bread & water The basic essentials of culinary enjoyment story by Cally Jamis Vennare photography by Heather Mull styling by Ana Kelly
Bread and water. Seemingly simple, but deceivingly complex. A confluence of pure ingredients, time-honored techniques and a dash of unexpected inspiration can often turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Some local restaurants have stopped passing the bread basket altogether, while others see bread as an offering that helps to define the dining experience and set them apart.
Meat & Potatoes | Richard DeShantz, exeutive chef and owner 649 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh meatandpotatoespgh.com | 412.576.2202 Richard DeShantz knows his bread. He mastered his technique conceiving recipes, constructing ovens and crafting blissful aromatic bread at Mediterra Bakehouse. At his newest venture, Meat & Potatoes, DeShantz not only makes his bread and preserves his jam, but unapologetically charges for these wonderful creations. No matter, his bread and jam are customer favorites. “Everything here is a la carte, about simplicity. Yet I wanted to take my bread to the next level -- to make it fun, but also composed. We grill the bread giving it a nice crunch and darkness. It comes with goat cheese butter and homemade seasonal preserves like rhubarb jam.” DeShantz, who makes all of the bread in-house, including hamburger and hot dog buns, also serves his crusty treats with duck liver pate, bone marrow, pasta and other menu offerings. Although sourdough is the bread of choice at the moment, DeShantz is contemplating pecan raisin or pumpkin for the fall. “There’s something peaceful about making bread,” the chef/owner says as he calmly heads back to the kitchen to check his sourdough culture and prep for the evening. “I’m a passionate person…I’ve always been an artist. And bread is another great way for me to express myself.”
SPOON | Brian Pekarcik, chef and proprietor 134 South Highland Avenue, Pittsburgh | spoonpgh.com | 412.362.6001 “I’m a savory type of chef,” Brian Pekarcik admits. “I was adopted by a Slovak family and raised on chicken paprikash, so I love comfort food! And bread, in particular, evokes nostalgic memories for me because my mom was a wonderful baker.” At SPOON, that familial connection has been lovingly translated into a comforting bread-filled basket of goodness that sets the tone for dinner and announces the impending dining experience. Center stage, sitting like golden jewels in the basket, are house-made, cream cheese chive biscuits and corn bread muffins. Beware: They are petite, warm and highly addictive. When paired with SPOON’s simple but elegant spread of unsalted butter, honey and sea salt, you could call them downright sinful. According to Pekarcik, the recipes for his muffins and biscuits “originated from dishes they originally accompanied, such as biscuits & sweet bread gravy and roasted chicken with corn bread muffins.” Luckily, due in part to each bread’s popularity, as well as the kitchen’s small staff, both options are available year-round.
Bona Terra | Douglass Dick, executive chef and owner 908 Main Street, Sharpsburg | bonaterrapgh.com | 412.781.8210 Douglass Dick comes from a family of gardeners and hunters who made everything from scratch. “That was instilled in me, and many of my earliest memories are those of my mom making her own whole grain or wheat bread. My friends, who were all eating Town Talk and Wonder Bread always asked, ‘What is that?’ At the time, I recall feeling alienated. Now, I’m so
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proud!” The floured imprint of those early years of baking bread with his family has been memorialized in Dick’s delicious brioche. Delicate, small round rolls. Soft and fluffy-light. Warm from the oven, served with a smooth and savory herb and honey butter accented with a touch of cream cheese for added softness. “We serve brioche because, being a small restaurant and cooking on the line, I can prepare it the night before and it will hold up. The next day we form it, let it rise and cook it off.” Brioche, according to Dick, is also highly versatile. He’ll often add cinnamon or herbs to change flavors, toast the brioche for his foie gras, cut it up for croutons or use it for a luscious bread pudding dessert.
ELEVEN | Derek Stevens, executive chef 1150 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh | bigburitto.com/eleven | 412.201.5656 Baking bread for the hungry customers at ELEVEN is no small task. Add Kaya, Casbah and big Burrito Catering to the mix and you begin to understand why ELEVEN requires an onsite bakery and a head baker (the talented Glenn Hoover) with several full-time employees to handle a growing demand for sandwich breads, brioche, baguettes and more. “It’s a lot of work and expense. And if you produce it yourself, it’s not very convenient because it takes up space and is a long process,” explains Derek Stevens. “But because ELEVEN is a big restaurant with a wide and varied menu, we serve more of a complete, formal meal. And bread is conducive to that experience.” According to Stevens, focaccia is the all-time customer favorite among the wide array of rolls, brioches, baguettes, and seeded sourdough and other breads – not to mention the grilled cinnamon sugar stickies at brunch time. There are exceptions, of course. The Parmesan black pepper bread, usually a weekend offering, is now legendary. It’s got “big gooey chunks of cheese on the inside that also melt and burn on the outside.” Need I say more? Perhaps not, except that I’m heading back this winter for the seasonal chocolate cherry bread.
Pittsburgh Seltzer Works | John Seekings, co-owner and master seltzer maker
1671 Monongahela Avenue, Pittsburgh facebook.com/pittsburghseltzerworks | 412.431.1898 If you think this is just any seltzer water, think again. Pittsburgh Seltzer is vintage Pittsburgh in a bottle. In a small Regent Square warehouse, a “remarkably inefficient and time-consuming” process produces extraordinary seltzer. Water is filtered just above freezing to 36 degrees and introduced to one of the world’s last surviving Chicago Red Diamond Carbonators to inject the perfectly bubbly bubbles. According to John Seekings, “that convergence of water and machine creates the perfect chemical reaction and produces a highly desirable hard seltzer taste.” Post-brewing, the seltzer travels to a hand-bottling machine circa 1898, which distributes the all-natural elixir into exquisite glass siphon bottles – most pre-1940 from the Czech Republic, but many hailing from the surrounding area and pre-dating the “H” in Pittsburgh. Only 30 bottles are brewed at a time and each is individually snifted to ensure “supreme fizziness.” I prefer my seltzer naked with a splash of lemon, but friends add cherry, vanilla, mango or raspberry syrup (also sold by Pittsburgh Seltzer) for a refreshing Italian soda. You can find Pittsburgh Seltzer at many of your favorite restaurants like SPOON, Salt of the Earth, Meat & Potatoes, The Enrico Biscotti Co. and 1947 Tavern. For home delivery and pick-up information, call 412.431.1898 or visit facebook.com/pittsburghseltzerworks or pittsburghseltzerworks.com.
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