Lucky Pierre Bakers is a newish baking entity slinging doughnuts, bagels, baked goods, and dog treats. You’ve probably seen them at Urbana’s Market IN the Square recently. Since launching a few months ago, Lucky Pierre already has wholesale accounts with Pizza M/Flying Machine, Avionics, Common Ground Food Co-op, BrewLab Coffee, and the coffee bar at Harvest Market, among a few others. That is to say, even though there is no brick-and-mortar store, you won’t have a hard time finding some of these treats around town.
Like most people in this great nation, I’m a sugar addict. When I decided to review Lucky Pierre, I fully committed to the task and resolved myself to the feat of trying as many flavors as possible, plus some of the other treats on offer. (You’re welcome.) Because the flavors change seasonally, some of the flavors included in this review are no longer available, but there will be more flavors to come in the near future.
Lucky Pierre Bakers is the married duo Rey Dalitto and Taighin O’Brien. They both have ties to Prairie Fruits Farm, and indicated that PFF’s owners, Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband, encouraged them to start the business. I chatted with O’Brien recently. He states,
Rey and I really saw a niche that needed to be filled, and an opportunity to focus on local ingredients, particularly flours, to produce hand-crafted pastries and baked goods. While working out at Prairie Fruits Farm Rey made the doughnuts and a few other pastries for various events out there and received great feedback. With a lot of encouragement from Wes [Jarrell] and Leslie [Cooperband] we discussed the idea of starting our own bakery, as we had ever since moving down here, but after receiving positive feedback we decided to dive right in. That's how Lucky Pierre Bakers was born.
When I asked about the specificity of making doughnuts, O’Brien said
Well, doughnuts were just where we started because Matthew Kitzmiller at Pizza M was particularly interested in them at the time and he was our first and only wholesale account. We were able to preview a lot of what we could do beyond doughnuts (mainly what Rey can do; he's the baker and I'm the marketing guy) and still do, when Wes and Leslie brought us on to be the chefs and run Breakfast and Babies out at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery last spring. There we showcased other pastries like the cinnamon rolls, scones, turnovers, and cornbread, in addition to various savory options. We also now produce bagels, which are fast approaching an equal volume to the doughnuts we produce, as other accounts like the Coffee Bar at Harvest Market, Hammerhead Coffee, and BrewLab have all started carrying our bagels.
If you haven’t yet tried the doughnuts, you’re missing out. The dough for the doughnuts is the same — it’s a really delicious and chewy yeast dough. The different flavors come from the different glazes. The first doughnut I had was the cardamom vanilla, at Avionics ($2.50). It was sweet and chewy, with a hint of sweet spice. I was interested in trying more flavors, and woke up early the following Saturday morning to get some more from Urbana’s Market IN the Square.
When I first went to their table at Urbana’s Market in the Square, I asked Dalitto which doughnut was his favorite, and he responded immediately. Weeks later, when I went to the Market for more treats and asked O’Brien the same question, he too didn’t hesitate to give a response. I really appreciate their ability to provide suggestions without having to try to sell me on the goods by saying “they’re all my favorites.” I hate that.
On Dalitto’s recommendation, I picked up a container of pear apple cider doughnut holes. They were super apple-y and pear-y, sweet while still being a little tangy. The glaze was incredibly flavorful without being cloying. According to both Dalitto and O’Brien, they pretty much tried all of the hard ciders out there to get the right flavor, ultimately settling on Ace Cider — for that I’d like to thank them. This flavor is definitely on my short list of favorites. (Though it’s not currently in rotation.)
Other flavors I’ve tried include, in no particular order:
- Buttermilk: Ever so slightly tangy, with a slightly crisp exterior and chewy yummy inside.
- Mulled spice: Excellent, earthy, warm spices, but subtle.
- Lemon: Tart and totally delicious.
- Mexican Spiced chocolate: One of my favorites, this doughnut was topped with a chocolate ganache, cinnamon, and some hot pepper flakes, but wasn’t too spicy
- Ginger: Fragrant and spicy whilst still being a little sweet — very reminiscent of crystallized candied ginger — this one rounds out my top favorite flavors.
The current seasonal glazes are the tea flavored ones; I tried most recently in the form a of doughnut hole sampler pack ($3.50). I’ve also had a regular Moroccan mint doughnut ($3 at Common Ground Food Co-op), and can say that the holes are really tasty, but there’s something more special about eating an entire doughnut in a particular flavor — there are more bites to get to know what exactly is happening in the complex flavor. The tea flavors are the aforementioned Moroccan mint, matcha, chamomile blood orange, chai, hazelnut rooibos, and princess grey. They were all delicious, but the princess grey and the chamomile blood orange, which had stronger flavors than the others, especially delighted me.
If you want to check out the tea flavors, you best hurry; they’re only available until the end of April. In regard to forthcoming flavors and other menu items, O’Brien confirmed the following:
We will be starting May with a floral series of glazes for Mother’s Day, followed by a local beer series of glazes in June. We will also be experimenting with other fillings for the bialys, including a ramp filling in the spring, and other varieties of scones as local fruit begin to come to market. We are also going to experiment with making our own aromatic bitters for the scones. We also plan to offer babka rolls and savory items with local cheeses, herbs, and fruits.
Lucky Pierre also regularly offers cinnamon rolls, orange poppy seed rolls, crumb cakes, bagels, and bialys. The cinnamon roll ($4) has a cream cheese and chevre frosting, which is rich and creamy and sweet. The cinnamon filling is portioned appropriately and not very sweet, making the balance between sweet frosting and roll really nicely balanced. I suggest popping it into the microwave for a few seconds to warm it up and encourage the gooey.
The Philadelphia crumb cake is O’Brien’s grandmother’s recipe, and it’s fantastic ($4). The cake was tender and the crumb topping was hearty and flavorful. The drizzle overtop holds everything together, though the crumb topping is quite sturdy and didn’t fall apart when I cut into it. I shared this cake with my husband, which was not only the polite thing to do, but also necessary — the cake is pretty filling, and more than enough to share between two.
The last item I tried was the everything bagel ($2.75). (All of Lucky Pierre’s bagels are vegan, by the way.) They are pitched as “New York style,” but as a native east coaster I struggle with this sort of nomenclature. If “New York style” simply means chewy and doughy, I’d say Lucky Pierre gets that half right. The bagel I had was indeed chewy and really very tasty, but it’s a little too thin for me to call it doughy — if anything, it was a little dense. Considering the bagel independently of any style categorization, my bagel was quite good. The everything topping was lovely; the addition of pink peppercorn to the mix was unique and fresh. I ate my bagel untoasted with butter, but I imagine it would be great toasted with cream cheese, too.
One of the things I like so much about Lucky Pierre’s treats is that the flavors are well balanced and they’re fairly straightforward. Don’t get me wrong: There’s a time and a place for over-the-top doughnuts with candy and ice cream and unicorns on top, but sometimes you just want to have an unfussy doughnut that is tasty and delicious. I’m eager to try more bagels in addition to the bialys, as well as some of the new doughnut flavors (Flowers! Beer!) debuting this spring.
Lucky for us, you can pick up these goodies all over Champaign-Urbana: Urbana’s Market IN the Square and soon Urbana’s Market AT the Square as well as the Champaign Farmers’ Market, Common Ground Food Co-op, Avionics, Cafeteria & Co., BrewLab Coffee, the coffee bar at Harvest Market, Clutch Cuts, Hammerhead Coffee, and Prairie Fruits Farm. You can also place orders for bagels, bialys, and doughnuts online.