How Chefs Are Taking Restaurant Bread to the Next Level

Upgrading the standard basket with smoked flours and creative butters
March 3, 2015
by Virginia Miller

Bread: it's not just filler or evil carbs, especially when baked by the right hands. While there have been restaurants baking their own breads in-house for decades, the recent movement of "bread programs" or courses elevates yeast, flour and water to another level. (Warning: these specialty breads usually aren't free.) Here are 10 next-level bread programs at restaurants around the country.

Trentina in Cleveland
Winning numerous awards, Trentina has been taking Cleveland by storm with chef Jonathon Sawyer's Northern Italian cuisine and unique tastings menus. One of the most exciting offerings from the tasting menu ($115 per person) is a bread course (above) that recalls an old English tradition. Edible beef tallow candles (they are made from rendered beef fat) arrive, lit and emitting a meaty aroma. Then the bread is smeared with the candle fat for one decadent bread course. The bread is a filone (Italian yeast bread) from On the Rise baker-owner Adam Gidlow with a salt and sumac blend.
1903 Ford Dr., Cleveland; 216-421-2900

Juniper & Ivy in San Diego
Top Chef All Stars winner Richard Blais features some memorable breads (from $5-$9) at his San Diego restaurant, Juniper & Ivy. In a winning combo of sweet and savory, chef de cuisine Anthony Wells bakes wild mushroom monkey bread served with a side of roasted apple butter. In addition, watch for unique toast selections — think octopus toast layered with white bean purée, pine nuts and preserved Meyer lemon — or buttermilk biscuits presented in a smoked dome (above) with a side of smoked butter.
2228 Kettner Blvd., San Diego; 619-269-9036

Burritt Room + Tavern in San Francisco
Upstairs in the Mystic Hotel at Charlie Palmer's Burritt Room + Tavern, their special BR+Table chef's menu ($55-$75 per person) presents ever-changing, creative breads and spreads. Executive chef Luke Knox serves bold flavors, like a marble rye bread with chicken-liver mousse, sea salt, walnut and a pear vinaigrette or a porcini mushroom brioche with black truffle butter. Our personal favorite: the Parmesan herb garlic knot (pictured) smeared with fermented tomato butter.
417 Stockton St., San Francisco; 415-400-0561

Weights + Measures in Houston
Houston's brand-new Weights + Measures just opened in January, bringing together a chocolate shop, coffee bar, restaurant bar and bakery, all under one roof. They are a "bread-centric" restaurant, confirmed by their in-house bakery wing, Slow Dough Bread Co., which turns out a range of bread pairings with many dishes, baking everything from hamburger buns to pizza dough in-house. Baker Heath Wendell crafts donuts, pretzels, pastries and breads to go. Additionally, a number of menu items are paired with breads, like chopped chicken liver with toast (pictured, $9) or a cranberry walnut bread served with pea and Parmesan spread.
2808 Caroline St., Houston; 713-654-1970

Rioja in Denver
Larimer Square favorite Rioja has pastry chef Eric Dale to thank for its dreamy house-baked biscuits. The restaurant also partners with local bakery Grateful Bread to offer an array of rolls and loaves, which come free at the start of the meal. Selections change often, but you might find the likes of rosemary and goat cheese biscuits, lavender levain or mustard currant candied ginger rolls. Bread is served with room temperature unsalted butter dotted with pink Himalayan sea salt.

1431 Larimer St., Denver; 303-820-2282

Orsa & Winston in LA
Josef Centeno’s Orsa & Winston is a sophisticated tasting-menu spot ($80-$225 per person) in an understated Downtown LA space. One of the best moments out of numerous courses is the ever-changing bread course. Recently, it was melting-soft milk bread focaccia (above) paired with pickled radishes and an umami-laden smoked black cod tonnato sauce.
122 W. Fourth St., Los Angeles213-687-0300

Pearl & Ash in NYC
At this Bowery wine-focused spot, chef Richard Kuo bakes a focaccia-style dough ($4, above) from a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flours smoked with applewood and hickory-wood chips. Then Kuo crafts a house chicken butter, made with chicken schmaltz (fat) rendered from chicken skin, whipped together with cow's milk and maple syrup for a sweet and salty contrast to the smoky-soft bread.
220 Bowery, New York City212-837-2370

The Rogue Gentlemen in Richmond, VA
Richmond, Virginia, is home to The Rogue Gentlemen, a cocktail-centric, farm-to-table restaurant where owner John Maher partners with baker Drew Thomasson on Parker House rolls, brioche toast, baguettes and brioche donuts (all are $4-$5 per order). While the former two are menu mainstays, they play with different fats and flavorings in the brioche, like foie gras, bone marrow or black sesame. Parker House rolls arrive in individual cast-iron pans (pictured), paired with house-cultured butter and Maldon salt.
618 N. First St., Richmond; 804-477-3456

Lazy Bear in San Francisco
Lazy Bear's unique ticketed-only dinners ($100-$150 per person) start with upstairs appetizers and cocktail punches, then move downstairs to communal seating that feels like one big dinner party. Lawyer-turned-chef David Barzelay and team craft inspiring courses, one of them being the "butter, curds & whey" bread course (above) where loaves or slices of bread arrive at the tables. It might be a dense, subtly sweet and hearty bay laurel and molasses bread, partnered with an ice cream-like scoop of tangy, salted, house-cultured buttermilk butter.
3416 19th St., San Francisco415-874-9921

Semilla in Brooklyn
At the vegetable-forward Williamsburg restaurant Semilla, Pamela Yung's bread course is a highlight in their tasting-menu-only format ($75 per person). Look for the arrival of a box filled with warm bread (above), paired with house buttermilk and butter from upstate NY farm Cowbella. Breads change regularly, made from mostly local, Northeastern grains, typically a levain-style bread. Watch for playful renditions, like black-garlic knots, nettle brioche, green-garlic pancakes or pao de quijo (Brazilian cheese bread).
160 Havemeyer St., Brooklyn; 718-782-3474