This love letter to neighborhood bakeries is radiant with variety and creativity
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
It’s generally bad form to read someone else’s love letters — in them one makes personal statements that are not meant for the eyes of outsiders. To show them to others is an invitation to embarrassment, to ridicule even, for immoderately expressed passions.
There are those who are proud enough of their love letters that they publish them — or in the case of Superba Food + Bread, open a bakery. You did read that right: their website calls the place “a love letter to the traditional neighborhood bakery,” and the inspiration and passion are clear. My neighborhood bakery when I was a kid was about a tenth of the size of this establishment, but the loaves of crusty bread stacked where customers can see them brought back happy memories.
When we went to Superba Food + Bread for dinner with friends, we started with two bread-centric items: a cheese plate with baguette as well as a bruschetta with pea tendrils, sweet pea crème fraiche and cubes of bacon gelee. The bruschetta was served on sourdough toast (called pain au levain here) and it was very fine — the sweet vegetable flavor of peas and pea tendrils on sourdough would have been enough by itself, and the bacon gelee added a subtle flavor. Some bacon-flavored items taste like smoke and nothing else, but this had enough porkiness for balance.
The cheese plate was very well selected with a luscious Vermont soft cheese, aged pecorino, blue, and white cheddar, but the highlight was one of the accompaniments. Along with dabs of honey and a scattering of marcona almonds, there were pickled green strawberries. I had heard about these and now I have experienced them, and they’re wonderful. They’re like nothing I’ve had before — think of a bread and butter pickle with a fruity strawberry overtone and you’re close.
The pickled green strawberries go well with cheese and bread, like the perfect baguette that was served here. I was so enthusiastic about the bread that our server brought out another chunk of baguette for us to taste, served with an excellent butter. We devoured it, but I was disappointed that we couldn’t try some of the rye and other varieties. I might have brought up the subject again, but our main courses arrived first.
Superba Food + Bread offers nightly suppers ranging from the simple to lavish — a gourmet version of the All-American burger on Monday, lamb neck osso bucco on Wednesday, skate wing with charred lettuce on Friday. Sunday was fried chicken night, and I was dining with three people who had spent time in the South, so they all ordered it.
I could have easily done the same, having been enticed by the sight of orders delivered to nearby tables, but the seared arctic char with peas, rhubarb and mint sounded too interesting. It was an exotic combination, the tart rhubarb and sharp mint delightful with fish. It could have been the perfect centerpiece of a meal, but for one thing — it was all alone on the plate. I wished our server would have mentioned this.
Luckily I was able to nosh on the sides from my companions’ fried chicken — a delicious sweet-and-sour collard green slaw and a fluffy, flaky biscuit. I even scored a piece of the fried chicken, which was pure southern goodness. The crisp batter had salt, pepper and a hint of herbs, nothing that anybody’s Virginia grandmother wouldn’t put in fried chicken. It was commendable restraint that showed that the chefs here know when to embellish a recipe and when to let it be.
With dinner our friends sampled microbrews while I tried wines from their mostly French selection. Though the wines were fine, the list here is short and high-priced — corkage here is $35 per bottle, also unusually high, so it may be a good idea to stick with beer or non-alcoholic beverages. They have an impressive coffee bar in the corner, so caffeniacs are advantaged here.
Several dessert pastries were offered from a case in the corner, but we decided to try a strawberry-basil pavlova and a vanilla caramel custard with orange and Aperol. I’m not a fan of pavlovas because the meringue is usually too sweet, but the basil with strawberries added an interesting note to the sweet meringue. The custard was more to my liking, the bittersweet and flowery Aperol liqueur a fine foil for creamy custard and caramel.
Our meal ran $70 per couple for food, $110 including drinks, far above what I’d pay at my old neighborhood bakery. Then again, that old bakery had nothing like the variety and creativity of the menu here. This love letter to neighborhood bakeries is to a grown-up and sophisticated version of the original, and if that’s what you seek, this is the place for you.
Superba Food + Bread is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays. Park in the lot or on the street. Superba Food + Bread 1900 S. Lincoln Blvd., Venice (310) 907-5075 superbafoodandbread.com