Back to Basics: SoNo Baking Company Delights Fairfield County with Old-Fashioned Favorites
If the layers in croissants are an indication of how successful one’s business is, then SoNo Baking Company must be thriving. The 12-year-old bakery, founded by owner and Brooklyn native John Barricelli, brings old-fashioned, high quality breads and pastries to Fairfield County. Like many bakery owners, Barricelli does not work a typical 9-to-5. His day usually starts around 2am and lasts for 12-18 hours. Bakers fill the 4,800 square-foot space, folding, cutting, rolling, proofing, and (of course) tasting.
Customers are greeted by a friendly and intimate space. Several tables offer seating for guests staying to eat their morning croissant. A full breakfast and lunch menu has everything from traditional breakfast muffins and pastries, a full espresso bar, and lighter salads and soups, to SoNo’s acclaimed loaf breads, baguettes, soft pretzels, and focaccias.
SoNo is not just limited to breads and muffins; their breakfast and lunch business is bustling, offering a full menu of freshly made paninis, soups, salads, and sides made using ingredients from local farms. Dishes like Curry Shrimp with Thai Peanut Sauce, Sautéed Onion and Olive Focaccia, Grilled Skirt Steak over Arugula and Tomatoes, and Salmon over Leeks are juicy, incredibly flavorful, and offer a savory, locally-sourced counterpart to their baked selections.
Before pursuing his culinary career, Barricelli worked as a teenager at the River Café in Brooklyn, where he remembers spending each morning peeling and de-veining 30 lbs. of shrimp. Barricelli went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America and followed in the footsteps of his great-grandfather and grandfather, both of whom emigrated from Italy and moved to Brooklyn to work as bakers. Although he never baked professionally with them, Barricelli credits their baking prowess and affinity for early mornings – both of which he has clearly inherited – to his current success.
While their breads are stand-out items on the menu, Barricelli’s baking background also lends itself to SoNo’s sweeter treats. Their Cranberry and Walnut Biscotti are soft and nutty, flourless chocolate tortes balance a rich flavor without being at all dense, and coconut macaroons are chewy and sweet. Fresh fruit pies and in-house jams utilize locally-grown berries and other seasonal offerings.
Barricelli is committed to baking bread the old-fashioned way: everything is done by hand and SoNo makes all of the dough in-house so that the flavor is consistent. Different bakers take turns shaping and sizing the dough for various pastries and breads, and Barricelli says that he can tell who has made what pastry that day. “Like an artist, everyone has their individual strokes.”
SoNo’s croissants take three days to make: one day for making the dough, the second day for laminating (alternating the mix into layers of dough and butter), and the third day is for the actual baking. Barricelli’s dedication to an old-fashioned style of baking isn’t just reflected in the lack of modern machinery and automation; Barricelli’s recipes also call for very few ingredients. For example, their famous Semolina bread consists only of semolina flour, olive oil, salt, sugar, semolina, and durum grains. Baguettes call for just three ingredients. SoNo does not cut corners anywhere in their baking process and few ingredients allow for fewer mistakes. “Simplicity and flavor is most important to SoNo,” says Barricelli.
Barricelli is not trying to reinvent the baking landscape, but instead return it to a simpler time while retaining the high-quality and consistency for which modern pastry chefs strive. With few tried and true bakeries left in Connecticut, SoNo is a treasured spot and well-worth the drive from any part of the Nutmeg state.
In addition to their location in South Norwalk, SoNo also has a space in Darien and offers wholesale, retail, and catering options. You can also find them at nearby farmers markets, four days a week.
- SoNo Baking Company: 101 Water St., Norwalk and 49 Tokeneke Rd., Darien; SoNoBaking.com.