of Memphis," she says. "This business has been our love letter to the city. We consider our whole mission to be serving our local community." Shipping is available.

12 of 18

Nathaniel Reid Bakery

Nathaniel Reid Bakery in Kirkwood, Missouri
Nathaniel Reid Bakery

Kirkwood, MO

This upscale establishment makes a pretty sophisticated addition to a St. Louis suburb, which internationally acclaimed chef Nathaniel Reid calls "a very Norman Rockwell type of town." Since his namesake bakery opened in 2016, customers have stopped in for quick breakfasts of flaky almond croissants. At lunch, they sample quiches and sandwiches on scratch-made breads. They also rave about the macarons, which come in 15 flavors, ranging from salted caramel to the unusual poppy flower. Reid brings quite the set of credentials to his shop. After growing up in Missouri and later graduating from the University of Missouri, he ventured off to Paris and attended Le Cordon Bleu. The former U.S. Pastry Chef of the Year, he is a past winner of the U.S. Pastry Competition and has competed at international events. Previously, Reid worked at a three-Michelin-star resort restaurant in Las Vegas as well as other acclaimed resorts. Now he is home. "I love Missouri," he says. "I wanted to come back here, and I'm so happy I did." He opened the bakery with his wife, Lee Lee (also a pastry chef), and says the goal is "to make really tasty, quality food that's beautiful and to create an experience that's consistently amazing."

13 of 18

Plehn's Bakery

Plehn's Bakery in Louisville, KY
Robbie Caponetto

Louisville, KY

A Louisville legend, Plehn's specializes in "Butterfluff" rolls and authentic German breads, along with other baked goods, sweets, and artfully decorated cakes. Stop by the shop, located in the city of St. Matthews, for a loaf of bread, a sugar fix, or a quick deli-style lunch. This family-run business brings its dedicated team of employees into the fold. "If we have someone who sticks around for more than six months, then they're here for life," says Brent Gallahue. He now co-owns the shop with three other relatives of Kuno Plehn, who founded this bakery in 1922 after he emigrated from Germany. "I can't imagine growing up and working anywhere else." As one of the first shops in town to sell ice cream back in the 1920s, Plehn's offers its homemade versions daily—in cones, shakes, malts, and sodas.

14 of 18

Poupart Bakery Inc.

Poupart Bakery Inc. in Lafayette, LA
Gary Clark

Lafayette, LA

A Parisian father and his Louisiana-born son have made this place a mainstay of authentic French baking right in the heart of Cajun country. Francois Poupart emigrated from France in 1965, opened his bakery in 1967, and then passed his expertise down to his son Patrick. "My father is 83 years old, and he still does the pastries," says Patrick, who grew up in the living quarters above the shop. Together, they operate the bakery and a lunch service they began a few years back. Check for the daily specials. Soups on the menu range from a tangy French Onion to hearty B.L.T. Bisque. Try the shrimp po'boy, dressed in an authentic rémoulade. Don't leave without one of the sweets—a fluffy beignet or dense éclair. And take a loaf from the vast assortment of European breads, all made from family recipes. Come Mardi Gras season, locals turn straight to Poupart for their King cakes.

15 of 18

Red Truck Rural Bakery

Red Truck Rural Bakery in Warrenton, VA
Robbie Caponetto

Warrenton, VA

At this acclaimed sweet shop in the Virginia Piedmont, the almond cake features locally sourced amaretto, and the moonshine cake is made with locally sourced hooch. Owner Brian Noyes gets the good stuff from a maker in the next county. "I wanted something that was Southern-centric and very Virginia," he says of the moonshine cake. Fans map road trips around a stop at the original location inside a renovated Esso gas station in the tiny town of Warrenton. "It just turned into a destination," Noyes says. They come for breakfast and lunch, and (of course) for the cakes, pies, and other sweets, including iced cookies shaped like the bakery's namesake red pickup truck. (Shipping is available for select items.) A new location in Marshall is four times the size of the original but has the same character. Noyes started the bakery after 30 years in the graphic design field and trained at The Culinary Institute of America. His new Red Truck Bakery Cookbook comes out October 23, so you can try his recipes.

16 of 18

Sugar Bakeshop

Sugar Bakeshop in Charleston, SC
Chris M. Rogers

Charleston, SC

Sugar Bakeshop is the ideal spot to recharge during a full day of antiquing, dining, and sightseeing in South Carolina's culinary capital. Co-owners David Bouffard and Bill Bowick, a pair of architects turned bakers, departed New York City for Charleston and opened the acclaimed pastry shop in 2007. They curate a wide assortment of old-school sweets, inventive tarts, and pretty cakes—all are made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Actually, the tiny bakeshop is known for its cakes. Try one with fresh lemon juice and zest in the icing, or order the signature vanilla cake topped with sugared blueberries. "We use a reliable base and then riff on it like jazz," Bowick says. A visit to the store is sure to please all the senses. "It's really visual," he adds, noting that the ambience they have created is what makes the shop a special place. "It's just the character of the space and the aromas that come from our baking. Many people are drawn in because they can smell it from down the block." Don't leave Sugar without trying the customer-favorite Pecan Chewie. Enjoy the treats at home: Shipping is available for the bakery's cookies, chewies, and brownies.

17 of 18

The Peppered Cupcake

The Peppered Cupcake in Wilmington, NC
Lauren V. Allen

Wilmington, NC

Freshly crackked pepper and spicy fruit preserves on top of a sugary, frosted cupcake? It works. Tabitha Meready's intriguing concept for a sweet-and-savory cupcake shop turned heads and garnered word-of-mouth publicity when it first opened. While she serves up some classic pastries, curious locals and tourists were lured into her bakery by nontraditional flavors such as Blueberry & Citrus Habanero and Mango & Pineapple Pepper Jelly. Other tasty varieties on the menu include warm cupcakes (served with piecrust crumbles) in novel flavors like Strawberry Basil Cobbler and Blackberry & Fennel. The shop gets rave reviews on travel websites like TripAdvisor, and she recently added a second location on Racine Drive. New to food retail, she has never had to advertise, as the spicy-sweet hook gets customers talking on their own. "People are blown away," she says about the standard reaction to her lineup of creative combinations. "They expect it to be really extreme, but it's just different."

18 of 18

Three Brothers Bakery

Three Brothers Bakery in Houston, TX

Houston, TX

In the wake of World War II, this award-winning H-Town bakery introduced authentic Eastern European breads and pastries to South Texas. Established by Polish immigrants who survived a Nazi concentration camp, the shop still serves the same corn-rye bread that brothers Sigmund, Sol, and Max Jucker made when they opened the business in 1949. "My family's been baking for almost 200 years," says Robert Jucker, Sigmund's son. The fifth-generation baker continues the operation with his wife (Janice) and his Aunt Estelle (Sol's wife). Besides from-scratch cakes and specialty breads made without using any preservatives, Three Brothers is also known for its mail-order pecan pie and the novel Pumpecapple Piecake—a pie-and-cake combo that feeds 80 and got national publicity after it appeared on the Food Network show Outrageous Food. But it's the daily breads and typical sweets that make Three Brothers a local favorite. "Our stuff tastes different," Jucker says. "It's not as light and airy. It's more heavy and dense—very European." That distinction sets apart most of the things Three Brothers makes: the Danish pastries, the brownies, the Rumballs, and more. Shipping is available for pecan pies.

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