What bread would you travel across town to taste? If you’re like many Chicagoans, you’re more likely to pick up a loaf at your neighborhood grocery store than trek to the bakery with the best dough starter.
But when convenience wins, you lose. Our city is in the midst of a great bread renaissance, one marked by sunflower ryes and nutty sourdoughs worth traveling for. In bakeries, restaurants and new bakery/restaurant hybrids, Chicago bakers are, while respecting tradition and craft, making breads unlike what you’ll find anywhere else in the world.
Take chef Ethan Pikas and baker Tony Bezsylko, co-owners of Cellar Door Provisions in Logan Square. The two are widely considered trailblazers in bread, offering everything from a coriander and fennel-seed sourdough to a savory-sweet brioche made with koji, the starter used to ferment miso and soy sauce.
Their business model is also a bit revolutionary: They sell to-go orders by the slice, but not the loaf. This stems from necessity — “We have very limited oven space, and even more so, a small staff and no fridge space,” Pikas says — but it’s also the way he, as a consumer, prefers to buy bread.
“I do every now and again buy a loaf from Pleasant House (bakery) at the Dill Pickle (co-op),” he says. “It’s really excellent bread. But what happens at home is I don’t end up eating a whole loaf before it stales, and then my wife and I have to figure out a way to use it.”
Makes sense. Or maybe, for you, it doesn’t. The good news: Whether you’re seeking a slice, loaf or eat-in bread plate paired with a glass of wine, you have plenty of destination-worthy options. I recently polled local bakers, chefs and critics on their favorite breads being made right now in the Chicago area, and tasted them all to pick my top 12. Five are restaurant/bakery hybrids, where you can order bread by the plate or buy it to go. Five are restaurants where you can order extraordinary bread that’s best while dining in. The final two are bakeries only, each with a few seats, but primarily offering loaves to take home.
Just remember: Bread, unlike our love for it, is fleeting. Menus change, and some popular spots sell out quickly — it’s always smart to call first.
Bostock at Hewn
Slices of brioche baked with cherries, almonds, frangipane and powdered sugar make the lesser-known cousin to French toast known as bostock ($4.15), a good reason to eat too much bread. Owner and baker Ellen King also offers buttery brioche, the same kind used to make the bostock, by the whole loaf ($8), as well as many naturally fermented breads on a daily-changing menu. 810 Dempster St., Evanston, 847-869-4396, www.hewnbread.com
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