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The Corner Bakery

September 2, 2009 Books, Metro East, Retail 26 Comments

Few things are more urban than walking down the street to the corner bakery to buy a loaf of bread that came out of the oven just an hour before. Sadly, few of us live in places where doing so is still possible.  This post is, at the same time, a discussion of urbanity and a book review.  Not a book on urban life, but a cook book on baking bread.  The subjects are related.

Jeff Hertzberg, co-author of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, wrote the following in the introduction:

I could finish half a loaf of very fresh, very crisp rye bread by myself.  The right stuff came from a little bakery on Horace Harding Boulevard in Queens.  The shop itself was nondescript, but the breads were Eastern European masterpieces.  The crust of the rye bread was crisp, thin, and caramelized brown.  The interior crumb was moist and dense, chewy but never gummy, and bursting with tangy yeast, rye, and wheat flavors.

The handmade bread was available all over New York City, and it wasn’t a rarefied delicacy.  Everyone knew what it was and took it for granted.  It was not a stylish addition to affluent lifestyles; it was a simple comfort food brought here by immigrants.

I left New York in the late 1980s, and assumed that the corner bread shops would always be there, waiting for me, whenever I came back to visit.  But I was wrong.  As people lost interest in making a second stop after the supermarket just for bread, the shops gradually faded away.  By 1990, the ubiquitous corner shops turning out great eastern, central and southern European breads with crackling crusts were no longer so ubiquitous.

Great European breads, handmade by artisans, were still available, but they’d become part of the serious (and seriously expensive) food phenomenon that had swept the country.  The bread bakery was no longer on every corner — now it was a destination.  And nobody’s grandmother would ever have paid six dollars for a loaf of bread.

St. Louis, like Queens NY, once had bakeries on corner after corner.  Today our choices are very limited.

Vitale’s Bakery, pictured above, is one of the few places left in our region where you can buy bread made on site.  Sure we have St. Louis Bread Co. (known to Panera Bread to readers outside the St. Louis region) but a publicly traded franchise company, even if local, is not what I have in mind.  Of course Vitale’s bread is trucked to our supermarkets as well.  Companion used to have retail sales at their bakery on Gustine before they opened high-end shops in Clayton and the Central West End.

Three years ago today I visited one of the few small bakeries built in the image of those from decades earlier:

222 Artisan Bakery, Edwardsville, IL on 9/2/2006

222 Artisan Bakery on Main Street in Edwardsville, IL is the corner bakery reborn.  Here is how they describe their bread:

Our fresh baked breads are crafted in the style of the French masters. We use a levain to create long fermented sourdough and rustic culinary masterpieces. Our breads are started days before they go into the oven using natural stone ground flour and the finest ingredients.

Most breads are ready by 9 am but there are no rules when dealing with naturally leavened bread-some days the dough wants to rest and some days it’s ready to roll. If you are having a party and would like to order something special,be sure to let us know 72 hours in advance so we can get started early.

Sounds good, but I’m not going to drive to Edwardsville IL for fresh bread.  Those in Edwardsville are fortunate.

For the last month I’ve been trying my hand at baking my own fresh bread, following the simple process described in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

I learned of baking bread this way after my friend Dustin Bopp posted a link to an article from Mother Earth News on his Facebook wall. Note, if you follow the recipe and use yeast in packets you need to use two packs to get the required 1-1/2 tablespoons.

I’ve emailed with the other author, Zoe Francois.  My plan is to make the Mennonite Zweiback rolls like my grandmother used to make.

Image source: Wikipedia (click image to view source)

These were the bread I loved as a child.  The last time I tried was 20 years ago. Way too time consuming.   I recall my Mom saying how, as a child of the depression, store bought bread was a luxury they couldn’t afford.  Today home baked bread is a luxury we all have time to afford.  If you live close to one,  please support your local bakery.

– Steve Patterson


The Trash of St. Louis County

Two stories related to trash in St. Louis County keep making regular appearances in the paper and on the news. One is the story about the county plan to create eight (8) trash districts with each getting a contract with a private trash hauler. The other story is of opposition to a trash transfer site to be operated by Fred Weber Inc in South County. The trash transfer site, per the Post-Dispatch, would “handle 500 tons of trash a day.”

St. Louis County is geographically large with more than eight times the land area of the City of St. Louis, yet it has barely more than a third the current density. Still, parts of the county are quite urban while other parts are very rural (for now at least). Much of the county is just a mass of ugly auto-centric sprawl. The County is also divided into 91 municipalities in addition to areas that remain unincorporated. For those of you native to St. Louis, St. Louis County has about 85 or so more municipalities than is considered normal. However it is the unincorporated area that is getting divided into trash districts for the purposes of hiring contractors to collect trash and recycling.

Subdivisions within the unincorporated section of the county can opt-out of the plan — instead hiring their own trash service or potentially letting each resident within the subdivision deal with their trash individually. From the Post-Dispatch:

Opponents say the districts would take away householders ability to choose their own haulers. The districts would lead to a monopoly of large haulers and put small haulers out of business, opponents say. The result, opponents declare, would be higher costs.

The county argues they doubt that one hauler would get all eight contracts that are out to bid. Furthermore, they’d like to see a reduction of the number of trucks on all their roadways with every resident hiring their own service.

The other issue is that of a transfer site, where the local trash trucks bring the trash for it to be loaded onto larger trucks (or is it barges?) to be hauled away to some unlucky place.

On the East side there has been controversy over a landfill that seeks to expand closer to a state park. Despite measures to ensure that landfills don’t leak, they do end up polluting ground water that is used for recreation, fishing and as fresh water sources.
Here is the deal folks, we generate far too much trash!!! It has to get picked up and it has to go somewhere. Don’t like it? Don’t produce so much of it. Even those that recycle are still often buying items with too much packaging. Add a water filter system to your sink rather than buy all those plastic bottles of water. The amount of money we spend on hauling off our trash, the space it consumes, and the damage to the environment is all shameful.

Yes, I have trash too and it pains me every time I toss something out — I think how can I go about reducing this excessive packaging? One solution is to buy products that don’t have packaging — such as fresh fruits and veggies. Skip the individual plastic bags in the produce section and use your own canvas bag at checkout. Better yet, buy at a local farmers’ market.  When you have two near equal choices pick the one with less waste packaging.

Imagine, for a moment, that we all had to dispose of our own trash. Trash collection is just a government service we expect to be paid out of our taxes or in some cases it is something that a resident just writes a check for each month. Still, the consequences of our actions are so far removed from our everyday lives we don’t give it much thought.  We haul the bag out and someone takes it away.  Poorer countries are now accepting trash from wealthier nations. Your old pizza box just might end up in Africa!
In all the opposition to landfills, transfer sites or how trash is collected I’ve not seen one suggestion on actually reducing the volume of trash/recycling.


St. Louis May Be One of Few Cities in the World With an Elevated Bikeway

The message to the crowd was simple — the Great Rivers Greenway District already owns the old elevated railway trestle that runs from Hadley and Cass to the McKinley Bridge and they want to turn it into one of the world’s few elevated bikeway and walking trails. Inspiration comes from Paris’ Promenade Plantée and New York’s planned High Line.  Chicago and Philly are also working on similar projects.

A good crowd (a “few” if KSDK were counting) gathered last Thursday evening at the Confluence Academy in Old North St. Louis to hear the early thoughts on the proposal. Questions centered around specifics and planners had to continue to remind everyone that this in the very beginning stages — no specifics are known other than what it is they own and control.

Paris and New York are the only two cities with elevated bikeways. Chicago is looking at doing the same thing but they don’t yet have control over the trestle they have in mind. The following are some of the images from the presentation:

The idea is to have a bike path, a walking path, message boards, native greenery and to make creative use of the old supports for the electric wires that powered the old interurban lines.


Some of the concepts they presented included wind, sun and rain collection.


They hope to encourage adjacent buildings to add green roofs to improve the experience, reduce the heat island affect and reduce energy costs for those owners. Taller trellis’ would be added where necessary to prevent people from gaining access to roofs from the trestle.


One idea they explored is to widen the trestle at a point or two to gain more “plaza” space and room for viewing.


One nice thing is the prominent view from I-70. Greening up the trestle and incorporating signs would hopefully increase the curiosity of motorists.


A small portion of the trestle is already being prepared for such a use — connecting to the soon to re-open McKinley bridge. This will give cyclists an easy route to Illinois.

One potential issue is the proposed Mississippi River Bridge — it would intersect with I-70 immediately south of where the trestle crosses. Although the clearance from the highway to the bottom of the trestle is fine, it does not meet current standards. MoDot is seeking Federal approval to allow for an exemption so the trestle can remain in place. Of course, no final design or funding has been worked out between Missouri and Illinois on this bridge so it is anyone’s guess when and if I every actually happens.

I’d like to see I-70 removed from the area between downtown and the arch but part of me doubts that would every actually get removed even if a new bridge for I-70 traffic was built. I’d like to see the MacArthur Bridge, located to the south of the Poplar Street Bridge, reopened to auto traffic, or perhaps as another bike/pedestrian bridge like the Chain of Rocks (the MacArthur still carries railroad traffic below the former auto deck).
Despite the potentially high cost, I think retaining these old industrial structures and reusing them for bike connection is a worthwhile pursuit. The connection with the wonderful North Riverfront trail at Branch Street would be great.


Collinsville Planning Commission Rules Against Commercial Zoning on Disputed Property

Last April I brought I did a post on an interesting dispute in Collinsville IL. In short, a developer bough a corner parcel that was a house at the entrance to a subdivision with one side of the land on an increasingly commercial street. At the time a city zoning map had apparently incorrectly noted the parcel as zoned commercial when it in fact remained residentially zoned. The developer wanted the zoning changed to commercial so they could build their planned retail store while the residents argued they did not want the edge & entrance of their residential area invaded in such a manner.


The house purchased by the developer actually occupies two original residential building lots. The developer wanted to raze the existing structure. As you can see from the image above, the area is quite commercial but not in the immediate vicinity of that parcel. The Planning Commission ruled in favor of the residents at their long meeting last night. I was unable to attend but Diane Meyer has the low down at Respublica.   The next step is the City Council.


Cycling Organization Giving Away Kids Bike Helmets at Farmers Market

The St. Louis Regional Bike Federation will be holding an interesting event on the east side of the river Saturday morning:

Bike Smart – Edwardsville on Saturday, July 7
Join us on July 7 from 8:00 a.m. – noon at the Land of Goshen Farmers’ Market in downtown Edwardsville, IL for helmet fitting, bike education, and mechanical safety checks for your bike! Helmets First will be there offering 50 free helmets for kids. When the free helmets run out you can buy one for just $7! In addition St. Louis Recumbent Bicycles will provide a bicycle mechanic to check your bike and make minor repairs or adjustments and help you learn how to check your bike before you ride. We’ll have experienced riders on hand to answer your questions about bike commuting, riding safely in traffic, and your rights and responsibilities on the roads.

Bike helmets are very important for safety — having them properly fitted it critical.  I see way too many kids wearing helmets that are angled way back exposing their foreheads (some adults wear helmets this way too).  Please folks, check your helmet for proper fit — go to an event like this or go into nearly any bike shop and talk to them about how to properly adjust your helmet.

It looks like the Bike Fed already made an appearance at the Tower Grove market but I have suggested they do a fitting at the Old North St. Louis Farmers’ Market.

Happy eating and riding!