Slowly, but surely, we eek along. Some four months after my first sub tour pit stop, I find we are just now passing the 3/4 flag. You know what they say … time flies when you are having fun. Yesterday’s meal found me all alone at the Bread Garden. Tucked away on Amsterdam Walk near Morningside/Lenox Park, the Bread Garden has long had a reputation for some of the best breads in the city.
Even if you show up without any knowledge of their reputation, you’d soon learn of the importance that grains play here: a basket of baguettes usually adorns the door. So while the exterior appearance of the Bread Garden is as Plain Jane as it comes; the interior is home to a variety of freshly baked bread and freshly made goodies.
Before I get on with the details, I would be remiss if I did not at least mention something. Many have noted that the place is owned an operated by a short-tempered woman. While I’ve never met her, talked with her, or been put in front of her during one of my handful of visits to BG, I’ve heard her more than a few times. While the woman behind the counter yesterday was as delightful as they come, the stress of the audio soundtrack did result in me taking my food somewhere else. Take that as you will … it doesn’t factor in the score here and I don’t even know her name.
Alright … on with the goods:
Sandwich 1: Italian Sub
Ingredients: turkey, ham, salami, Italian provolone, spicy onion/pepper marinade, pesto, tomato, & lettuce on a Baguette
Severed up on a crunchy baguette, I had high hopes for this sandwich. Visually, the colors were intense and the bread looked very appealing. Initial bites of the sandwich were very good. While the meats and cheese did not blow me away, I found them good enough to sustain my interest. The salami was thin yet fatty, the turkey was roasted and reasonably moist, and the ham had that fatty slickness to it that one would expect.
As I continued through my half (by now I had a lunch buddy), I focused on the baguette. While it is difficult to truly appreciate the flavor of a bread once it has been slapped across the face with some condiments, the texture was most certainly noticeable. It crunched and then tore, as most good baguettes will. Meanwhile, nothing in the interior prevented my teeth from meeting nicely in the middle.
Gradually, my concentration drifted away from the bread and onto the distinct flavor given to the sandwich by the marinade. At first glance, that spiced onion/pepper marinade ,and the pesto for that matter, provided a subtle, but distinctly noticeable, kick. Subsequent bites became more difficult as the presence of the onion/pepper marinade started to wear on me.
When used in conjunction with the pesto, I found the application a failure. Ultimately, I found myself scrapping the sandwich. While I really did enjoy the flavor of the condiments, and they were applied appropriately in so much as the sandwich held together just fine, they should have been used with a lot more care.
So the condiments really kicked the chair out from underneath this sandwich. It went from a strong showing all the way down to something that was acceptable, but something that I’d ring the bell for.
Sandwich 2: Mediterranean Vegetarian
Ingredients: goat cheese with herbes de Provence, roasted red peppers, tomato, eggplant, & calamate olive spread on Integral bread
Spelling faux pas aside (just glance at their menu), the sandwich started and ended with the Integral bread. A straightforward multi-grain, this bread was fresh, soft, and held together with surprising success given the onslaught of toppings.
It’s been a long time since I’ve found Herbes de Provence on my plate (or bakers paper as the case may be). While the taste is distinct, I had to visit my note stash to make sure I could explain them properly to people. HdP is actually a mixture of herbs that originated in the Provence region of France some 30-years ago. More often than not, the concoction will contain some combination of basil, fennel, lavender, rosemary, savory, and/or thyme. This rendition was, along with the goat cheese, responsible for the underlying flavors of the sandwich. It’s an intense and thought provoking burst of flavor that might be tough for some to swallow. The aromatics, hint of pepper, and implications of lemon are easy to detect. I myself enjoy the “spice,” but found it hard to down the more I had. I won’t say it was bad, only that the flavors might not sit well with the average crumb head.
The cheese was creamy and thick, and coated my mouth with each bite. Some people might really appreciate it, I found it to drift a tad toward the heavy side (seeing a pattern yet?).
The vegetables were easily better than average, though far from transcendent. However, their inclusion, the eggplant in particular, really drove the “Mediterranean” concept home. If the goal here was simply to match the flavor profile to the “sandwich title,” then this sandwich would have been a true home run.
Ultimately, I found the underlying flavor combination to be re-assuring and the integrity of the sandwich resilient. Several sandwiches of the same ilk have fallen apart on me during other tour stops. But again, I found the condiments overpowering and a disappointment.
Conclusions & Notes
As the name intimates, the grains here a the Bread Garden are clearly the star of the show. Meanwhile, the proteins, vegetables, and cheeses were all ample in both flavor and quality. While that trio of elements was not on par with those used by the real stars of the sandwich tour, the item(s) that seemed to hold back the experience more than any other were the condiments. In reality, it wasn’t the condiments themselves so much as the use and application of them. While the pesto, marinades, and such, tasted good … they were too prominent.
If you can move past the potential stress of walking into the Bread Garden and focus on the food, then, it appears that you are likely to have a good meal, but not great meal. Though price point and value aren’t factors on the tour, if they were, the Bread Garden would be in serious contention for best in category – the two sandwiches totaled $11.00 (oh yeah – cash only folks).
Tour Ratings (Explained Here)