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Thoa Nguyen basically grew up inside Federal Boulevard’s New Saigon: Her parents, Thai Nguyen and Ha Pham, owned and operated the now-iconic restaurant for 35 years, introducing Denverites to traditional Vietnamese fare such as pho, rice-paper-wrapped spring rolls, and grilled-meat-topped bowls before selling the business in 2017. But it was French pastries, from Denver shops such as now-closed André’s Confiserie Suisse and Sweet Soiree, that captivated Nguyen. So, in 2010, when she was 20, she moved to Paris to study how to make the treats, swapping red bean paste for vanilla bean. By the time she returned to Colorado in 2011, her parents had built a bakery and deli adjacent to New Saigon for her as a welcome-home present. There, for seven years, Nguyen crafted the Asian sandwiches and snacks, such as durian- and pandan-infused desserts, that New Saigon’s fan base clamored for. But a croissant-shaped hole in her heart led the 31-year-old to combine the Vietnamese traditions she grew up with and her passion (and talent) for French pastry and open Bánh & Butter Bakery Café on East Colfax Avenue in April. “My family didn’t really know what my vision was,” Nguyen says. “Now, I have my own.”
1. Nguyen’s Favorite
The boxes of French goodies her parents brought home for Nguyen and her three sisters to share when they were kids often included fruit-bejeweled
tarts. At Bánh & Butter, her fruit Breton tarts have a shortbread-meets-cake base, which is topped with both whipped Chantilly cream and custardy pastry cream.
2. The Rare Find
Split Strawberry Croissants
Whenever Nguyen’s family visited Southern California, they’d make a pilgrimage to Cream Pan bakery in Tustin, near Los Angeles, to buy strawberry croissants—split in half and filled with fresh fruit and diplomat cream—by the trayful. Thanks to the versions Nguyen now makes, her family doesn’t have to trek all the way to the Golden State.
3. Most Popular
Crêpe Cake Slices
With crêpe cakes’ dramatic visual appeal, it’s no surprise they are the bakery’s top-selling item. But the lofty beauties are incredibly labor-intensive: Each one comprises 25 to 30 hand-poured crêpes, which are stacked with sturdy fillings between each layer and then carefully cut into triangles. The strawberries-and-cream and vanilla brûlée variations are always on the menu (at least until they sell out), but additional, often Asian-inspired flavors such as Thai tea make guest appearances.
4. Updated Classics
Vietnamese Sandwiches and Coffees
Nguyen employs the same Café du Monde chicory coffee her family uses at the New Saigon bakery and deli, which they continue to operate, for her iced coffee and a similar bread for her banh mi. “We change the hydration level [of the baguettes] so it’s more French-influenced,” Nguyen says. “Vietnamese rolls are very soft, with a thin crust, and ours have a thicker crust with more of a chew.”