Gaby et Jules brings 'the best of France' to the 'Burgh
By Mark Kanny
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 5:39 p.m.
The grand opening of Gaby et Jules, a Parisian patisserie, Nov. 16 in Squirrel Hill also will be the unveiling of its Noel Collection of fine French pastries. But in the few months since its “soft opening” on Aug. 29, word-of-mouth has been so strong that co-owners Fred and Lori Rongier and David Piquard have had to add staff to handle the demand.
The shop in Squirrel Hill sells classic and original French pastries, French macaroons, croissants and baguettes. Rongier's commitment to authenticity is so strong that, when he couldn't find the “right” flour for croissants, he decided to import the dough from France.
Rongier is a Paris native who came to the United States to study at Penn State, where he met his wife, Lori, who is from Altoona. After graduation, they moved back to France and had two children. In 1999, they moved to Pittsburgh.
“I fell in love with a girl from Pa. and then I fell in love with Pittsburgh,” Rongier says. “We want to give our best back to the city we love.”
He says the growing sophistication of the Pittsburgh palette encouraged him to open his restaurant Paris 66 on Penn Circle South in East Liberty with the goal of bringing “the best of France to Pittsburgh.”
Naturally, the best French pastries were part of his goal, especially French macarons. But after sampling macarons from Toronto, Chicago and other places, he realized none met his standards — the memory of the pastries he'd enjoyed growing up.
He remembered his friend David Piquard, a master pastry chef, and looked him up on a visit to France in 2010. Rongier offered his friend a challenge: come be the pastry chef at Paris 66 and, if people like what we're doing, we'll also open a pastisserie. Now they are partners in both the restaurant and pastisserie.
“After opening the restaurant, I always wanted to sell macaroons, the French macarons,” Rongier says. French macarons are not to be confused with macaroons, which are a coconut pastry, sometimes on a chocolate base. The French version, with one “o”, consists of top and bottom pastry shells with cream filling. At Gaby and Jules, they are entirely made by hand and take five days to complete.
“When you taste one of our macaroons, you are left with a lasting memory in your heart,” Rongier says. “Nobody can make the macaroon as David does. Nothing is too sweet. Everything is balanced. It takes 10 to 15 years to be at his level.”
They knew they had a success on their hands when all kinds of people, in new cars and old cars, dressed up or casual, drove up to the restaurant specifically to buy macarons to take home.
The macarons are available in 14 varieties, including almond, pistachio, white-chocolate basil, sea-salt caramel and passionfruit, and cost $2.25 each, 7 for $15 and 15 for $31.
When asked about the price, Rongier says, “You can pay $4 for coffee at Starbucks and the ingredients cost 10 cents. People are very smart. Money isn't everything. It's also the quality and love you put in your product.”
L'Opera is one of the classic French pastries Piquard makes. It consists of thin layers of almond sponge cake with layers of coffee-flavored butter cream and chocolate ganache, all covered with a chocolate mirror glaze, $5.90.
Piquard designed the Paris-Pittsburgh, a pastry made of hazelnut meringue with hazelnut mousaline and covered on the sides with grilled almonds, $5.50.
Gaby et Jules takes its name from Rongier's and Piquard's grandfathers, who did not know each other but who each desired to open a pastisserie. Consider the new shop an inter-generational dream fulfilled.
Gaby et Jules Pastisserie et Macaroons, 5837 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays. Details: 412-682-1966 or www.gabyetjules.com.
Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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