On a sunny weekend just over a year ago, a hefty crowd assembled outside of newly opened Sweet Bar Bakery, and promptly ripped into a full performance of the Thriller dance. Not many bakeries get welcomed to town with a flashmob outside their window (although they should, shouldn't they?), and though it seems highly random, it's not.
The bakery -- tagged by some as the first artisan bakery in Oakland, though we can't confirm the veracity of that -- was opened by Mani Niall. Before he set up shop in Oakland, Niall manned another bakery in Los Angeles focused on wholesome pastries and alternative sweeteners (maple, agave), until he sold out to his business partner in 1998 and hopped north. Before that, though, Niall made his paycheck as a private chef in the entertainment business, at one point landing a gig cooking for Michael Jackson during the days of Thriller. Hence, the dance.
Now, Niall helms Sweet Bar, a small bakery in a sparse part of town, featuring signs crayoned on kraft paper and unfussy goods. My perennial favorite of the menu is the shop's namesake: the "sweet bar" -- a dense, toothsome bar of almondy shortbread dipped in Guittard chocolate. Not too sweet, not too rich. Nutty, chocolatey, firm. The rest of the menu is decidedly compliant with the gluten or sugar-free set, but the best things are sweet and buttery rich -- everything from orange cardamom coffee cake to pumpkin ginger cupcakes to savory bits like bacon gorgonzola scones.
Keep an eye on the calendar, the bakery often opens up as a venue to the masses of poet, musicians, and literati that crawl the East Bay putting on events. The spot functions as a good lunchtime hideaway too, dishing up a midday menu that spans the savory gamut -- pizza, flatbreads, soups -- augmented with a full coffee program. Be wary of anniversaries too, the flashmob has been known to reemerge.