Photo by Matt OttoSweet Jill's is a motherly Seal Beach bakery on the city's Main Street strip, a quality not wholly explained by its female workforce. Maybe it's the smell of freshly baked pastries that comforts pedestrians? Or the giant flowers and iridescent butterfly decorating the interior walls, which are painted in the pink tone popular amongst the preschool set? Sit in one of the confectionery's four tiny tables, and you half expect namesake owner Jill Pharis to wrap you in a blankie.
It's both marketing scheme and homage. A native Nebraskan and current Long Beach resident, Pharis cites her German grandmother's pastries as the inspiration behind this two-store concern (the original Sweet Jill's continues to satisfy the breakfast urges of Belmont Shore). Pharis succeeds at both locations not because of novelty, but because she adheres religiously to her nana's homemade-is-best philosophy. The only things fresh here are the ingredients—get your newfangled ideas elsewhere.
Sweet Jill's best offering is the cinnamon rolls, oven-produced diamonds that surpass even those at Anaheim Stadium. Pharis' rolls are more like coiled blocks: firm-but-puffy concoctions studded with nuts and bloated raisins, kept in a glass container that quickly fogs up with gooey condensation. The cinnamon syrup is shockingly snappy, definitely not the wimpy rolls with which most obese Americans have become unfortunately accustomed. You'll need a knife, fork and spoon to handle a Sweet Jill's cinnamon roll, not to mention a pompon of napkins to wipe your mouth and fingertips afterward. Lacking that, no one will shoot you disapproving looks if you lick.
Other bakery standards at Sweet Jill's—peanut-butter brownies, lemon bars and a cornucopia of fruit-flavored muffins—taste like a church fund-raiser held outside the Pearly Gates. Cookies vary from chewy oatmeal and chocolate chip monsters to frosted types shaped like dinosaurs, fire trucks or police cars for the sugar-addled kiddies. One constantly rotating display houses entire cakes such as the great peach coffee cake, a snowdrift of cream smartly balanced by unsweetened peaches in the cake's center. But beware of the German chocolate cake coated with a tan coconut frosting that Pharis could successfully export to the Fatherland; the stuff's denser than uranium.
Sweet Jill's, 123 1/2 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 598-3445; also at 5224 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 438-4945.
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