BEDFORD — Don’t ask baker Dana Gallo Strayton how she makes her Italian cakes and pastries. She will not divulge a thing. “These are my grandfather’s recipes and they’re secret,” she says. “I won’t tell.”
Gallo Strayton and her husband, Rob Strayton, own Prince Street Cafe & Bakery in Bedford, a cozy spot reminiscent of a North End bakery. “We’re old school,” she says. Her grandfather, John Costantino Plescia, owned the Prince Cafe in the North End from 1929 (soon after arriving from Southern Italy), until he died in 1984. “He used his Old World recipes and made everything the traditional way,” says Gallo Strayton, who grew up in his shop. She learned how to use a pastry bag when she was 6; two years later, she was filling cannoli.
A circuitous route led to her own shop. “I wanted to have a bakery my whole life. It’s a passion that never went away,” says the baker. But her parents, who knew how grueling the business is, discouraged her. Her father owned the former Luigi’s Restaurant on Broad Street and then her family opened G’Vanni’s Ristorante in what was formerly her grandfather’s pastry shop; it’s now Pellino’s Ristorante. Gallo Strayton got a master’s degree in marketing and worked in media relations, but she always worked in her family’s restaurants, did a stint as catering director for Wolfgang Puck’s local catering operation, and then was a personal chef. The food business, she says, “is truly in my blood.”
Two years ago, she and Rob Strayton took the leap and opened Prince Street Cafe & Bakery in a nondescript brick building in a shopping plaza. The name honors Gallo Strayton’s grandfather. Confections are based on his recipes, which she gradually transcribed from a tattered leather-bound journal into her own black and white marbled composition notebook. “The book is always with her,” says her husband, who is in charge of the menu of pizza, calzones, panini, sandwiches, and salads.
The pastry case features ricotta pies that are not too sweet and weigh almost 3 pounds; paragini, rum-soaked squares (like Neapolitans) layered with a custard pastry cream and puff pastry; suspidi, sponge cakes with the pastry cream, covered in chocolate fondant; and rows of cannoli.
For Christmas, Gallo Strayton will turn out her bianco-nero specialty: a dozen cream puffs, filled with whipped cream, rolled in the house pastry cream, piled into a tower, and covered with whipped cream, toasted almonds, and chocolate shavings. She’ll also make rum confections assembled with layers of sponge cake dense with egg yolks, and chocolate custard made with Belgium chocolate.
On a recent afternoon, Gallo Strayton, barely 4 foot 10, with the endurance of a marathon runner, races around the bakery gearing up for the holiday rush. She and her husband have just spent five long days filming a TLC episode of “Bakery Boss” with Buddy Valastro. The episode, which will air early next year, features neighborhood bakeries and helps them revamp their operations so they can better compete with the bakery department of chain stores. “I have no idea how they found us,” says the baker.
But she does know that some of her grandfather’s longtime customers have heard about her shop through friends and relatives. “When they taste something of mine, they’ll say, ‘That’s just like your grandfather’s,’ ” she says.
“There’s a lot to live up to.”
Prince Street Cafe & Bakery, 200 Great Road, Bedford, 781-275-0095, www.princestcafe.com
Ann Trieger Kurland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.