Alston Glenn was a man on a mission in 1969 when he went into Henri’s Bakery & Deli.
His wife, Betty, was at home pregnant with their second child, and she craved macaroons from the famous Buckhead bakery on Irby Avenue.
He explained his predicament to the employee behind the display counter, who told him, unfortunately, they were out. Being he is the nicest person on the planet, he probably said, “Thank you anyway” and headed for the door dejected.
A gentle tapping stopped him.
It was the owner, Henri Fiscus, tapping on the glass of his office. He motioned for him to join him. Fiscus pointed to the oven and told him a fresh batch would be coming out shortly. He poured a glass of “something, probably ouzo,” according to Glenn, and the two men sat in Fiscus’ office to wait for the sweet confections.
For a frazzled Glenn, it was a moment of calm, camaraderie and kindness he never forgot.
It is entirely in keeping with Fiscus, who the Henri’s website describes as being “known for his inventive recipes and the attention to detail he paid to his customers’ needs and wants.” He died in 1974, a day before his 80th birthday. I never knew the man, but for as long as I have been alive, I have enjoyed his recipes and the bakery bearing his name.
My mother, Mary Bird, took us there at least once a week growing up. We knew the cashiers by name. I always got a turkey po’ boy with the thin pickles and crusty, crispy bread. Mom let us pick out a drink, always chocolate milk, and she also got four chocolate éclairs.
As a father who paid way too much attention to what my children ate, I can’t imagine buying them a pastry bigger than a hot dog in a bun, filled with crème and topped with chocolate.
I haven’t had a chocolate éclair in years. It is too much dessert for an adult, let alone a small child. But they were — and I imagine still are — decadently good.
Sometime in early adulthood, I started grabbing a turkey on white, and that has been my go-to for the last two decades and counting. As with the po’ boys, it’s all about the bread, the touch of mayo and those pickles sliced exquisitely thin.
I still grab my sandwich from the refrigerated shelves now in the center of the bakery and only go to the made-to-order line if one isn’t available. Making the sandwiches to order is still nouveau to me, and I only judge you a little if you insist on a made-to-order sandwich when the same thing you are ordering is right there, already wrapped in wax paper.
Originally from France, Fiscus came to the United States after World War I. He worked in New York and Rhode Island and came to Atlanta to be the pastry chef in the brand new Biltmore Hotel in Midtown when it opened.
He held that job for six years before purchasing a French bakery on the corner of Peachtree and 10th streets in Midtown. Over the years, Henri’s moved to Rhodes Center, then to Peachtree Palisades and to the corner of Peachtree and Piedmont roads before Irby Avenue, where it opened in the late 1960s. Two years ago it moved to East Andrews Drive nearby.
Henri’s opened its Sandy Springs location in 1984 and its west Midtown one in 2017.
The bakery has been run by Fiscus’ family since his death and is now in the hands of his great-grandson, Anthony DiNardo, and other relatives. It is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
I’m a fan of the new location on East Andrews, just a block from where it sat for nearly five decades. It is old-school-contemporary, with a tile floor and wooden tables, and pleasant outdoor seating. Everything is nearly the same as it was, and much is improved.
There is one crucial difference. Just as with the po’ boy, in adulthood, I pivoted from the sinful éclair to the salvation of the butterfly cookie. Light and flaky, drizzled with a perfect amount of sugar, which creates a binding shell, it was my favorite cookie in the world.
When the doors opened at the new location, with the smaller bakery display, the cookie seemingly has been retired. I always ask when they are bringing them back.
No one seems to know.
In a naked appeal to the new generation, I’d love to sit back in the office for a glass of wine in anticipation of a warm butterfly cookie fresh out of the oven.