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Mon Petit Cheri Revives the Humble Neighborhood Bakery in Seward

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Forget that it's in hip, crunchy granola Seward. Mon Petit Cheri could just as easily exist in Oakdale, Lindstrom, or Lake Wobegon. Tchotchkes are culled from Mom's kitchen drawers, and doilies would not be out of place. If she were a girl, MPC might be a little plump, rosy cheeked, wearing a gingham apron, a pair of Keds, and a big old grin. She'd have a whisk in one hand and a cupcake in the other, and she'd be comfortable as all get out just being herself. And you'd probably like her very much for it.

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Brooklyn, Paris, Portland this bakery is not. There are no ancient grains here or Cronuts or "cookies and milk" with edible glasses or whimsical flavored milks. There are cookies and milk, but quotation marks are off the menu. Order them, and that's exactly what shall arrive, no side of irony. The place is proudly, unabashedly country kitchen.

Baker/owner Emily Rheigans is as prudent as her place. She was a girl who wanted a bakery, and she worked very hard to get one, spending a few seasons selling at farmers markets. Now that she has attained her little storefront, she naps in between bakery case-filling and bread-making. She says she's not trying to be a European patisserie, an artisan bread baker, or a cupcake queen. In these culinary times, the most heralded storefront bakeries are of the long-fermentation school (Rustica, Sun Street) or tongue-in-cheek (NYC's Milk Bar, where cookies and milk come with extra quotation marks) or a thousand ways to treat a cupcake (Nadia Cakes, Cupcake) or traditional French (Patisserie 46, Patrick's). It's almost a radical move to dial back the artisanal and crank up the quaint.

Rheigans says she wants nothing too precious here, and she's not afraid to put a lightly dusted lemon bar or a cream cheese brownie on the menu.

The majority of the bakery case comprises quick breads: caramel rolls, chocolate banana bread, brioche, cookies, pies, cakes, and cupcakes. The cookies are face-sized, the cupcakes steer clear of botanicals and herbs and are instead easy to understand for the average six-year-old: red velvet, chocolate, white with sprinkles.

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So, grandmas over 60, kids under 10, dads and grandpas, second-grade birthday parties, a coffee klatch, anything church, a big box of "thank you" sweets for the mailman — these are some of the people and reasons and occasions MPC should come to mind if you're looking for just the thing.

And also, breakfast.

Breakfasts are big, golden nuggets of scrambled eggs paired with simple roasted potatoes and a side of breakfast meat, or the kind of egg sandwich that would be ample fuel for a New Yorker on the run: no frills, egg your way, on homemade bread with your choice of cheese and meat.

We liked a "Swedish Reuben" on big, fat Swedish Limpa bread, pressed with ham, Gruyere, sauerkraut, housemade pickles, and stone-ground mustard. We're not sure we liked it better than a regular Reuben, with its bewitching final ingredient of smoke, but still, it was generously proportioned and satiating enough for the biggest appetites.

Savory pastries like a cheddar jalapeño roll or a croque roll (ham and Gruyere) wanted a bit of fermentation time on the dough; somehow quick breads are less charming when sugar isn't a gilding element.

A few things we loved: a cookies-and-cream sandwich cookie with two chocolate chippers acting as the bread to a sugary filling with the uncanny likeness of cookie dough ice cream. The caramel roll is as good as any in town, and the homemade English muffins, tender and yeasty, might actually vault the place into wait-in-line ranks if enough people catch wind of them. They significantly up the ante on egg sandwich slingers and their pedestrian packs of Thomas.

Good, strong coffee is from local roaster Dogwood, and baristas always, always smile. We like them so much more than those ones in the designer pants who disdain you for existing.

Big, tender peanut butter cookies proffer a savory, molasses edge, but were wanting of a tiny bit more sugar. Still, they pack a serious weightiness, and could stand in for a nutritious meal if proper lunch weren't an option. Pretty rhubarb galettes were the size (smedium) and shape (freeform) begging for a picnic blanket and a bottle of rosé. The crumb was tougher than we wished, but the filling was tart and easy to like.

While Rheigans's breads are developed, robust, professional affairs, sandwich fillings don't stand up to the quality, with blasé pairings like smoked turkey and Havarti, as well as uneven preparations and prices that are a little high, at say, $8.50 for an egg and bacon sandwich. We'd like to see MPC up this sandwich game to honor the integrity of the bread and then they might have something worth neighborhood-hopping for.

Much of what we sampled at MPC was that way. Not necessarily the sort of masterful pastry or kitchen work that would inspire an extra early wake-up time, or standing in a long line in hopes that they don't sell out of that one thing, but instead the sort of good-enough competency you need when waking up in the morning. The classic neighborhood bakery.

MPC is impossible not to like. It's too sunny, too un-self-aware, too perfect for the neighborhood, which itself could use a bit of hipster tamping. Bell jars, girls who make their own jam, cinnamon-spiked butter, a much needed morning nap, chocolate chips, dogs lapping water, sidewalk chalk, big wooden booths, vintage recipes embedded with decoupage glue, coffee on ice, Betty Crocker: sweet little dear things, all.

Maybe it's best if MPC never grows up. The world has enough grown-ups, and too few dustings of powdered sugar.

Mon Petit Cheri 2401 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis 612-236-4831

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