City Paper is not for tourists
This weekend Stable will become the latest place to pick up a fresh loaf of bread in D.C. Early risers on Saturdays and Sundays can swing by the Swiss spot (1324 H St. NE) from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. to buy house-baked yeasty treats like the restaurant’s crusty Wurzel bread ($8), a soft, braided breakfast loaf known as Zopf ($9), and conjoined rolls known as St. Galler Buerli ($4).
“Since we opened we haven’t bought a single piece of bread,” says Stable Executive Chef David Fritsche. “Back home in Switzerland, bread is a big part of the diet. It needs to be done right so the only way to do it is in house.” He continues, “If you go to a restaurant or an establishment and the bread is good, that’s already half of the battle won.”
Customers began asking if they could buy loaves to take home, giving Fritsche and his partner Silvan Kraemer the idea to open a weekend bread market. They’re still limited by capacity, which is why you can’t purchase bread all the time. “We’re baking bread every single day to the max,” Fritsche says.
The demand is there. Until recently, Bread Furst (4434 Connecticut Ave. NW), from James Beard Award winning baker Mark Furstenberg, was the main show in town for artisan breads ranging from levain country loaves and babkas to challah and chocolate cherry bread.
“I saw what Mark was doing at Bread Furst,” says Jonathan Bethony, the bread baker and co-owner at Seylou in Shaw (926 N St. NW). “He’s one of the first people I went and saw to get his blessing. He was super encouraging, kind, and helpful. He helped pave the way.”
Seylou opened in November and is unique in its approach because Bethony bakes strictly with sustainable whole grains like millet and sorghum from local farms. He never sifts his array of flours, making them as healthy as humanly possible. Customers most often clamor for the horse bread ($11). It’s a workout for your teeth thanks to the inclusion of whole wheat, sorghum, millet, legumes, camelina seeds, and mustard seeds.
Bethony knows his methodology and products are unique but feels D.C. was ready for something different. “We stand out as a little alternative in our culture,” Bethony says. “I would never call myself a hipster. I’m trying to figure out what one is, but I’ll just say alternative. Maybe that’s a ’90s thing.”
The best time to visit Seylou is at 1 p.m., when the freshly baked loaves first go on sale. Bethony says there was some pushback from neighbors who couldn’t get to the shop before it closed at 4 p.m., so he’s making some tweaks. The bakery will now be open until 6 p.m. on weekdays. They also sell day-old sourdough bread for a discount when the bakery opens daily at 8 a.m. It has a shelf life of 4 to 5 days.
Customers are voraciously consuming Seylou’s breads, which makes Bethony feel confident that the great gluten scare of the past few years is over. “I almost went off the deep-end at that time,” he says. From 2009 to 2010, 0.52 percent of the population ate gluten-free despite not having celiac disease, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine. Compare that to 2013 to 2014 when 1.69% skirted gluten. The proportion of the population that avoided the protein tripled.
“I’m grateful for it though,” Bethony says. “It helped us take a look at what we were eating and what’s happened to grains and wheat. We’ve called out some problems … It’s good, it’s all good. I have a lot of people that are excited to eat bread again. I’m happy to help them do that.”
Ellē head baker Daniel Fogg mostly agrees. “The gluten scare is gone,” he says. “I think people love bread but it’s still kind of taboo. ‘I can’t eat bread, but I love it,’ people say. They have weird relationships with bread.”
Like Seylou, the breads at the new Mount Pleasant restaurant, bar, and bakery in the historic Heller’s Bakery space (3221 Mt Pleasant St. NW) incorporate whole grains like rye and spelt. Fogg also uses touches of honey instead of refined sugars. He earned his chops locally at Room 11 and Le Diplomate.
Today is Ellē’s grand opening. The bakery part of the operation offers two daily selections—baguettes and country loaves—plus an array of breads that rotate weekly including sesame wheat, fennel raisin, honey spelt, caraway, and triple oat. Fogg’s favorite is the bread made out of two types of corn grits (yellow cornmeal and Bloody Butcher grits). “My goal is to be able to bake baguettes in the evening so when people are coming home from work they can come in at 5 or 6 p.m. and buy a baguette that’s only a couple of hours old.”
All breads are $6.50 a loaf. “Bread should be something that anybody can afford,” Fogg says. “They cost more than at a grocery store, but it shouldn’t be a special occasion type of item.” While Seylou’s prices are higher, Bethony offers a half-off discount to those who receive SNAP benefits.
Fogg says D.C.’s bread culture will need a little nurturing. “Some people in town understand it and appreciate it, but it’s going to take some more movement, some more excitement to get people out there supporting it frequently,” he says.
At the same time bakeries where Washingtonians can purchase bread to take home are opening, restaurants are rolling out more adventurous bread programs including The Dabney, Le Diplomate, and Birch & Barley. Tail Up Goat (1827 Adams Mill Road NW) made bread a big deal from the beginning.
“When we were conceiving just what the restaurant would be, something we always came back to was foods that were comforting,” says chef and co-owner Jonathan Sybert. “Breads and pastas are the building blocks of many dishes that fit that bill.”
Sybert leaned on his opening executive sous chef, Jared Dalby, to get things rolling. “We aimed to give D.C. something they were not getting enough of in our minds.” The opening menu featured an adventurous seaweed sourdough and a chewy, slightly sweet brown rice bread.
Of D.C.’s slow crawl to becoming a bread city, Sybert says, “I think that D.C. has grown tremendously in all aspects of food and cuisine in the decade plus that I’ve called it home. As for bread specifically, that places like Bread Furst and Seylou are here and thriving is enough of an answer.”
“In my perfect world every neighborhood would have its own local bakery,” he continues. “We still see a lot of folks at the restaurant that are avoiding gluten in addition to those that suffer from celiac disease, but there has been more of a move towards simply eating more healthily across the board and in moderation and a bit of a departure from folks that are cutting entire swaths of food types off their list in an effort to feel and live better.”