I don’t have cable, so I couldn’t watch the recent epic Philly phood battle on Iron Chef America–Michael Solomonov, of Zahav and Percy Street Barbecue, among others v. Philly’s own Iron Chef, Jose Garces, of Amada, Chifa, Village Whiskey and PLCB controversy. In its honor, though, I staged a mini Iron Chef contest at the Reading Terminal Market. Battle Bread, with Le Bus vying with Metropolitan Bakery to find out whose baguette reigns supreme.
I’ve already posted here how much I love Metropolitan’s bread, so I may not be the most neutral judge. In the spirit of confession, too, I should note that while, to this point, I’ve based my posts solely on food consumed at Reading Terminal Market, in this case, I’ve eaten Le Bus’s bread twice before and, rather than trying to undergo some kind of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind memory erasure, my thoughts here are inclusive of all of these experiences.
Le Bus simply falls short. While a worthy competitor for Metropolitan, having been in the business of bread baking almost as long as I’ve been alive, it simply doesn’t have the combination of qualities that Metropolitan brings together in such perfect proportions.
Example: an olive cilantro loaf, approximately the size of a compact car, was flavorful but dense. While I have little in the way of skill, I’ve made many loaves of bread (Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Bread Bible is my go-to good book) and have learned that the most satisfying flavoring for bread is the natural fermentation that comes from a slow process of rising and maturation, usually from a starter of some kind. Like a car with chrome, adding lots of fillers, like olives, nuts, fruits and so on, can be appealing in their own way, but, to continue my terrible metaphor, the car better be able to run, too. Le Bus is kind of like a Toyota Echo with spinning hubcaps and a grille–the doodads seem to be a distraction from the supposed purpose. Which isn’t to say the bread is bad. It’s decent, but not amazing.
The demi-baguette was better, if only because I don’t particularly like the shattering crust that is supposed to mark a well-made baguette. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but I seem to always end up with the roof of my mouth bleeding after a baguette. Quick–get me some Wonder bread to sop it up! Le Bus’s baguette was softer than usual, with a nice resistance to being torn into which results in a satisfying caveman feeling of accomplishment. At other times, I’ve had their rolls (passing) and brioche (where was the rich egginess?) and always thought, “meh.”
In our Battle Bread, in Reading Terminal Market Stadium, the winner is clearly Metropolitan.
recommended: a demi-baguette, if you’re looking to make a nice sandwich (I think a pan bagnat would be excellent with this bread), but otherwise, maybe going to Metropolitan?