#”Live Free and Bake.” – Lodge Bread Co.
My brothers over at Lodge Bread Co. are semifinalists for the James Beard Best Baker Award this year so I’ve decided to update the post I originally published moments after they opened in November 2015. Here goes.
I was going to title this post “Toast in Los Angeles” but for journalistic integrity I had to change it to because the only place (besides home) I’d actually been having toast in Los Angeles is the wonderful Lodge Bread Co. Yes we have good bread in Los Angeles and it’s been here a while. We’ve got Kenter Canyon/Roan Mills, who are growing and milling their own wheat; there’s Gjusta, Sqirl, Superba Food & Bread, Milo & Olive and Huckleberry; there’s the larger La Brea Bakery & Suzanne Goin of Lucques & AOC’s Larder Baking Co.; at Wednesday’s Santa Monica farmer’s market only we’ve got the rogue natural leaven evangelist Bezian Bakery who will tell you how the Romans and all other great civililzations were built on bread; and, at Grand Central Market and other select places you can get Clark Street Bread, the stuff that’s gracing the grilled #cheeezus sandwiches you’ve seen me eating on Instagram. But now we’ve got Lodge which is . . . well let’s just say it’s my personal favorite bread ever, so I’ll say . . . the best.
Let me back up for a moment and just talk about bread and why I love bread and am drawn to bakers. There is something archetypal about bread and bakers. A neighborhood bakery engenders feelings of home, hearth, love, happiness and community like few other places can. The passion, excitement, and devotion of bakers is immediately tangible to my senses, and I think spreads to everyone within the local radius. To my mind and spirit there is also a kind of sacred mystery involved in the coming together of wild yeast from the air + water + flour, and then + fire, to = bread, that is downright religious. Nature’s process in making bread will teach you humility and the necessity of letting go. Stuff goes wrong and you can either throw a tantrum or relax and get wise. If you don’t back off of your rigid plans and timetables, mother dough will beat you into submission. But the power of bread and breaking bread together just brings humans together like little else. I also know first hand that it is hard work and involves sacrifice that few people realize unless they spend some time working behind the counter, and that is why I really root for good bread and bakers when they come to town.
My love affair with Lodge began with a trip to Matcha Box, Los Angeles’ first “Matchateria.” I am absolutely a coffee creature down to the bone, but I’d just started a job in the neighborhood and wanted to visit. Always up for supporting independent, small scale start-ups/openings/pop-ups, I was also eager to try what I’d seen on various postings and news flashes: matcha-infused nut butter toasts. When I arrived I saw the most beautifully burnished loaf of seeded bread on a carving board, and crumbs and nut butter littered all over the counter. I could not decide between a regular nut butter toast and a matcha nut butter toast, so they made me a sort of Arnold Palmer toast, half matcha-cashew butter and half just-cashew butter on one slice of seeded bread. And a Matcha Latte.
I noticed right away that the flavor of the bread was really good. Really forward, savory and . . . present. It’s up front on all your senses: the crust looks dark, some loaves are even black and charred in spots, and has shiny blisters and big sharp ears. The crumb has got some soulful, irregular holes. It’s got chew. Especially if you order it untoasted and still warm from the bake. And especially with the pan loaves, that are sliced 2″ thick. But that’s another paragraph. Taste: At Matcha Box, the toast was from a seeded country loaf, and it tasted naturally leavened. Technically sourdough, but just really mellow and lingering sour flavor, not a metallic or chemical sour, or even that flavor you’ve probably all had . . . that underbaked kind of gummy “San Francisco” sourdough bread you sometimes get in restaurants. I inquired of the employee as to WHAT BREAD IS THIS and was told “it’s a place called Lodge Bread, they don’t have a place yet but I think they’re going to open one soon.”
So I paid close attention. I found LB on Instagram and was pleased to learn they were just two months from opening their first brick-and-mortar. It was really sweet to watch the excitement and momentum build in the photographs. I love rooting for the neighborhood baker, it’s my version of a sporting event. Clearly these guys were stoked and the stoke was gathering up like a runaway downhill snowball. I’m all for the underdogs, dreamers, risk-takers and tireless dough schleppers!
Lodge is headed up by Or Amsalam and Alex Phaneuf, two young gentlemen with fine dining/restaurant cooking background who bailed the rut to do their own thing. You can read all about them on their website and about Alex here. I believe they trained with the marvelous, funny and EXTREMELY skillful San Francisco breadmaker Josey Baker. You may remember my trip to San Francisco for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in 2014 when I got to meet Ngan and Patty, and when I dragged my mom out of bed to The Mill for the most frigging awesome bread and toast ever. So … experience and pedigreed training . . . add to that a fabulous attitude, an eye and nose for deliciousness and beauty, passion, and the sweat and tears of hard work and you’ve got Lodge.
Now around the beginning of November Lodge opened, coincidentally on the same street as Red Bread, maybe a mile or so east, in Culver City. I went there on the first weekend just 3 or 4 days after their grand opening. I had this:
The whole wheat pan loaf, pictured above, may be my favorite, although it is a tough call. I love the nutty flavor and the dense chewyness of this loaf. It is the one they use to make their nut butter toasts. As you can see the portions are generous at Lodge and I appreciate this. My first trip (above) sent me home with two half-toasts that I slapped together for a mulberry jam & cashew butter sandwich for dinner.
I had the good luck to be seated next to family members of one of the owners on my first visit, and the happiness was infectious. My husband happened to be at an all weekend training event and I do mean all weekend. 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. So the next day, on Sunday, I went back with two friends, and we had this and this and this:
The cinnamon rolls you see above are very large, and although they are made with brioche dough, they weigh in at nearly one pound for one roll. That’s impressive. I have not seen hand pies regularly appearing at Lodge and this is lamentable because I thought the crust was some of the best I’ve tasted all year long.
The next weekend I took M and we had one more of these:
I love the ambiance here. It is comfortable, the music is spirited and loud, the decor is clean and simple but with a touch of personal style, and the vibe is happy.
A few months into opening, Lodge Bread Co. unveiled Sunday pizza nights which soon became my favorite night of the week. The pizzas are made with their bread dough and therefore chewy, flavorful, and they cook em to slightly blistered on top.
Now, a just a few short years later Lodge Bread Co. has expanded into next door and offers a nice full menu with pizza available every night.
Besides the pizza, another early savory favorite at Lodge Bread Co. was sunchoke bread pudding.
They make a few regular treats, including cookies, granola bowls, chocolate bread pudding, I’ve seen a fruit crisp or two, and coffee cake. For a while they were featuring pumpkin bread (below) but recently I’ve seen lemon poppy seed.
If you live in Los Angeles and have not already done so, you ought to visit Lodge Bread Co. very soon. And if you travel to Los Angeles, or are planning a trip, put it on your itinerary. I think you will agree with me that it is a special place. I hope Lodge sticks around forever and ever, amen.
Lodge Bread Co., 11918 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90066 //(424) 384-5097