As a child growing up in Berkeley, I’ve only tasted pre-sliced bread twice. When I was younger, my family traveled to Europe and I got to eat real French baguettes. Today, we live a few blocks from a bakery and get fresh bread every morning, like many Berkeley residents.
Over time, I’ve tasted bread from many bakeries in Berkeley and so this week I decided to compare the sour baguettes, a staple of our city. I went from bakery to bakery and bought the baguettes, enjoying the unique atmosphere of our city and its breads.
My first baguette run took me just a few blocks from my house to Steve Sullivan’s brainchild: Acme Bread. The store sells bread almost exclusively and their sour baguette sells for $1.80. Acme’s baguette is light honey-gold with a hard crust and an airy texture. The sour flavor is light but unmistakable and works well with sandwich toppings. Acme also use both a barley flour and a wheat flour which creates a complex mix of flavors.
I next went to La Farine on Solano, an area which I walk to almost every day. I had never tasted their breads before, though, having only eaten their pastries. Their baguette, at $2.25, is chewy and less crusty than others. It is dense on the inside and dark on the outside, with a strong sour flavor and heavy aftertaste.
I bought Semifreddi’s $2.29 baguette at Andronico’s on the same trip and was struck by how light the sour flavor was and how the crust and the crumb melded together with little distinction. While this wasn’t my favorite, I found the denser interior lasted and tasted better day-old, which was not the case with the airier ones.
I hardly ever go to The Bread Workshop on University. Their baguette, $1.90, is called a “zapaton”, which means “long shoe” in Italian. It is very different from the other ones I tasted, more like a focaccia, wider and thicker. I could taste the unusual olive oil accent in the soft crust.
At the vibrant Cheeseboard Collective on Shattuck, I bought one of their sold-by-the-pound baguettes. Cheeseboard’s skinny baguette is unmistakable, both seeded and unseeded, with a hard, flavorful crust and a light, airy crumb. Whether paired with their cheese or eaten alone, the Cheeseboard baguette is one of my favorites in Berkeley.
Lastly, my tour took me to Domingo Avenue, behind the Claremont where the Bread Garden is nestled. Their sour baguette, which sells for $2.50, is one of the six different kinds of baguettes they bake. It comes in one of their beautiful wax bags and has a medium-honey color, with a tough crust and a distinctive, dense interior.
Overall, each one appealed to me in a different way: while Acme’s baguette makes a great sandwich, the Cheeseboard’s works best with a little cheese and The Bread Garden’s Zapaton with an Italian dinner. One thing is for sure: the diversity of baguettes in Berkeley both surprised and delighted me, but, if forced to choose, I would put Acme in the number one slot.