by Dan Morgridge
The kitchen of the average human is a tricky mix of leftovers, one or two mismatched veggies, and approximately 6 bottles of condiments per item to put them on. Bread offers us a handy receptacle for everything that doesn’t match – whether you’re making a club sandwich, or just using that last tomato and a little EVOO, a good loaf will make you a meal. Of course, there’s no reason to settle for the spongy white bread – Chicago has a number of fantastic bakers, so we’ve tried to round up the cream of the crop.
You could say that Rida Shahin got a little bit carried away with his bread-making hobby. A professional biologist as recently as a decade ago, Shahin and his wife made their own starter out of grapes, water and flour. An education at the National Baking Center and one massive French oven later, Shahin has been supplying West Town residents (and restaurants around the city) with his delicious creations. Their flagship is the ciabatta – pick up a whole loaf, a sandwich-sized version, or a bite-sized loafette for those on the run.
The little bakery that could, Red Hen has worked its way up to three locations since humble beginnings in 1996. While their sweets are nothing to sneeze at, their breads really shine – all of their locations offer an array of bagels, bolos, buns and more. Specialty items include their roasted garlic ring – a halo of crusty perfection chock full of breath-be-damned garlic. Best of all? Their delicious in-house sandwiches would be tasty on any bread, but become masterpieces when paired with their favorite breads.
The bread geniuses of Cook-Au-Vin decided it was high time to show what the popular bread-making teachers can do once they’re the ones behind the bread wheel. Producing the most decadent of French pastries, look past the caramels, macaroons, and opera cakes. The bakery also makes an array of decorative loafs, baguettes, and croissants that are worth going to war for.
About as old-school as you can get in Chicago, Tel-Aviv has been in business over 20 years with the current owners. They don’t have a website, they don’t take credit cards, and for most of the city, it’s a hike-and-a-half. What they do have going for them is an unbeatable selection of kosher treats. Their rugelach is to die for, and the seeded marble rye will make grandma jealous. The family’s been sticking to recipes brought over from the old country for decades, and even gentiles can appreciate the craftsmanship here.
One of the best bakeries in Chicagoland is not quite in the city proper. But when you’ve been making some of the best baked goods in the area for over 70 years, it’s worth a bit of a commute. Employing two Certified Master Bakers, Jory Downer and Efrain Tirado make sure that the bakery has many succulent treats. Big, dark Miche loafs; savory onion walnut; holiday specialties like Scandinavian Julekake, and deliciously deadly all-butter croissants – the bakers of Bennison’s make treats from every nook and cranny of the baking world.