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The Neighborhood Bakery Project
Where do you buy your bread or your baked goods?
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Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez has always said that a thriving local bakery is the heart of a vibrant neighborhood. Jessamyn is the founder of Hot Bread Kitchen, a nonprofit that creates economic opportunity through careers in food, where I’ve volunteered for many years. The organization has evolved over its 10+ years to become a full-fledged culinary training program and incubator for small businesses, but it started as a bakery that hired low-income immigrant women to simultaneously learn the trade and produce breads from around the world, including recipes from some of the countries they came from. They baked at La Marqueta in East Harlem and their brick-and-mortar sat at the entryway, where you could purchase tortillas, nan-e barbari, and lavash. Now Hot Bread Kitchen is based in Brooklyn and they continue to do incredible work, particularly over the course of the pandemic. You can read more about them and donate here.
These days, Jessamyn leads by her dogma as the managing director of Daily Provisions. DP is known for its terrific crullers (my favorite is the cinnamon-sugar) and bacon egg and cheeses. It’s a café where you can grab a fresh rotisserie chicken for dinner, but it’s also a bakery where sandwiches come on house-made bread and chocolate chip cookies are embedded with pools of chewy caramel. People come all over the world to eat at Daily Provisions (especially when we’re not in a pandemic), but the regulars are from Gramercy, the neighborhood in which it sits. The same goes for its second location, nestled into the Upper West Side.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jessamyn’s conviction lately, with so many incredible bakeries having opened out of people’s apartments and in brand-new storefronts over the course of this year. The people who power them have cemented their place not only as experts in a craft but as feeders of a community.
“Why is selling fried food and carbs to people so satisfying?” Jessamyn messaged me yesterday. Today is the third day of Hanukkah and DP has been churning out latkes and jelly-filled crullers in the style of sufganiyot for the holiday. When you run a bakery, you’re in the business of bringing joy. And on the other side, your customers partake in the collective experience of sustenance and delight.
She also mentioned that when she and her family were looking to move out of Manhattan a few years ago, considering other parts of the city that would better suit their needs, they eventually considered Forest Hills, Queens. “I wasn’t sold on it and was sad to leave Harlem, but then found a wonderful bakery off Austin Street. Not hip, not stylish, just really good bread, great coffee, and other stuff with the widest range of people enjoying a fresh baguette,” she said. “It gave me the confidence that Forest Hills was a neighborhood where I would be happy to put down roots for me and my kiddos. I was right.” The bakery is called La Boulangerie de François and Jessamyn says they’ve been fighting the pandemic fight, remaining open throughout even the toughest months.
Some of you will remember the interview I did with Carla Finley of Apt. 2 Bread, my own local baker, who sells subscriptions of crusty sourdough batards and magnificent 48-hour focaccia a la carte. I’m still stuck in Manhattan for the time being, but my sister who lives nearby picks up a fresh loaf from Carla every week.
A few Saturday mornings ago, after receiving a glowing recommendation for the wares produced at ACQ Bread Co., I placed an order for two loaves, milk bread and sourdough sandwich. That evening I made my way to Tyler Lee Steinbrenner’s corner bakery in the southwest tip of Carroll Gardens to pick them up. I spotted the sign, pulled up to the counter, told him my name, and within an instant I was double fisting rectangular loaves still warm from the oven, their heavenly smell wafting up towards my nose. I cut off a slice of each the second I got back to my kitchen. Pure nirvana. There’s more to ACQ Bread Co. than meets the eye, but Cathy Erway wrote an excellent profile of Steinbrenner for Grub Street (which I linked to in last week’s newsletter) so read that, then buy yourself—or a friend!—a loaf or two. Here’s the key quote:
“Food has to be made by neighbors,” Steinbrenner says.
If at the heart of every vibrant neighborhood there’s a thriving bakery, for Dimes Square that’s Mel. In Bushwick it’s L’imprimerie. In Boreum Hill there’s Bien Cuit, Sullivan Street in Hell’s Kitchen, Nick + Sons in central Williamsburg. Frenchette has replaced Arcade in TriBeCa. Colin Bixler (Quality Breads) bakes brioche in Bed-Stuy and sells it for pick-up at Fancy Nancy. I adore Mah-Ze-Dahr in the West Village, where they don’t bake bread but they do make scrumptious scones, monkey bread, and chocolate cake. The baguettes at Park Slope’s Winner are extraordinary, not to mention the pastries. Maybe in Greenpoint, it’s Peter Pan, a 62-year-old donut shop that opens in the wee hours of every morning. This is an excerpt from their about page:
Daily customers. This group of longtime locals discusses everything from music to doughnuts to new diet ideas. And they’re invested in the business’s success. “Yeah, they have been closed for two days over the last 10 years,” says longtime daily regular, ‘Big’ Bob, the unofficial ambassador of Peter Pan. “It was real rough for those two days. It’s a mixture of old timers born in the neighborhood and youngsters who all come here to get coffee and doughnuts and talk to each other”
Although come to think of it, there’s Ovenly, too. There doesn’t have to be just one shining light of a local bakery per neighborhood, there could be one every few blocks, as is the case in Paris, where each boulangerie services its immediate residents. This is an idea that may have seemed like a stretch for New York City in pre-pandemic times, but the sheer number of bakeries that have opened on account of the talented class of laid-off bakers is mind-boggling. There’s nothing I love more than sampling the goods at a new bakery, and yet I can barely keep track of the spots I’ve yet to hit. I still haven’t gotten my hands on anything from Neighborhood Bread, a duo that bakes out of Otway and delivers rotating items like English muffins, seeded rye, and seasonal danishes to various Brooklyn neighborhoods. There are so many more.
As I was writing this I got an Instagram notification from my friend Julia Steele, who had just snagged a loaf of Berkshire Mountain Bakery’s chocolate bread, one of my all-time favorite treats. And last week, we were up in Kingston, where I was delighted to find Kingston Bread + Bar. It’s always so hard for me to choose what to try when I know I can’t come back the next day or week, but I kept it classic with a butter croissant, a cardamom bun, and a tuna sandwich on their “upstate levain” bread. We also got to Breadfolks in Hudson on a dreary rainy day, which meant we had to eat our fancy pastries in the car. Saarim and I split a hazelnut praline cruffin, recklessly drenching my car in flakes of laminated dough in the process, as a brown-rice porridge boule sat strapped in the backseat.
Where do you buy your bread or your baked goods? Please share these neighborhood bakeries with me! I’d love to put together a crowd-sourced master list (or map) that stretches across cities and even countries, but I can’t do it on my own. Submit your favorite—whether local or otherwise—bakeries here. Sky’s the limit, and do pass this along. For now, I’m adding all that I’ve mentioned in this newsletter, plus Lodge Bread in Culver City (LA), Ochre in Core City (Detroit), Juno in Østerbro (Copenhagen), and Violet in Hackney (London). I’ll keep you updated on this project in future newsletters and hopefully, create a beautiful resource to share.
Lunch Nightly’s pickled egg sandwich with beets, charred scallion, and house-made mayo on focaccia
A sourdough pretzel and an IPA from Kingston Standard Brewing Co.
A pizza and a CBD joint from Ollie’s in High Falls, NY
The veggie Reuben and a slice of coffee cake from West Taghkanic Diner
Kiki’s horiatiki and saganaki (getting a table is a feat, but the food is always worth it)
I rarely eat red meat, but the prime rib eye beef shabu-shabu from Shabu-Tatsu is a special exception—not to mention an ideal meal for wintertime outdoor dining
What really is a “chewy” brownie? [Epicurious]
I love my cookbook collection, but truth be told, I’m more often than not cooking the Internet [Vittles]
Of course Portland, Oregon has a Challahman [Willamette Week]