Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Spoonful of Sugar, Sugar at Firebrand Artisan Breads

Posted By on Thu, Dec 10, 2015 at 1:30 PM

click to enlarge Bread - JEFFREY EDALATPOUR
  • Jeffrey Edalatpour
  • Bread

The first bite I tasted of a pain au chocolat was a revelation to my sullen adolescent soul. My stepmother brought them home one day out of the blue, as if she knew instinctively what could cure my teenaged ills. Ever since then, bakeries have been a salve, healing my every wound, the one place in this lonely world that can lift, unfailingly, a pessimistic mood into the beatific. The instant my feet are on the ground in any new city — Chicago, Seattle, New York — I point them in the direction of bread and pastries. I like the taste of place, the discovery of differing regional approaches and familial traditions in the making of a croissant and baguettes and eclairs. It is, therefore, unnerving to have already lost my enthusiasm for the arrival of a new bakery in downtown Oakland.

click to enlarge Bomboloni - JEFFREY EDALATPOUR
  • Jeffrey Edalatpour
  • Bomboloni

click to enlarge Financiers - JEFFREY EDALATPOUR
  • Jeffrey Edalatpour
  • Financiers
After several visits to Firebrand Artisan Breads new location on Broadway, the thought of returning again has lost its luster and appeal. Everyone working there is polite, kind and helpful. The space is open, clean and full of light. There’s comfortable seating both inside and out. The artisanal coffee is strong and hand-brewed, as is de rigeur nowadays. Acres of glistening pastries are on display behind lovely glass vitrines like shiny edible presents, and the breads are stacked in rows of floury, gorgeous loaves. What then, exactly, was the problem if everything looks appetizing?
It’s simply a matter of taste and preference. The challah, for example, was golden on the outside, but inside crumbly and dry. In contrast, the challah from the now defunct Berkeley bakery Nabalom was routinely chewy and tender. The version from Feel Good Bakery of Alameda is a close, delicious cousin to that school of baking, as is the loaf in Oakland’s Market Hall Bakery. In fairness, making French Toast out of the Firebrand challah was tasty, but that’s not the place to start with a fresh baked loaf. A second bread, the olive fougasse, was gritty and sour. Perhaps a plain baguette would have been the way to go.

click to enlarge Inside the cafe - JEFFREY EDALATPOUR
  • Jeffrey Edalatpour
  • Inside the cafe
As for the pastries, sigh. Stack upon stack of krullers, Danish, bear claws, bomboloni, eclairs, financiers, cookies and cream puffs. Surely there lay something in and amongst the piles of sweetness that would please the palate. But that was crux of the problem: the sugar levels overwhelmed every bite. It’s not unusual for me to order and devour a couple of pastries on a weekend morning and shortly thereafter be thinking about breakfast or lunch (gluttony thy face is revealed). But after a single bite of the jam-filled, sugar dusted bomboloni, it was too much to finish. The chocolate eclair was dense and filled with a runny custard. Only a passion fruit Danish offered some hint of flavor other than a glaze of sugars.
In the center of the store Pal’s Sandwiches, which used to live on 24th Street in the Mission, has set up shop for lunching. The salmon and the vegetarian sandwiches were fine and good and ultimately forgettable. They did nothing to erase the almost daily cravings that Bette’s-To-Go on Fourth Street in Berkeley elicits.

It’s not that anything at Firebrand is sub-par. The owners have paid attention to many of the right details, the brilliant surface of things. Every item on the menu photographs well and looks appealing online. But in person, those intangible qualities that arouse an intense feeling of loyalty are missing. None of this is to say that a cult of devoted admirers isn’t already on the rise. There’s simply an aspect in certain rounds of dough you come, inevitably, ineffably to love, and others you just don't. 

Firebrand Artisan Breads, 2343 Broadway, Oakland, 510-594-9213.

  • Pin It

Tags: , ,


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"