A local ‘gem’ wins N.J.’s best bakery showdown

December 21, 2017​ | Website: nj.com | By Peter Genovese

It’s official – Sweet Melissa Patisserie in Clinton Township is New Jersey’s best bakery. The charming little cafe, with its delectable French-inspired cakes, pastries, tarts and cookies, bested nine other finalists in our epic month-and-a-half-long search.

Melissa Murphy Rafano stood in shock as we walked in the door to make the announcement, then burst into tears.

“As soon as I walked in the door, I heard screaming and said, why are people screaming?” said Christy Jackson, who works at Sweet Melissa.

“I love the pastry,” said Maureen Chatfield, former owner of Chatfield’s in Gladstone and New York City. “Her apple tarte tatin is ridiculous. It’s the best I’ve ever had, and I was in New York for 15 years.”

“There are not many people who bake this well,” Kim Crawford of Neshanic Station said succinctly.

Jenny Plassche was in the bakery with her daughter, Grace, who said that when she comes home from college, Sweet Melissa “is the first place I go.”

Sweet Melissa Patisserie opened at its current location in May 2016, but owner Melissa Murphy Rafano is no baking neophyte. She and her husband, Chris Rafano, operated Sweet Melissa Patisserie in three Brooklyn locations for 16 years before moving to New Jersey.

Along the way, Murphy Rafano wrote The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, published in 2008.

Hunterdon County was a natural for both business and home because Melissa keeps a horse there.

The bakery is small and country-cute, with croissants, tarts, donuts and other items beckoning sinfully behind display cases. The selection is not expansive, but quality, not quantity, is the byword here.

“I’m most passionate about the croissants,” Murphy Rafano said. “We make everything here – our own bread, our own jam. Our bacon is crazy. When we use chocolate, we use Belgian . . .”

“There are not many people who bake this well,” said Kim Crawford of Neshanic Station, joining in the raucous celebration. The assistant judges who joined me on the visit to Sweet Melissa in the final round strained for superlatives.

“Best eclair in the U.S., period,” said Tim Drag. “And they had pastries here I didn’t even know existed.”

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