By Frank Sabatini Jr.
I’m not resistant to the inescapable grip Bread & Cie has on my life. The company’s rolls and baguettes have secured a formidable foothold in nearly every restaurant and grocery store within San Diego County since it opened in 1994. Prior to that, I was among the scores of transplants from back East who bitched incessantly about our city’s lack of good, artisan bread.
Founder and New York native Charles Kaufman shared that sentiment. He came to San Diego via a 15-year stint making B-grade horror films in Los Angeles. His radical career move into baking has since resulted in the wholesale production of 5 million loaves of bread a year from a facility on Pacific Highway (according to its website), plus a cafe in Hillcrest that is perpetually teaming with customers.
I recently crashed a breakfast that my spouse and a friend pay to the cafe every Sunday, eager to sneak my fork into their favorite dishes — avocado toast with poached eggs, and something called the “salmon Benedict basket” featuring the fish and two poached eggs nestled inside cup-shaped brioche. Both dishes were fresh and delicious.
For my meal, however, I was interested in the lunch offerings, which are available from the time Bread & Cie opens its doors every morning (7 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and 7:30 a.m. on Sundays). They include soups, salads, specialty sandwiches and grilled panini.
It wasn’t until after receiving my food that I discovered the possibility of a zucchini-chive muffin filled with a soft-boiled egg and three cheeses.
Named “In The Closet,” the muffin is pictured deliciously on a small laminated card clipped to a short metal stand that sat on a counter completely out of sight to customers. When I later discovered it, an employee quipped, “Everybody always sees it after placing their orders.” Too bad that such a crafty option is so under-promoted and that it didn’t dawn on anyone to make the card more visible.
My lunch-for-breakfast consisted of a mistake order of turkey chili that was as rich and spicy as Texas-style chili con carne. (The server kindly let me keep it.) It was followed by a bowl of hearty chicken stew brimming with carrots, potatoes and big chunks of tender breast meat, and then a roasted turkey sandwich of which the high point was its rosemary-olive oil bread.
When I inquired whether the turkey was roasted in-house, nobody behind the counter knew until an employee checked with the kitchen and reported back that it’s from a cold-cut style loaf by Metro Deli. Another worker chimed in saying the other sandwich meats — ham and roast beef — are sourced from the reputable Dietz & Watson.
I wished the turkey had originated from Bread & Cie. This contained too much water, a far cry from the texture of non-processed turkey. Stacked with crisp lettuce, ripe tomatoes and hot pepper cheese, I was secondly disappointed by the Russian dressing smeared inside, which looked and tasted like tomato soup. My spouse agreed but didn’t mind while wolfing down the sandwich’s other half.
But it’s the bread that calls me — the brioche, challah, batards and baguettes — all made in classic French technique that Kaufman has mastered well. (He used to sneak away to little bread shops when attending the Cannes Film Festival to learn tips from the local bakers.)
I’ve also been impressed by Bread & Cie’s cookies, muffins and decadent espresso-dusted opera cake, which offers layers of fluffy chocolate mousse between sheets of chocolate. Those treats and others are prominently displayed in the dessert cases along the order counter, where you can potentially discover off-menu specials and desserts if you look hard enough.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.