Carb Loading

The Best Bread Baskets in Town

Food and wine editor Marsha Fottler shares her picks for the best bread baskets in town. Did yours make the list?

By Marsha Fottler March 11, 2016

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Yucca rolls at The Table Creekside.

Most food writers I know are united in a similar struggle and I bet you know what that is--weight gain. Restaurants, food shows, farmers markets, food trucks, charity luncheons--you name it, food happenings are just another name for calorie/carb pile-up. 

Some of my experienced colleagues employ a strategy of mostly eliminating bread from their home environments, and some are even able to cast an evil eye at the bread baskets in restaurants. By passing up bread at home and on the job, they bank calories for a glass of wine or craft beer, and food items on the menu that they are professionally required to evaluate.

Wish I could pass up bread. Anywhere. When I sit down in a restaurant, the first thing I look for is a server walking toward me cradling the house signature bread basket. Of yes, come to me bread; I’m the one you know as wheat belly. 

My brother, a fervent foodie, tells me that a sure indicator of a successful restaurant meal is the bread basket. If a chef cares about bread (a universal symbol of hospitality), then it follows that the chef cares about everything else in the kitchen. That might be true. Some of the finest meals I’ve eaten were preceded by outstanding bread baskets. 

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Bravo to Michael’s on East for one of the town’s most enticing bread baskets. It showcases a variety of flavors, textures and international food cultures. The MOE breads are both savory and sweet and presented in a spiral metal container that is both chic and modern. This exemplary basket offers papadums, Indian gluten-free crispy crackers made from rice flour and flavored with spices from sunflower seeds, chickpeas and anchovies. Then there is the raisin walnut bread, a sweet and hearty slice sourced form a local enterprise, Bavarian Bread. The Chicago-style Italian roll is a rustic classic and is comes from Il Panificio. High quality butter on the side. What bliss.

Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse also cares about bread. Nestled in a snowy napkin in a traditional wire basket is a melange of outstanding soft pretzel bread, ciabatta and cracker bread that is highly seasoned. And the Hyde Park butter is unique. It’s a large flat square. On one end, a ribbon of Himalayan pink salt tops the butter. On the other an olive oil mixture, the wide center strip is just plain creamy butter. 

There is positively no resisting the yuca mozzarella bread at The Table Creekside. Warm little puffs of soft dough encase melted mozzarella cheese and queso fresco. Lightly baked, the texture and taste combine to make this little two-bite roll seriously addictive. I am never able to stop at just one. This bread is the downfall of many food writers I know who otherwise have steely determination when it comes to passing up the bread.

Caragiulos Italian-American family owned restaurant does a yummy bread plate of just homemade focaccia. Some days it’s the traditional recipe, other days it’s onion focaccia. Both are soft, savory and toothsome. Dip in a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar or eat plain. 

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Chianti Ristorante Italiano also has a satisfying bread basket composed of just two breads, homemade focaccia and a crusty loaf bread that is soft and light inside. On the side is a little ceramic ramekin of bright herbal pesto spread. Delightful.

I look forward to the bread at The Outback. It’s a loaf served on a board with a sharp knife and butter. The crust has a nice crackle and the inside is soft and warm. Not fancy, just good tasting.

And the warm, salty, soft bread sticks at Olive Garden are legendary. Good with soup or salad. Good just by themselves. One after the next. 

When bread comes to the table at Fleming’s, it’s crusty-soft  French kind and you get two different creamy spreads that are delectable. Eat it all up with a glass of wine while deciding on what kind of steak to order. 

What’s your favorite restaurant bread? I’m always looking for new bread baskets to experience and maybe you’ve got a secret special one at a little eatery that deserves to be celebrated. Never underestimate the gesture of someone bringing you bread at a restaurant because right away it tastes like hospitality.

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