F or 14 years David Brooks has been the familiar face behind the counter at Judies European Bakery and Cafe, which he transformed from a small Branford-based wholesale business into a thriving downtown eatery and catering operation.
But when he first moved to New Haven in the mid-1980s, David Brooks was known as the frontman of The Streams. The band, which played Brooks’ original songs about Civil War-themed romances and disillusionments, played “Americana” or “No Depression” pop music before those genres really existed. The Streams featured such esteemed local players as Spike Priggen of The Hello Strangers, Bill Beckett of The Mocking Birds and former Miracle Legion drummer Jeff Wiederschall, but it was Brooks’ songwriting, with its tough chords and vulnerable lyrics, that gave the band its distinctive voice.
“I was reading Shelby Foote, watching the Ken Burns documentary, and it affected me,” Brooks remembers. “So I started writing about that. Nearly every song became about the Civil War or that time period.”
The band petered out, as many do, when Brooks started a family and a career. He bought Judies, a small but well-known Branford bakery, in 1997 right after he
Judies European Bakery
63 Grove St., New Haven CT
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finished his studies at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. When Brooks moved Judies into downtown New Haven, he decided that “people in this neighborhood wanted to eat lunch,” not just bring home baked goods. So he turned Judies into what he calls “a three-legged chair—wholesale baking, a retail business and catering.”
The café/restaurant at 63 Grove Street is where Judies also bakes the distinctive breads and pastries you can find in such prominent and local markets and coffee shops as Nica’s and Willoughby’s. Brooks estimates the place goes through 2600-2700 pounds of flour a week, baking an array of breads (including five different baguettes or “stick breads”), rolls, cookies and seasonal delicacies like Judies’ sugar-dusted, fruit and nut-filled German Stollen loaves, which appear only at Easter and Christmastime.
The Streams have resurfaced far less often than even that delicious Stollen. The band hasn’t played live since the mid-1990s, and
never got around to releasing more than a few songs from the album’s worth of material they recorded back then.
“We’d put out a couple of 45s, but I always felt we should have the definitive Streams album,” Brooks says. “It just took a long time. I have a business. I have a family. I’m a typical entrepreneur. I work seven days a week. I have a great staff and enough resources to go away occasionally, but it’s demanding. So I gave up music, which was once this everyday part of my life.”
The songs on The Streams’ debut album, released in conjunction with the band’s recent live reunion at Café Nine, all date from a couple of recording sessions at Studio Red in Philadelphia 20 years ago. The record’s producer Adam Lasus, who now runs Fireproof Recording studios in Los Angeles, did a fine job of making Brooks’ songs, rooted in old folk traditions and historical struggles, sound timeless. “It certainly doesn’t sound like ’80s rock,” Brooks laughs, “or disco.”
In fact, the 14-song album is like a lost treasure, reminiscent of the many smart and literate New Haven bands of the 1990s—from Miracle Legion to Butterflies of Love to Skip the Gutter—which countered the prevailing punk and hard-rock music scene of the early ‘90s with bluesy, poetic songs that still came out punchy.
Now The Streams have risen again, not unlike a ball of Judies bread dough. David Brooks says the band “wants to play some more. We want to record some more. We have some really good old live recordings we could do something with. There are songs that never got recorded but which we have videos of, from when we played at Rudy’s.”
Likewise, Judies has just gotten a facelift. Just last month, the counters were rearranged to make the cafe feel even more open and welcoming.
No loafing for David Brooks. Not that kind, anyway.