April Fools! It’s almost fitting that today’s national food holiday is celebrating a food that most people believe has no place being eaten in New York City. Although sourdough bread has been around since Ancient Egyptian times–most likely the first form of leavened bread ever–it’s said to have been perfected in San Francisco, where their modern sourdough bakers have been using the same recipes since the California Gold Rush. The creation of a sour dough is more like a formula than a recipe, actually: getting the right mixture of lactic acid bacteria in your starter bread is essential, and like so many other cherished dishes, each baker has their individual perfect combination. It’s why mass-producing sourdough bread, or just trying to start it off in your own kitchen, is a loser’s battle, and the best sourdough bakers have been at it for years, or even generations.
While we may not have the best sourdough in the country (if you look at many “where can I find…?” NYC food boards, you’ll see the most frequent answer for sourdough is “San Francisco”, haha), we definitely have a lot of generations-old bakeries and restaurants. One of which is Orwasher’s, a bakery on the Upper East Side that has been around for nearly a century, making some of the best breads in town. It was listed in Epicurious as one of the best ten bakeries in the entire country, so you know they’re doing something right. And if you’ve got to have fresh-baked sourdough bread in New York, you’ve got to have it here: Louis Orwasher, the old patriarch of the bakery, has sourdough bread down to a philosophy, and believes in the heart of the freshly-baked loaf of bread as an indicator for the social climate of the city. In layman’s terms: a good bounty of breads makes for a good New York. So make the best city in the world even better by buying fresh, local, heart of New York bread to celebrate the holiday!
308 E 78th St (between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)
“Sourdough also shaped Mr. Orwasher’s world view. He dreads the rainy mornings when bread turns out limp. He favors autumn and its yeast-loving temperate days. These are the basic facts of his life and for the most part they are unexamined.”–The New York Times
“The sourdough starter for Orwasher’s traditional Jewish rye bread is nearly a century old. The result: bread that is nearly intoxicating with its intense flavor, delightfully chewy texture, and shiny crust. Have it plain, packed with caraway seeds, or laced with onions.”–EnricoBiscotti
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The SOURDOUGH ($4) is the ultimate household favorite; Wham! It’s soft and chewy inside and has the subtle tang I want in this bread. It loves being in our homemade New England clam chowder! The crust, though it feels hard and tough after eating a lot of it (along with hot soup, it abraded the roof of my mouth — I might just have been eating too fast), has an amazing slight saltiness I like to suck on…”–Eva G.
“This bakery has a stand at the local farmer’s market which I attend weekly. I purchased my first loaf this past week, french sourdough. Quite good I must say and a good price as well. Great for dunking in my soup that afternoon.”–Danielle B.
But let’s say you’re not looking for straight-out sourdough bread to celebrate National Sourdough Bread Day. One of my favorite things to do with national food holidays is play around a little with the day in question, and come up with some restaurants and dishes that aren’t typical or conventional. Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn has definitely done that as well with sourdough bread: instead of the thick, yeasty bread with a hard crust and a slightly sour center, they bring to you sourdough pancakes, made savory with ricotta cheese instead of syrup. Just like a sourdough loaf, the pancakes are made with sourdough yeast starter, and have a slightly tangy taste to their fluffy interior. They’re served with seasonal fruit and make a complete flavor profile for a meal, giving you your salty and sour along with your sugary sweet. Or you can go the full savory route and have your pancake stuffed with chorizo and served with pineapple salsa…definitely something different from the loaf you’ll find at Orwasher’s!
Vinegar Hill House
72 Hudson Ave (between Water St & Front St), Vinegar Hill
“Indeed, the restaurant’s rustic décor feels authentic amid a quiet cobblestone street devoid of shop signs. Patrons can wait for a table at the bar and warm up by the wood-fired oven, the restaurant’s centerpiece. Brunch staples include sourdough pancakes with fresh ricotta and brûléed bananas ($10), and the kale, onion and feta quiche ($9). Many dishes are presented on wooden boards or in cast-iron skillets, sizzling from the oven.”–The Wall Street Journal
“And Angela’s Sourdough Pancake ($9) was about a quarter-inch-tall pancake with crispy outer edges and tender, slightly tart innards. The fresh ricotta took the place of butter, and the bruleed bananas lent the dish a crunchy touch.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“My main course was the sourdough pancake with ricotta cheese and caramelized banana. BEST PANCAKE OF MY LIFE. Everyone at the table who didn’t get the pancake ended up ordering it for dessert, that’s how good it was. it was kind of crispy on the outside and pancake-y in the middle and exactly the right portion. I will definitely return!”–Samantha J.
“Oh, Vinegar Hill House. Oh how you woo my heart with your thick but tender sourdough pancake, richly saturated with a sweet, sexy sauce and topped with beautifully bruleed bananas and fresh ricotta. This is a love affair to remember.”–Han C.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!