Bread may be the staff of life, but it’s hard to get excited about a hunk of partially sliced bread sitting in a basket. Fortunately, that seems to be changing. More and more restaurants are paying closer attention to the bread they serve. The best restaurants are baking a variety of breads in-house and serving them with creative butters, spreads, and toppings. Here are some of our picks for top restaurant bread programs all around the country.
Tartine Manufactory, San Francisco, California
The Bay Area’s Tartine Bakery first spawned Bar Tartine and, late last year, the even more ambitious Tartine Manufactory. It’s a bakery, café, ice cream shop, and restaurant all rolled into one. At dinner, the menu features bread service with five different options for carb lovers to get their fix. In addition to warm bread with seaweed butter, there are three kinds of smorrrebrod with toppings such as bottarga, labneh and peas, or lardo, strawberries, and chili. The original inspiration for Danish-style rye and smorrebrod came at a time when baker Chad Robertson traveled to Europe to talk to farmers and chefs about grain and bread and teach restaurants about the Tartine technique. Inspired by a baker he met in Denmark, he created a rye bread that is dense with sprouted wheat berries, local beer, whey, and buttermilk. Other breads serve as the base for the namesake tartines, a.k.a. open-faced sandwiches with different toppings. Make a reservation at Tartine Manufactory.
Gabriel Kreuther, New York, New York
After gaining acclaim as chef de cuisine for Jean George and nearly a decade as executive chef of The Modern, Gabriel Kreuther has created his own fine dining restaurant across from Bryant Park. Kreuther was raised on a family farm near Strasbourg, France, and his cuisine is distinctly influenced by Alsatian standards. Kreuther’s bread service stars a classic Alastian Kougelhopf, baked fresh in house and served with fresh chive fromage blanc. Other Alsatian breads include pretzels served with tartare and a Tarte Flambée, a bread dough traditionally topped with fromage blanc or crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions, and lardons. In addition to the standard version, Kreuther also offers a tarte flambée topped with peekytoe crab, zucchini flowers. and horseradish and another with hen of the woods mushrooms, Comté cheese, and nutmeg. Make a reservation at Gabriel Kreuther.
Oak + Rowan, Boston, Massachusetts
Executive pastry chef Brian Mercury oversees Oak + Rowan’s in-house bread program. Mercury got interested in sourdough bread while in culinary school and made his own sourdough starter for a James Beard House dinner. He has kept that same starter (named Siouxsie) alive for five years and it’s what he uses at Oak + Rowan. Mercury takes a philosophical approach looking at bread as a blank canvas and a way to change people’s idea around what bread flavors can be. He uses different liquids in the dough to replace water and add flavor, which is how he came up with squash sourdough. The bread has an earthy, slightly squash-like characteristic — and a beautiful orange color. Mercury is currently serving a dried apricot and sunflower sourdough with ricotta, mint, peas, and chamomile butter. Past renditions have included everything squash sourdough with ricotta and kombu butter and a caraway sourdough with pimento cheese and molasses butter. Make a reservation at Oak + Rowan.
GreenRiver, Chicago, Ilinois
If you think pastry chefs only care about sweets, you haven’t met executive pastry chef Ji Hyun Yoon. At the Michelin-starred GreenRiver, Yoon is a master of sweets and desserts, but she is also passionate about savory items — so much so that she uses the hashtag #savorynotsweet on her personal Instagram account when she takes images of items such as her bread program. All breads and butters rotate seasonally and are made fresh daily. Currently, she’s featuring pretzel bread and a five-seed baguette served with maple mustard butter. In addition to making bread and butters, she collaborated with executive chef Aaron Lirette to create a ramp kimchi this past spring. Make a reservation at Green River.
Connie and Ted’s, West Hollywood, California
Chef Michael Cimarusti’s second restaurant Connie and Ted’s, anchored in Los Angeles, is an ode to New England seafood named for his grandparents who lived in Rhode Island. Collaborating with Cimarusti, executive chef Sam Baxter prepares a playful menu showcasing quintessential seafood dishes with products harvested through sustainable fishing practices alongside top-quality produce. With a simple and straightforward menu, it’s all the more crucial that of the restaurant’s breads, pastries, and desserts be made entirely on site, including buttered rolls, burger buns, griddled split-top buns, English muffins, and grilled Pullman bread. Make a reservation at Connie and Ted’s.
312 Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
At 312 Chicago, an Italian restaurant Italian born Chef Luca Corazzina wouldn’t dream of using store-bought bread. Inspired by the breakfast bread he enjoyed growing up in Italy, he bakes three different types of bread daily: rosemary-sage-olive oil focaccia, sourdough and a flavor of the day. These breads are served in breadbaskets at lunch and dinner accompanied by a tapenade made from capers, Kalamata olives, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, and olive oil. In addition to the complimentary bread baskets, the breads are also an integral part of many of the dishes, including various crostini, panini sandwiches, and antipasto. Make a reservation at 312 Chicago.
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Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.