Loafing Encouraged

Cool Your Heels At Two New Bakery-Cafés.

By Rebecca Cook

AMIDST THE COMMOTION of modern living--the crammed schedules, endless traffic snarls and fast-food meals gobbled on the run--the corner bakery stands as a beacon of comfort and simplicity, an endearing emblem of a less complicated era.

There can be few things in life as tantalizingly wholesome as the aroma of freshly baked bread, a scent known to bring strong men to their knees and countless numbers of Slim-Fast women to throw dietary caution to the winds.

Chow Although the bakery business has long been a cultural staple, there was a time when the majority of baking took place at home, a tradition eclipsed in recent years by the aforementioned time crunch that constitutes many of our lives. The inherent value, and indeed necessity, of the bakery in modern times is thus assured.

The new twist to this viable enterprise is the addition of a small café, where patrons can not only select their bread for the coming week but sit for awhile, read the newspaper and nibble on food made primarily from staples baked on the premises. Two new bakery-cafés, with menus featuring a number of creative variations on a basic sandwich theme, are demonstrating the principle that two going concerns are better than one.

Beyond Bread, located on North Campbell Avenue near Fort Lowell Road, embraces this new genre of bakeries in style. The stucco terra cotta exterior, common to many exclusive shops and businesses in that immediate area, evokes an urbane image of the Santa Fe-styled Southwest. The interior is shiny, bright and new, with large glass cases holding a tempting assortment of sweet treats and an open-area bakery behind the main counter. Large, shiny machinery churns out a dazzling selection of baked goods, which line tall shelves towards the front of the store.

An array of tables curve around the counter, with some additional seating available on a small outdoor patio.

While you ponder whether to take home the whole-grain rustic, parsley and cheese, or French baguette loaf, you can have lunch and sample one of Beyond Bread's many tempting sandwich options, each highlighting one of their specialty breads. Each is named for some unknown person. When asked about the nomenclature, the girl at the counter shrugged insolently. No matter; even with total anonymity, the gourmet sandwiches at Beyond Bread will give the rest of the town's sliced-bread businesses a decent run for their money.

Take for example the simple pleasure of Cam's Classic: thinly shaved, medium-rare roast beef folded over a French roll and topped with lettuce and a piquant daub of horseradish. Or splurge as I did into the more prodigal option, Betty's Brie, which comes with the same wonderful roast beef, a creamy slice of the French fromage, sliced tomato and mayonnaise, served between hefty wedges of a crusty, full-bodied baguette. This sandwich is a standout favorite.

Most of Beyond Bread's sandwiches are served cold, but a few grilled possibilities are also available. We tested the heat in the kitchen with Chad's Choice--denoted as HOT on the menu--which consisted of moist chicken breast, melted provolone, sprouts, green chiles and mayonnaise on a toasted, homemade-style white bread.

Priced around five bucks, Beyond Bread's sandwiches are for the most part hearty meals. With a garnish of potato chips and dill pickle spear, sharing with a friend becomes one viable option--especially if you'd like to get into that dessert counter afterwards. Vegetarian sandwiches and a few salads are also available.

The determination of whether the bread here really goes beyond the ordinary is certainly subject to individual taste; but by our standards it's solidly decent: considerably more interesting and tasty than store-bought loaves, but not quite in the realm of the delightful. The crusts of Beyond Bread's wares are thoroughly browned and crunchy, so much so that in some instances the end product is a bit tough. This is particularly noticeable with the baguette and wheat varieties.

Across town, Susie's Café is carving out its own niche in the bake-and-serve world. Attached to Nadine's Bakery & Card Shoppe, a local establishment famous for its awesome cake creations and decadent European-style pastries, Susie's also features a variety of sandwiches--this time named after readily identifiable artists. Made with your choice of white, wheat or rye bread and served with potato chips or a fudge brownie (nice touch), one can tastefully sample the sandwich artistry of the masters.

Possibilities include the Kahlo (chicken breast with melted jack cheese, topped with prickly pear salsa), the Ruebens (corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and homemade thousand island dressing), or the Jasper Johns (roast beef, more Swiss cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, red onion and jalapeño mayonnaise). In the mood for something especially dramatic, I chose the Van Gogh: slices of smoked turkey, avocado, jack cheese and tomatoes, topped with alfalfa sprouts and a thick stroke of honey-Dijon mustard.

Almost all of Susie's sandwiches are grilled, with the exception of the egg and tuna salad variations. A soup of the day, served in a freshly baked bread bowl, is always offered. The day I visited, a thick, velvety cream of broccoli was the perfect foil for the edible container, soaking up the contents enough to practically create an entire second course.

Nadine's next door offers a wide assortment of breads, rolls, pastries and cookies. If you're not counting calories, this is a wonderful place to visit.

America's favorite lunchtime food has reached new culinary heights at Beyond Bread and Susie's Café. Not only can you find great sandwiches at both, you also have the opportunity to sink your teeth into some delicious examples of that essential food item popularly known as the staff of life. To make matters even more seductive, both bakery-cafés include killer dessert options.

If noon regularly finds you stuck in line at some drive-thru, you don't know what you're missing. TW

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