New Pittsburgh Bakery Quickly Earning Rave Reviews
After much anticipation, Rick Easton opens his high-level bread shop in Bloomfield.
PHOTOS BY HAL B. KLEIN
After a six-month build-out, Bread and Salt Bakery is open in Bloomfield (330 Pearl St.). Chances are you’ve never tasted sourdough bread like this.
Bread and Salt owner Rick Easton is a very good friend, but I can attest that spending Thanksgiving with someone like him isn't what makes his bread superlative.
In fact, our friendship began because he is an extraordinary bread baker.
Two years ago, I was working on a story about heritage grains for "The Allegheny Front," and I was tipped off about a visiting baker who works with heritage grains and was coming to make pizza. I met Easton the next night while he was baking in the Braddock brick oven. The two of us got along immediately. It helped that I'm a pizza fanatic, and the guy was making some of the best Neapolitan pizza I'd ever eaten.
A few months later, he decided to return home to Pittsburgh after 12 years in Charlottesville with the thought of opening an Old World bakery.
“To come here with an idea and make that idea real within a year-and-a-half isn’t terrible," he says.
This week, the bakery will be open Thursday through Saturday 8 a.m.-7 p.m., with hours likely expanding to Wednesday starting the following week.
“I’m going to have bread that will come out throughout the morning, and pizza will start in the afternoon,” Easton says.
“Because this bread is all done by hand and is dependent on temperature, the timing will vary from day to day," he adds.
Easton is a bit of an iconoclast, and one reflection of that is his decision to sell bread by the pound ($5 per) instead of by the loaf.
“It’ll give customers some flexibility how they want to use it. They can buy it to suit their needs," he says
Last weekend Easton sold two types of bread: Pane Casereccio, a mostly white flour loaf made with organic flour, and Pane Antico, a loaf made from 50-percent whole-wheat grown locally by Nigel Tudor at Weatherbury farm in Avella. Easton says he's going to continue to work to find the harmony of quality, locality and price-point as he grows his business.
His naturally leavened breads will be the cornerstone of Bread and Salt Bakery. They're beautiful, long-fermented rounds with a heavy crust, an airy interior and a lively flavor. A whole loaf can last for a week if you let it. Each day you'll use it in a slightly different way: a smidgen of butter; olive oil and rosemary salt, grilled; toasted with heaps of butter and jam; pressed sandwich; croutons; breadcrumbs. It took me a few weeks to figure out the rhythm of the loaf. Next up for me is experimenting with French toast and bread soups.
Even without a bakery he'd built a loyal, if small, following of local breadheads.
“It’s amazing. You can tell the difference between a naturally leavened bread and a bread that’s using commercial yeast. This just has so much more depth of flavor," says Alex Terihay of Friendship.
Terihay had previously subscribed to Easton's bread CSA and was in on Saturday morning to pick up a loaf of Pane Casereccio.
On most days the bakery is open, there also will be pizza. Pizza al taglio, "Roman style" pizza for those a bit more plainspoken, is cooked in a long, rectangular pan and then topped with a variety of ingredients.
Easton sticks firmly to the classics when it comes to pizza napoletana, but he allows for a bit more diversity in his taglio. Last week, for example, he served pizza rosa, potato and pane é mortadella. This week he'll add braised lamb and broccoli rabe to the rotation.
On opening weekend, Easton had a few other items for sale. The standouts were an absurdly aromatic rosemary shortbread and the bracing, saliva-enhancing gelo al pompelmo (grapefruit). Customers can expect a few seasonal snacks like this each day.
A tip: If Easton asks you "Do you want something sweet?" as he did when I brought a friend in early Saturday evening, don't imagine you're ordering a typical dessert. Instead, that sweetness is mellowed and balanced with bitter and sour flavors — the combination pulls the essence of the "sweets" primary flavors. This was especially noticeable in the grapefruit.
As Easton gears up for week No. 2, he continues to be more focused on fermentation than on celebration.
“It feels … well, I don’t know if I’ve time to feel yet. I’m open. I’m selling bread," he says.