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Berkeley & San Francisco: Acme Bread

October 17, 2006


Five days later. A lot more poor. Even more fat. Really behind on homework. And super happy!!! I took off for Berkeley & San Francisco this weekend. It was a well needed break after a week of four midterms, five interviews, a paper and two presentations. Baaaahhhhhh. I left Friday afternoon right after my last interview – I needed to EAT!

Here was my agenda:
Ferry Building & Saturday’s Farmer Market
Acme Bread – oooh heaven!
Ici – honey lavender & pumpkin gingersnap ice cream
Canteen – for breakfast – Chupacabra
La Farine – almond croissants
Masse’s – almond croissants, fig & goat cheese tart
Cheeseboard Pizza
Cheeseboard Cheeseshop
Indian food…somewhere
Golden Gate Bakery – egg custard tarts
Berkeley Bowl – supermarket
Tartine – bread pudding
Gregoire – fig bread pudding, potato puffs
Zemocha – hot chocolate
Nan-Yang – Burmese
Cafe Fanny – breakfast – macarons
Kingpin donuts – cinnamon glazed twist

How is all this accomplished in a weekend? Just wear your loosest clothing and be willing to do nothing but search out good food all day :)

Basically, there were no “formal” meals planed. My goal was to sample as many baked goods and pastries as possible. But to be honest, man can NOT live off sugar alone (he’d have such bad diabetes!) and I do love my savory dishes, so I had an awesome breakfast of chupacabra at Canteen, ginger salad at Nan-Yang and a particularly memorable thin crust at Cheeseboard. But pastries are first priority. Always.

I’ve heard so much about Acme Bread, I’ve even had fantasies and dreams about their bread based solely off reviews from friends who were lucky enough to visit. Well, here was my chance! I went to two of their locations – the original on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley and the more recently opened outlet in the Ferry Building. My awesome host and Cal undergrad, Christine accompanied me as we woke up at 6:30 Saturday morning in our attempt to be the very first people at the market. The Acme shop here is simply beautiful – (this picture does not do it justice!) walls lined in baguettes, batards, pain di mie, brioche, challah…oh man. It was too much for me.

I started off with a warm sourdough cheese wheel. The fist-sized pastry was covered in cheddar, but a single bite revealed chewy savory sourdough laced with melted asiago cheese. The first nibble was good, the second better and by their third, it just hit you like that, in all it’s glory, a savory bread with the perfect chew and seemingly endless pockets of cheese. It was near heaven warm, but just imagine if it had just come out of the oven!

Mmmmmm. I love baguettes and I love anything that resembles a baguette provided the crust is crisp, almost to the point of hard but the innards must be soft and lush with only the pure flavors of flour and yeast. I admit half the reason I ordered the Epi was because I love the feel of carrying a “tall” bread. I must have read too many French children stories as a kid – always imagining myself as that little schoolboy (or girl, in my case) walking home with a fresh baguette tucked under your arm. But dream aside, this was a masterpiece, I broke off the top cut and marveled at the lightness of the bread, tore it half, watching some crumbs fall to my dress, biting in and rejoicing in the extremes of texture and plain perfection of the simple flavors. It was bread alone and it did not need a single thing in the world to make it better.

I went to the Berkeley location the next day. It’s a little out of the way on the north end of Berkeley and I had to transfer busses twice, but it was well worth it. It’s located in the most unassuming of locations and I would have walked past it if it were not for the long line of people out the door.

There’s only room for three or four customers to stand inside, but when it’s your turn do make sure to look around. The factory is a Disneyland of bread baking. Flour everywhere, warm scents of this and that, the cozy comfort of dough, sweet cinnamons and trees of baguettes, sweet ladders, apple tarts, cinnamons twists and herb slabs.

The family of Pumpkin Buns at sitting next to the cash register caught my eye with their small irregular shape and shades of orange-brown interrupted by splashes of red and dark purple. The slightly crisp skin harbors the softest, most mellow bun I’ve had in quite a while. The pumpkin flavor was present, though very subtle. Soft and doughy the soothing flavor was sparked with whole walnuts and an even mix of pucker tart cranberries and sweeeeet raisins. I ate the fall season in a bun.

Don’t try to finish the Citrus & Almond Brioche in one sitting. You’ll deeply regret this. I can tell you from experience. The picture above is deceivingly labeled as “small.” Anyone with good judgment can tell that it’s really NOT small. But I was blinded by the gods of baked goods and it seemed perfectly reasonable at the moment to attempt the entire Brioche. It was lovely. An eggy sweet rich bread, cut with bright bits of orange and lemon zest and dotted with almonds. I imagine this would make a most wonderful French toast…if there were any leftovers.

Bread makes me want to dance. To laugh. To do all sorts of wonderful things. Crisp breads, plush ones, sweet, salty, even throw in a bit of tang. In short, bread makes me incredibly happy. And that is why I have a bread belly in place of a beer belly. We should all have bread bellies – the world would be a much more happier place!

Acme Bread
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 288-2978

Acme Bread
1601 San Pablo Ave
Berkeley, CA 94702
(510) 524-1327

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