Essence Bakery Caf

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825 W. University Drive

Most of us think of Tempe as a raucous party-town, but thanks to pioneers like Eugenia Theodosopoulos, chef-owner of eminently likeable Essence, that image is about to change. This French-trained chef, whose heritage is Greek, has created a friendly haven for grown-ups, where good food and good citizenship go hand-in-hand. Eugenia has decorated her café in soothing colors using "green" materials, and her forward-thinking philosophy extends to the kitchen, which she stocks with organic produce, free-range chickens and grass-fed beef. Besides baking her own brioche, focaccia, grain bread and pullman bread for sandwiches and fancy breakfasts such as Croque Madame, she makes fabulous pastries and baked goods too: dainty cinnamon-butter muffins, chocolate marble loaf, decadent cookies, fruit turnovers and bostock (almond-flavored brioche with blueberres). They're all first-rate, but if there's one single thing you shouldn't miss, it's the macaron (not macaroon), a French sandwich cookie so rich and chewy and utterly sublime it will take your breath away. For lunch, there are three or four excellent sandwiches (try the chicken salad with lemon and fresh basil) and a lovely salad-salad composed of organic greens, poached pears and toasted pecans, served with a caramelized onion-topped, grilled blue cheese sandwich. Meanwhile, Eugenia's Greek specialties such as spanakopita, stuffed grape leaves and chopped Greek village salad are the best of their kind. This simple, sincere and utterly sensational place is one of my new favorites.