Cafe Reviews

Heel Thyself

Page 2 of 3

If you're looking for a breakfast bread, check out the substantial apricot walnut, heavy with dried fruit and nuts. For lunch, sit down with a wedge of right-out-of-the-oven focaccia. My one (small) disappointment here? It's the sourdough. The baker prefers not to make it in tangy San Francisco fashion, which is the way I prefer it. The flavor in this version is a little too understated for me.

Rating: EXCELLENT

BreadCrafters Bakery & Cafe, 12635 North Tatum, Phoenix, 494-4442. Hours: Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

When BreadCrafters is good, it's not only very, very good, it's terrific. But you have to know what to order.

I have no second thoughts announcing that the Tuscan ciabatta ranks among the single best breads I've had anywhere, ever. It's a flat, crusty loaf, with a chewy but not heavy interior. Dip it in olive oil, or pair it with a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and you'll enter bread nirvana. The Alsatian loaf is another winning specialty, a full-bodied multigrain bread deftly studded with sunflower and toasted sesame seeds. I was told the raisin walnut bread is a big seller, and one bite of this crusty, big-flavored beauty will show you why. The green chile pistachio bread is a clever idea nicely executed, a light wheat loaf zipped up with crunchy nuts and zingy chile. The semolina bread also works, with its delicate crust and soft, light interior tinged with olive oil.

The Berkeley sourdough, however, didn't have the tang it ought to have had. Though the rye bread had a deep rye flavor, I prefer a chewy, German-style rye. This model's interior is too mushy for my taste. And the baguette is a letdown. It's simply not in the same league as the town's best models--the texture's not right.

Rating: VERY GOOD

Loveland Bread, 10050 West Bell, Sun City, 815-0998. Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

If you're looking for crusty, chewy, brick-oven, artisanal breads, Loveland is not where you should be looking. The breads here are more like the ones Mom used to bake. These easy-on-the-jaws loaves rely more on taste than on texture for their appeal.

The Irish soda bread is outstanding, heavy with the flavors of buttermilk, eggs, margarine and raisins. Challah, a traditional Jewish egg bread eaten on Fridays, is good enough to have come from my old neighborhood. The Russian rye has a hint of molasses, and delivers lots of old-world taste. The innocuous nine-grain and whole-wheat breads, however, work better when they're toasted.

The tomato salsa bread didn't do much for me. You can't miss the tomato, basil and oregano, and there's a definite salsa kick. But the lack of texture ruins the effect. The delicately scented orange poppy bread does a much better job combining taste and texture. The pumpkin bread, meanwhile, actually crosses the line between bread and cake. But there's no sense getting hung up over semantics about something so enjoyable.

Loveland likes to slice and plastic-wrap some of its breads. But the bread doesn't benefit from either. Ask for one of the unsliced, unwrapped models on the bakery trays behind the counter.

Rating: GOOD

Big Sky Bread Company, 3717 East Indian School, Phoenix (also 23587 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale), 553-8553. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There's no getting around it--Big Sky is a big disappointment. Most breads in this franchise operation come wrapped in plastic. This is good if shelf life is your number-one priority. It's not mine.

The spinach feta bread is mushy and bland. The challah has too much yeast and too little egg. The Wyoming sourdough is also too yeasty, with no perceptible sourdough oomph. The most notable characteristic of the sourdough rye is its sponginess. The unimpressive multigrain bread is dull, and as heavy as a bar of plutonium. There's nothing special about the baguette, either, which is too light and lacks proper texture.

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Howard Seftel