It started randomly in April on Instagram, as things do. A user named @croissants.of.chicago posted a photo of a croissant with the words “Coming Soon.”
The logical assumption, that this person was opening a bakery—perhaps a croissant bakery!—was disproved in subsequent weeks as more croissant photos from different bakeries appeared, with 52 entries to date. What, then, were we seeing?
Turns out @croissants.of.chicago—Emily Long in real life—is merely trying to eat every croissant in Chicago and, in the process, explore neighborhoods she might not otherwise visit.
Long, 44, is not a pastry chef, but she intends to take a croissant-baking class at some point. She works for a nonprofit and is a bit wary of attention. For privacy reasons, and to maintain a certain air of mystery about her online persona, she declined to meet in person, talk by phone, or have her photo taken. “I’m not even one of those photograph-whatever-I-eat people (unless it’s especially pretty or super weird),” she says via email.
But she is passionate about photography—her other (longtime) pursuit is pinhole photography—and she’s enamored of “the simplicity of croissants” and really, all things French. She studied French in high school and college and is an avid reader of David Lebovitz’s blog and books about living and eating in Paris.
“I’m not a fan of super-rich, gloopy, shiny pastries/tarts that you might find at some patisseries, and I’m not a big fan of chocolate or cakes or cupcakes,” she says. “But croissants—I don’t know. They’re rich, chewy, substantial, but not overly sweet. Bread-like, but more delicate.” Parfait, as the French would say.
She has long resisted joining Instagram even though she has plenty of material with her pinhole pics, but putting her croissant project out for public consumption felt appropriate.
At last count, Long has eaten 29 distinct croissants, from Rogers Park to Hyde Park to Chicago Lawn. Scrolling through her feed, it’s striking to see how different they look: tapered, squat, pale, chestnut brown, and, in once case, oddly resembling a crusty dinner roll. Some look ethereally flaky on the inside, others dense.
In most cases, she doesn’t offer commentary, letting the photos speak for themselves. But, she admits, “There have been a lot of not-so-great ones! A lot… the saddest ones just tasted like dry bread.”
Maison Marcel and Southern France Patisserie in Lakeview, Margeaux Brasserie in the Gold Coast, and Delightful Pastries in Jefferson Park offer fine examples, she says. “I was also pleasantly surprised by the croissant from Pticek and Son in Garfield Ridge,” she says.
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The best so far? Long says it was from the now-closed Baker and Nosh in Uptown (“really, really buttery”).
“I have a list of 40 to 50 other places I’ve yet to visit,” she says. “Research continues.”