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A Tale of Two Loaves

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I was just in New York. I lived there for a few years in the late nineties. New York is full of great stuff, as is LA, but one of the things I miss most, on coming home, is the bread. In New York, you go to a market (usually little, individually owned markets), who get loads of delicious bread all the time. This bread is nearly anonymous, but always delicious and all different types – baguettes, challah, wheat. One of my favorites is a small, round Portuguese loaf, with four small points rising out of the center. It was great to buy a loaf and split it with cheese or hummus for an easy meal.

In LA, bread is a whole different animal – either it’s a big deal, special bread from Il Fornio or La Brea Bakery, branded within an inch of its life, available only at classy restaurants like Bread Bar. We have bakeries, but they're really sandwich shops or dessert purveyors. The more anonymous types sold at markets only seem to approximate bread, either too thin and airy (Ralph’s, Vons) or kinda bitter even (Whole Foods.) Sure, you could bake your own. But who's going to do that?

I have a theory about this. Los Angeles is still growing into good food. Though Culver City was once known for smelling of the bread from Helms Bakery (which I have never tasted), it seems that until La Brea Bakery hit the scene, there really wasn't a good, basic, artesianal loaf around. Mix this with the health-obsessed types, and, especially in a post-Atkins world, there's a noticeable lack of interest in good bread. (And as Subway knows, if you can't make it good, you can at least make it fancy - slop a bunch of sun dried tomatoes or cheese up on it.) Bread is more than just the stuff that keeps the insides of the sandwich from getting on your hands.

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Bread is such a basic, human need. Its connotations are old and deep, its pleasures are nearly woven into our jeans. I would love not to have to try to remember which big chain supermarket sells La Brea Bakery, or haul ass over to Belwood Bakery, battling it out with moms in SUVs for parking in Barrington Court, and students from Archer for a place in line. Good bread should be a basic right.

Belwood Bakery, 11625 Barrington Ct, Brentwood, CA

Photo by munir, via Flickr