The Bread Basket

Celebrating Thoughtful, Delicious Breads & Butters in Restaurants

I’m not a bread baker, and I do not yet have the full vocabulary or understanding to critique bread from a craftsman’s level, but I was born with one hand in the bread basket and the other stirring olive oil and parmesan. I think we can all learn to love bread a little more and romanticize the bread baker the same way we do the chef and even the pastry chef. The very best breads–weighty, dark brown behemoths with crusts that look like shots from the Hubble–nourish us in a way we have largely forgotten with the luxuries of mechanization. Superlative butters, meanwhile, express dairy with a purity and care for quality that you can’t believe we’ve traded away for plastic pads. I would recommend Andrea Strong’s highly approachable and entertaining article “Why Serious Bakers Have Mother Issues” on Serious Eats for anyone looking to get a further sense of this venerable profession. And for those who need further convincing, fresh from the oven, you’ll find here an ever-expanding list of my favorite buns, boules, and other beauties from my travels.

L2O, Chicago, Summer 2014

I liked the playful, abstract nature of this butter sculpture.

Sepia, Chicago, Summer 2015

sepia 2015
Supremely crunchy brioche served with foie gras mousse.

Eleven Madison Park, New York, Summer 2015

My introduction to the stroopwafel.

Semilla, Brooklyn, Fall 2015

Strikingly simple and impressively satisfying with big, full, whole grain flavor.

Gramercy Tavern, New York, Fall 2015

A classic biscuit. Always warm. Always eagerly replenished. Just don’t spoil your dinner.

Aquavit, New York, Fall 2015

My first introduction to hardy Nordic baking. Impressive and deliciously dense.

Per Se, New York, Fall 2015

The bread itself was forgettable–and I myself forget where this butter is from–but what a shape, right?

Carbone, New York, Fall 2015

This wonderfully tacky basket gets to the heart of why this whole page exists. That pizza bread brings me back.

Atera, New York, Fall 2015

Atera’s bread has always been good, but the hauntingly potent onion butter (furthest to the right) must be my favorite from any restaurant, anywhere.

Blanca, Brooklyn, Fall 2015

I sometimes wish I were eating at Roberta’s instead of Blanca, but the warm-from-the-oven pizza crust that invariably appears is both genius and one of the meal’s most belly-warming bites.

Aldea, New York, Fall 2015

I like when restaurants serve a quality olive oil alone with the bread. When that bread has an expert char on it as well? Heaven.

Le Bernardin, New York, Fall 2015

Le Bernardin offers over a half dozen quality breads, and I don’t think any have a claim to be among the city’s best. However, the staff who serves the bread is among the most good-natured and attentive in the city.

Contra, New York, Fall 2015

Contra didn’t thrill me–and a $3 price tag on bread service was certainly a first for me–but the portion was big and warm and briefly made a confusing meal okay.

Bâtard, New York, Winter 2015

Gorgeous-looking and highly textural breads. They don’t mind bringing you round after round either!

Minetta Tavern, New York, Winter 2015

This bread was chewy and ordinary in about every way, but there’s something comforting about the form.

Upland, New York, Winter 2015

One of the fussier, more engineered bread services in the city (especially for a comparably more casual spot), but it’s never failed to thrill.

Eleven Madison Park, New York, Winter 2016

What do you call a gougère filled instead with triple-crème? Delicious, that’s what.

Saison, San Francisco, Spring 2016

It looks like a Popeye’s biscuit, but by damn it’s somehow even flakier. That barely visible sprinkling of salt on top is important.

Baumé, Palo Alto, Spring 2016

I thought this looked a little pale for a baguette but wow was it crusty. Warm with rich, salted butter that gets replaced attentively despite the husband-and-wife staff.

The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Spring 2016

Black truffle-streaked Brillat-Savarin with impossibly dense, warm, lovingly-baked local grain bread. The be-all and end-all of cheese courses for me.

Günter Seeger, New York, Spring 2016

When you can see the grains poking out beneath the surface of the bread–and it’s carved tableside–you know it’s gonna be good.

Momofuku Ko, New York, Spring 2016

The butter had something thoughtful sprinkled on top of it, but I’ve long admired this bread for just how assertive the near-burnt char on its crust is.

 Oriole, Chicago, Summer 2016

The dense crumb and rich, shining butter were good enough to merit an entry on this list, but the crisp grains crunched with a conviction that added its own “second crust.”

  Elizabeth, Chicago, Summer 2016

“Castle Black, Black Bread” from Elizabeth’s Game of Thrones menu. I don’t watch the show, but I long for a time when bread like this was the norm. Aggressively earthy, crying for that glistening butter, but deeply satisfying. This is the sort of bread that bleached flour bread hides from under its plastic bag.

  Blackbird, Chicago, Summer 2016

Some of the specifics of this bread service fail me, (but how can you not expect excellence from this hospitality group). The warmth of the wonderfully grainy crumb clings to the tips of your fingers as you breach the rocky crust with a shuddering crack. This is hands-on, visceral bread eating with powerfully depth of flavor and texture but a nice (herbaceous?) whipped butter to mellow it all out.

  Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, Chicago, Summer 2016

This isn’t the best picture, but you know that means a damn good bread. The fact that this was a simple sourdough should clue you in even more. Warm (not piping HOT), with a crisp, flaky, but not teeth-chattering crust yielded a pillowy crumb with one of the most pleasing sour tastes I can remember from this style of bread.

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