The Best Bread in Philadelphia?–Metropolitan Bakery

Signs for the Metropolitan Bakery

At the intersection of delicious and delectable.

Metropolitan Bakery first came into my consciousness several years ago. I was in Philadelphia to attend an academic conference and stopped by Reading Terminal Market on my way to the Marriott. Wanting to treat myself, I chose a raspberry filled brioche roll. Perfection–the brioche was eggy, almost like eating french toast, with a tart/sweet raspberry filling and a dusting of powdered sugar. That roll was without question the highlight of that day. I can still taste it.

Bread is a funny thing. Consuming bread has been an essentially human activity for thousands of years. Calorie dense, portable and long-lasting, bread made migration possible. At the same time, bread is a symbol of class difference. That brioche I ate–which probably cost a dollar–is an artifact of the widening gulf between classes in the modern era caused, in part, by technological improvements (the invention of the steel roller mill, for example) that allowed wheat to be ground fine and soft enough to make pure white flour possible. When Marie Antoinette supposedly said “let them eat cake,” she really said brioche, an item that was as above the means of her starving countrypeople who subsisted on heavy, dark loaves, as a new chateau. While bread is a staple, what kind of bread and how often it’s eaten has always been about social status. Food historian Hasia Diner writes that in Italy poor people baked bread once a year. Once it became hard, they would soak it to make it edible again.

Standing in front of the shelves lined with round loaves, baguettes, ovals at the Metropolitan Bakery, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed by this historical reversal. Downy white brioche nestles near meaty multigrain or ancient spelt, risen in the old-fashioned style in a banneton, giving it the recognizable flour pattern on top. All of it is delicious, with a delicate, lingering, slightly sour flavor imparted by using wild yeast and unhurried rising. Old techniques married to our contemporary desire to have everything available immediately. Looking at that wall of choices I’m compelled to think about how a cultural history of bread tells us almost everything we would want to know to understand a society. Bread as the symbol of zeitgeist?

Loaves of bread at Metropolitan Bakery

Loaves for sale at the Metropolitan Bakery

Recommended: Really, everything, but the brioche buns, sourdough fennel pretzels and french berry rolls are particularly unique.

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About Mary Rizzo

No denying it, I like the sensual things of the world, especially good food and drink, though I'm no snob when it comes to either. A background in American cultural history and food studies makes me approach the world with a desire for contextualization and connection on the way to synthesis.
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4 Responses to The Best Bread in Philadelphia?–Metropolitan Bakery

  1. wow….carb heaven! My brother is the biggest carb freak I’ve ever met…I’m thinking we should plan a trip to Philly when he visits in December so can pay a visit to the bakery!

  2. Mary Rizzo says:

    yes! there are 3 locations, actually.. and to whet his appetite, plus for some great recipes, you can go to: http://www.metropolitanbakery.com/index.php.

  3. Margaret says:

    Great post! Especially loved the history of bread. It’s making my mouth water…

  4. Pingback: Le Bus: The Battle over the Best Bread in Philly |

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