The evolution of bread in Los Angeles has been rapid. Six years ago, finding a decent loaf could be a challenge. Now, there are more than enough options from which to select our top-10 list.
All of the bread sampled was judged on taste, texture, quality of ingredients, consistency, availability and shelf life. We also took into consideration whether the ingredients are organic and local, and if bread flour was milled on-site.
We visited 17 bakeries and tried each bread at least twice. We limited our choices to naturally leavened, handmade, unsliced breads to keep the field manageable. And now ... let us separate the wheat from the chaff.
10. Seed Bakery
The small and inviting shop in Pasadena, run by Joseph Abrakjian, offers a thoughtful array of organic loaves and pastries using a variety of common and less common grains. (The coffee cake is particularly worthwhile.) Using house-milled wheat from Central Milling in Utah and a few other purveyors, the breads come out of the oven with a somewhat pliable crust and slight tang. Soft and easy to slice, the loaves are wonderful right from the oven and develop an even deeper flavor after a day of resting. 42 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 486-2115, seedbakerypasadena.com.
9. Bub and Grandma's
Andy Kadin is a full-time baker, a sometimes writer and utterly charming. He's been in the game for almost three years and in that time has built a cult following for loaves that grace the tables of restaurants including the Hart and the Hunter and Cliff's Edge. If you want to grab a whole loaf, hustle over to Cookbook (for his signature sourdough) or Dune in Atwater (for ciabatta) and snatch one up before they're gone. The breads are made with wheat milled at Grist & Toll in Pasadena and from Giusto’s, a Bay Area favorite. Various locations, bubandgrandmas.com.
8. Huckleberry/Milo & Olive
Westsiders have no dearth of top-quality bread to choose from, and Huckleberry and sister restaurant Milo & Olive are among the area's finest purveyors. The flour-dusted, sepia-toned loaf emerges from the oven calling out to be sliced, toasted and topped with cheese or crushed avocado. The slightly chewy crust is easy to tear into, and the interior crumb has medium holes that offer a bit of give. They sometimes run out, so make sure to call ahead. 1014 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 451-2311, huckleberrycafe.com. 2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 453-6776, miloandolive.com.
7. Superba Food + Bread
Whatever magic (or, maybe, just solid know-how) the troop of bakers in the kitchen at Superba Food + Bread sprinkle around the ovens certainly does work. The uncommonly well-textured bread is consistently tawny, with a crackly crust. The sourness isn't pronounced, making it very versatile. You can sample the bread in myriad ways, as it's scattered across the menu in the form of toasts and tartines. Or you can buy a large loaf to take home. 1900 Lincoln Blvd., Venice; (310) 907-5075, superbafoodandbread.com.
6. Bread Lounge
Arts District lunch spot Bread Lounge is a solid choice for a top-notch loaf sprung from the brilliant and dedicated mind of Ran Zimon. The sourdough has large holes, a well-rounded flavor profile and an airy lift. It is just as nice toasted and holds up very well to being frozen and thawed (should you not be able to make it to that corner of the city very often). 700 S. Santa Fe Ave., Arts District; (213) 327 0782, breadlounge.com.
5. Lodge Bread
Alexander Phaneuf and Or Amsalam respect the classic boundaries of sourdough with their full-flavored, fire-blistered bread. The hefty loaves have an assertive, well-developed sour flavor, a pronounced nuttiness and a decent chewiness. Thanks to the sharp char from the oven, the crust happily crepitates when sliced. While it pairs perfectly with assertive, umami-rich meats for a brilliant sandwich, this is also the ideal stand-alone bread — the one to tear into with your bare hands and revel in the miracle of flour, water, time and fire. 11918 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (424) 384-509, lodgebread.com.
Mark Stambler may very well have had the most profound impact on bread baking in L.A. in the last 20 years (all due respect to Nancy Silverton). He started out selling bread he was baking in his backyard, with flour he milled himself — until the health department shut him down. That action led to him drafting what became AB 1616, the California Home Made Food Act. The law opened the door for bakers hoping to hone their craft from home and sell the results to the public. Stambler's fine-crumbed, nutty, organic, heritage-wheat batard has a soft crust and is on the small side — ideal for breakfast. This master-class-level bread is available in extremely limited quantities at the Cheese Store of Silver Lake and the Arroyo Co-Op, as well as by special order. Various locations, stamblersbread.com.
Is it cliché to compare the delight of Gjusta's bread to riding your beach cruiser in loping figure-eights on a sun-bleached Venice day? Can bread really capture a time and place? We're going to argue Gjusta's sourdough does just that. The exceptionally large loaf is hearty, rustic and gorgeous, with a slightly muted sour flavor that makes it a fine choice for everything from tartines to strata. Or you can just slather it with the butter and jam stocked on their shelves. Like everything at Gjusta, it's handsome and ready for your camera, table, lunchbox, dinner table, picnic, hostess gift or wherever else bread can be cleverly worked into your life. 320 Sunset Ave., Venice; (310) 314-0320, gjusta.com.
2. Roan Mills
Beloved local legend Andrea Crawford of Roan Mills is not just baking and selling bread and flour; she's quietly evangelizing complex, flavorful wheat varieties. Roan Mills has sustainably dry-farmed different wheat: Sonora (a very low-gluten variety that dates to the 1800s), Red Fife and Glenn. The wheat is milled "whole grain" style using a stone-burr mill, and the resulting bread is available on Wednesdays at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and Sundays at the Hollywood Farmers Market. The aroma carries notes of hazelnut, fall leaves and rich soil. Various locations, roanmills.com.
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1. Clark Street
Baker Zack Hall is a somewhat itinerant craftsman who has risen to the top of the local bread game with his utterly flawless pain. A protégé of Kenter Canyons, Proof and a few bakeries in his wife's home country of Sweden, Hall has mastered (as much as one can) turning out even, well-structured bread with a deep, righteous flavor that balances well-developed sourness with the depth of the wheat flour. The crust boasts a fine russeting, and the interior is flecked with bran, adding interest to each bite. This is the ideal everyday and special-occasion bread. It knows no bounds. A single slice is almost eucharistic in the simple, humble pleasure it can bring. For now, it's available at Grand Central Market downtown and by special order. 317 S. Broadway, downtown; instagram.com/clarkstreetbread.
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