READERS' PICK: In the United States, bad bread is a way of life. How else to explain Tucson, with its well-traveled population and sophisticated visitors, being nonetheless content to eat gummy sawdust and call it fresh-baked? Evidently Tucson entrepreneur Shelby Collier grappled with the same sad fact, until a couple of years ago he established a wonderful lunch spot-cum-bakery on the near-north side. Beyond Bread has been packed to the rafters since the day it opened. Tucsonans had every reason to flock to Collier's small shop, for he answered an ancient prayer by giving us our daily bread -- and stuff worthy of the name, with little-seen offerings such as ciabatta, panne rustica and crisp baguettes, along with nouveau concoctions making liberal use of chiles and cheese. Master baker Terri La Chance adds to the mix with a range of artfully made coffee cakes, cheesecake brownies, lemon bars and other exercises in hedonism.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Grossman's Bake Shop, 3140 E. Fort Lowell Road. We hate to disagree with the Bible, but Grossman's makes living by bread alone a viable option. On any given day, the bakery offers a wide selection: pumpernickel, raisin pumpernickel, onion, walnut sourdough, challah, Swedish sunflower, rye, marble rye, keep thinking...they'll probably have it. Trying to choose from the more than 70 varieties of bread they bake to order is a sweet struggle indeed. But waiting, for us, is impossible. We're caught in the sensual siren song of that rich smell of baking bread, the bountiful vision of loaves behind the glass, and the tantalizing samples happily given from behind the counter. We have to leave with something, but we don't mind taking our time to decide.