Food nerdiness has a great reward: eating well. If you go to the trouble of learning your food landscape, you know where the best restaurants and sources for ingredients are located. If you acquire the knowledge and skill to cook well, your home becomes a temple of good eating. But even those of us who buy good ingredients and cook from scratch are at the mercy of others when it comes to a basic staple: bread. Most of the food nerds I know rarely bake bread; it’s simply too labor intensive and time consuming for most New Yorkers.
This is one reason (among many) I consider myself a lucky man. My wife, Cynthia Lamb, is obsessed with bread. In our apartment, she grinds her own grain, maintains a wild yeast starter (of yeast from the air here on the Lower East Side) and bakes huge whole wheat and rye loaves. (Our oven is often set at 500 degrees). The result is that I have on hand most of the time the kind of bread much of Northern Europe eats for breakfast. It’s dense, explosively flavored and loaded with the natural oils and nutrients that are usually removed when wheat is processed.
Cynthia is far more patient than I am. Each of her loaves requires two days to make. I would never make this kind of commitment, but I’m lucky enough to enjoy the result of her work (quite often with a bit of smoked fish, a major weakness of mine). When the situation calls for white bread, a quick trip to Pain d’Avignon in the Essex Street Market does the trick.
The DIY approach makes sense with whole grain bread. Superb examples are hard to find. Commercial bakers frequently add sugar or honey in an effort to make bread that doesn’t taste like cardboard. An entire generation has come up without tasting a proper crust. And good luck finding a loaf with the right sourness. That’s the Holy Grail. For years Clandestino, the bar on Canal Street, had Pain Poilane flown in from Paris because finding a local example of such bread was impractical! I’m excited to see that change.
German import Landbrot Bakery & Bar was supposed to have opened some time ago on Orchard Street, offering soups, schnitzel, sandwiches and wursts until 4 a.m. Thinking this week would finally be the week, I swung by yesterday afternoon to check it out, but they were still not open for business. Plan B was an easy trip around the corner to Russ and Daughters for some pastrami cured salmon. They also had lovely dark breads for sale, in addition to bagels, but we had the greater part of one of Cynthia’s loaves at home. That and the salmon made an indulgent lunch. We’ll catch up on Landbrot when they’re ready for us.
JP Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world repeatedly, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is a serious home cook with over two decades’ experience cooking for family, friends and fellow rock and rollers. Mr Bowersock keeps a toe in the wine business as well, consulting for the wine lists of several neighborhood establishments, including Clandestino, 35 Canal St. When not on tour or in the recording studio he’s scouring the neighborhood for frugal food finds.
I’ve recommended this one before, but have to do so again: Willm, Blanc de Plancs, Brut, NV. Just like a good champagne, but made in Alsace. And $13 a bottle. It went perfectly with the smoked fish and dark bread we had for lunch. It would go perfectly with a pretty wide variety of foods, because champagne really does go with anything. And this is champagne in everything but the name. And, of course, the price.