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Morning Birds Bakery fills the ‘Belly of Missoula’
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Big Sky, Big Flavor

Morning Birds Bakery fills the ‘Belly of Missoula’

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This might be a good day for a Kouign-Amann.

Or a pastry stuffed with salmon and green onions.

Or a gluten-free raspberry muffin with white-chocolate chips.

Or a loaf of Swiss cheese-jalapeno pull-apart bread.

Good luck making a choice at the new Morning Birds Bakery, which officially opened its retail, come-in-for-croissants doors in January. Inside, the case and shelves show off a hard-to-resist array of both regular goodies and some surprises, depending on the day or season or whim of the bakery crew.

Owner Chris Lafley’s eyes may look familiar above her mask: She’s spent more than a dozen years selling her baked goods at Missoula’s summertime Clark Fork Market. She started with second-hand tins from Goodwill and muffins baked with seasonal and local fruits and veggies, eventually growing both her selection and loyal customer base.

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Those first muffins were a “side gig,” she said, to make extra money while her now-husband, Bob, finished his degree. At the time she worked her regular job at Missoula’s Le Petit Outre, too.

But those muffins also were a continuation of a lifelong passion. Lafley, now 41, has been baking since her youth. She grew up in a back-to-the-land family that baked its own bread, made jam, tended a big garden and basically shunned all things processed.

If you want cookies, her mom said, bake them yourself.

So, she did. It was a way to sneak in sugar in a family that didn’t particularly like too much sugar. And, as everyone knows, cookies are the gateway to the rest of the baking world. She eventually worked for bakeries in Michigan and Montana.

Lafley uses local products when possible, especially fruits and vegetables. She describes herself as a “gatherer,” picking strawberries in Arlee, finding gardeners with rhubarb or spinach to spare, trading pastries for local apples and making deals with local mushroom hunters and growers.

“I was taking out the garbage one day when I noticed the tree that overhangs the property is a plum tree,” she said. “I thought: Oh, my gosh. Field trip!”

Morning Birds’ Kouign-Amann uses a local product, too — a hard cider from Missoula’s Western Cider, which is combined with sugar and cooked down to a syrup to glaze the treat. Kouign-Amann (pronounced “queen ah-mahn”) is a rich, buttery pastry: Morning Birds’ version uses folded croissant dough and a custard filling.

Doughs, in fact, are king at Morning Birds. The croissant dough is “laminated,” which means it has sheets of butter folded and rolled between the layers. The Danish dough is similar to croissant dough but is “richer, has eggs in it, sweeter” than the dough for croissants, Lafley said. The bakery also uses a puff pastry dough, doughs for pies and hand pies, and various doughs for breads, including sourdough, multi-grain and whole wheat.

One of the most popular choices from the pastry case is the Maple Bacon Twist. The bacon is candied in the oven with maple syrup and the bacon then twisted into puff pastry before baking.

This past week, you would have found those twists in the shop, along with blueberry and marionberry muffins; a pastry filled with goat cheese and tomato; another filled with herbed cream cheese, roasted red pepper and spinach; brownies; cookies for many moods, including a chocolate crinkle with a hint of coffee, a gluten-free peanut butter or a chai-and-chocolate favorite; and many, many other breads, sweets and savory treats.

Morning Birds added a lunch menu just a few weeks ago: Sandwiches can be pressed and heated or served cold. The Morning Bird Classic has proved the most popular so far: turkey, provolone, spinach, onion, bell peppers and a shallot mayonnaise on sourdough ($7.95), but there are egg salad, ham, roast beef, pastrami, vegan and vegetarian sandwiches and salads too. If you order hummus with crackers, the crackers are made in-house.

Also new: A holidays menu that includes a cranberry tart, cakes, boxes of cookies, pies, pastries, rolls and breads. Check it out (and order in advance) at the bakery’s website at www.morningbirdsbakery.com.

The bakery is at 1300 S. Reserve St., nestled in a shopping center on the east side of Reserve, south of Spurgin Road. The best way to spot it is to look for the sandwich-board sign on Reserve Street: There’s no formal sign above the business yet. It’s been that kind of year — chaotic, uncertain, nerve-wracking — thanks to COVID-19, which temporarily closed the bakery just three months after it opened.

Even with the strange times, Morning Birds has an ever-growing fan base. Some are loyalists from the Clark Fork Market who followed the bakery to its new location. Some have stumbled on the bakery by chance or a Facebook post from a customer. Many are from nearby neighborhoods, happy to discover a stand-alone, locally owned bakery nearby.

“Mostly,” Lafley said, “it’s just word of mouth. I haven’t gotten very good at the advertising side yet.”

Maybe it won’t be needed.

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Mea Andrews was a reporter and editor at the Missoulian for 27 years before retiring. Reach her at meaandrews406@gmail.com

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