This is the strangest location for a bakery I’ve ever seen,” says a customer as he walks into Fabiana’s Bakery, beaming at his fortuitous find. The Hyde Park bakery, which opened in September, is located within the restful recesses of University Church, and occupies a space that Fabiana Carter has made her own.

“Our carpenter is an artist,” Carter says with pride. “I wanted it to look like we grabbed things from the trash and put it together, and that’s how we refurbished the chairs.”

There’s something about the eclectic combination of timeworn tables and cheese grater lamps that lends the bakery an air of conviviality. Likewise, it’s hard not to be won over by Carter’s own warmth and generosity, as she patiently describes every pastry on display to regulars and the uninitiated alike. The menu changes every day, but the most basic and popular pastries frequently appear.

“I try to make croissants and pains au chocolat three times a week,” she says, “but once I look for someone to come and help me, I want to start making them every day.”

Carter’s baking style is measured and avoids excess, allowing her to produce honest pastries that do not convey any hint of pretension. The bakery’s roasted vegetable bread, a small, unassuming roll, is packed with a generous layer of butternut squash, orange peppers, caramelized onions, walnuts, feta cheese and pesto, topped with lightly toasted pine nuts.

Her flair for artfully counterposing textures and flavors extends to her desserts: her chocolate mousse and blackberry cream tart and her strawberry mascarpone tart are prime examples. She prepares a handful of savory dishes as well—her sweet potato and broccoli soup, served with fresh sourdough bread, provides hearty sustenance for a chilly autumn morning.

Carter traces her love for food to her roots and her childhood. Growing up in an Italian family in Brazil, she would always help her grandmother in the kitchen. “If you go to Brazil and you visit people, they’re going to have food on the table and you’re going to sit down and eat,” she says. “I used to live with my grandmother, and there were nine of us at home. Meals were always plenty of food, and she made everything from scratch.”

Occasionally, Carter sells classic Brazilian treats, particularly Brazilian bread. For a crucial part of the kneading, when the dough is repeatedly tossed and hit, she gets her son Daniel involved. “Sometimes I ask my son to punch the bread for me,” she laughs. “My son told me that he wants to carry on the legacy of the bakery, so that’s really sweet.”

As a Hyde Park resident, Carter sees her bakery as a way of engaging the community to which she belongs. Fabiana’s is already integrating into the local culinary scene, and Carter herself was recently invited to judge at the upcoming South Side Pie Challenge. Her love for Hyde Park is palpable. “I want my children to grow in a community where they make friends from all over the place,” she says. “Hyde Park is so cosmopolitan!”

Carter is also an active member of University Church—that’s how she noticed that the space was available from Mondays to Saturdays. As she transitions from baking custom-made pastries at home to opening a space she can call her own, Carter intends to forge deep connections with other community members in order to foster a vibrant ecosystem for small business owners. “The idea is that we help each other grow. If you want to buy this chair, you can buy it. The carpenter can make it for you! I also want to meet a painter whose pictures I can put on my walls.”

But underneath this desire to connect with neighbors, what ultimately drives her work is her deeply ingrained love for food and dedication to communal living. “I think people like to have great food and great conversation,” Carter says, “so with a lot of things that I do, I try to put a Brazilian spin on it.”

As unexpected as a Brazilian-inspired bakery operating out of a church may seem, it does not disappoint.

Fabiana’s Bakery, 5655 S. University Ave. Monday-Saturday, 8am-6pm. (773) 658-9842.

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