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A Taste of Europe

Le Petit Marché  gives locals a taste of Europe without leaving home.

After a decade of baking goods to sell at local farmers’ markets, Dawn Gerth wanted to take root. The vacant bakery on Williams Street, across from the Raue Center for the Arts in downtown Crystal Lake, was just the spot to open Le Petit Marché—The Little Market.

More than 50 cheeses, made-from-scratch pastries and breads, and imported wines, coffees and teas are just some of what customers are treated to when they enter Gerth’s shop.

“We try to have a little bit of everything that’s really good,” said Gerth, who opened the shop three years ago. “It’s like a small European market.”

Nothing is sold in this shop that isn’t researched, taste tested and made from scratch.

“We look for things that are made on a particular farm,” she said. “We all do a lot of research. We read about wines; we read about cheeses.”

The shop’s pastry chef Susan Thomfohrda constantly seeks out new recipes to try. She’ll put a sample of a new pastry out “to see what the reaction is” from customers. Some items are always available. Customers look for her chocolate flourless cake and Nanaimo bars, named after a city in Canada and made with a coconut, oatmeal and walnut crust, a vanilla butter cream center and chocolate ganache on top. She is sure to have her gluten-free flourless cake available on Fridays for a young customer who always comes looking for it.

“I know she’s going to come in on Friday,” Thomfohrda said. “So, I make the chocolate flourless cake.” Thomfohrda’s daughter Melissa does everything from bake to run the front counter and also helped develop recipes for the cookies that are staples at the shop—like the white-chocolate cranberry cookies.

“I don’t think there are too many people who make everything from scratch,” Gerth said, adding there are no preservatives in any of her items and that only enough is made to sell each day. “We don’t make large quantities.”

Labor of Love

When Gerth moved into the shop, she redid the bathrooms, extended the customer area of the shop and replaced the oven. Unique features of Le Petit Marché include a black ornate wine rack from China that covers an entire wall. Gerth bought the rack, iron chairs and other furniture for the shop at Steel Heart in Harvard. Paintings by three local artists are on display and for sale. An oversized painting of Gerth looking relaxed, sitting at a table in the shop with a glass of wine set before her hangs above the bakery case.

A counter built into the front picture window lets customers sit and sip their wine or coffee while watching passersby. The earthy tones in the shop have a Tuscan feel.

“We worked with a painter who’s got a really good sense of color,” Gerth said.

Special Events

The shop’s setting is perfect for its special events, such as Flyte Club Night—flyte is the word for a grouping of wines—the second Friday of each month. The evening combines dinner, dessert and wine, with a wine representative telling about the region and making of the wine being tasted that evening.

On the first and third Friday, a guest British chef comes to Le Petit Marché to prepare authentic fish and chips. The batter, Gerth described, is thin and crispy covering fresh cod cut into long strips. It’s served with malt vinegar, English bread, mushy peas (when she can get them from England) and English trifle for dessert. The chips are literally chipped from real potatoes, she said, and are meatier than American fries. Reservations are required for this and the Flyte Night events.

Walk-in events at the shop include wine tasting from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Just a few wines are offered, “so you can really taste them,” Gerth said. And, as part of Thursday on Williams Street in Crystal Lake, on the second Thursday of each month, the shop offers unique events like cheesecake tasting.

Unique Selection

Goat, chalice wine, red dragon and knight’s veil are just a few of the unique imported cheeses that pack the shop’s display case. Fifty-plus staple cheeses and specialty cheeses come from farms as close as Dodgeville, Wisconsin and as far as Tiperary, Ireland.

“I’m from Wisconsin, so I grew up with cheese,” Gerth, now a Union resident, said.

Coffee, teas and wines are organic as are some of the fruits used for baking.

Each day Gerth offers a lunch menu of two sandwiches, a soup and salad plus a cheese plate.

She buys many ingredients for the shop at European Imports in Chicago, where they have many of the chocolates she bakes with. Pouring her heart into every detail has paid off.

“I don’t think there’s anything with this mix of product in Crystal Lake,” Melissa Thomforda said. “The product mix and developing a relationship with our customers —knowing people by their first name—that sets us apart.”

The shop is open Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. and Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. or until curtain at the Raue. This summer it will stay open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. To review the shop’s menu of items, daily specials and upcoming special events, go to www.petitmarche.biz. To make reservations for special events call 815-477-3296.

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