The Goods on Manresa Bread Bakery
The South Bay’s most anticipated bakery, Manresa Bread, finally opened a week ago, in downtown Los Gatos.
If you think that means bypassing those long, long lines at its stands at the Palo Alto and Campbell farmers markets on Sundays, guess again.
The queue may be shorter at the new bakery, just around the corner from Michelin two-starred Manresa restaurant, but there likely will be one no matter what time you go.
When I got there at 11 a.m. last Friday, there were already half a dozen people in front of me. And the baguettes were already gone.
If you think that was bad, on opening day on Feb. 21, the bakery sold out in just five hours.
All of that speaks to the quality of the artisan products being turned out by Manresa head baker Avery Ruzicka, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute who also trained with master baker Ben Hershberger of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and Per Se restaurant.
Everything is baked at a commissary kitchen just down the road from the retail bakery. The more than 3,000-square-foot space boasts a 19,000-pound gas deck oven from Italy that allows for the baking of more than 100 loaves at a time. In the near future, look for Manresa Bread to even mill its own wheat.
The bakery, tucked away in a little courtyard off North Santa Cruz Avenue, is pretty bare-bones at this point. There’s no seating, just a counter displaying pastries, a shelves showcasing breads, and a long sheet of brown butcher paper tacked to the wall that lists the day’s offerings.
Since I have little willpower when it comes to stellar baked goods, I spent more than $40 there. I couldn’t help myself.
The levain sports a formidable dark crust, a nice chew and that lovely fermented taste of a great bread. The kale scone is crumbly and buttery– a nice savory alternative in the morning. Parmesan cheese and tiny bits of prosciutto give it oomph and provide all your favorite brunch flavors in one bite.
The first bite of the chocolate croissant will leave you covered in buttery shards of pastry. That’s how crisp and multi-layered it is. The whole wheat chocolate chunk cookie is big, loaded with dark chocolate and walnuts, and has my favorite texture of crisp edges and chewy center.
The buttermilk coffee cake has a nice crumbly top and is laced with bits of caramelized apples. The carrot cake is an austere rendition, sans the usual fluff of cream cheese frosting. It’s also gluten-free. It’s moist and light, and definitely one of the best gluten-free cakes I’ve tasted.
The monkey bread is sweet, sticky and chewy — everything you want in that tear-apart treat. The real surprise is the hazelnut brown butter cake. It’s probably the tiniest of the pastries in the case. Because it’s made with hazelnut flour, it’s tender, moist and so nutty tasting. Like a thumbprint cookie, its center holds a dollop of hazelnut-chocolate spread, as well as a candied hazelnut. It’s intricate and full of richness. It’s definitely my new favorite.
I can never resist a well-crafted kouign amann — that Breton specialty that’s like a croissant folded in upon itself with layers of caramelized sugar. Whenever I’m in the vicinity of B. Patisserie in San Francisco, I make a beeline there just for the kouign amann. Pastry Chef Belinda Leong’s version is the standard bearer for me.
So how does Manresa Bread’s version compare? Quite well, I’m thrilled to say. With its deeply burnished top and sugar-hardened bottom, it definitely rivals the one at B. Patisserie.
Best yet, it doesn’t require a long drive to San Francisco or the patience of Job to score a parking space there to enjoy one.
All it takes is a few minutes standing in line in Los Gatos. Which isn’t so bad at all.