Loafing Around: NYC Bread Bakeries

Peter Terzian

Call it the return of the repressed. Only a few years ago, in the wake of newspaper articles celebrating the benefits of the low-carb diet, New Yorkers were whistling past the bakery, proudly renouncing bread and flour—which briefly became known as "the white devil"—in all its forms. But the City's bread bakers stuck by their crackly-on-the-outside, doughy-on-the-inside creations, knowing we couldn't resist for long. Boutique bakeries opened new locations; artisanal baguettes and loaves began appearing in corner stores and specialty shops across the City. We lost a few pounds, and then we got sick of being good. How could we not, with freshly made bread on every block? We've rounded up some of the best bread bakeries in the metropolitan area. Almost all carry traditional European-style white, wheat and sourdough breads; a few get crazy with olives, cheese and other mix-ins. All of them have the potential to become your new favorite boulangerie. But wait—Passover is just around the corner, beginning on March 30. Stuff your face now, while you can.

Photo: Sari Goodfriend

Sullivan Street Bakery
We may have Jim Lahey to thank for creating a new generation of home bread bakers. His simple "no-knead" technique for making a crusty artisanal-style boule caused a sensation a few years ago when it was published in The New York Times, and he recently released a cookbook, My Bread, with copious variations. But the fact that you can now replicate his bread in your kitchen doesn't mean you shouldn't stop by his bakery—which, by the way, moved from the original namesake SoHo location to Hell's Kitchen in 2000. Lahey carries a wide range of truly amazing breads, including his legendary filone, served at many New York restaurants; the flat, salty stecca; and a new multigrain pullman. There's no better hit-the-spot snack than a slice of Sullivan Street's thin-crust pizza, served at room temperature, with such toppings as zucchini with Gruyère and thinly sliced potato with rosemary. 

Photo: Caroline Yi

Grandaisy Bakery
In 2006, Jim Lahey sold Sullivan Street Bakery's previous location to his original partner, Monica Von Thun Calderón. Grandaisy, which has branches in Tribeca and on the Upper West Side, uses the same ovens and recipes to make the same range of breads and pizzas as its predecessor, as well as a line of inviting sandwiches. A few welcome additions appear in the dessert department: Nutella sandwich cookies; the Grandaisy cake, fashioned with citrus and almonds; and a sweet pullman whose flavors change with the season.

Photo: Joshua Shaub

Orwasher's Bakery
This Upper East Side institution, founded in 1916 by Abraham Orwasher, is one of the few stalwart remains of the neighborhood's Eastern European culinary culture. The shop still turns out classic Irish soda bread, massive rye loaves and a pumpernickel studded with plump raisins. Orwasher's was purchased in 2007 by Keith Cohen, formerly of Tribeca Oven, who has made an effort to draw grains and other ingredients from local sources. The bakery's "artisan wine breads," started from the yeast of chardonnay and cabernet grapes grown at Long Island winery Channing Daughters, have a crisp crust and a lively, winey tang. 

Photo: Julienne Schaer

Almondine was founded in 2004 by Jacques Torres, whose Brooklyn chocolate emporium is located across the street from the bakery's DUMBO shop, and former Payard Patisserie & Bistro chef Hervé Poussot. The pair wanted to bring a European-style bakery-café to Brooklyn. Fittingly, the main distraction here is Almondine's pastry case, which is crammed with opulent mille-feuilles and a chocolate-hazelnut confection that's similar to a Ferrero Rocher. But don't overlook the small selection of breads, including a pretty near-perfect French baguette and the signature Almondine baguette, made with whole-wheat flour. Almondine recently opened a second branch just off of Park Slope's busy Seventh Avenue strip.

Photo: Will Steacy

Amy's Bread
After both working in New York City restaurants and training at bakeries in France, Amy Scherber launched a bread empire with a small storefront in Hell's Kitchen. Amy's Bread now has three locations in NYC: Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea Market—where you can watch bread being made through large glass windows—and on Bleecker Street. Handsomely made standards—such as traditional whole wheats and sourdoughs—are all present. Still, it's hard not to take advantage of the great variety at Amy's, including a round rosemary loaf, an ornate black olive fougasse and the house specialty, a zesty semolina bread with golden raisins and fennel.

Photo: Alex Lopez

This perpetually packed replica of a French brasserie—opened in SoHo in 1997 by Keith McNally, the restaurateur behind The Odeon, Pastis and the recently unveiled Pulino's—sells breads and pastries from a tiny retail shop next door. (Prepare to wait in line: the bakery does a brisk lunchtime take-out business.) Balthazar's bakers aren't afraid to mix sweet and savory. The extensive menu of breads includes a brioche flavored with orange peel, a crown of chocolate bread studded with chocolate chunks, a chestnut-colored pinwheel with toasted pecans and dried cranberries, and a sour cherry focaccia with golden raisins and sliced almonds.

Photo: Nicole Bartelme

Bouley Bakery & Market
It's easy to identify David Bouley's expansive restaurant-bakery-café, located on a busy TriBeCa street corner. The main window is filled with baguettes and loaves of every description. The bakery's range of breads, made in a 19th-century-cobblestone wood-burning oven, is wide and inventive. Loaves are made with tomatoes, cheese, pistachios and hazelnuts, saffron and walnuts, apples and raisins…the list goes on and on. Bouley's traditional French baguette has a softer crust than most—the roof of your mouth will thank you.

Photo: Axlotl Pro (via Flickr)

Damascus Bakeries
For many Brooklynites, it's something of a tradition to spend a Saturday morning shopping at the strip of Middle Eastern grocery stores on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights. And no trip is complete without a stop at Damascus, a small, family-run bakery that has made Syrian breads and pastries since 1930. Damascus distributes its merchandise to supermarkets and bakes in a nearby factory—still, there's nothing quite like picking up a bag of fresh and fluffy pitas (available in salt-free, low-carb, garlic and other trendy versions) right from the source. Don't leave without a few sweet, sticky baklavas.

Photo: Alex Lopez

Madonia Brothers
Some call Arthur Avenue the City's "real" Little Italy, an old-world area of the Bronx with Italian restaurants and shops that specialize in meat, fish and sweets. Madonia Brothers, a family-run bakery, sells traditional Italian breads as well as a gamut of adventurous flavors: olive, chocolate, cinnamon raisin, provolone, prosciutto, jalapeño and a pork-filled "lard bread." (Unlike New York's boutique bread bakeries, this one will even slice your loaf for you.) The bakery's canoli, freshly filled with sweet ricotta cheese, are widely beloved among Italian-pastry connoisseurs.

Photo: Daniel Krieger

Levain Bakery
This tiny Upper West Side bakery, located below street level, is easy to miss. Its cookies are not. They're what the shop is known for—thick, doughy, 6-ounce monsters that have been proclaimed the best in New York City, and which can be shipped anywhere in the country. But don't overlook Levain's line of fine breads, which includes an olive herb semolina, whole-wheat walnut raisin rolls and loaves, and a sweet and crunchy breakfast treat, sourdough rolls filled with Valrhona chocolate.