ManresaBread's retail shop in downtown Los Gatos will open on Saturday, February 21. Besides the additional locations mentioned below, breads and pastries will be available beginning March 1 at the three Verve Coffee Roasters locations in Santa Cruz.
The yearning and deprivation of those living in the carbo-deprived parts of the Bay Area will soon be over when a simple, cute little shop finally opens in downtown Los Gatos -- hopefully, in a couple of weeks. The much-heralded Manresa Bread Project has graduated from a mere experiment as the Michelin two-star restaurant launches its first spinoff, ManresaBread, just a short stroll from respected chef David Kinch's mothership.
You spoiled denizens of San Francisco and the East Bay have so many great starch purveyors to choose from -- Tartine, Della Fattoria, Firebrand, La Farine, b. patisserie, Craftsman and Wolves, Neighbor Bakehouse; oh, the list could go on and on. But south of the city, many discriminating eaters would say it's a bleaker scene, indeed, for those seeking a serious bakery shooting higher than the usual bread varieties, birthday cakes, same-o' cookies and the like.
ManresaBread head baker Avery Ruzicka is aware of the need. "There's Acme in the stores and not even all the stores," she explains of the local artisan carbo situation. But her bakery isn't competing with existing baked-goods enterprises in the area. Rather, it's a microcosm of the restaurant, producing unique, labor-intensive, imaginative edibles made from the best ingredients it's possible to get.
Ruzicka's concept had a phenomenally successful preview in local farmers' markets while it still had "project" attached to its name. After it was launched in 2013 at the Campbell market, the Manresa booth would already have a line of customers before the farmers' market even opened waiting to snatch up her creations, which would be sold out in a couple of hours.
It's easy to see why. Choices included lusciously rich, deeply flavored chocolate brioche (like chocolate-on-chocolate cupcakes but a zillion times better), super-crusty, unusual breads like buckwheat cherry and polenta sourdough, seedy epi baguettes ("people love them to an insane and shocking amount," states a bemused Ruzicka) and a revolving selection of other enticements.
One customer in line last year pretty much summed up the attitude: “The bread is addictive. Now I can’t have other bread. It’s not the same,” said Kathy Finley of San Jose. The good news is that with the Manresa Bread Project having graduated to ManresaBread, the supply has become a whole lot larger.
Eager investors were quite happy to help kick off this endeavor, which now includes Ruzicka and her new staff of four-plus bakers all working in a newly created, 3,000-square-foot production plant a mile or so from the retail bakery. It started producing edibles on December 31 to support the New Years Eve reopening of the restaurant after a devastating fire last summer. Compared to the lengthy period when she scrounged space and ingredients in the Manresa kitchen in the early morning hours after the restaurant closed, this is baking heaven.
The spacious facility features temperature-controlled proofing and holding rooms, lavishly large areas for mixing and shaping and a 19,000-pound Italian oven that can bake 100 loaves at once. The baking crew produces all the bread for the restaurant -- levains, baguettes, brioche and a nut bread for cheese service -- and still sells products at two or so farmers' markets. A new customer is the posh Rosewood Sand Hill hotel in Menlo Park above VC row. More farmers' markets, some additional carefully chosen accounts like the Rosewood and what's expected to be bang-up business in the little retail store are in the future.
"My immediate goal is to be the Los Gatos neighborhood bakery," says Ruzicka. "The same relationship we have with our customers at the farmers' markets -- we know their names and what they like to buy -- I want that to be what happens in our bakery."
Given the evidence so far, ManresaBread seems to have created its own niche -- one that doesn't track other bakeries. "We don't want to do 10 different kinds of scones or cookies," she explains. "None of us are super excited about doing cakes. Or eclairs or cupcakes. We're more interested in flavor; slightly more rustic. Well, not rustic, but we're not going to put gold leaf on anything anytime soon."
Her ingredient- and technique-driven products will get a boost from an Austrian grain mill that was just purchased. She's searching for local organic grain sources -- not easy to find, alas -- and hopes to use milled-in-house flour for the restaurant's bread and will also start making crackers with this flour as well. "It's a good showcase for a really wonderful flavor," she says about crackers.
Other organic flour will also be utilized in the bakery. Like some other artisan bakeries in the Bay Area, ManresaBread had been using Guisto's flour but Ruzicka's obsessive quality standards led her to a better option. Camas Country Mill in Oregon works with select growers to produce flours with superb properties. "It goes directly from farmer to mill," she explains. "I'm really happy with that flour." It enables longer fermentations, which translate to deeper flavors.
Her breads, which rely on in-house starters, are super crusty, have excellent hole patterns and feature multi-dimensional tastes. But ManresaBread also offers temptations in the pastry realm, particularly "laminated" pastries, which is the professional term for the butter-layered puff-pastry doughs used for items like croissants and kouign-amann. Naturally, Ruzicka uses low-moisture French butter.
In current production, for example, are savory puff-pastry tarts with onion and Gruyère cheese, a caramelized apple tart with cream cheese filling and super-delicious "monkey bread," which is croissant dough tossed with cinnamon and sugar with a buttery molasses schmear. "The outside caramelizes and they're really, really good," explains Ruzicka.
This is a fine description for another recent creation, little individual tea cakes rich with hazelnuts that have a generous dot of chocolate ganache in the middle. The bakers also have a way with brioche, from an orange-with-chocolate version to a savory variety featuring grain mustard, ham and Gouda cheese.
Like the restaurant, ManresaBread will chase the seasons in its evolving offerings. Today's orange and chocolate brioche will become chocolate and eventually strawberry brioche after citrus season is over. Fortunately, "we definitely don't have customers coming up and saying, you should make a cupcake or a coconut layer cake," laughs Ruzicka when discussing customer response to her bakery's seldom-seen creations.
The soon-to-open retail store near the restaurant will offer take-out bakery items and coffee only. If the response is anything like that at the farmers' markets, there won't be much room for lingering, anyway.
ManresaBread (opening date not yet available)
276 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 7-4 p.m.
Also available at Sunday farmers' markets in Campbell and Palo Alto; and at POPUP in downtown Santa Cruz, beginning in March.
Facebook: Manresa Bread