Tolle certainly revels in the freedom that running a neighborhood bakery gives him: The fussy, perfect pastries that impressed me so much are only a small, ever-changing part of what the bakery sells. They also do cake doughnuts (42 cents), cupcakes, muffins, dazzlingly good scones, Rice Krispie bars, hamburger rolls (six for $1.89), and a whole range of seasonal treats, like Irish soda bread at St. Patrick's Day, chocolate truffles at Valentine's Day, lemon-meringue pie for Easter, fresh strawberry pie for Mother's Day, and too many breads to name.

I tried some of Baker's Wife's breads and rolls and found them fine: A ciabatta ($2.59) was the size of a viola and tasted fresh and light; a big white round boule ($1.99) had a fine, delicate texture and a pretty crust; and butter-flake rolls (six for $1.79) were so dangerously good, so full of butter-wiped pull-apart layers that they deserve one of those "death by chocolate" names. Admittedly, death by butter has a little more of a disturbingly probable ring.

Still, a life without good pastry probably isn't worth living. The last time I visited A Baker's Wife's the walls were decorated with children's art from what looked like a recent school trip, drawings scrawled on typing paper, each picture finished with a careful, teacher-drawn caption: "I like giant mixers." "I like flour." "I like cookies." Sitting at one of the bakery's several tables, sipping a 79-cent cup of coffee, eating pastry so good it makes you want to cry, it's hard not to agree: I like lemon bars. I like little neighborhood bakeries that look like nothing and yield treasure. And I'd like you all to put off coming here for as long as you can stand it.

TABLEHOPPING:

SINGAPORE ETHIOPIAN CUISINE: If you're like me, you hate to remember the number of evenings spoiled by that age-old question: Shall we go out for Malaysian food, or Ethiopian? Malaysian? Ethiopian? And what about sushi?

Well, fret no more, old bean, because Kin Lee, the critics'-darling chef from Singapore Chinese Cuisine, where they do marvelous things with Malaysian and southeastern Chinese food, is hard at work on "Singapore Too," a restaurant that he plans to open this June on 35th Avenue South in Minneapolis, five minutes from the airport.

"We're going to do Afro-Asian food. It's going to be bizarre, right?" asks Lee, cutting me off at the pass.

Turns out that Lee has had an Ethiopian next-door neighbor for the past several years, and the two got to cooking together in their backyards for barbecues, discovered that they had similar tastes in vegetables, one thing led to another, and shazam! Next thing you know they were previewing Ethiopian/Malaysian food for select groups of customers up at Singapore Chinese Cuisine. Lee says the concept worked out well--I'm guessing curries are the common ground--and so the two embarked on the plans for Singapore Too. Lee says the restaurant will serve beer and wine and will host a series of fresh-seafood tanks in the basement, so that diners may have the freshest possible oysters, lobsters, and crabs. "When I went back to Malaysia last year, everywhere I looked I saw Malaysians eating sushi. Lots of things that Americans don't think of--lobster sushi, not just salmon."

I guess my side of the line went silent while I tried to get my head around Malaysian-Ethiopian sushi as inspired by the immigration patterns of the Twin Cities in 2001, and so Lee volunteered: "I'm crazy, right? The food will have a very, very unique flavor. Everything is going to be different there." Lee says anyone who wants a preview of the coming tastes should stop by Singapore Chinese Cuisine and make their intentions known: Singapore Chinese Cuisine, 1715-A Beam Ave., Maplewood; (651) 777-7999.

MISSED ONE: Remember my definitive bagel roundup of a few weeks ago, when I went to each and every bagel shop in the core metro? Well, of course, I missed one: The Saint Paul Bagelry, in Roseville, just over the border from St. Paul. Maddeningly, it's located in the very same strip mall that hosts Maverick's, which I also just wrote about. (I swear to God, the number of ways you can fail in the course of a day is truly mind-numbing.) Anyway, the spot is run by one Mike Sherwood, a man who lived in Manhattan briefly during his career in JC Penney management but returned to the Midwest so enchanted by bagel culture that he apprenticed himself, in his words, "to a Jewish bagel guy in Fargo, North Dakota, of all places."

Once my head stopped spinning with thoughts of a North Dakota bagel apprenticeship, I piloted my vehicle over to the Saint Paul Bagelry for a go-see. Indeed, that apprenticeship paid off nicely: Saint Paul Bagelry bagels are big, handmade, chewy fellows slathered with toppings and boasting tender hearts and tough crusts, just as they should. The place also sells Dunn Bros. coffee and Sebastian Joe's ice cream, gathering Twin Cities flavors together very nicely. If you live in the neighborhood, by all means run on over. Or, stay in and let it come to you! The Bagelry delivers orders of $25 or more to addresses within three miles of the corner of Lexington and Larpenteur, a fact that should make Como Park property values treble. Saint Paul Bagelry, 1702 Lexington Ave., Roseville; (651) 488-1700.

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