A Heartwarming Tale of Heartland Bread

March 14 2013 - 11:00 AM

I’m a sucker for a good bread basket. I blame Olive Garden. The only fond memories I have of that place are their garlic-soaked breadsticks. My family would fight over these breadsticks, and then we would ask for extra so we could take them home and fight again later. Breadbaskets are one arena where I have zero self-control. Put a basket of bread in front of me, and regardless of the quality of bread, I’ll eat it.

Fortunately for my dignity, restaurants in Chicago have been rolling out thoughtful, artisanal breadbaskets, which makes me feel less disgusting when I gorge on them. The latest notable bread program is at West Town Tavern, the neighborhood restaurant everyone wishes they had (unless you live in West Town, damn you).

West Town Tavern recently debuted a housemade bread program (pictured above), after months of chef/owner Susan Goss and chef Alfonso experimenting with bread, trying to find a style and flavor that represented the heartland cooking representative of West Town Tavern. In a lovely turn of events, they ended up with Susan’s great-grandmother’s recipe for farmhouse bread, a soft and slightly sweet dough made with honey, milk, and butter. Goss grew up eating this bread, smeared with Hellmann’s mayonnaise or peanut butter, depending on the time of day.

“It is the bread my grandmother made and cut into thin slices for cucumber sandwiches for afternoon bridge parties,” recalls Goss. “It is the bread my mother tried to ruin in the 1970’s by making it ‘healthy’ with whole wheat flour, water, and no salt.”

Goss presented the recipe to Alfonso, who made the test batch, and now the lead prep cook Vicente makes the dough each day. The dough is shaped into rolls and sprinkled with celery, sesame and fennel seeds, all unique touches added by Alfonso. It’s topped off with rolled oats from Three Sisters Garden.

Says Goss, “I think this is a cool example of truly taking food from your heart and using it in a different, modern way!” Bread baskets are free and delivered to each table. Grandma would be proud. And you can bet the next time I’m at West Town Tavern, I’ll fight you for the last piece.