Baguettes are as ubiquitous as supermarket sushi, but convenience comes at a price. No amount of expensive butter or homemade jam can mask the lack of love and precision in a bastardized baguette. Bread baking is an art and a science. Forget authenticity. Flavor, freshness and texture are the only factors that matter. We went hunting and here are our picks — after tasting many stale and downright odd specimens — that are worthy of any crumb connoisseur's breadbasket.
Star Provisions: No visit to this gourmet shopping paradise is complete without one of its baguettes – both the épi (formed like an ear of wheat) and traditional baguette are available. The recipe – using a straight-dough method and fresh yeast – was developed in consultation with Amy Schreiber of Amy's Breads in New York. The result is a flour-dusted thin crust and soft, flavorful interior almost identical to anything you'd find at a Paris boulangerie. 1198 Howell Mill Road. 404-365-0410. www.starprovisions.com.
Alon's Bakery: Hordes of people rush this mainstay's bakery counter on Saturdays to grab a fresh loaf right out of the oven. Since opening in 1992, chef and owner Alon Balshan has continually fine-tuned his baguette recipe, which yields a crusty baguette with a proper balance of acidity and sweetness. 1394 N. Highland Ave. 404-872-6000; 4505 Ashford Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody. 678-397-1781. www.alons.com.
Buckhead Bread Company & Corner Café: The heady smell of baking bread hits you as you walk through the glass doors. The yeasted loaves get a good dose of steam to bring out the sugar and also help develop an almost comically chewy crust. While the assortment of long loaves like the ficelles (a skinnier style) and the Parisiennes (a wider style perfect for sandwiches) are tasty, the "French baguette" is the best of the bunch. 3070 Piedmont Road. 404-240-1978. www.buckheadrestaurants.com.