Sweetish Hill Bakery

1120 W. Sixth St., 472-1347
Mon-Sat, 6:30am-7 pm; Sun, 6:30am-5pm

Other locations: 922 Congress Ave. (477-2441); 98 San Jacinto Blvd, Ste. 160 (472-2411).

For three years now, I've made my home in Clarksville. From an incongruously ramshackle apartment on an alley behind West Sixth Street, I've been spoiled by having all the essentials in walking distance: margaritas at Z Tejas, entertainment from the Waterloos, wine from Wiggy's, and books from Book People. This is life as it should be.

But for me, the gem of the neighborhood is and always will be Sweetish Hill. Whether wide-eyed from exercise or still squinting from sleep, regulars recognize Sweetish Hill as a purveyor of freshly made breads, cakes, pastries, and the best ham-and-cheese croissant in town (the secret is mustard). On Saturdays and Sundays, these locals crowd the newly scored and stained concrete patio with their newspapers, lovers, and dogs.

But Sweetish Hill is a sanctuary for me all week long. As all freelance writers know, working out of your house can give you a lot of freedom, but it can also make your home seem like a stifling prison cell; enter the neighborhood haunt. Whether it's to revise a draft, to rehydrate with a pint of Good-Flow, to wake up your brain with a cupcake, or even just to take a small walk to escape the horrors of home, a trip to a sunny bakery can give you a whole new perspective. What some people may not realize is that Sweetish Hill is not just for breakfast anymore.

A slice of toast from a fresh loaf of sourdough, provolone, leaf lettuce, ample turkey, tomato slices sprinkled with black pepper, slice of Swiss, another slice of sourdough, warm, meaty bacon hot off the grill, then another slice of Swiss, provolone, toast. Such is the Turkey Club ($5.75), which is part of the world of lunch at Sweetish Hill. For many reasons, this is a world you don't want to miss.

Bread can make or break a sandwich, and fresh bakery bread is a good place to start. Each day from 11am-2pm, the bakery crew makes a variety of sandwiches, from standard ham and cheese to the decadent grilled quattro formaggio, from Mom's chicken salad on sourdough white to a smoked salmon on dark rye. These are invariably large, hearty, well-made sandwiches with excellent ingredients.

From the pre-made case, you might supplement (or supercede) a sandwich with tabouleh, cilantro potato salad, fruit salad, or a few stuffed grape leaves. Or some choose one of the pre-made sandwiches, such as a length of ham and brie with sweet mustard on a skinny mini-baguette or an Italian-style panini with olive oil and herbs.

Sweetish Hill also has a daily special pizza, salad, sandwich, and soup. Some of the best are the Hot Mediterranean Sub ($5) -- either ham and salami or eggplant, each complemented with roasted tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, and peppers, all blanketed with Italian cheeses and warmed between rustic ciabatta. Another favorite is the brilliantly designed Salade Nicoise ($5.25) -- an array of tiny marinated green beans and new potatoes, with flaked tuna, tomatoes, and quarters of hard-boiled egg and roma tomatoes rests on enough lettuce to legally qualify this robust meal as a salad. All salads are healthy, so it's safe to indulge in a pain rustique roll, and finish it off with a mini plum tart ($2) -- rich purple plum slices stacked on a bed of almond paste, over a lovely golden ring of pastry -- or a bee sting, palmier, or lemon bar.

With the exception of their coffee (I'm not a fan of the signature blend, curiously assembled by the otherwise delightful Anderson Coffee), the bakery makes a point of doing what they set out to do very well. Sweetish Hill Bakery seems to have a quality that is all too often lacking in the food service industry -- a dead-on sensibility about what tastes good and how to effectively present it. I know my life wouldn't be the same without them.

-- Meredith Phillips

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