With paleo or low-carbohydrate diets back in the news, the fickle diet-trend public is again shying away from breads, muffins, scones, biscuits, and cookies.
In other words, dieters are eschewing the lifeblood of the newly opened Great Harvest Bread Co. on University Avenue. It’s around the corner from Pancheros Mexican Grill in Shorewood Hills.
Ryan Gajewski opened a local outlet of the Montana-based bakery and sandwich shop Sept. 19 and he’s counting on the affection of bread-lovers who don’t pay attention to the latest diet fads.
That’s to say nothing about the large percentage of the public that’s still on the gluten-free bandwagon. Gajewski unapologetically carries no GF bread.
In fact, Gajewski and his staff mill their own flour in the back of the store, and scratch-bake everything, including the six or seven daily bread choices. Some breads are available each day, with others rotating in and out. The special breads are listed on a computer monitor above the counter.
An employee will run your loaf through a cutting device if you choose. Some of the breads need to be sliced by hand (anything with chips, fruit or cheese), and Great Harvest will also do that for its customers.
Cheerful staff members will greet you by asking if there is anything you’d like to try, and slice off pieces of bread, biscuits, cookies or muffins.
Butter is put out for those who’d like to spread it on their sample.
On the day we stopped in there was also a pepita sun seed butter to try. Sometimes there is also a jam out for sampling.
Jams, nut butters, and bread and cookie mixes are all available for sale in a small grocery area of the shop.
I tried the ham and cheese biscuit only to be reminded that I am not a biscuit person. I also nibbled my friend’s sample of the hummus bread and decided that I am so much of a hummus-bread person that I decided to buy a loaf.
The hummus bread ($6.50) is one of the company’s newest breads, made with chickpeas and whole wheat flour. It’s also got sesame seeds, garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper, olive oil and honey. All the breads Great Harvest is making right now have honey in them, Gajewski told me.
“That’s what gives it that density. It’s definitely a heavier loaf compared to the grocery store,” he said, noting that most loaves weigh about two pounds.
I ordered my turkey & Swiss ($7) sandwich on anadama bread after a cashier explained it to me and told me it was her favorite. The bread is made from buttermilk-soaked cornmeal as well as whole wheat and white flour, honey, and molasses.
The bread was soft yet still had a grittiness to its texture. It perked up what would have otherwise been a more basic sandwich.
I didn’t intentionally order the sandwich for myself. I actually inherited it from my companion, who took one bite and detected what he thought was horseradish but was instead Dijon mustard.
My biggest criticism of most sandwiches in this price range is that they skimp on fillings. But my friend’s sandwich, which became my sandwich, and my original sandwich, which became his sandwich, the Italian, were both piled high with meats and other toppings.
The thinly sliced, lightly smoked turkey breast was perfect, and with two slices of Swiss cheese, lettuce, red onion, tomato and mayo it was a tried-and-true classic.
The Italian ($7.50) featured thin slices of Genoa salami and ham, provolone cheese, with a roasted red pepper black olive tapenade and a red wine vinaigrette. It was a juicy gem of a sandwich. The counter person recommended getting it on white bread and I didn’t regret it.
“It’s pretty clear a lot of thought was put into this sandwich,” said my friend. “I can’t imagine a better sandwich than this. Every ingredient is superb, from the bread on down.”
Like the hummus, the tapenade is also made in-house, as is the red wine vinaigrette.
The shop slices all its own meats and cheeses, too, Gajewski said. “Pretty much everything that we carry is made from scratch.”
The pillowy, freshly baked breads are what really make these sandwiches stand out.
While both sandwiches came with a pickle spear, my companion noted that he would have appreciated a little salad or something on the side. But in the same breath he argued that with sandwiches this thick, you don’t really need anything else.
Both cookies on offer this day — a double chocolate chip and salted caramel ($1.75) — were a sensation: thin, soft and fresh.
The shop is clean and attractive with eight wooden tables and three black leather lounge-type chairs in the corner underneath some bread art.
There is also some outdoor seating — or at least there was when we visited two weeks ago.
There aren’t many places I go back to often enough to justify adding one more punch card to my ever-expanding wallet. But for Great Harvest, I’d make that exception.