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Staff of Life

Yes, man can live on bread alone



If it is done well, and done with variety, man can live on bread alone. For proof of that, visit Breadheads, next door to The Spice of Life, in the space formerly occupied by Manitou Bakery.

Gone are the funky scruffiness, the message boards, the community mailboxes. Gone are the occasionally gruff service and long waits. One still orders at the counter and waits at one of the heavy oak tables, now covered with pale yellow oilcloth. Pleasant people bring your food on faux fiesta ware. Coffee refills are no longer available self-serve, eliminating the temptation to camp all day at the establishment's expense. This is a working restaurant, after all, not day care for grown-ups.

Opened some months ago by Louis Borochaner, former pastry chef at the Broadmoor, Breadheads is a paradise for bread lovers. You can take some crusty loaves home, stay for a sandwich, have some soup in a bread bowl. You can start with Danishes and bagels for breakfast, move on to pastries for tea, finish the day with pizza on thin but definitely not cardboard crust. Sure, you'll gain some weight but every ounce will be worth it.

The list of available breads, baked daily, reads like a litany of the saints: multigrain, walnut raisin, Kalamata olive, caraway rye, sourdough (loaf or baguette), focaccia (with Roma tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella the day we tried it), and the venerable ciabatta, a crusty, chewy, wonderful thing that has ruined me for any other loaf. On Fridays, Chef Louis bakes challah. If he starts making rugelach, I'll put him in my will.

I had multigrain toast with my breakfast eggs and hash browns one morning. Who would have thought that toast, so often an afterthought, would be so tasty? And bread's not the only starch they do well at Breadheads. The hash browns were the best I've ever eaten: creamy, almost mashed inside, crispy and shredded on the outside.

We sampled other breads via some sandwiches: caraway rye in the Deli Pastrami and my beloved ciabatta in a grilled chicken breast sandwich. They were fabulous. The pastrami was lean and flavorful, the melted Swiss and Thousand Island dressing were standard fare made sublime by sweetly caramelized onions. Be sure to get this sandwich hot.

The chicken breast was grilled to a perfect tenderness; the tomato and Romaine held together by a creamy pesto sauce. In such details does perfection lie.

The only misstep we noted was the bread salad that accompanies the sandwiches: Think soggy croutons in a leftover salad. Enough already. Use that zingy vinaigrette on some mixed greens.

Bread salad aside, my plan is to eat my way through the sandwich listings. Listen to some of the choices:

Turkey breast with herbed Brie, sprouts, Romaine, tomato and bell peppers on multigrain bread. A croissant filled with chicken salad, almonds, apples, lettuce and sprouts. A club sandwich on sourdough bread with turkey, apple-smoked bacon, provolone, avocado, Romaine and tomato.

Vegetarians may choose among three sandwiches, each distinctive. In the generically named Veggie, tomatoes, Romaine, sprouts, onions and grilled mushrooms are held together by Italian dressing and served on Parmesan-crusted multigrain bread. The Soprano sandwich offers mozzarella, tomato, and basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil on ficelle. In the Veghead, Calamata olive bread hosts (or is it hoists?) eggplant, zucchini, roasted red pepper, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, sprouts and hummus: You'll never return to the unimaginative veggie sandwiches sprouting elsewhere in town.

If you can't wait for lunch, visit Breadheads for breakfast. Omelets, pancakes (four kinds -- oat, wheat, corn and sourdough) and Pain Perdu, French toast for people who don't mess around, will start your day with a smile. For something lighter, try a bagel, the furthest thing possible from the airy dough puffs that pass for bagels this far west. These were denser, chewier and tastier. For something sweeter, try a Danish -- pecan, fruit or cheese -- made with light, fluffy dough. There were several types of large muffins looking for homes on our visits, and croissants and scones.

We took several dessert pastries home for a serious comparative taste test. The fruit tarts were deemed lovely: blackberries, strawberries and kiwi atop a delicate custard in a crust that remained flaky hours after our purchase. The chocolate mousse cake was very pretty though a tad dry. The triangular piece of tiramisu was gone before the fourth taste-tester could grab his fork. Such sublimity waits for no one. A wafer-thin chocolate bottom held layers of ladyfingers so soaked in espresso we could feel our pulses speed.

Diners with children will be pleased to note several kid items like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches and small cheese pizza. Each comes with a chocolate chip cookie the size of a cow pie. And the truly disciplined health conscious diner will appreciate the variety of dinner salads -- Caesar (with or without chicken), mixed fruit with yogurt, or a house salad of carrots, celery, onions, peppers and sunflower seeds on a bed of Romaine lettuce.

All prices are reasonable. Sandwiches are under $7 with the exception of the focaccia sandwich, which could feed four ($8.99). Breakfast items range from $4 to $7, pizzas from $7 to $11. Loaves of bread cost between $1.59 for a baguette and $5.29 for Kalamata olive. Ciabatta is $2.99. It would be cheap at twice the price.

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