It was a Tuesday evening and we were driving home from Tinder Hearth Bakery, lobbing hyperboles about the pleasant experience of sharing one of their wood-fired pizzas. Two chocolate croissants and a loaf of raisin spelt bread sat in brown paper bags on the back seat. “The best pizza ever,” Michael said. I agreed. As Goldilocks would say, the tomato sauce was just right: not too thick, not too rich, not too aggressive, just right. The melted cheese with little caps of golden crispness and the earthiness of the homemade sausage combined deliciously. The crust. In the kingdom of pizza, this is where the great and the almost great part company. Tinder Hearth makes crust from the same sourdough starter used in their breads. In the wood-fired oven the crust picks up a subtle smokiness that whirls around your mouth and then vanishes, like smoke. “Do we know anyone else who would drive four hours to eat pizza?” We couldn’t think of anyone.
There are so many reasons to make the long drive to Tinder Hearth. Their story of building something out of close to nothing makes for daydreaming; discarded possibilities take on new life. Tim Semler and Lydia Moffet experimented with sourdough loaves for a year, baking their hand-shaped breads in a small earth oven in the backyard of their farmhouse. They live in Brooksville, Maine, which is to say way far away from almost everywhere. No real town to speak of, and therefore no plethora of customers.
Nonetheless, when they felt confident of their formulas, undeterred by the expanse of a customer-free landscape, they gathered friends and family and built a bigger wood-fired oven in their backyard and added a luxury item, a freestanding timber canopy. Tinder Hearth Bakery was launched.
Today Tinder Hearth bakes bread in a commercial-sized brick oven built in a new addition between the barn and the farmhouse. They deliver sourdough bread and croissants twice a week to nine stores and two restaurants. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings they pull together a long table and a mismatched set of chairs and serve several varieties of pizza. If you are in luck, a few loaves of bread and a basket of croissants remain from the early morning production. Perfect for breakfast or, in our case, to fuel the road trip home.
The fun in eating pizza in front of the wood-fired oven is watching Tim perform the ritual motions that must be as ancient as baking bread. The dance of the long-handled peel whisking fresh dough, tossed and flattened into rounds by his staff, from workbench to hearth, and back again. The fun of eating in an un-restaurant space. The casual mood: friends come and go, some mingle in the farmhouse kitchen; some bring wine or beer; children wander. The elements are simple: good food, warmth, conversation, work, quality, flavor, and the mellow combustion of these true bearings falling into place. The sum of it is time well spent.
Tue: 7:00 am – 8:00 pm
Fri: 7:00 am – 8:00 pm. Pizza is available to take out or eat in on Tuesdays and Fridays, 5pm-8pm. Check out their Facebook
page for weekly menus. Call 326-8381 to place an order!
Like those sturdy wildflowers you see poking through pavement, there’s a revival of mom and pop businesses taking root along Main Street, U.S.A. Someone with an imagination, a risk-taker with a creative business plan or a deep pocket, salvages an old and often vacant building. While the renovations bring back the forgotten beauty of the structure and the identies of the new businesses take shape within, you may experience a pleasurable deja vu: one-of-a-kind storefronts are the once-upon-a-time and could-be-again Main Street icons we’ve been missing. Instead of there being no “there” there, as Gertrude Stein once claimed about Oakland, California, now there is a place with a unique personality, and there is no other “there” just like it, anywhere.
In Lewiston, Maine, The Forage Market is exactly such an architectural phoenix rising from the NAFTA ashes. Lewiston was once a manufacturing center, but in the latter half of the 20th century the abandoned factories and warehouses became known for drug busts more than textile products. In the late 90’s this trend toward decline began to shift; federal and state funds replanted a town park, built handsome parking garages, and made low-interest loans available to the early adapters, the small wave of professionals and entrepreneurs who could see potential in the bones of a struggling town.
The Forage Market is riding this wave. It’s also everything we could want it to be. The renovation of the building exhibits allegiance to 19th century architecture yet the bold re-design of the facade gives it a strong contemporary vibe. Inside, a wood-fired oven turns out crusty, hand-shaped breads, croissants and bagels; colorful displays of fresh local fruits and vegetables, and banks of refrigerated cheese, meats, and beverages mesmerize; and a carefully curated selection of wines, beers, cooking tools, and ingredients line the shelves. A short menu of handmade sandwiches and soups changes weekly.
Everything, including the fakin’ bacon – there’s real bacon from pigs, too – is made from scratch in the Forage kitchen. We bought two sandwiches generous enough to span lunch and dinner: shredded vegetables, hormone-free sliced turkey, a mild Maine cheese I didn’t get the name of, and a house-made remoulade that was savory rather than sweet. (By the way, who decided we want sugar in our store-bought catsup and mayonnaise?) Next visit to Forage we plan to pick up one of their to-go dinner specials. On the day we visited, the special was Chicken Pot Pie made from wood-fire-roasted local chickens.
Forage Market is open Monday thru Friday, 7 to 7 and Saturday 8 to 4.
180 Lisbon Street, Lewiston, Maine 207-333-6840. For daily selections go to www.foragemarket.com. See more photos on Flickr.
Many of the bakeries we visit began life as shoestring enterprises in out of the way places – we’ve seen a grandmother’s barn turned into a kitchen and a hand-made earth oven turning out beautiful loaves. Wild Flour Bread is like that. It stands in a former cow pasture, now a garden. In 1988 when Jed Wallach first set eyes on the site of his future bakery he was standing on an overgrown roadbed. From day one his business principles were clearly defined: produce naturally fermented breads baked in a wood-fired brick oven four days a week, and hold back three days for surfing, music, and other passions. He still holds to his plan and it is working out fine.
We arrived on a warm autumn day, in the middle of the week, later than the usual hour for morning breaks and well before lunch, and still we moved toward the display counter in a long slow line. We watched a baker remove focaccia from the brick oven built into the back wall. Through the fluctuating peepholes that came and went as the line moved forward we glimpsed baskets of enormous sticky buns. They looked like rough-hewn earthen vessels, in this case built to hold currants and cinnamon. That’s what we ordered and it took two of us (and we’re professionals!) to bring down one. It was worth the effort. Nothing beats an oversized sticky bun made from whole grains ground fresh… it’s both a comfort and a dangerous thing.
Jed has built a reputation that lures people miles from home. To further reward their efforts, he built a vegetable and herb garden with pathways for customers to wander. It’s barely a tame garden, and we wondered if we were supposed to eat the berries or resist them, so we did both.
When you are we, smitten with one-of-a-kind bakeries, there are certain declarations that swivel your ears to attention: I’m taking you to my favorite bakery, for instance, spoken by Guinevere Zabinsky, Michael’s daughter, on our way to Wild Flour. Often the bakeries we love are the bakeries the people we love take us to. Strung in a loose loop around the country, they form a breadcrumb trail to the places that, for us, signal the integrity and congeniality of an American tradition. These are places that momentarily silence the daily surround of survival noise, substituting something in the nature of a merry hum; you are in a place that just by being there, and you in it, can make you smile. What’s more, at any given moment, a stranger’s life and yours, colliding at this auspicious spot in the slow-moving line at the beginning of your day, might for a moment inhabit a seamless peace, a surprise that can bump you into conversation. Soon you may have a story to go with your sticky bun.
Wild Flour Bread sits alongside Enduring Comforts, an antique store that specializes in hats, jewelry, and odd furnishings. One plus the other equals an irresistible reason to drive an hour or two some day soon.
Hours: 8:30am to 6:30pm Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday
140 Bohemian Highway, Freestone, CA 707-874-2938