bread+bar


(Benton Harbor, MI) — Our move from Grand Rapids to Saint Joseph was born out of necessity, not choice. Nothing against the southwestern area of Michigan, but we had spent a decade and a half in the Grand Rapids area and grew to love our life there. On top of that, we knew our culinary adventures might become more scarce; we expected to roam far away for new experiences. Thankfully, Chef Matt Millar came to our rescue by suggesting a few restaurants to try in this area. Among them, bread+bar by Bit of Swiss...

He Fed:

It is a gorgeous evening in Benton Harbor. The wind has been hard at work, blowing away the rain/sleet/snow clouds that plagued us this past week, and now the blazing sunset paints the landscape a late harvest golden hue. Our drive takes us through residential areas bordered by boarded up businesses and liquor stores. I’ve never spent much time here, but the city has all the earmarks of a depressed area. Then, as we approach the marina, the telltale signs of gentrification appear: well-kempt lawns, park benches, and a small building that had once been a insurance agency and now housed bread+bar. As we park, I note the Elk club next door and Babe’s Lounge further up the road. It seems an odd placement for an upscale restaurant, but change must begin somewhere, right? Whirlpool isn’t far away either, so the built-in client base might be assured, if the food is good.

On a Saturday night at 630pm, the restaurant is at less than half capacity. This seems worrisome at first, but I have to remind myself there is a healthy Chicago contingent in the area and they are used to eating dinner much later. Indeed, when we leave close to 830pm, the place is rocking closer to three-quarters full with large parties and a certain celebrity chef from Chicago come to dine.

We are seated at a small but not crowded table immediately. I love the quality furnishings, dark lacquered wood and soft lighting from above. There’s a large deck out front, but the furniture has already been stored in preparation for winter. A low bar runs parallel to the kitchen, presumably for chef’s tastings, and a high-top bar serves customers in search of liquid refreshment. The hostess is quick to note Juliet’s aversion to the blinding sunlight, and lowers the blinds without having to be asked. That’s attentive!

Our server is friendly, quick to laugh, but a little on the slow side. I guess I prefer slow to being rushed, but she is clearly overwhelmed by her assigned tables. Luckily, we are in no mood to hurry away. I get a pint of Greenbush’s Emptiness, an apricot wheat beer. Unicorn Killer would have been more appropriate this time of year; they may not have run through the summer beer as fast as expected.

The menu isn’t too daunting, all selections on one side. Still, there’s a great mix of apps and dishes, most of which appeal to me. Juliet and I pow-wow, deciding to get the deviled eggs and three tartines. As indicated, the eggs are “traditional” mustard, paprika, and dill. They are very good, and I’m particularly pleased they are closer to room temp than the usual ice-cold ones you might encounter elsewhere. However, there’s nothing to set them apart from deviled eggs you’d make at home. For $1.25 each, it seems a little steep.

Tartines are a different story, entirely. We’re delivered a small butcher block loaded with three each of three different types: brie + apples + housemade fig jam is just a wonderfully sweet, cheesy bite given a peppery kick from the arugula on top; serrano ham + housemade tomato jam + manchego cheese takes us back to Barcelona; but the cannellini bean + rosemary + lemon arugula might be my favorite, mixing earthy hummus with tart, spicy greens, and a redolent herbaceous quality that plays so nicely with the hearty grilled bread. This dish is worth every penny and is a beautiful meal unto its own.

It is the prospect of housemade sausage that makes me order the Penne as my main. Served in a small cast iron crock, mozzarella melts over pasta, sprinkled with parsley. I’m practically drooling as I dig in with my fork, only to discover...there’s very little sausage? I count two small discs and one larger chunk. That’s it! The pasta, too, is underseasoned. As a friend of mine is oft to quote, “Even bad pizza is good pizza” and I feel much the same about pasta. Not to say this is bad, but it is disappointing. Still, it’s cheesy and tomato-y. Just wish I’d gotten more sausage.

Finally, the dessert tray is brought round. Juliet demures, but I know she’ll help me out with a slice of salted caramel cheesecake. It is an exquisite treat, very sweet on the bottom, impressive in its restraint of the use of salt. (Most restaurants use too much or sprinkle coarse chunks of sea salt onto a dessert and call it a day. This concoction is more integrated.) I wash it down with a double espresso, feeling sated.

Despite some minor disappointments, I can’t help but love the concept of bread+bar and where they succeed, they do it in a big way. I look forward to trying more of those amazing tartines and next time I’ll probably go for the Hangar Steak.

She Fed:

Despite working just a few minutes from bread + bar, I’ve never been. The full name of the eatery is actually bread + bar by Bit of Swiss and it’s helmed by master baker and pastry chef Tim Foley. In the short time since we’ve moved to St. Joe, I’ve become slightly obsessed with Bit of Swiss’ bread, so I’m convinced that if Chef Foley’s behind it, we’re in for a treat. Fabulous bread at the least.

Not surprisingly, Jeremy and I have been going through a scootch of “big city” withdrawl. Don’t get me wrong, the weekends have been restful and quiet. We’ve had time to settle into our temporary digs and do a teensy bit of exploring. But we miss being able to hop down to Reserve, Terra, or Brewery Vivant at a moment’s notice. And more importantly, we miss hitting these spots with our pals in GR. While we’re going out solo tonight, the chance to have a bit of charcuterie and a solid glass of wine is more than a little thrilling.

We arrive on a chilly Saturday night just before 7pm and are slightly alarmed at the lack of people in the restaurant. The good news is we have clearly underestimated how late people dine in St. Joe because when we depart after 830pm the place is packed. Hooray!

Our hostess seats us at a two top with a great view of the sun setting over the St. Joseph River. At one point the sun becomes a painful glare and they lower the shades so we can all see clearly. My only complaint—they should have raised the shades at some point so we wouldn’t miss one of those world-famous St. Joe sunsets. Luckily we have fabulous food and wine to occupy us instead.

I’m ready to start with my standby wine, Gruner Veltliner. Predictable I know, but I do love it. Just as I’m about to order, I see it’s only available by the bottle (boo hiss roar), so I switch gears and opt for the French 75, a cocktail with gin, lemon juice and prosecco. Jeremy orders a few starters for us to share: the deviled eggs and three of the open face tartines. We sip our beverages and enjoy watching the restaurant slowly, but consistently, fill up.

The deviled eggs are relatively standard fare, perhaps a bit too sweet for my liking. Although, after having had deviled eggs with truffles, caviar, foie gras, pork belly, uni, and many other wackadoo “enhancements” over the years, I will take a plain old deviled egg over a fancy pants one any day. The tartines are quite good and we debate which of the three we’ve ordered is the best, the cannellini bean and rosemary, the serrano ham and manchego with housemade tomato jam, or the brie with apples and housemade fig jam. There’s not a dud in the batch and I’d recommend grabbing a group of friends and trying all six varieties.

For our entrees, I’m debating between ordering a couple more starters (the bacon-wrapped dates and French onion purses are calling my name) or just giving in to my craving for mashed potatoes. As soon as the summer temps drop, yielding to fall’s chilly weather, I crave comfort foods and mashed potatoes are high on the list. To up the ante, bread + bar has Robuchon potatoes on the menu. I’ve read about this style of pureed potatoes, but never had them. The story goes that Joel Robuchon won Michelin stars because of these potatoes, which use a pound of butter for every two pounds of potatoes.

I fold like cheap deck chair and order the roast chicken with Robuchon potatoes. I can be a little fussy when it comes to roast chicken; if a restaurant can’t roast a decent chicken—something I can manage quite well at home—then I usually see no point in returning. bread + bar’s roast chicken does not disappoint. The skin is crisp, the meat is perfectly cooked, and the flavor is spot on. I’m impressed that it’s an airline cut, something I couldn’t easily do at home. Best of all is the luscious pile of buttery potatoes resting under the chicken. They’re ridiculously good and I find myself daubing them up with bits of the chicken breast. The green beans on the side are beyond compare, tender crisp and tasting just picked. The entire plate is perfection...it’s just sublime. The glass of Chardonnay our server recommends works with it all.

I’m stuffed like a holiday goose and just want to get home to put on my jammies. Jeremy’s got other ideas and orders the salted caramel cheesecake. I try a few bites and it’s divine. I’m just too full to really enjoy it.

Our service was impeccable and my food was spot on. Time to round up our GR friends for a night out down here!


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2 comments:

  1. What could be better than bread and a bar!! Love this concept too! Thanks for sharing. GR misses you!

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  2. We miss GR (and you) too! If you're down this way, a swing by bread + bar is definitely recommended. We're still exploring the area and will have many more surprising finds.

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