Today's destination is Amy's Bread - an NYC staple that has been churning out delicious breads, cakes and pastries since it was started in Hell's Kitchen, by Amy Scherber, almost 20 years ago. The Chelsea Market location opened in 1996, so it's had ample time to become a fixture with tourists and locals alike. In this store, you can watch workers through giant glass windows as they mix, knead, shape and bake their famous breads. The shop adjoined to the kitchen has the feel of a little French cafe, with a long wooden counter, charming tiled floors, round tables bracketed by cane chairs, heaped baskets of fresh loaves, and generous display cases for pastries, cakes and sandwiches.
|Dividing dough for delicious loaves|
My sister and I wandered in with the intention of purchasing a pastry to share - we were tempted by a luscious-looking piece of Almond Brioche Toast and the promise of 'The Best Sticky Bun in New York' - but a small sample of bread changed our plans abruptly. I ended up with an amazing Semolina Raisin and Fennel sandwich roll and a Chocolate Twist, while Rebecca chose a Black Olive Twist and a Whole Wheat Oat Pecan with Golden Raisin roll. We took our purchases to a corner table to taste and compare, and to put Amy's popular reputation to the test.
|L to R: Semolina Raisin and Fennel, Whole Wheat Oat Pecan and Golden Raisin, Chocolate Twist, Black Olive Twist|
One bite of the Semolina Raisin and Fennel roll, and it was easy to see why this bread is their signature offering. The pairing of flavors is excellent - sugary-sweet raisins, nutty semolina, and the clean, clear taste of fennel (which I love) permeating throughout. I don't know too much about bread tasting (although the Amy's website offers a handy guide) but I know enough to recognize good bread - and this was good bread! The crust was golden with a dusting of semolina that only hinted at the amazingly yellow color of the crumb inside. The roll was chewy, without being tough or rubbery, and I imagine this bread would toast up wonderfully - I always love the flavor of toasted fennel - if you can manage to save any for later!
I polished off the little round loaf with amazing rapidity and even contemplated purchasing another for the road. Instead, I took a taste of the Chocolate twist, saving the rest for later. The dough was sweet and quite elastic, wrapping itself around rich seams of bittersweet chocolate - a bit like a less-buttery, non-laminated pain au chocolat (I think I actually prefer this more wholesome, less greasy version!). My sister's Black Olive Twist was made with a similar pale dough, alternated with dark pockets of briny olives. Her Whole Wheat Oat Pecan and Raisin roll was good - I especially liked the dusting of oatmeal flakes on top - but a little tougher, much more savory, and not quite as astonishingly good as my wonderful Semolina Raisin!
We left with the intention of returning later in the week to finally get our pastry, but sadly ran out of time. It's a good thing, then, that our first visit to Amy's was such a resounding success. Amy's bakes all their bread by hand, using traditional European methods, and you can really taste the difference. I'm always homesick for the wonderful, dense and flavorful breads I enjoyed in Bamberg, Germany, and my trip to Amy's brought a bit of Bamberg to NYC.
My natural skepticism of all foods famous and touristy was put to rest by some really good, fresh bread, a fun vibe, and surprisingly reasonable (for NYC, anyway) prices. I can't speak for their Hell's Kitchen and Greenwich Village locations, but if you're buying bread in Chelsea Market, make Amy's your first stop!