America has been experiencing a breadaissance for the last decade or so. As farmers markets and artisan foods have grown in popularity, particularly among millennials, so too has an appreciation for good bread. And independent bakeries have stepped up to meet the demand with careful craftsmanship and quality ingredients.
“I think people lost sight of what real bread, at its core, is because we didn't see much of it for a while,” says Stephanie Tantillo, the Director of Bakery Production at Tartine. “Now, thoughtfully made bread is experiencing a real resurgence, and I believe we are all the better for it.”
Baking homemade bread was such a prevalent pastime during pandemic quarantining that it became popular fodder for internet memes. These days, many of us have a lingering dead starter in the back of our fridges and are back to our busy lives. I, for one, am ready to leave the bread-baking to the pros.
Here are some of the leaders in this magical bread wave. We asked a few of them why they think there has never been a better time to eat bread, what’s next, and what to order.
Tartine is arguably one of the bakeries responsible for starting the recent bread revolution. It was started 20 years ago in San Francisco by Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt, with the goal of making new bread with an “old soul” using high-quality ingredients but old-world techniques. Flavor and nutrition were at the forefront of their mission.
Tantillo explains that one of the keys to the quality of their bread is freshness. “There is nothing better than a fresh croissant and a fresh loaf of bread,” she says. “Fueling that freshness is the top-quality local flour we source from Carinsprings, the long fermentation of our dough, and both the skill and daily dedication of our bakers.”
The innovation that Robertson, Pruitt, and the team have brought to the bread-making process can be felt across the menu. If you’re unsure where to start, know that Tartine’s signature country loaf is undoubtedly one of the best in the country. When you cut into that hard crust, you’ll find funky, yeasty, perfectly doughy bread that is best left untoasted and slathered with cultured butter. Tatine’s pastries, cookies, and cakes are also leading the pack when it comes to flavor and technique, and the pastry department focuses on incorporating whole fruits and flowers.
Another California gem, Gjusta turns out some serious sourdough. Founded in 2014 by the team behind other Venice favorites Gjelina and GTA, Gjusta started as a commissary kitchen to supply those restaurants. Now it’s become a name in its own right, with a seasonal and ever-evolving menu.
One thing you can always count on is the bread. There are seven different styles, making it hard to choose. They definitely have one of the best whole wheat loaves we’ve ever tasted: a sesame seed–crusted sourdough, perfect for sandwiches, tartines or just dipping in olive oil. There is also an impressive rice & teff loaf that you wouldn’t even know is gluten-free.
Their breads are distinct, but so are their pastries. We’d be remiss not to recommend ordering their miso date cookie or a slice of their seasonal pie.
Breads Bakery has been a New York staple for nearly a decade. It started with one humble Union Square cafe and now it has four locations throughout the city. It instantly became known for its Nutella and dark chocolate infused babka: Ask a local and they’ll tell you it’s the best in the city, if not the country. For those unfamiliar with the babka, the bread is a sweet, twisted loaf that has ties to the Eastern European Jewish community. Breads’ version is so famous that they’ve now trademarked it. If you happen to have any leftovers of the babka (we never do) go ahead and make the world’s most indulgent French toast.
The bakery also turns out a few different stellar versions of challah, sourdough boules, and baguettes. If you’re looking for more than bread, you’ll also find great sandwiches, salads, and mezze-style dips and spreads. During Jewish holidays, you’ll always find specials such as raspberry coconut macaroons or a spring vegetable matzo brei. Dare we say they’re better than Bubby’s?
Ole & Steen brings you a little taste of Scandinavia without the transatlantic flight. It was founded in Copenhagen in 1992 and opened its first New York City location just north of Union Square in 2019.
The bread is packed with flavor using high-quality and more nutrient-dense ingredients. Think dark rye bread, seed-flecked rolls, and spelt loaves. Their seeded rye loaves are perfect for recreating the signature Danish lunch staple Smørrebrød, a toasted open-faced sandwich, usually topped with meat or fish, cheese, and garnished with herbs and vegetables.
It’s worth mentioning that the Danes also excel in the world of sweet pastry. Spandauer is a yeasted, laminated dough filled with either jam or custard (what we Americans would call a Danish). There are normally two in rotation here, raspberry and vanilla.
Founder Mark Furst started his first bakery in 1990 after a career in politics and journalism left him unsatisfied. In 2014, he opened his namesake Bread, with the goal of being an unstuffy, reliable neighborhood bakery.
“I think that interest in bread has increased in the past two or three decades in part because really good bread is more available now than used to be the case,” Furst says. “By really good bread, I mean breads made with fine flour, whole or heritage grains, made with longer fermentation — and therefore more flavorful — and baked in far better ovens.”
There are over 10 different breads to order on the menu, ranging from simple baguettes made with locally milled flour to fruit-infused breads (the cranberry oat walnut is a favorite). For delivery, Furst recommends the “whole wheat bread, hummus, and a salad made with seasonal ingredients like our orzo or kale.” Sounds like the perfect lunch to us.
You likely know this New York bakery for its legendary chocolate chip walnut cookies. They are packed with semi-sweet chocolate chips and walnut chunks, and are BIG, thick, and somehow gooey but crisp on the edges. But did you know that Levain makes killer bread, too? Each of their locations carries something a little different, and you can find everything from a baguette to a ciabatta to a whole wheat raisin walnut roll.
Levain founders Pam Weekes and Connie McDonald founded the first Levain location in 1995 after bonding over their love of fitness and baking. The iconic cookie actually started as a compact (and delicious) triathlon snack. Fast-forward nearly 30 years, and Levain has eight locations throughout the Northeast, including the original Upper West Side shop that still draws crowds. Oh, and Levain now ships nationwide on DoorDash, too, so you can get your Levain fix anywhere in the country.